Ever since Jack tweeted about decentralizing Twitter I’ve thought about it constantly.
How do you take a giant tech powerhouse and decentralize all that highly evolved architecture and distribute that power?
It’s not just their servers that are centralized. It’s everything, from their servers, to their cloud infrastructure, to their governance structure, to the team of moderators who enforce policies.
It’s not enough to deal with the technology and protocols alone. If you’re running your tech on a vastly distributed platform, but your company is still a centralized behemoth, what’s going to happen?
Eventually the tech platform will drift back towards centralization.
Because centralization works. We don’t like to admit it in the crypto and blockchain community, but more often than not, centralized systems are easier to design, highly resilient, easier to police and simpler to govern. For any system to evolve you have to build a new one that matches all the features of the old one while bringing people brand new features they just can’t live without.
The CD-ROM book failed because people couldn’t lug around a massive PC in the subway and CRT monitors burned out your retinas with their horrible resolution. But the Kindle came along and delivered a screen that was super easy on the eyes, had amazing battery life and hid away the medium from the reader. It also offered the killer feature of letting you carry around 10,000 books in the same form factor as a single book, something the old platform of dead trees couldn’t offer.
That’s the challenge of Twitter’s bold initiative. Bluesky’s research team will have to match all the features of the cloud, the robust governing structure of a corporation and economic incentive model that brings advertisers in droves to the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter, with an equally powerful business model that will help replace the surveillance economy we love and loath today.
That’s a big project. But it can be done if Bluesky’s team can look beyond the limits of today’s technology and thinks much, much bigger.
Let’s look at everything it will take to make Jack’s dream a reality.
To truly build a decentralized Twitter, or a decentralized ecosystem of any kind, it will take a complete and fundamental rethinking of everything from governance, to voting, to identity, to incentives, to the very company structure itself.
It’s not enough to mint up some digital money and tell everyone good luck figuring it out where to spend it!
Too many projects think utopian. Just build it and they will come.
But they won’t.
There’s a reason Utopia means “no place.”
No decentralized project has hit critical mass and for good reason. They’re not a complete and virtuous closed loop. Apple sold you the phone, the operating system and intuitive interface to run that phone, the apps and the store to buy those apps in. Amazon sold you books, the place to buy them and a way to download them all on a comprehensive and complete reading platform.
We want to use those platforms even though we’re locked in because they’re comprehensive. An open platform’s challenge is to build the same beautiful and complete system while remaining open.
To build a real decentralized powerhouse you’ll have to touch every aspect of what makes an economy.
You need money and a marketplace to spend it. You’ll need to attract businesses big and small to set up shop on your system. You’ll want a way to govern it all and way to vote and to disagree and resolve differences. Beyond that you’ll need a way to get everyone paid and making money.
There are four keys to designing a comprehensive decentralized platform:
We’ll take a look at each in turn.
From the British East India Company to Apple
When thinking about decentralization it’s tempting to think about the technology first but there are much bigger problems if we want to run and monetize a decentralized platform.
First we have to think about governance and then economics.
Most decentralized systems work well for a time and then they hit a saturation point and rapidly evolve towards centralization. It happens at the societal level and the technological level. In human history, small tribes would start out scattered and isolated, fending for themselves. Eventually, they form a coalition and a governing council and soon they unite into a nation. The independence and freedom of the individual tribes was inevitably lost. We need a robust new, governance model that counters the trend of larger systems to overly centralized.
I’ve thought about next-gen governance since 2015, when I spent a year at my whiteboard day and night outlining the roots of the Cicada concept project. Ultimately, I moved on from the project, thinking of it more as a springboard for my ideas, while I continued to think about the deeper problems of building a parallel economic operating system for the planet. Since then my thinking has evolved dramatically, through private musing, consulting with research teams, and conversations with other luminaries in world of business, crypto and artificial intelligence.
Most importantly, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how to build an alternative to the venerable corporate structure. Corporations get a bad rap today but really they’re marvels of human ingenuity and organization.
They unite people with a shared belief. They give order to energy and labor and get everyone going in the same direction. The create hierarchies and delegate. They automate low level tasks. At their best, they invest the most capable people with power to make big decisions, like what to build next or how to get customers to pay attention to what they’re building.
My initial idea was to move towards a DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization), but as I looked at the state of the art in DAO design, I got more and more frustrated. It seemed that every project cobbled together a smart contract and a way to vote with a dashboard and called it a day. I realized they were completely missing the point of what’s made companies the titans of the modern world.
