Democratizing the digital cockpit: What can we learn from Web3?
Matthew Beedham
Jan 26, 2022
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Democratizing the digital cockpit: What can we learn from Web3?

Matthew Beedham
Editor
Jan 26, 20223 min read
Democratizing the digital cockpit: What can we learn from Web3?
Web3 is Silicon Valley’s latest darling. It’s more than just a technology, it’s a technopolitical movement intent on reinventing the World Wide Web as we know it. Web protocols that form the backbone of many Silicon Valley technologies have sought to ‘disrupt’ age old industries such as travel, hotel bookings, communications, TV and media and more. But what happens when those web protocols themselves are ‘disrupted’? And is there anything we can learn from it?

What is Web3?


Bloomberg Businessweek calls it “Silicon Valley’s latest obsession.” NBC News says it’s “Silicon Valley’s latest identity crisis.” CoinDesk, a prominent cryptocurrency and blockchain news outlet, says it “Represents the next generation of the internet, one that focused on shifting power from big tech companies to individual users.”

Before we dive any deeper, let’s take a look at what Web3 is.

In as few words as possible, Web3 is essentially an internet a World Wide Web – of services made up of decentralized networks and applications, such as blockchains and dapps. While blockchains have become synonymous with cryptocurrency and NFTs, many proponents believe that the technology is valuable far beyond these use cases.

The internet’s first phase, Web 1.0, was a collection of static, read-only pages, largely for informational purposes. Web 2.0, which is the version we have now, is an internet of highly interactive but centralized services, such as messaging, social media and commerce. Web3 (sometimes stylized as Web 3.0) promises the next phase of the internet, where power and control is decentralized and products and services are maintained by the users.

Vast swathes of today’s internet real (everything from messaging, to image and video sharing, to cloud storage, to web applications and hosting) are controlled by a handful of companies which have come to be known as ‘Big Tech’. Think about the world’s most popular apps and websites and take a look at who owns them and who hosts them, and it’ll become quickly visible who the most powerful internet players are. Web3 is seeking to displace the power ‘Big Tech’ holds by reshaping the vey applications of technology that make them all work.

As Wired’s interview with Gavin Wood, the founder of the Web3 Foundation and the person who coined the term Web3 back in 2014, highlights, discussions around decentralizing the internet are as much about politics as they are tech.

Which highlights something else. There is an important nuance we need to be aware of: when we say decentralized in this instance we are talking more about power, rather technological structure. Vitalik Buterin, founder of the world’s second most valuable cryptocurrency by market cap Ethereum, explains three different types of decentralization here.
Ethereum is cryptocurrency’s second most valuable coin by market cap, Bitcoin being the most valuable. The difference however, is that the Ethereum blockchain is designed to be used for a multitude of other computing tasks, not just the delivery of a cryptocurrency.
Ethereum is cryptocurrency’s second most valuable coin by market cap, Bitcoin being the most valuable. The difference however, is that the Ethereum blockchain is designed to be used for a multitude of other computing tasks, not just the delivery of a cryptocurrency.


Many of the firms that make up ‘Big Tech’, use elements of distribution and decentralization to ensure systems remain functional when servers are taken offline. However, the control ‘Big Tech’ exerts over the networks and services they host and deliver is completely centralized, what Buterin calls “political decentralization.” What’s really important to recognize is that just because a network is, or says it is, decentralized in structure doesn’t mean that it is in terms of power, ownership and control.

Decentralization as a term is often used in such close and regular proximity to words like democracy, they seem almost synonymous, but they are not.



What can we learn from Web3?


Even though Web3 doesn’t technically exist yet, there’s plenty we can learn from it and its surrounding discourse.

Proponents of Web3, and its underlying technologies like blockchains, believe that through decentralization we can achieve a level of democracy in tech that we don’t currently see with ‘Big Tech’ standing in the way. That’s the most important part: democracy. Decentralization is merely one proposed route to that goal.

As tech companies, we should be paying attention not to how Web3 can come to exist, what threat it poses, why blockchains were invented or why cryptocurrencies and NFTs have proliferated in the way that they have, but we should be engaging with the ‘why’. Why was there a need to develop cryptocurrencies? Why are people so intrigued by NFTs? Why do people think we need Web3 in the first place? Why are people dissatisfied with Web 2.0?

When we unpack those questions, we see they all have one thing in common, it boils down to ownership. Ownership of money, ownership of digital assets, ownership of data and services.
The internet is a complicated system, its decentralized, distributed and centralized all at the same time. These blends of structures are what keep it functional, but also allows ‘Big Tech’ to exert control and ownership.
The internet is a complicated system, its decentralized, distributed and centralized all at the same time. These blends of structures are what keep it functional, but also allows ‘Big Tech’ to exert control and ownership.


If there’s one thing we can learn from the growing conversation around Web3 and a new internet or World Wide Web, it’s that our current models of digital business and digital ownership, access and control are no longer working for an increasing portion of society.

