A Full-Fledged Enemy of Web3

Ethereum should inspire any­one inter­ested in the future(s) of the inter­net, because it demonstrates, pow­er­fully, that new pro­to­cols are still pos­si­ble. I do not think Web3 is a desir­able or even tol­er­a­ble path for­ward for this web right here, but I take its les­son well. “Code wins arguments”, and so do clubs, and cults; time remains to build all three.

-Robin Sloan, “Notes on Web3.” RobinSloan.com. November 2021.

Nice quote there at the end. Code, clubs and cults win arguments. Law, weapons and partisans would probably also work, but it wouldn’t have that nice alliteration.

The Internet of Grift (Non-Fungible Tokens Edition)

“The moment that something has bubbled up to the surface long enough for it to establish real value is the exact moment at which those engineering the system for their profit are planning to exit or have already left. All of the flashy press has likely died down due to the market cap crashing from $1.1 billion to today’s cap of $726 million and $1 million in volume – with a few days this week below $350,000. For context, the top cryptocurrencies have daily volume in the billions or hundreds of millions of dollars. Now the market is flooded with cheaper cards that people can’t recoup value from, with no real market to sell them into. But the guys who got in early got rich, as they always do…

…When you remove the idea that an NFT could forseeably be sold for more money than you paid, what value does it have? What beauty? What does it symbolize? What meaning does it have? And what’s the point of it being unique? It’s not a Rolex, that actually has a quality and heft and look to it, nor is it something you can admire outside of the computer, and even if you don’t care about that, it’s a status symbol of wealth and taste (if you feel that way about expensive watches).”

-Ed Zitron, “The Internet of Grift.” ez.substack.com. October 1, 2021.

It’s interesting because there are people that make this same argument about cryptocurrencies, “They are a solution looking for a problem.” I’d argue that programmable money does have obvious utility in ways that a non-fungible token of art doesn’t. But, it’s a point where reasonable people can disagree.

Grok the Modern Vision of Blockchains

“…this course will focus on the fundamental principles of blockchain design and analysis, such as they are in 2021 (it’s still early days. . . ). The goal is to equip you with the tools and concepts to evaluate and compare existing technologies (cutting through the rampant marketing crap), understand fundamental trade-offs between the goals one would want from a protocol or application, and perhaps even create something new and important in the near future (because it’s early days, you can have a tremendous impact on the area’s future trajectory).

It’s worth recognizing that we’re currently in a particular moment in time, witnessing a new area of computer science blossom before our eyes in real time. It draws on well-established parts of computer science (e.g., cryptography and distributed systems) and other fields (e.g., game theory and finance), but is developing into a fundamental and interdisciplinary area of science and engineering its own right. Future generations of computer scientists will be jealous of your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of this new area—analogous to getting into the Internet and the Web in the early 1990s. I cannot overstate the opportunities available to someone who masters the material covered in this course—current demand is much, much bigger than supply.

And perhaps this course will also serve as a partial corrective to the misguided coverage and discussion of blockchains in a typical mainstream media article or water cooler conversation, which seems bizarrely stuck in 2013 (focused almost entirely on Bitcoin, its environmental impact, the use case of payments, Silk Road, etc.). An enormous number of people, including a majority of computer science researchers and academics, have yet to grok the modern vision of blockchains: a new computing paradigm that will enable the next incarnation of the Internet and the Web, along with an entirely new generation of applications.”

-Tim Roughgarden, “Lecture 1.” COMS 6998-006: Foundations of Blockchains. github.com. September 15, 2021.

h/t Alex Taborrak in Marginal Revolution.

The first lesson is fairly easy to understand. Looking forward to reading more.

The State of Cryptocurrency, Mid-2017 Edition

Main takeaways:

  1. It’s not that hard to get up to speed.
  2. Overall, the cryptocurrency ecosystem feels younger than I thought.
  3. Blockchain is the technology that will let lifestyle businesses cross the chasm from fringe to mainstream.
  4. Micropayments still aren’t going to work.
  5. Money leads to Power which leads to Centralization.

Cryptocurrencies and their technologies can seem overwhelming, but it’s easy to get up to speed.

“I really only started reading up in depth on cryptocurrency and the related technology like blockchain three months ago, and felt like I could at least follow all the talks.

If you want to get up to speed, you’re only a couple Saturdays of reading away…”

—Pearson, Taylor. “The State of Cryptocurrency, Mid-2017 Edition.” Hackernoon.com. August 16, 2017.

Redecentralize the Internet

“Every new medium (read: technology) has four sets of effects, he said, which can be best discovered in answers to four questions:

  1. What does the medium enhance
  2. What does the medium make obsolete?
  3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier? 
  4. What does the medium reverse, or flip into, when pushed to extremes?”

—McLuhan, Marshall quoted in Searls, Doc. “The Actually Distributed Web.” Linux Journal. August 8, 2017.

Interesting argument that decentralized protocols integrated with blockchains are more efficient than centralized systems and have the potential to undermine the platforms of the major Internet fiefdoms of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. I am not sure I believe that this is likely to happen, but it is a refreshing change from the doom and gloom of many technology discussions these days.