Nobody is going to vote on everything. Nor should they. We don’t want everyone in the company deciding marketing strategy and what projects to build. And that’s just the big things.
Nobody is going to vote on ordering paperclips.
What you end up with is voting fatigue. That’s why companies invest certain people with power to make decisions for everyone. They create a division of labor that’s much more efficient. Not everyone is qualified to work on the next marketing campaign or knows when we need paperclips.
That’s when I realized something was badly missing in every DAO design. To understand how to fix it, I do what I always do. I turned to the past to inspire the future. We have to learn from what was done to understand the next evolutionary step in the great chain of reality.
I started to study the history of companies and that’s when I realized that companies do so much more than vote on things and distribute money. Companies have evolved from gigantic mini-nation states, like the British East India company, whose army conquered India, to the highly evolved and advanced multinationals of today, with financial structures that span the globe.
As I dug deep into this fascinating history, I realized there was an interim step between a company and a DAO, a hybrid company/DAO structure that could manage a wildly disparate decentralized ecosystem with ease.
I call it the Federated Foundation.
The Equifax Problem
The breakthrough came to me as I thought about “the Equifax problem.” Equifax is one of three mega-companies trusted to protect our sensitive financial data and personally identifiable information. They managed to let hackers steal the data for half the people of the United States instead.
They’re still trusted.
There is no way to rip them out of the system, despite the company completely failing to safeguard our financial lives.
I realized that a truly robust system would have a way to rip an untrusted entity out of the system for their abysmal failure.
The Federated Foundation draws on the idea of a loadbalancer in IT. Instead of a single database, web or app server, you have three or more and a loadbalancer sits in front of them, routing traffic evenly between them. When one of the servers inevitably fails, the other servers pick up the slack until that broken one can be repaired.
The Federation Foundation system works the same. Instead of a single company to manage everything, you charter a minimum of three companies, each governing a smaller part of the ecosystem. The companies are identical. But they don’t all manage the same information redundantly, the way Equifax does with our economic data and the two financial processing powerhouses of Experian and Transunion. They each manage a discrete element of the economy.
As companies, people, objects and software flow into the system, they’re assigned via round robin to one of the companies. Over time, an algorithm re-shuffles those companies, people and objects, on yearly and five year basis because those objects won’t remain equal. One small company might come into the system and turn into a titan of industry later. Every big thing starts out small. It’s possible a single Foundation could end up with the future decentralized Apple, Twitter and Amazon just be sheer luck, giving them a monopoly on power. Reshuffling balances that power continually.
More importantly, there’s a protocol to dissolve any of the companies that fail to protect their charges either through data leaks, software security and gross incompetence. The company is collapsed. Its charges flow to the other two companies and then the company is reconstituted with different people and their charges flow back to them over time.
The Foundation system could scale well beyond three companies and it should, just as Libra uses a group of organizations to manage Libra, called the Association.
The Balance of Power and Overcoming Tyranny of the Majority
Beyond the load balancer system we want the individual foundations to have an updated structure that minimizes the weaknesses of the corporate structure, while keeping its strengths and weaving in some of the freedom of the DAO.
To do that I borrowed from the original loadbalanced power structure, the United States government, where the Senate and Congress provide checks and balances on the executive branch and legislative branch provides checks and balances on both.
The loadbalancing concept works at the individual Foundation level too.
The Foundation includes familiar concepts, like a president and executive officers and managers, as well as a board, but it also includes a Senate that balances the power of the board and a special, company wide voting system that overcomes tyranny of the majority.
But unlike a DAO, which creates voter fatigue, as people ignore or get tired of voting on every little issue, the Foundation invests people with power to make decisions, much like Liquid Democracy. The president sets the direction of the company, and decides what to build and how to do it. Operations people are in charge of hiring and firing people. But all the powers are checked with voting and time limits. A president’s powers expire and need to get renewed every five years.
People don’t need to vote on every decision a president makes but within 30 days they can call a vote of no confidence in a decision and force a board vote or a company wide vote in certain situations.
Voting is an essential part of how the Foundation does business. Democratic institutions have fostered some of the greatest, most powerful and most vibrant civilizations in history but they’re subject to various weakness, where one vote/one person crushes a richer expression of ideas. Tyranny of the majority means that good ideas might die on the vine because the predominant opinion, shared by the most people, is weak, ill advised or outright wrong.
