What’s the most important process in the digital world?
The answer to that lies quite simply in the beginning of our every interaction in the web: communication. Today, people all over the world using messaging apps are considered to be the most valuable community in the digital world – with over four billion users, this is no surprise. It’s also not a surprise that you need truckloads of energy to make Web2-messaging even work: infrastructure comes from datacenters. Datacenters need energy. Not good at all for the environment – but is there any other way? Because cancelling digital messaging is surely not an option, goodness me.
In recent years, the growing concern over climate change and environmental impact has led to a surge of interest in sustainable technology. One area that has especially gained traction is the development of decentralized messengers, which offer several benefits over traditional centralized messaging platforms/providers, including a high potential in the reduction of carbon emissions.
Decentralized messengers are built on blockchain technology, which allows for a distributed network of nodes to communicate directly with each other, rather than relying on a central server to facilitate communication. This means that there is no single point of failure or control, and users have greater control over their data and privacy.
To make this a bit easier to understand, here’s how your message travels today:
Cellphone – Datacenter – Cellphone
Here’s how it could travel in a distributed network:
Cellphone – Cellphone
Congrats! You’ve successfully cut the middleman. This concept is called peer-to-peer (PTP).
So, one of the main benefits of decentralized messengers is that they are more energy-efficient than centralized messaging platforms. This is because the nodes that make up the network are typically run by volunteers or community members, rather than large corporations with significant energy needs. Additionally, the blockchain technology used to power decentralized messengers is designed to be more energy-efficient than traditional database systems, which rely on large data centers and consume significant amounts of energy.
We’re not making this up. According to a recent report by the University of Cambridge, the energy consumption of the Bitcoin network, which uses similar blockchain technology to decentralized messengers, is estimated to be between 40 and 445 TWh per year, with a midpoint estimate of 135 TWh per year. While this is still a significant amount of energy, it is important to note that the traditional financial system consumes far more energy, estimated at around 650 TWh per year.
It's important to emphasize, that this report focusses on the Bitcoin network – mining coins is far more energy-consuming than providing the power to send messages. In addition to their potential energy savings, decentralized messengers also offer other benefits that can help reduce carbon emissions. For example, they can facilitate the sharing of resources and services, such as ride-sharing or peer-to-peer energy trading, which can help reduce the overall carbon footprint of these activities. Additionally, decentralized messengers can help reduce the need for physical travel by enabling remote communication and collaboration, which can further reduce carbon emissions.
There are several decentralized messaging platforms currently available, including Signal, Telegram, and Matrix. While these platforms are still in their early stages of development and adoption, they offer a promising alternative to traditional messaging platforms that rely on centralized servers and consume significant amounts of energy.
However, you can’t exactly call these products fully decentralized, because they are still controlled by a single entity of power – meaning users might have more control over their data, but not necessarily to an extend of 100%.
We’ve seen a great incline in the usage of DAOs to organize decentralized communities in recent years. With smart governance mechanisms, it is possible to realize democratic concepts of power distribution – the users can decide what’s happening within a community and what’s not.
But even by combining DAOs and decentralized messenger communities, it is important to note that decentralized messengers are not a panacea for all of the environmental challenges we face. While they offer several potential benefits, they are just one piece of a larger puzzle when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change.
As with every other new product and innovation in the Web3 space, you have to keep in mind that it’s all (very) early-stage. There are still many problems developers and start-ups need to address, like accessibility problems for example.
Classic messengers are convenient and most of the users won’t just switch even if it’s for the good cause of helping the environment.
The next generation of messengers thereby must be just as convenient, just as performant, and just as accessible. Luckily, one thing’s for sure:
We’ll get there.