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Adam Ierymenko [LibreList] Types of decentralization 2014-01-14 10:25:17 (5 years 9 mons 2 days 04:41:00 ago)
I've been doing a bit of thinking about what "decentralization" means, and JC's post about antifragility (IMHO a related concept) has prodded me into sharing a few thoughts.

I think there are three types of decentralization. They're not mutually exclusive, but in every case there are systems that are one but not the others.

(1) Political decentralization

A politically decentralized system is one that is managed by a diverse set of individuals.

(2) Functional decentralization

A functionally decentralized (networked) system is one that permits its parts to communicate directly without involving a third party translator or intermediary.

(3) Physical decentralization

A physically decentralized system is one that is distributed and robust from a physical point of view. Its parts can be split, moved around geographically, parts can fail without impacting the whole (too badly), etc.

Here are some examples:

(1) Wikipedia would be an example of a system that is fairly politically decentralized but is NOT functionally or physically decentralized.

(2) A flat IP network (one with no NAT or discriminating inline firewalls) would present a functionally decentralized system. Any computer on this network can contact any other. This would be true even if they were all attached to the same ISP or if the network had single point of failure bottlenecks, so such a system may not necessarily be politically or physically decentralized.

(3) A meshnet would probably be the ultimate example here, but for an exclusive one I think Google's data center network would qualify. Google's systems are very physically redundant, so that would be an example of a system that is physically but not functionally or politically decentralized.

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