In recent times many words have been written about upvote bots on the Steem blockchain and how they may, or may not, be harmful to the Steem ecosystem.
The arguments, obviously, go both ways and to be honest, while I have a rather staunch opinion about bots there's two sides to the argument and an all-out black or white war rarely ever sees any winners at all.
Thus in recent weeks, actually pretty much since joining Steem, have I been thinking about bots, their (mid- to long-term) impact on the Steem blockchain and how can we find a solution and possibly fix the issue.
While I won't claim to be an economic genius, I have a more than solid understanding of the modern online startup culture, venture capitalism and its dynamics, and (online) communities in general. This article also hopes to get a constructive dialogue going, rather than continuing the endless good-bad debate without any offered possible solutions.
It's a discussion needed to be had.
Where Do I Stand?
I love bots. Bots are great and
can perform wonders will improve society, as long as we stay vigilant and don't allow the singularity to take over and dominate our lives.
I loathe upvoting bots though, by which I mean most definitely the paid services which have come to prominence in recent times and have Facebookified the hot and trending sections.
I think they're evil, I think they're the biggest threat the Steem ecosystem faces and if not dealt with soon, they can be absolutely detrimental to the platform and our community.
- Users receiving bought votes indirectly take rewards from those that don't since we all share the same reward pool.
- Now there are middleman services that provides these offers and profit from every purchase and possible curation rewards.
- The bigger users enabling these services through delegations get paid for their votes directly instead of through the limited reward pool that offers curation rewards based on their stake.
- It makes the platform look "pay2win" which is frowned upon on most other places and according to me not what Steem is about.
I want to add one more, the fifth reason: as upvote bots will continue to take ever larger shares of the reward pool, and be among the strongest economic forces of Steem, the platform will end up with a one-sided economy which isn't that different from Facebook.
A one-sided pay-to-win market.
The problem with that is that the fledgling society, or startup, the Steem blockchain is won't attract any investors who come to play the long game.
The only possible investors interested will be vultures. Vultures who come for a quick buck and will contribute to further make life for the ordinary Steemian ever more expensive with always more and stronger bots. All without being interested in the health of the Steem platform and ecosystem. In fish parlance these vultures are called sharks.
Eventually, this will be the downfall of the Steem blockchain as we currently know it. Always more Steemians will emigrate and entrepreneurs will look at other, fairer, blockchain economies to build upon because the value of STEEM, and thus also the SBD, will always be negatively impacted by the one-way grab of the upvote bot economy, and its (current) structure in which short term profit is rewarded even more than the Steem blockchain already allows.
Your typical pay-to-win society.
But I'm not a hypocrite. Nor am I an oppressor, somebody who wishes to block financial opportunities and possibly even kill livelihoods doing so. More so even, I am currently involved with two upcoming projects and both have a (different) partner who is involved in the upvote business(*).
If I had it, the evil business voice in me would tell me to also jump on the bandwagon. Yet, quick money isn't my focus and I prefer to play the long game.
A game which also allows the small ones, or minnows as we are known here, to find opportunities and thrive. Call me a capitalist leftie, if you like.
In a democracy, unless communism is what we all aspire to achive, we need to cater to all sides of the coin. Free markets drive both innovation and economies and Steem has a very bright future.
Unless, of course, we forget to act.
It is primordial we find a solution to the paid upvote bot problem, if we want to continue as Steemians and thrive mid- to long-term on the Steem blockchain, a blockchain with possibly one of the brightest and definitely most disruptive futures if managed well.
Which requires us to deal with issues at hand. It's that simple, really.
Bots in the Steem Ecosystem Need to Be Regulated
As a startupper I love disruption, more so even disruption with also a viable economic model. Don't we all?
Yet, as a startupper I have also seen and learned that often the most disruptive, and lucrative, models need to be regulated.
Regulated by law.
Not because we don't want founders, and their investors, to become rich. Most definitely not because we want to continue feeding some dinosaurial industry and abide to its
At some point of mainstream adoption, regulation becomes needed though because protection for users is required.
Should we let Uber & Co. continue to populate the streets with ever more non-verified, vetted drivers possibly putting passengers at risk? No.
No, because I bet you haven't checked the peer-to-peer reviews of most of your recent Uber drivers. Instead, each Uber you got, you were happy to find a car that quickly. This is the instant gratification era after all. Safety was never one of your issues when accepting a driver, it was assumed.
Should we allow every Jane and Joe to run a pharmacy without ever having studied? You don't go to a not-certified dentist either, do you?
Every society needs a base level of regulation to grow. This because most of its citizens aren't critical thinkers and require as such protection.
But outlawing these services should never be a consideration.
Thus we need to look at how we can regulate evils in ways which allow both sides to continue to operate, grow and even thrive in ways they are a lesser evil.
Continuing the factor that paid upvote services give Steemians a chance to be highlighted is both a valid point but also a straw man argument.
Bots will become ever more needed for Steemians to be noticed and continue to rape the reward pool if not dealt with properly, siphoning everything but only few players only.
Reclassifying (Upvote) Bots on the Steem Blockchain
Bots, and ecomic opportunities, should not be oppressed and nuked as I mentioned before. Thus I suggest that in a near future, as part of a fork of the Steem blockchain the option, obligation, for bots to identify as such is implemented.
