What is Internet Computer (ICP): The cryptocurrency decentralising the internet

Can ICP’s decentralised internet solve problems caused by small number of very large firms?

The ICP logo with a purple background                                 
More than 4,000 individual nodes support the Internet Computer network - Photo: Shutterstock
                                

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Fed up with tech giants dominating the internet, Dominic Williams decided to create his own network: Internet Computer (ICP) is a decentralised platform, similar to the internet but with one key difference, it is not overrun by a few big companies.

Instead of people's data being stored in one place, Internet Computer uses blockchain technology to enable the network to be run by thousands of computers. It is also encouraging applications or websites built on the platform to be more transparent and open source.

The controversies surrounding the top internet companies have left many of the World Wide Web’s users feeling bitter. Less controversial alternatives are lacking, however. Internet Computer is trying to fill this void, but getting everyone to migrate to a completely new internet is no easy task.

What is Internet Computer (ICP)?

After the 2008 economic crisis, blockchain technology was created to shift power from the central authorities. Decentralised cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin gave its users complete control over their money, rather than a bank or payment processor. Internet Computer is taking the same concept and applying it to the internet. It wants to shift control from the technology giants like Amazon, Google, and Facebook, giving power back to the developers and users.

Dominic Williams is the founder behind Internet Computer. He created the DFINITY Foundation, a not-for profit research company that incubated and launched the decentralised internet network.

For Internet Computer to reinvent the web, the platform is deconstructing how it works. In the centralised internet we currently use, a website functions by transferring data between a user’s device and company’s servers. For example, to watch Netflix, data must be sent from its servers to your laptop or television.

Internet Computer removes these centralised data servers from its network. Instead, the network is run on thousands of computers, which it calls nodes. Its data is not stored in a few centralised locations, instead it is everywhere thanks to blockchain technology. Like bitcoin moving away from the centralised banks managing transactions, Internet Computer is shifting away from centralised servers controlling the data.

Is a new internet necessary?

It may seem counter-intuitive for Internet Computer to reinvent the web, which has already made incredible progress since its creation in 1983. But Internet Computer is not trying to reinvent the wheel. There is a meaningful reason behind the need for a decentralised internet.

The dominance of a few companies on the internet has led to a platform riddled with problems. Misinformation, propaganda, and privacy breaches have become the norm as the ad-tech industry booms.

Last year, social media companies showed they still are not efficiently dealing with these problems. Leaked reports from Meta, formerly known as Facebook, were reported by The Wall Street Journal that showed multiple issues plaguing Meta’s platforms. Instagram was reported to have a detrimental impact on mental health and Facebook was rife with, for example, anti-vaccination misinformation.

Internet Computer wants to fundamentally change this. Instead of a few companies having control, it wants to create an internet that has open source and transparent websites. Developers will be able to create, host and serve websites and applications in a more decentralised way. This could result in a less scandalous and controversial platform.

How does Internet Computer work?

Users on the current internet are managed through internet protocols (IP) addresses, which is a unique number for each device. This is how data can find its way to you, and how Netflix knows to send you the video for Stranger Things and another person the video data for Spiderman.

Internet Computer has introduced a new number for its blockchain network. It called this the Internet Computer Protocol (ICP). By using ICPs, the network does not need a dedicated server for each software, instead it can move between different computers.

The ICP is a cryptographic protocol and is run by nodes that are operated by independent providers and centres. When Internet Computer was launched in May 2021, 48 centres and 1,300 individual nodes supported the network. This grew to 123 centres and 4,300 nodes by the end of the year. Internet Computer is hoping these numbers will continue to increase into the thousands and millions.

This set up has allowed Internet Computer to create a blockchain that can run at web speed, efficiently process data and provide powerful software development tools.

Developers have already started building on Internet Computer’s network. In 2020, the network showed off a TikTok-like app called CanCan and a LinkedIn replica called LinkedUp. The apps are not public, instead they showcased how Internet Computer can be used.

What is Internet Computer coin used for?

ICP is also the name of the native Internet Computer cryptocurrency. It is a utility token designed to power the network and encourage users to take part in its decentralised vision. 469,213,710 ICP tokens were minted when Internet Computer launched last May, and new tokens are created every time they are rewarded to users.

Internet Computer (ICP) faces many decisions when it comes to operating the network, such as how it should be scaled, the updates needed for nodes, and the framework of the protocol. To remain decentralised, Internet Computer allows its community to vote on these decisions. Anyone who is holding the cryptocurrency can participate by staking the ICP coin.

Users are rewarded with the Internet Computer cryptocurrency by voting in these decisions. Network hosts who use their computer as an Internet Computer node can earn ICP as well.

The token launched on 10 May 2021 and within 24 hours had jumped in price to $750.73. The Internet Computer cryptocurrency was unable to maintain the high valuation, falling dramatically in price over the following months.

By December, the ICP coin had dropped below the $50 mark. But it is starting to see a bullish rally. At the time of writing, ICP has gained 50% over the past seven days and is hovering around $36.89.

Internet Computer review

There are some concerns about the network, however. A decentralised internet could result in a free-for-all platform where no one would be directly responsible. Getting illegal or offensive content taking down suddenly turns into murky territory.  Stanley Jones, the DFINITY engineering manager, told MIT Technology Review that this is worrisome, though taking down content is not particularly easy with Facebook either. He said: “You say, ‘Hey, can you take down these videos?’ They say no. It kind of depends on how Zuckerberg is feeling that day.”

There is another problem facing Internet Computer: it is not the first to attempt something like this. Solid is a blockchain providing tools for developers to create decentralized social apps. It is led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world-wide web that we use today. Solid has been developing its blockchain for more than five years and is struggling to make a name for itself.

When Internet Computer released its mainnet in May, SA Shares described ICP as a sustainable project with plenty of worth, forecasting a worldwide steady adoption. We are still yet to see this, especially as the native token has lost most of its value.

There were high hopes from CoinBureau as well, with claims that the mainnet could “reboot the internet”, stopping those stifling the innovations needed for networks to evolve.

Many of Internet Computer’s reviews point to the fact our current internet system is plagued with many problems and ICP provides a solution to this. The problem is, it is hard to imagine every organisation and individual moving to DFINITY’s new internet.

That being said, if bitcoin has proved one thing, there is a sizeable niche of those wanting decentralised solutions.

FAQs

When Internet Computer launched in 2021, 469,213,710 ICP tokens were minted. New tokens are minted every time they are rewarded to users, for example if a user votes in network decision or hosts a node.

Dominic Williams, founder of the DFINITY Foundation, created Internet Computer, which is a decentralised alternative to the everyday internet. The network and cryptocurrency launched in May 2021.

Internet Computer is taking decentralised technology and applying it to the internet. Instead of a few companies dominating the space, it is supported by the users who host and participate in the network. Its ambitious goal is to return power back to the developers and users of the internet.

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