People no longer want to accept the techno-totalitarianism imposed by ‘Big Tech’, they want something more decentralized, democratic and diplomatic.

Those that fail to take this into consideration, those that fail to adapt to this changing landscape, regardless of whether it’s Web3 or some other technology that gets us there, will be resigned to the history books. Running the risk of becoming our generation’s Pets.com or Priceline.com.



Why does that matter to companies like TomTom? Democratizing the digital cockpit


Tech companies, TomTom included, are coming to a fork in the road.

One route continues on the path we are already on, where tech companies continue to absorb power, control data and monetize it for financial gain. The other route is one that leads us to a more democratic and diplomatic world of tech, one where everyone involved in tech has more of a say in how things are run.

One of the dangers with technologies like Web3 isn’t that they’ll disrupt tech and send everything into chaos, but that they can make us think technological solutions don’t exist for the problems we face right now. The reality is, they do. Designing democratic and open technologies is as much about choice and enforcing that choice for democracy, as it is about what powers them and makes tech work.

TomTom’s new digital cockpit platform, which it calls TomTom IndiGO, is designed, the company says to “democratize the digital cockpit”. At no point does the company discuss decentralization, though, rather it approaches democratization of its platform through a number of other choices, some are technical considerations and augmentations of current technologies, others are product design and process oriented.

For example, TomTom IndiGO is designed to be an open platform built on an Android-based operating system. This openness allows carmakers, system integrators, app developers and car component suppliers to all work with and see the same codebase. It’s not closed off and the terms of service are just that, not an ultimatum which can be taken or left.

TomTom does not dictate how this codebase can be used, of course, certain perks like over-the-air updates from TomTom are lost if code is changed at a deep level, but developers are free to run with it as they see fit. They can listen to feedback from their drivers and customers to tailor the experience as they deem appropriate.

They are not tied to a user experience, an interface or a collection of premade apps, of course there is a default and standard option for all these things, but they are free to build and develop their own, to fit the needs of their vehicles and their drivers.

All this can be done quicker and easier than traditional development cycles too, further making developing on TomTom IndiGO a more realistic choice for more developers.

In TomTom’s eyes, democratizing its technology isn’t just about control, it’s about access, affordability and making decisions that put customers’ interests first.

Paul Hesen, VP of product management at TomTom and one of the leads on the TomTom IndiGO product, tells me that with TomTom IndiGO, “people will not be locked into one company’s ecosystem, TomTom IndiGO gives them choice.” With TomTom’s digital cockpit platform, everyone in the user and supply chain can select what works best for them. It’s definitely a step towards a more democratic implementation of tech.
TomTom IndiGO offers everyone that’s involved in the in-vehicle experience value chain more choice.
TomTom IndiGO offers everyone that’s involved in the in-vehicle experience value chain more choice.


Carmakers too have freedom of choice. Choice to decide what features they want TomTom IndiGO features to use off the shelf and what features they want to develop themselves from scratch. The benefit here is, due to the platform’s openness, whatever they do develop can scale and work across more iterations of the platform.

They can also work with their customers to find out what features are most wanted and then develop those, with few restrictions from the core system’s developer or owner.

What’s more, different regions and brands will have the power to develop specifically for their market and models. Essentially, this decentralizes control for developers and carmakers to better serve their customers, drivers and markets. Local development teams that know their markets best can develop specifically for those markets, “Rather than having to swallow what a central organization decides,” Hesen adds.

In this instance, TomTom has essentially found a way to decentralize control over the software and provide carmakers and developers with a more democratic opportunity as to how they develop and deliver their product.

As TomTom is not tying developers to a closed eco-system, they’re free to build on the platform, augment it, change it, grow it and experiment with it as they want.

The company explained this approach in TomTom IndiGO’s release video, you can watch that here. Though, in short, the whole approach is designed to dismantle the current process for developing and building in-vehicle systems in order to build something better. Something that can deliver what carmakers need, what developers want and what drivers long for.

“By democratizing the cockpit, we also enable innovation to flourish – [creating] additional value, more localized content and potential synergies between partners, leading to new ideas and value creation,” Eva Jennings, Senior Partner Manager for TomTom IndiGO, tells me.

Traditionally, carmakers lock in technologies and decide on specifications of a vehicle long before it’s released to the public. As a result, many technologies, particularly those in the digital cockpit, aren’t as up to date as they could be. What’s more, many systems don’t have a good protocol for over-the-air updates, meaning that in-vehicle systems continue to age after the vehicle goes on sale.

By distributing ownership and control of the in-vehicle system, TomTom is in a way, democratizing the in-vehicle experience and democratizing the digital cockpit.

Democracy isn’t about giving all the power to the people, it’s about giving people representation and empowering them to influence their world. Rather than having their world dictated to them from a centralized body, whether that’s a government or a technology company, the important part is that companies, like TomTom, work with and for their customers and empower their customers to do the same. Not every case needs complex new technologies to do this, sometimes it just has to be a conscious and enforced choice.
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