The platform uses Vote Tokens (VTs) a specially tagged, non-monetary token, protected by End to End Verifiable Voting, with blind signatures, and unlinkability to IDs. Different people and parts of the organization have a different percentage of the Vote Tokens. That gives each person or business unit more than one vote. Here’s how it works.
Imagine a small housing community is voting on whether one person can play drums that many of the neighbors can hear. Naturally, with one person, one vote, there is no way that person will get to play their drums, even if it’s essential to their career as a musician.
However, now imagine that each of the ten houses have 1000 Vote Tokens each. The person who wants to play drums can allocate any or all of those tokens to the drum vote. Those votes are slightly discounted the more he adds, but he can still choose to allocate a large chunk of his votes to the issue. If the other houses do not feel strongly about it, they might only allocate a smaller share of their Vote Tokens, hoping to save them for another vote they do care about more. This gives the musician a fighting chance to get his voice heard and win the vote, though it is not guaranteed. It stands as superior to the one person, one vote system, where he is virtually guaranteed not to get his way no matter how hard he campaigns for mercy from his neighbors.
Once tokens are used up, they replenish after a fixed period of time, however if a person uses their tokens too fast they can’t vote on later issues for that waiting period.
Different aspects of the Foundation have different allocations of Vote Tokens, giving them greater or lesser weight. Everyone in the company has Vote Tokens, from the newest employee to the most senior, while different branches, such as the Executive Branch and Board and Senate have a much larger number.
I include a more detailed breakdown of the Foundations and the division of power and voting allocations in the deep dive Twitter Decentralization Design Document here. But for now we need to move on to the most essential component of any powerful decentralized platform:
A platform that can’t inspire businesses and people to join it and build their lives around it, that can’t pay for itself while increasing the wealth of the people, companies and organizations running on that platform is absolutely dead in the water no matter how clever the technology behind it.
Death to the Surveillance Economy
The surveillance economy is the one we all know, love and hate today.
Giant internet companies give us services for free, while tracking our behavior, our likes and dislikes, so they can hit us with advertisements that blow past the blood brain barrier to the pleasure centers of our brains and drive us to buy things compulsively.
It doesn’t matter whether you love it or hate it, the surveillance economy works.
I may not like that my phone is listening to me, but when it hears I’m in the market for a new backpack, all my apps work overtime to show me the perfect backpack to satiate this burning desire.
The create a decentralized economy we need to design a comprehensive replacement for the surveillance economy.
We’ll build our post-surveillance economy on four strong pillars of economics and technology interwoven together:
- Post-blockchain Decentralized Ledger Technology (DLT)
- Transaction circulation and profit sharing
- Gamified rewards
- Perpetual funding of the Foundations
The Federated Foundations act as the centerpiece of the new economy. Think of them as VIsa 2.0. Their job is the build the network, create new businesses, govern the ecosystem, set economic policies and bootstrap the key technological pieces of the infrastructure.
They are financed in several ways. The first way is via a post-blockchain, miner-less DLT that feeds them an automatic cut of every transaction that flows across the network via global smart contracts.
The second way is via applications they launch on the network, as well as companies they finance on the network who launch their own products and services. They take a piece of the companies and software platforms they finance and those companies feed them a second cut of transactions automatically via smart contract as they conduct business on the network.
But instead of simply hoarding the money that rolls up to them, the Federated Foundations circulate the money to the entire ecosystem. Part of it flows to profits, both to the employees and officers running the Foundation, but it also flows out to feed the economy via additional global smart contracts to universal pools.
Think of money as kinetic energy as it flows around the system, like a series of rivers and tributaries, with lakes and pools.
Those pools are:
- Operations pool
- Venture pool
- Rewards pool
The pools are defined via algorithmic, economic policy smart contract that lives on the major processing nodes that replace the miners in the network.
The Operations pool is just what it sounds like. That’s the pool that keeps the Foundations running, finances their operations, equipment, software, hardware and salaries. It represents a fraction of the total take on the network.
The Venture pool acts as the Foundations’ venture arm, allowing them to invest is both external companies and incentivize businesses to join the platform with startup capital and free infrastructure credits. They can also be used to fund a “pod,” which is an internal autonomous company inside the larger umbrella of the Foundation.
