Subjective Proof of Work: some rational comments on the self-voting trend
After hardfork 19 there was a rise in the community's concern regarding self-votes. Is it unfair? Is it damaging to the Steem community? Is there anything we can do to fix it? - My comments on the "self-voting epidemic"
Ever since hardfork 19, Steemians have become increasingly more vocal about their opinions on self-voting. Many feel this practice is "draining the reward pool" and taking away from other contributors here on steem. Others argue that it is their right to upvote their own posts with their own steem power. What is the deal? I think many users here don't quite grasp the attention economy that is forming here on steem - few really understand the mechanics of the system or the power given to them by their votes.
I am going to reference the (poorly written and overly complicated) steem whitepaper to try and make it clear the social contract behind the steem blockchain from the beginning. Consensus can change but this should serve as a highlight to what many regard as "the constitution for steem" - the code how it was intended, maybe not how it functions. I am also going to comment regarding the technicals of the problem in the first place because, You can't stop self-voting.
The Subjective Transfer of Value
Steem involves a unique concept termed "Subjective Proof-of-Work" where the portion of the work being done to secure and generate value for a blockchain by any individual is evaluated subjectively by stakeholders in the network.
A quote from the whitepaper:
In effect, the criteria by which work is evaluated is completely subjective and its definition lives outside the source code itself. One community may wish to reward artists, another poets, and another comedians. Other communities may choose to reward charitable causes or help advance political agendas.
The next step is to reward everyone who does anything even remotely positive with something. This is accomplished by ranking all work done and distributing proportionally to its value. The more competitive the market becomes, the more difficult (higher quality or quantity) it becomes to earn the same payout.
Assume there is a fixed amount of money to distribute, and that those who have a long-term vested interest in the future value and utility of the currency are the ones who must decide how to allocate it. Every vesting user casts their votes on who did the best work and at the end of the day the available money for that day is divided proportional to the votes such that everyone with even one net positive vote gets something.
I think a important take away from this brief section is that anything even remotely positive should be rewarded. There is actually a lot more value in social media comments than most realize. I believe the equilibrium is somewhere in the fractions of cents but consider that all content that is not deemed harmful should get this as a "minimum incentive".
What I think some don't realize here is that users who self-vote their comments (generally much less popular than up-voting top-level posts --- that was the default until just recently) might actually be the ones putting their comments closer to the equilibrium line for all positive media. There are so many valuable comments that end up overlooked in the sea of spammy or invaluable ones. A self-vote that places one of these comments (that is more than just a sentence maybe) above the simple responses such that more readers see it is a good thing. In fact that is exactly how steem was supposed to work. This is why you can up-vote your own posts.
Eventually, I see AI bots that will be able to spread their influence very thin over content that is simply not "spam", will be able to profit when the platform grows. Until then, unless someone is upping their comments into the 10$ range, consider it putting them closer to economic equilibrium.
Moving better content out of the masses is important
This part here leads to a core point: if someone self-votes and others vote him further, that is not abuse. Period. The initial upvote, putting content in front of further scrutiny, is very important. No matter if executed by the author or not, when others also upvote content, this indicates a positive value slope. With the extra exposure from this positive value slope, maybe a future reader downvotes to negate some of the additional voters power. The whole point is that this is a market for you to use your vests to adjust payouts on posts with your own perception of "Subjective Proof-of-Work".
If users perceive the first vote (self or not) generated too much for the author, they should downvote. Simple as that.
But, but, but, everyone wants to vote for themselves.
Let's start here from the steem whitepaper:
The naive voting process creates a Prisoner's Dilemma whereby each individual voter has incentive to vote for themselves at the expense of the larger community goal. If every voter defects by voting for themselves then no currency will end up distributed and the currency as a whole will fail to gain network effect. On the other hand, if only one voter defects then that voter would win undeserved profits while having minimal effect on the overall value of the currency.
The developers felt that self-votes were a problem to be addressed (at least somewhat - see Crabs in a Bucket). What was their solution? Quadratic voting. Yeah that thing that everyone hated and hardfork 19 got rid of.
The problem with quadratic voting was the developers assumptions of equal stake. Although quadratic voting encourages cooperation to some extent, the trust landscape and steem power distribution caused many problems.
What actually exists to mediate this "problem" - hint: nothing.
People need to stinking start flagging. "Negative-voting" (as refered in the whitepaper). If a self-voted post or comment is making more that you feel appropriate - flag. Don't complain. The entire steem system is founded on the principle that everyone is able to use their vests however they choose to make payouts align with their perception of value.
You can not just "make self-votes not payout" or "self-votes only count for page rank". The social contract behind steem is that VESTS are fungible. Vests are always vests. My vote is worth the same no mater if I vote on content that is good, bad, racist, sexist, pro-steem, or even critical of steem. Changing how vests effect post payouts in a discriminatory way fundamentally changes steem by by altering the fungibility of the underlying asset. This is not like just a 'block size increase' or a simple parameter change, this is a major game theoretical and economic change to the system that has effects much deeper than just self-votes.
Vests should be fungible.
Crabs in a Bucket
In the whitepaper, the crabs in a bucket story is a fantastic example of what to do with abuse.
The use of negative-voting to keep people from abusing the system leverages the crab mentality that many people have when it is perceived that one individual is profiting at the expense of everyone else. While crab mentality normally refers to short-sighted people keeping good people down, it is also what allows good people to keep bad people down.
You can't eliminate abuse. Period. The developers understood this.
Eliminating “abuse” is not possible and shouldn’t be the goal. Even those who are attempting to “abuse” the system are still doing work. Any compensation they get for their successful attempts at abuse or collusion is at least as valuable for the purpose of distributing the currency as the make-work system employed by traditional Bitcoin mining or the collusive mining done via mining pools. All that is necessary is to ensure that abuse isn’t so rampant that it undermines the incentive to do real work in support of the community and its currency.
The goal of building a community currency is to get more “crabs in the bucket”. Going to extreme measures to eliminate all abuse is like attempting to put a lid on the bucket to prevent a few crabs from escaping and comes at the expense of making it harder to add new crabs to the bucket. It is sufficient to make the walls slippery and give the other crabs sufficient power to prevent others from escaping.
It will always be a cat and mouse game with those who wish to abuse. The goal is to to allow the stakeholders to ensure payouts are in line with the perceived value consensus. "It is sufficient to make the walls slippery and give the other crabs sufficient power to prevent others from escaping."
Posts with higher payouts should get more scrutiny and more stakeholders to evaluate if the content is making too much or too little. The developers also seem to agree here:
Fortunately, any work that is getting a large concentration of votes is also gaining the most scrutiny (publicity). Through the addition of negative-voting it is possible for many smaller stakeholders to nullify the voting power of collusive groups or defecting large stakeholders. Furthermore, large-stakeholders have more to lose if the currency falls in value due to abuse than they might gain by voting for themselves. In fact, honest large stake holders are likely to be more effective by policing abuse and using negative voting than they would be by voting for smaller contributions.
In conclusion, you can't stop self voting (without altering steem significantly). The only thing you can do is coordinate and vote. Everyone needs to get over whatever fear they have of downvoting and do what you are supposed to do on this platform.
In my mind, self-voting is like putting your vests (money) where your mouth is. If you are pouring a few cents of your vests behind your comments, you better hope they are not some spammy junk. You are the first person you should be curating, otherwise, why bother posting.
Hope this was at least a bit informative and got you to think about your voting habits.
I would love for some good responses in the comments below. - (I have been known to tip quality comments - usually those that lead to good discussion)
As always, stay decentralized,