The option to classify bots as a Special Class of Steemians and diversify them from regular members categorising them as... bots.
Both premium and free, not-for profit, bots.
A basic internal payment system for paid bots services shall also be included, in order to make transactions easier for users.
Steem bot accounts shall have a weighted, a lower, impact on the trending and hot rankings, and also be excluded from benefitting from any curation rewards because they already benefit from payment just by operating as a paid service.
The fork shall also include an option to nuke accounts which operate as an upvote bot, without having registered as such. Nuking an account shall automatically nullify the account's upvotes and return all payments made to the account for creations/articles still pending payment (7 days after publication of an article currently).
A system shall be developed in which nuking an account is transparently recorded and requires a minimum number of witnesses manually approving.
How to Weigh the Impact of Automated and Premium Upvote Services?
First and foremost the maximum impact of, and total influence the bots market has, shall be capped. Algorithmic specialists needed and called upon here, but an instanteanous calculation will be made, dynamically based on the
average over the last x days and available capacity of the current window, allowing the bot's customer's to receive an instant gratification.
In the current Steem blockchain setup, and society, it seems rather impossible to calculate this retroactively, at the end of each period/day, how much the final vote of a bot is. Even though several bots operate with windows and don't vote outside of these.
As such, an instantly rewarding, matrix shall be developed which looks at the average most recent payouts and how much value that upvote has in that capped special citizen market, also weighing the SP held by the bots, at that moment. Pretty much like several already operate but then within a special, capped citizen market combining all bots.
In my opinion no (cumulated) upvoting mechanism should have an impact of more than 25% on the calculation of virality.
I will leave these calculations to the economic and algorithmic specialists but also want to bring the following elements to the table:
- Changes shall be made to the calculation of virality and thus bots will impact hot and trending sections less. That also in each tag, or in future communities
- Because bots already get paid, bots shall not receive any curation rewards. This in turn will reward manual Steem curators more, in a more organic way.
Upvote bots should be excluded from any curation benefits and the reward pool because there is no curation if it's automated, or pay-to-win upvoting. If a bot upvotes on (paid) demand it isn't curation, it's playing the system. It's that simple, really.
What Would this Mean for Bot Operators?
Bots will become a truly premium, a luxury service which is totally fine. Let's be honest, if somebody has worked hard enough to be able to afford a Zonda, or a Spyker, we shouldn't envy nor want to prevent them from doing so. I know I don't envy them and nor should you. More so even, if I could I would too.
Same applies to the content creator who wants to spend that much on a premium service to benefit higher rewards. It is OK to make money based on being able to invest more.
human greed will continue to be a factor in any economic system, and thus also on the Steem blockchain, we will continue to see Steemians who pay $100 for an upvote, and possibly even more. If one day there will be an opportunity to make a $250-$400 return from a $500 paid upvote, we will see a market for that too, even if statistically the reward is much lower.
But those premium services shouldn't benefit twice.
As such, they will not be able to also dip their fingers in the rewards pool and get additional perks. Because the total value of the market will be limited due to the capped special citizen market mentioned above, bots will not be able to operate on a free market basis, an anything goes as long as there's STEEM and STEEM in the rewards pool. Because only a limited amount of STEEM is be available to them and their combined weight is artificially capped.
Thus a bot's influence/impact will require continued further investment by the operators these upvote bots. Investment in a markt limited by the amount of available STEEM, and thus also Steem Power. But this also means that the statistical return these bots can offer will be always lower due to an increased cost to maintain their weight and position in the bots society.
Bots being excluded from any curation rewards will result in a more organic distribution of the rewards pool among regular, real Steemians. This means more people will hold Steem and their upvote will become more important, thus creating a vicious circle in which bot operators need to continue to invest, also in order to hit their cap and maximize profit. Or risk becoming obliterated as a service and suffering the swift death of a newly found irrelevance.
The total amount of Steem Power available is defined by how much Steem is mined. A more organic distribution of Steem Power, which is also controlled by the 13 weeks power down mechanism, will in turn drive up the cost, and thus value, of Steem.
To A Better Future
A market in which the opportunity for the biggest automated
capitalist operators is capped, but yet allows them to exist and thrive nonetheless, will eventually consolidate and guarantee the continued health of the Steem ecosystem.
At which point Steem, and SBD, become a more viable cryptocurrency for investors, especially investors with have a long term focus.
This will lead to an ever-growing Steem blockchain and ecosystem which will see always more opportunities for Steemians to both make and spend their Steem (Backed Dollars). Because we create a more interesting platform for investors who want to kickstart new initiatives and see them become vital player in a diversified economy.
If upvote bots want to continue to operate, and grow in Steem Power, which will be required in order to continue to justify future premiums required for their services, they will need to continue to invest in STEEM and as such positively contribute to the value of STEEM.
TL;DR: A better Steem society which favors a more organic distribution of the rewards pool, and artificially caps the influence of bots on the pool. Without outlawing them or regulating them into inevitable oblivion. A new, slightly regulated, Steem blockchain and ecosystem more interesting for eveyone to play and win in.
(*) One of both projects will not offer bots a playfield, the other has a bot operator as monitor but without any actual involvement in the project otherwise.
As such these partners' other ventures will not be influence those projects or additionally benefit from them because of their bot activities.