Each of those pods acts as a completely separate business even though it is under the wider organization. It has its own charter, rules and people. The idea of pods is to overcome the innovator’s dilemma.
Once a company gets too big they can’t easily shift their focus. They got that big because they had a very successful product or service. Now they’re beholden to officers, employees and shareholders to keep feeding that product’s success at the expense of change. But every product has an upper limit of value. You can only improve it so much or sell it to so many people before you run out of improvements and people. Eventually the product will get outpaced by smaller, more nimble competition or newer, better technology.
Few companies manage to survive the death of their top product and pivot to something new. They want to invest in alternative ideas that can replace the product but if they have to rob the golden goose of its revenue to fund something experimental, they’re between a rock and a hard place. Eventually, they can’t dedicate enough resources to R&D and as the old product declines, new competitors outside the company outpace them, leading to a brain drain of the company’s best and brightest resources and eventually to the company’s death.
A dedicated Venture pool ensures that they can spawn a competing organization right inside of their own walls, with completely separate funding. The Venture pool is constantly fed by transactions on the network, and the sub-smart contract guarantees a percentage of that money feeds the new Pod and gives them freedom of movement to innovate right inside of the old structure.
The Rewards pool feeds a gamified money Universal Reward Coin (URC) that rewards virtuous behavior on the network and punishes bad behavior. Think of it as digital karma.
If a company was building a decentralized Kickstarter, they might have a policy to deliver rewards coins to the top creators, or randomly drop rewards to new creators. They might pay people who bring more people into the network who donate to other projects and get bonuses for each.
On a social network the Rewards pool might fund people with the highest scores on the reputation system as they win points for enforcing the content policies on the social network, helping decentralized social networks scale to different jurisdictions and nations.
At first the Foundations will find and enable rewards to software and companies and help them define the rules that pay great users and punish cheaters on the network. Over time, as the rules of the gamified money system are codified into algorithms, it could automatically give out rewards via API to new businesses that meet the baseline criteria to build strong, sound apps on the network.
The gamified rewards, the automatic distribution of funds to companies big and small and the perpetual funding of the foundations, saves the foundations from having to go public. Because the Foundations and the businesses that run on top of the platform all grow by sharing in the profits as the entire ecoystem grows, it will shift their thinking towards the long term, the breaking the cycle of short term thinking that has today’s companies maximizing for quarterly results at the expense of strategic, big picture thinking.
Each new node, each new company, each new person on the network contributes to the success of the whole, setting up a self-sustaining virtual loop. The ever flowing rivers of transactions on the network, replaces the need to monitor everyone on the network to monetize them.
Of course, to make this all work, you will need technology.
One of the biggest jobs of the Foundations is to build and bootstrap the initial nodes needed to run the technological foundation of the system. Two key technologies power the decentralized app platform:
- A post-blockchain DLT
- A universal compute block that runs atop the Cloud and the Fog
In my article, The Five Keys to Crypto Evolution, I talked about why blockchains and the decentralized internet haven’t taken off.
The biggest reason is the technology just doesn’t work yet.
That may sound strange coming from someone who believes in crypto and the power of decentralization but the truth is the truth and we can’t hide from it.
- Blockchains/cryptocurrencies don’t scale.
- They’re inefficient and energetically wasteful.
- They’re hard to upgrade and change.
Those problems haven’t changed all that much since I wrote that article. Bluesky will need to invest heavily in evolving the blockchains past their current limitations. While centralized companies like Visa can scale to 24,000 transactions per second, Bitcoin manages to push a mere six transactions per second. Secondary layer solutions, like the Lightning Network, want to fix scaling but they fail to address other weaknesses, like the incredibly wasteful proof of work.
A company that truly wants to build a multi-billion dollar business needs to help design a platform that can support trillions of dollars in transactions. In 2018, the Internet generated over 2.1 trillion dollars in the US alone, 10% of the US economy. It did that because despite early fears that the Internet would break down under load. It’s stood the test of time as a bedrock that others businesses can build on with ease.
Think about it for a second. If you’re talking about the web, that’s a platform that supports all the eBays, Twitters, Amazons and Apples of the world. Those tech giants are just tiny stars in the firmament of the net. A decentralized technology must form the rock solid backbone of what others companies want to build and that means it must remain agnostic.
In other words, Twitter first needs to help build a technology that can support the load of not just Twitter, but of of other businesses and organizations that we can only dream of today.
