What if Bitcoin was Embedded on the Internet in the Early 1990s?
It has now become a norm in meetups, online forums and articles for parallels to be drawn between Bitcoin and the Internet.
The line, or variants of it, ‘Bitcoin is at the stage where the internet was in the early 1990s’ is the most outstanding in any such debate.
Indeed, it goes without saying that there are many areas where the two technologies are similar. For starters, both were difficult, at least in their early days, for every Joe to wrap his head around how they work. The internet in beginning of the 1990s was an alien idea to many, the Blockchain is in 2016.
Their shared demand for new way of thinking aside, the two technologies seem to be natural allies. Bitcoin needs the internet for it to be operational and the internet stands to benefit hugely from the capacity Bitcoin or the Blockchain, the distributed ledger underlying the cryptocurrency, creates for handling value in the online setting.
It is not an overstatement to argue that peer-to-peer digital currencies like Bitcoin are what the internet has all along waited for to be really complete. The cryptocurrencies make the movement of value over the internet less costly, more secure and faster.
Old ways won’t give way to new ways!
These qualities, however, seem not to be enough for the adoption of the Blockchain to be swift.
As a matter of fact, old ways of sending and receiving money that are costly, less secure and slow but have entrenched themselves on the internet, seem to stand in the way of the newer and more efficient payment methods.
But what if Bitcoin or a similar payment technology was embedded on the internet in the early 1990s? Would it have been easier for them to be adopted?
It is something that Marc Lowell Andreessen, a seasoned internet entrepreneur and coauthor of Mosaic, the first successful browser, has at some time looked back at and wished it had happened. “If I had a time machine and could go back to 1993,” he said to Walter Isaacson, “one thing I’d do for sure would be to build in bitcoin or some similar form of cryptocurrency.”
Walter Isaacson is writer and CEO of the Aspen Institute (a leadership studies organization based in Washington, DC). He shared Marc Lowell Andreessen’s observations in an article he published on Wired on November 14th 2015.
There was capacity, there was no will, though!
Of course, it is a common knowledge that there are many logistical obstacles that would have made the invention as well as the implementation of an online peer to peer private currency in the early 1990’s.
“You’d have to bring back the hardware and networking technology with you, because 1993 infrastructure wouldn’t be able to handle much of a block chain,” one Reddit user has reacted to Marc Lowell Andreessen wishes.
However, it appears from Walter Isaacson’s article that protocols giving the internet the capacity to accommodate a payment system of Bitcoin’s kind were just not included because there was no need at that time and partly because of the concerns about banking regulations.
Walter Isaacson argues that Ted Nelson, the guy who invented the hypertext feature, knew of a way to do it. “[He] believed the links should be two-way, which would have allowed a system for micropayments and royalties to accrue to content creators.”
Apparently, Tim Berners-Lee, the English computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web, had an idea too. He wanted to embed in a web page the information needed to handle a small payment, “which would allow electronic-wallet services to be built by banks or entrepreneurs.”
Indeed, according to Walter Isaacson’s article, there is interest now to look afresh at the underlying internet protocols within the context of online payment. “Berners-Lee hopes that the consortium that oversees web protocols will soon return to that task,” he discloses in the article.
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