Decentralization as a Strategy

The other day Chris Dixon tweeted:

strategy != tactics. Having a website was strategic in 1995, seo was strategic in 2005, mobile is strategic today.

Chris is likely talking about startups here (since startups are the focus of much of his writing). If you’re not sure what the difference is between a strategy and tactics, Seth Godin has a good explanation:

Here’s the obligatory January skiing analogy: Carving your turns better is a tactic. Choosing the right ski area in the first place is a strategy. Everyone skis better in Utah, it turns out.

Based on the pattern that Chris outlines, by 2015 mobile may transform from a strategy to a tactic. By 2015 websites, SEO, mobile, and likely even social will all be tactics that startups can employ—but not strategies themselves. This got me thinking, what will be the major new and successful strategy for startups in 2015?

My bet is that, by 2015, radical decentralization and user ownership of his or her own data will be used by startups to gain a strategic advantage over incumbents. To a certain extent, this has already started. The distributed social networking service DIASPORA* is attempting to gain market share from the likes of Facebook by offering users “choice”, “ownership”, and “simplicity”. I don’t know if DIASPORA* will ultimately succeed (they should focus on creating a better web, not just a better Facebook), but they got a lot of attention and traction with their attempt to create a decentralized social network. This demonstrates at least some interest in their stated ideals of freedom, user ownership of his or her own data, privacy, and decentralization.

By 2015 I think that these concepts will evolve and we will see implementations that are much more interesting and compelling than what we see today. These implementations (in aggregate) will have a broader scope than just social networking. Users of centralized services will be more savvy when it comes to issues such as privacy (no, privacy is not dead). Everyone will have the computing capacity needed to run their own part of a truly decentralized system (arguably this is true today). The technology and tools needed to create radically decentralized systems will be accessible to developers (arguably this is also true today). The combination of user demand for more control, more ubiquitous computing (via the evolution of mobile computing), availability of decentralized software platforms (e.g. CouchDB), and startups looking for a strategic advantage over incumbents will lead these new startups to focus on creating radically decentralized systems.