For inspiration on a post-blockchain evolution, I turned to the ideas of Radix and the Telegram platform as outlined in their extensive, long-form technical whitepaper, as well as new ideas not related to either platform. Radix recently peaked at a throughput of over 1 million transactions per second in their last tests and Telegram’s platform is running in beta.
The decentralized social media DLT doesn’t use mining, the concept that drove the Bitcoin design. Instead we use Transaction Processing Nodes (TPN) and Relay Nodes (RN) which help the platform scale to Visa level and beyond.
These nodes are delivered as a preconfigured, hardened and verifiable Docker containers.
The Federated Foundations maintain and the develop the code behind these nodes, as well as spinning up and running an automated and expanding cloud of these containers, distributed across Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Azure and private data centers to start. They also incentivize smaller groups of people and companies to run their own TPN nodes, by giving those nodes a higher percentage of transaction profits on the network as an incentive to run them. The higher percentage means it will lead to more nodes run by non-Foundation infrastructure companies in the longer run.
People and companies are can download and spin up TPN and RNs, running them in the cloud or in private data centers. The Foundations are responsible for kickstarting the environment and maintaining a critical mass of containers, but the true power of the network will grow with each individual node added by people all over the world.
Eventually, as Fog platforms grow and flourish, pushing the cloud back out to the edge, running on smart phones and home computers and servers, the universal compute blocks will run on the Fog primarily.
The Foundations also maintain dockerized Monitor Nodes (MN) that track the total transaction throughput of the network, as well as multiple economic statistics. If the transaction throughput starts to lag or there is an overcapacity on the network, the system can automatically decommission nodes on the network, to reduce cost, as well as expand the node count by launching automated sales of various currencies owned by Twitter on decentralized and centralized exchanges, creating fiat and paying the various cloud systems to launch more nodes, on a regular schedule, defined initially as every month. This process would happen outside of human intervention over time.
The Monitor Nodes also give us real time economic statistics on the network. Today’s economics are based on reported statistics, which are prone to cheating and collusion by nation states and businesses alike. But real time economic statistics changes the game completely. If we wanted to build a stable coin, we could pull from the actual reality of economics on the network, instead of a basket of external nation state currencies like so many other platforms have tried to do. We could then create an algorithmic Federal Reserve style policy, set via smart contract, that increases or decreases supply in real time, while also setting the price based on how the money is flowing on the network, volatility and other measures of economic health.
The one month period is a starting checkpoint, and that number is enshrined as part of the Monetary Policy (MP), the layered Fed Reserve like smart contract that contains the different monetary policies of DLT platform, that is distributed to, and stored by every node.
The Monetary Policy Smart Contract (MPSC), is a versioned contract that contains the agreed upon consensus rules of the network, such as how many coins are printed, at what rate, how often, etc.
The key to scalability comes from the distributed and massively sharded nature of the system. Borrowing another idea from Radix, the sharding “is achieved through a deterministic process (a process that, given a set of inputs, always outputs the same answer, no matter when it is computed). We achieve that by pre-cutting up the data structure of the platform into 18.4 quintillion shards (2⁶⁴). We then use key reference fields, such as a public key, as a way of determining where in that shard space a particular piece of data lives.” The massive numbers of shards is designed to handle every person on the planet and tens of billions of smart and automated objects and devices living on the Twitter platform.
Each TPN is responsible for:
- Handling a portion of the transactions on the network
- Checking a set of transactions on other nodes
- Storing a partial history of the historical transactions
Transactions are grouped into Transaction Stacks (TS), and they do not have a fixed limit, like a blockchain does, though they regularly will fall into a specific range and if that range gets too high, the system will look to scale by adding new nodes.
Transactions are randomly distributed to sets of nodes for redundancy, defined as X number of nodes, to be determined by stress and security testing for reaching the optimal probability of beating a hostile attack, such as collusion.
Instead of every node processing every transaction like we have in today’s blockchains, we allow smaller subsets of nodes to process the transactions in parallel.
The DLT acts as the foundational backbone of all transactions on the network. Its global smart contracts are the rivers that feed profitability, the very life blood of the system. The rivers do not just flow one way. They flow to the Foundations, but also to the companies and organizations that bet their future on the platform.
But we’ll need more than just a post-blockchain ledger to run a decentralized social media platform. To truly do that, we have to abstract away the foundation of the modern software world:
To do that we need a Universal Compute Block (UCB). Think of it as serverless without the cloud or Lambda without AWS.
