Silicon Valley Season 5 finale: What exactly is PiperNet?

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 25: Actors Thomas Middleditch (L) and Zach Woods at HBO's 'Silicon Valley' - FYC on April 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 25: Actors Thomas Middleditch (L) and Zach Woods at HBO's 'Silicon Valley' - FYC on April 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic) /

In Sunday’s Season 5 finale of Silicon Valley, we saw Richard and Pied Piper achieve their goal of creating a decentralized Internet…almost. But what exactly does that mean?

If you’re a savvy web developer who owns more Bitcoin than cash, this article isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know. To be honest, I’m not even sure why you clicked this link to begin with.

But if you’re more like me, someone who enjoys HBO’s Silicon Valley even when you don’t always understand what, in fact, anyone is actually working on, welcome! We’re going to look back at the finale of Season 5, “Fifty-One Percent,” and in addition to talking about what this means for our favorite tech bros, we’ll also answer the question of what exactly Pied Piper is building with the decentralized Internet.

First, a quick recap of the events that transpired in tonight’s episode (and, obviously, SPOILER ALERT).

After launching PiperNet, we jump ahead two months and learn immediately that the company is failing. A sudden spike in users seems suspicious, and for good reason — it turns out Laurie and Yao of YaoNet are creating fake PiperNet users to control 51% of PiperNet users. Doing so would allow them to delete everyone’s user apps and crash PiedPiperCoin.

After learning from Monica that Hooli is going to be acquired by Amazon — and that the move will put Gavin on the outside looking in — Richard pays Gavin a visit and offers him to the chance to take down Yao. When Gavin allows Richard to take over the Box 3s, Hooli begins wresting users away from YaoNet and prevents it from reaching 51 percent ownership.

Since Gavin’s allegiances are available to the highest bidder, however, Yao and Laurie offer Gavin a 20 percent stake in YaoNet to stop helping Richard, and they quickly hit 51 percent. In a last-ditch effort to save Pied Piper, Richard “signs over” Pied Piper to Gavin who, predictably, goes nuclear on Laurie and Yao.

While Gavin is celebrating holding all the cards, Gilfoyle and Colin, the CEO of original Octopiper member gaming company K-Hole, patch in 80,000 new users to help Pied Piper regain control of the network.

All looks promising for Pied Piper in the episode’s closing moments, as their PiedPiperCoin swells to $2.51 and growing and they expand into beautiful new offices. Huzzah! We even get more Richard vomit!

Which brings us back to our original question: If you or I were to sign up for PiperNet today, what would we be getting? In essence, a decentralized Internet is a peer-to-peer network that bypasses tech giants like Google and Facebook. It allows users to encrypt and control their own data, rather than having stored in a centralized server.

PiperNet basically already exists, in forms such as Blockstack, “an Internet for decentralized apps where users own their own data.” So rather than use Google Docs, in which all your data is ultimately controlled by Google’s servers, you can use Graphite Docs, which would run locally on your own machine. You have your own ID and your own encryption keys, which you can store on your own server.

Of course, nothing comes easy for our friends in Silicon Valley, so next season is sure to bring unforeseen obstacles within PiperNet. For instance, this technology isn’t going to work for those in rural areas with 3G networks or for those with limited storage space on their phones. There are also still privacy concerns, even if you cut out the giant corporations.

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Richard’s dream is an Internet “with no firewalls, no tolls, no government regulation, no spying. Information would be totally free in every sense of the word.” And it’s not that far off from being a reality, even if it sounds too good to be true.