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Redecentralize Digest — November 2021

In this issue:

A Declaration of Interdependence

Some people wrote a revision of John Perry Barlow’s 1996 Declaration for the Independence of Cyberspace. While keeping the style and structure of this famous essay, it now addresses not governments but rather the corporations (mainly Facebook) that ended up dominating the proclaimed Cyberspace:

“Closed Fiefdoms of the platform world, you weary giants of stocks and small talk, I come from the Pluriverse, the new home of the Heart. On behalf of the future, I invite you to join us.”

Perhaps most interesting is the authors’ reflection on why the original declaration deserved an update:

“Barlow pits existing institutions against the internet; we see the key conflict not as old versus new, but as monopoly versus pluralism. That is, while Barlow’s “you” refers to the government, our “you” refers to corporate and political hegemonies of all kinds. Barlow emphasizes freedom of speech; we believe that this freedom must be accompanied with the freedom to design, govern, and own the environments that speech lives within. Barlow takes a highly individualistic framing; we believe in individual agency alongside mutualism, reciprocity, and collective creation. Barlow rejects embodiment; we recognize our digital identities and commitments to be interwoven with communities, societies, and relationships in the material world.”

Whose Web3?

Just like the above declaration attacks the platform “fiefdoms” that ended up dominating the ‘Web 2.0’, others already worry about current ‘Web 3.0’ initiatives leading to no less of a mess, despite their possibly good intentions. Will we, in a few years, see yet another revision of the same declaration, but then addressed at the elite blockchain bros and crypto whales that rule the internet?

Ross Stalker, for example, puts it starkly: Web3 is not Decentralisation — it’s a Ploy to put Crypto Bros in Charge. Given its brevity this article does oversimplify and overgeneralise, but this core point holds:

“A blockchain is a distributed append-only database, spread across multiple nodes, but it is still one single database. In the name of decentralisation, Web3 advocates in fact seek to create a new form of centralisation around the blockchain.

Once you are tied into a particular blockchain, it’s not meant to be easy to leave — that’s the whole value proposition for the holders of the cryptocurrency tokens that users of the chain need to buy. The promise of decentralisation is just a veneer — blockchain is in fact the worst kind of vendor lock-in.”

To be fair, non-blockchain protocols also have a strong lock-in: once everybody uses e.g. HTTP, SMTP, XMPP or Matrix, you practically have to follow suit. But such protocols, lacking the token/monetisation aspect, are fundamentally different, and not as susceptible to unmerited hype by speculation schemes that reward early adopters.

Stephen Diehl has likewise been writing eloquent critiques on “decentralized woo”, “technobabble”, and how “Web3 is Bullshit”. Also Maciej Cegłowski (of Pinboard fame) wrote recently:

“The web3 concept that is slowly congealing is an interesting inversion of web 2.0. Back then the idea was “build social websites and figure out the money part later.” Today it’s “build money stuff and figure out some non-speculative use for it later.”

There are three non-fraud foundational problems with “web3”:

  1. No way to reference anything in the real world (oracle problem)
  2. Immutable code makes any smart contract its own bug bounty.
  3. Everything breaks (more) unless expensive distributed systems are run in perpetuity.

You can’t write this off as idiotic because there may be serendipitous discoveries waiting, just like happened with the web 2.0 hype. But the money element is new and quite toxic. It’s a set of legos where every lego is also an unregulated casino, ponzi scheme, and ransomware kit”

In his strong criticism, Maciej may be right to not write everything off completely. ‘Distributed ledger technology’ may have some merit, but at the moment any worthwhile ideas are overshadowed by unhelpful hypes. Perhaps over time people will learn to assess projects’ claims more critically and reject those that seem shady or shaky.

This makes me think of how the French still use paper money instead of gold coins, even after its original introduction led to a bizarre frenzy and ruinous speculation bubble(s). It should not surprise us that a century or three later, people are still prone to such madness of crowds.



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About this digest

The Redecentralize Digest is a monthly publication about internet (re)decentralisation. It covers progress and thoughts relating technology and politics, without ties to a particular project nor to one definition of decentralisation — figuring out its meanings and relations is part of the mission.

This digest was written by Gerben, with thanks to Tantek and others for all tips & suggestions.

The digest’s format and content are not set in stone. Feedback, corrections and suggestions for next editions are welcome at hello@redecentralize.org. We don’t spy on our readers, so please do tell us what you think!