Universal Compute Block
Twitter runs a lot of servers. A quick look at an older Twitter blog shows me they have a vast and sprawling datacenter driven architecture that includes:
- Fleets of web servers
- Relational datastores
- HADOOP clusters running booth a distributed file system and compute
- Key/value stores
- Object/blob stores
- Caching clusters
- Messaging clusters
That doesn’t even cover the half of it. They have a vast routing architecture and the networking admins to configure it. They have programmers who design APIs and interfaces. There’s a QA team that checks that code. There’s server admins who deploy and maintain all that infrastructure, keeping it upgraded and patched and running smoothly. There’s also failover and redundancy built into the very fabric of the design.
The architecture that runs our decentralized Twitter will need to approximate and replace all that. It will need file storage and key value pairs and interface capabilities. It will need to provide statistics and real time information on the health of the network and the use of the network.
This is perhaps the most challenging part of the architecture. The serverless UCB will need to be flexible to process lots of different kinds of jobs. It will need to be secure enough that malicious operators can’t alter the node and change it to steal traffic or attack people. A server is a multi-tool that can do lots of different kinds of processing. We’ll want to construct a universal compute platform that can run any kind of transaction, whether that’s a machine learning training job, a web interface, an object store, a file system or a messaging stack.
The ideal way to do it is to build a UCB and incentivize other people to run it and maintain it, in the same way that Satoshi incentivized miners to safeguard and protect the Bitcoin network. Satoshi did it by channeling greed. We’ll feed the UCB with the same transaction cuts that feed the Foundations. Not only will the Operations pool help fund the DLT nodes, it will also fund the UCB nodes. The Rewards pool will also give people bonuses if their Reputation scores on the system show that they’ve managed to run unaltered code and maintained high uptimes and sent no malicious packets.
The UCB is an encrypted container and an OS all rolled into one. It should be fast and flexible and provide lots of different kinds of transactions as a service to anyone building a platform.
If this part sounds a little like Silicon Valley’s “decentralized Internet” that’s because Silicon Valley pulled from the ideas finally coming to fruition after decades of conceptual thinking. Trustless computing fabrics stretch back to the early research of cryptographer David Chaum, who’s worked on decentralization since 1980s, with papers like Computer Systems Established, Maintained and Trusted by Mutually Suspicious Groups. Chaum is a smart designer. He studied ways to making competing groups, with conflicting goals, work together to build a better system.
Other luminaries like Tim Berners Lee have realized how far we’ve gone down the Black Mirror version of reality and he’s pushed to re-decentralize the web with the help of MIT and his Solid project.
IPFS has made serious strides on a building a worldwide, decentralized storage system.
Companies like Blockstack have worked towards trying to build a decentralized and scalable app system but are still working towards ease of use and ubiquity. Other projects, like SONM, are looking to build a decentralized Fog that rents out infrastructure across the globe. Zeronet delivers web apps and Golem wants to build a rentable Fog infrastructure too.
Bluesky will need to dig deep into the state of the art and figure out who’s made real progress on this front and who’s Github repo is a ghost town. They’ll need to find out of they need to completely reengineer the concepts and build their own, or if anyone is far enough along and delivering enough flexibility to deliver a rentable cloud-less server-less architecture.
Bonus, Solving the End to End Encryption Showdown for Good
Anyone building such a comprehensive framework will also need to strike a balance between letting anything goes and community standards.
If the UCB runs with airtight end to end encryption and encryption at rest, we don’t want people spinning up an assassin for hire platform. One way to do this is with a concept I designed for the Cicada platform years ago that still hasn’t made its way into encrypted messaging platforms. It solves the eternal battle between law enforcement and security professionals.
To date, law enforcement keeps looking for breakable encryption or backdoors, but the problem is that if we build backdoors into systems it’s not just the good guys who get to use them. The bad guys get to use them too. The way to fix this builds on an idea of Chaum’s PrivaTegrity idea, that I adapted for the Cicada platform design.
PrivaTegrity includes unbreakable end to end encryption with no key escrow, but it shards up a universal decryption key, that can unlock any communication on the network and distributes the key shards among nine different servers controlled by different countries. If someone did something truly evil on the network, the nine nodes could combine their key, decrypt the end to end transaction and then the key is destroyed, recreated and sharded up again. It can only be used one time.
