Numerous voices have questioned since the early days of the Steem eco-system whether there is a conspiracy to covertly manipulate Steem for the benefit of an influential, small group. Given the high number of such conspiracies that have been exposed in 'offline' society, it is to be expected that they will be encountered in such an evolutionary and disruptive technology as Steem.
From a public relations perspective, whether such a conspiracy exists or not is irrelevant, what matters is whether or not a conspiracy APPEARS to exist. From the perspective of any real conspirators, this means that steps must be taken to obscure their conspiracy. From an outside observer's perspective there may be concern just because a conspiracy appears to exist - even when it does not. From the perspective of improving the value of Steem and also the success of the long term sustainability of the platform, it is imperative to expose the issues that imply some kind of malicious intent and to fix them asap.
There could be said to be an observable, repeating pattern which involves access to the use of the Steem eco-system and some aspects of the intended design of the system being shut down in significant ways. Here I will present evidence, speculate about possible motives (as if I am a neutral analyst - which I do actually aim to be) and suggest some improvements that can resolve the disharmony that such problems introduce. These pieces of evidence have been collated from numerous sources, but are - for the most part - easily observable with elementary research techniques being applied to the blockchain and steemit.com.
The signup process has been broken for over a year, with there often being a less than 50% chance that a new user will actually be able to use Steem at all (based on my experience and that of friends and others I know). This means that a) there is a barrier to joining the steem eco-system that requires quite specialist knowledge to overcome (in the form of using 3rd party - paid - services) and b) the amount of new users that can join the system is greatly reduced.
The witness voting page in Steemit.com only displays 50 witnesses, some of whom are dead. This means that it is unfairly difficult for new witnesses to gain exposure and votes. A minor fix/improvement for this was already provided in Github but has not been accepted and made live.
https://github.com/steemit/condenser/issues/1296 (User complains about limit of 50 witnesses on witness voting page - tim cliff rejects at a time when there were only 69 witnesses in total).
One single account (pumpkin/freedom) has so much Steem power that when it votes for a witness, they are assured of being in or near the top 50 witnesses and visible on the steemit.com witness voting page (currently this vote would put a witness at position 52 and that would mean that all the witnesses currently at or above position 100 would be in the top 50 with the pumpkin vote). The identity of the controller of this account is unknown publicly.
Steps to improve user experience for new users by paying a support team have not been taken and no comments made about the idea by Steemit Inc.
Steps to market Steem in a professional way have not been taken either.
The notifications for replies and mentions has been totally broken in Steemit for maybe a year now.
The observable effects of these facts could be said to be the following:
- Those with the most money can more easily dominate the rewards pool, rather than those with the best ideas and posts, since an effect of new user onboarding being minimised is that here is less competition for the rewards pool. Users who have money but only limited creative ability will be able to use the 'network effect' that their Steem Power creates to continue to benefit from community support only as long as there is not a wide range of hugely more attention grabbing material available from other sources.
- Those seeking to be rewarded for inspiring and life changing posts will possibly look elsewhere or even seek to copy Steem on a new blockchain, since they either cannot even sign up or conclude that the system is a 'closed shop' that is unfair.
- Third party entities gain financially from the creation of new accounts.
- Knowledge about Steem in the wider world is minimal due to a lack of proper marketing, possibly reducing the price of Steem.
- Users who were present early on in the development of Steem and who participated in the creation process to some extent, who have had the longest to obtain Steem power and witness votes, have an increased ability over other newcomers when it comes to earning rewards as witnesses.
- Users who may consider becoming a witness are put off by the apparently impenetrable wall of big money voters deciding who 'wins' in the 'contest' of witness election. This results in a potential centralisation of network control, rather than the decentralisation that the entire design of the witness system is intended to deliver.
- The most significant posts and messages from humanity that might gain high traction and response from the community have a synthetically reduced exposure/reach. Ultimately, this devalues Steem and also actually plays a role in stifling human creativity and evolution.
- The broken notifications limit the ability users have in growing their network and responding to communication. This is a bigger problem for smaller accounts than it is for higher accounts who don't often even attempt to answer replies anyway.
What could the motive be if all this were being done deliberately? Who benefits?
- Steem rewards posts subjectively and it has been stated publicly that the intended result is that those posts that contain high 'proof of brain' are rewarded the most. The smaller the number of active posters, the less competition there is for post payouts and therefore, the lower the quality that is needed for posts to be highly rewarded. Users that intend to post valueless posts and 'ring them up' through collusive voting and vote bots, stand to gain by having less users of Steem and less competition since they have no intention of 'proving their brain' in a way that others will agree with and vote for. The more high quality posters there are, the more challenging it is for low quality posters to get rewarded and supported. Therefore: Those who seek to artificially increase their payouts from Steem benefit.
- Anyone wanting to create a competitor to Steem would be in a stronger position to do so if Steem were functioning sub-optimally. Therefore: Those who create competing blockchains and social sites would benefit.
- Third party service operators who fill the gaps in the system gain financially. Therefore: Those who run relevant 3rd party services stand to benefit.
- Witnesses who hold the top 50 places in the witness list benefit from the dysfunction of the witness voting page. Those that are in the top 19 were being paid around half a million US Dollars annually during the recent high value of steem - so there is significant incentive to not fix the witness voting page for those involved. (n.b. People are murdered every day somewhere in the world for MUCH less money than is involved here). Therefore: Top 50 and top 20 witnesses benefit.
- It is well known by those who do 'due diligence' research that ANY possible new avenue for true free expression in human society becomes a target by those who intend to control voices that present a different narrative to the one that is neatly packaged via mainstream media, schools, governments and other 'authorised' avenues. The Hip Hop industry is a clear example of how the voice of an entire subset of society was bought out, controlled and overpowered by big money corporations - replacing heartfelt wisdom and education with guns and gold. The 'pirate radio' scene in Britain was born out of a similar large scale move to control the content of the 'air waves' and is another example of how forms of music and DJs who voice thoughts that are anti-establishment have been squashed using any means necessary. Social networks have been shown repeatedly to limit the reach of voices that the established control hierarchies seek to silence. Therefore: Authoritarian nation states and their controllers benefit.
Clearly there are several possible threads to examine, some of which may be red herrings and of no value - but they need to be considered if a complete picture is to emerge.
State Programs Known To Exist that Intend To Disrupt Free Speech
The general thread here appears to possibly point to the 'usual suspects' in terms of the entities that are well known to covertly manipulate freedom loving projects, including so called 'alphabet agencies' seeking to stifle dissent and prevent mass dissemination of messages that are contradictory to their own 'propaganda'. Operation Mockingbird and Cointel Pro are two well known probable CIA operations that would either be disrupted by true free speech or would become actively involved in attempting to derail the true free speech.
It is often difficult to differentiate between corporate actors and government actors since they are ultimately, often either the same people or take their orders from the same people. Therefore, I will not attempt to speculate as to whether a large corporate social network is involved or whether the possible manipulation is being initiated purely through a vehicle of a nation state.
Competing Blockchain Technology?
One of the intriguing factors here is that @dan, one of the original creators of Steem has left the project and has semi-regular public battles with @ned, the other co-founder. Dan is busy creating what he has stated is 'Steemit 2.0' using the EOS blockchain that is due to launch in a few weeks. It is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that those involved with Steemit Inc. are so concerned about the potential of being overtaken by Steemit 2.0 and EOS that they aren't really concerned with actually fixing Steem. Alternatively, there is also a chance that those loyal to Dan or even Dan himself is/are taking steps to limit Steem for their own reasons.
Another alternative is that perhaps some in the Steemit Inc. team are colluding with other competing blockchain development teams for a hefty fee. I have no way to prove or disprove this idea and it is part of why it is so important that the problems with Steem are fixed as a matter of urgency if good PR is desired. I am not intending to promote some kind of witchhunt here or introduce dis-ease among those involved, the point here is only to draw attention to the logic that some observers WILL be using when they look at the situation externally.
Joining the Dots
I do not have enough information to be able to reach a valid conclusion regarding any possible 'bad actors' being involved here. This in itself is part of the problem for Steem, since in the absence of full understanding, 'conspiracy theories' often flourish. It is in the interests of any modern corporation or project that proclaims to be offering humanity an alternative that brings real and needed change that the seeds of any conspiracy allegations are taken seriously and the issues involved are fixed as soon as possible.
What can we say though, for sure?
There are numerous motives for leaving certain aspects of the Steem system broken. Fixing them would go a long way to improving public perception of Steem and increase it's value too. Fixing some of the issues would be a relatively simple thing to do too. The funds to do so must surely be available, yet we have seen neither any improvements, nor intention to make improvements. I leave it to you to do your own research here and maybe help us use the wisdom of the crowd to identify useful information that can help. I advise against making public accusations against specific people as this rarely helps - whereas outlining the evidence and available data can help by inspiring solutions without engendering ill will.
Fix the signup process so that it is entirely reliable and equals or betters the signup process in use on other social networks and crypto systems. I have heard this is underway at Steemit Inc. but I have not seen any official announcement for it.
Completely redesign the witness voting page so that all possible/valid recipients of witness votes are accounted for and given a fair chance at gaining exposure via that page. I addressed this in a recent post and will be making a more detailed proposal for an improved design/layout soon too. UPDATE: My suggestion for an updated witness voting page, based on @drakos' page on his site is here.
Formation of a 'Steem Witness Protection Program' to ensure that witnesses have a fair deal. This can include a kind of curation guild made up of witnesses who upvote posts intended to give exposure to ALL witnesses. Rewards from the posts could be used to pay for votes to boost future informational posts from this program.
Provide a roadmap for Steem that includes the introduction of professional marketing campaigns and some kind of official support team that can take responsibility for onboarding new users.
I did not want to make this a heavy, controversial post - I like to bring a sense of humor and playfulness to such things, but there are clearly important issues here that affect the lives of many 1000s of people and it would be a dis-service for me to stay silent rather than take steps to bring improvements that can benefit all.
What are your thoughts?
Wishing you well,
Vote @ura-soul for Steem Witness!