I prefer to encumber the one time universal key in the DLT and subject it to a 2/3rds majority vote that unlocks it via smart contract. The Foundations and the community managers would all take part in a vote that could unlock the one time key and use it to kill off rogue nodes or open malicious communications. A simple majority vote is too easy to abuse, so the standard of 2/3rds makes it much, much harder to meet the burden of proof. After a single use the key would automatically detonate and a new one would re-encumber itself to await the next vote.
This builds governance into all levels of the platform from top to bottom and balances the needs to the many against the desires of the few, while still safeguarding the individual rights of the vast majority of people, rather than crippling the system for everyone to catch a few bad actors.
Bonus Two, Multi-Token Economies of Scale
What are the best financial assets?
Investments, deflationary, inflationary, prescious metals, commodities, collectables, securities or derivatives?
They’re all essential to a complex functioning economy no matter what zealous adherents to each type tell you. Bitcoin and Monero are not better than gold or better than the dollar or the Yuan or a share in Twitter. They’re all just different. We’ll never get to a point where one type of asset serves every purpose we could ever imagine, from spending cash to investing in the future to buy our dream home.
We need them all.
Inflationary assets keep economies moving because their value declines over time and drive pressure to use them before that happens. Deflationary assets reward savers. Derivatives encourage speculators and taking risks and we need risk takers in society too or we never get new breakthroughs. A smart decentralized platform won’t bother with an ICO for any reason.
Instead they’ll simply charter a non-profit, or a traditional foundation, and then create a basket of programmable currencies for their platform, each to serve a different purpose. If security tokens are enshrined in law or accepted everywhere the foundation will go that route and issue shares in their company as security tokens but until then just do what works.
Once that’s done, they can and will create every other type of asset they need on their post-blockchain and drop them into the ecosystem and let them do their work.
They’ll build an algorithmically controlled inflationary coin for every day spending, that sets its price from the vast array of economic statistics my platform’s proposal offers from the monitor nodes. They’ll create gamified rewards coins to drive incentives to furious heights. They’ll build a deflationary asset that rewards their power players with coins that stand a chance to gain massive value over time, rewarding the powerhouse’s early faith in the platform.
All of these assets will weave together to form a complete and unified system.
Which type of coin does a platform need?
All of them.
The End in the Beginning
As we’ve seen, the problem of decentralizing Twitter goes well beyond simple technology. To change the world we have to engineer a completely new kind of system, one that captures all the power and stability of a centralized system, but that rips the power to control it out of the hands of a few.
Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Again and again throughout history we’ve seen creative, decentralized, loosely affiliated associations working together morph into slow moving, centralized behemoths that abuse their power and are accountable to nobody but themselves. The will of the people dies. The central powers see no reason to innovate or change because they have a complete monopoly on power.
An overly centralized system is a sick system. That’s where we are today. Everything flows through centralized choke points. Creativity and freedom have evaporated. Stagnation and rot have set in.
The only way to fix it is to design a comprehensive system that delivers the same capabilities of the centralized system, one that also constantly resists the hypnotic pull of centralization.
Jack has taken the rarest of bold steps. He wanted something decentralized in the early days but his company went the other direction as centralized technology developed and decentralized tech faltered. But he didn’t lose sight of the original goal. He continued to see the power of decentralized, distributed platforms, even if the future was delayed.
In the meantime we’ve gone down a Black Mirror branch of reality. The once open nature of the web is now increasingly closed. A few massive sites dominate the world and the traffice that flows across it. The surveillance economy is deeply entrenched and it will only get worse as ubiquitous centralized IDs and digital nation state money move the Panopticon right into our pockets and every, single milisecond of our lives gets tracked and dissected by machines.
And when that happens the Bitcoin dream of self-sovereignty and open platforms will die.
Of course, the Bluesky team could set their sites low. They could just try to build a semi-decentralized social media platform and that would be an achievement in and of itself.
But if they set their sites just a little higher, they have a fantastic opportunity to change the very way we experience technology. They have a chance to make technology work for us again, rather than against us.
Jack and the Bluesky team can do something that so many projects have tried and failed. Decentralized revolutionaries and crypto dreamers and coders are out there, working on small pieces of the puzzle.
What’s really needed is a comprehensive, big picture vision to put all the pieces together.
Do that and they’ll tear down the surveillance economy forever and deliver a better tomorrow, one that we’ll all want to live in.
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