Steemit and The Dynamic of the Authoritarian in Assumption

in steemit •  last year

One of the problems with Steemit is that no one knows that Replies are effectively just Blog entries which are slotted into an inheritance architecture. For all intents and purposes to the system, they're blog posts. But they're not discoverable like blog posts, so once in a while you write something that turns into a very long reply and you feel like it really should get better surfacing.

I'm just going to go with linking to that reply, letting you see it in context, and reproducing it as a blog post so that people can actually find it who are interested in the work that I'm doing. I'll also add a little further discussion, because nothing should be shared without amplification and further analysis.

If I didn't do the value add, why would you read this, after all?

In a reply on my post about Steemit and integrating web of trust metrics as a means of ordering content in order to present material which an individual user might be most interested first, I've said:


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. There are several issues with these kinds of approaches that have shown themselves through existing social systems online. Facebook, for example, already allows use to show more (and I think also less) of 'posts like these' and I think also applies similar logic between people too. With so many people in the facebook network, the result has been that not every post that is made is actually visible to users - meaning that our 'meaningful relationships' can turn into 'echo chambers' or worse.

There's an inherent problem with thinking about the situation from this perspective, and I'm not saying that you're wrong – let me be very clear about that. But you're making the assumption that what you think is the best material for people to see is what they should want to see. This is pretty insidious from the perspective of building a social media platform that people will want to engage with. It starts with the authoritarian urge to control what others see "for their own good." People legitimately don't like that. There's a reason that among all the other reasons that people complain about Facebook, the way that they filter and present media by default receive some of the harshest criticism.

Essentially doing the same thing as Facebook and Twitter while calling out what Facebook and twitter does as wrong is no way to run a railroad.

If people want to read things which agree with them, let them. Implicitly, your position would be to tell people that they should read things that agree with you, preferentially. I don't think that's healthy. I also don't think it's right.

Give people the ability to expose themselves to things outside their web of trust, absolutely. Invite them to explore the space of the available, sure. But I intensely distrust the idea that people can't be trusted to make decisions of what they want to see. I find that anathema to the basic philosophy I see espoused everywhere in relation to cryptocurrencies and what the direction of social networks should be.

You may disagree. That's all right.

If I deny significant aspects of who you are, am I really a friend? Do I really know you? If I am blocking out certain things about you/us, then maybe I will never learn more about the topics I don't want to see, that you actually like - and thus never learn more about you either.

If you don't have friends who have significant aspects of who they are which you don't like, you need to get some more interesting and diverse friends. I love my buddy Eric, but I absolutely do not trust his taste in music. (He's into a lot of really weak indie crap and I like 80s metal.) @illuminaughti is a wonderful person and I enjoy her company, but we are probably never going to agree on what the most effective underpinning for an economic system which brings the most good to the most people are. I wouldn't be able to make those judgments about them if I didn't know them. That doesn't mean that I like them any less, it means that I actually have feelings and opinions which differ from other people.

Again, this is one of those reasons that individuation is far more important than believing that there is some global metric that can be applied in every case for everything that reveals value. That's wrong. Inherently and provably not in accordance with reality.

In a web of trust system, I trust both Eric and @illuminaughti. Both of them and their influence on what they like in the Media space word and should be elevated above the rest. Even the stuff that I don't like that they like is better than the vast seething sea of un-curated content that exists in the theoretical space that I could see. (Or it's not, but that's when we get into the question of second-order Agents which act as folksonomic nexi for clustering, but that's an entirely different discussion altogether.)

A second issue is that as soon as you insert a process of recording fairly detailed information about human relationships into the public blockchain, you expose us all to data mining in a major way.

Anonymity is a problem if you ever want to do anything that involves aggregate interaction with the preferences of others. But let's be honest – if you're involved with Steemit, you've already given up any sort of pretense to anonymity that would avoid data mining. You're publicly expressing preferences on a regular basis. If those preferences actually reveal your real preferences, that is if you are using the system as it's intended to try and get better content in front of more people rather than using it as an elaborate game to try and make fake money (which is an assumption that I am less and less coming to believe is justified for a lot of users here), you've already given up plenty of information for data mining and targeted advertisement, consciously and willfully. It's a little disingenuous to bring it up here.

You've already said that you are happy for users of the blockchain to psychologically profile you. In fact, the entire point of Steemit – literally, exactly what it accomplishes, is to build a psychological profile of things that you prefer to share with other people. You don't get to do that and then suggest that making it that process actually work better would do anything other than what it already does. That's silly.

Something else to consider is that in China, there is currently a system called sesame that the government is intending to enforce on people that literally limits free will based on their reputation on the network!

I wasn't aware that the Chinese had already managed to work out how magic works.

Oh, you don't mean actually limit free will – you mean a system that monitors their activity online and gives them real-world consequences for living in an authoritarian government which is willing to use coercive force against its subjects on a regular basis. So no real change at all.

This is kind of a sideswipe slur by association against web of trust systems. That would be like suggesting that because currencies can be used to pay terrorists, all currencies in the very idea of having currencies is bad. That's bad reasoning. It's kind of insulting, actually. It's exactly the kind of reasoning that major governments have used against cryptocurrencies being freely traded at all.

Is that the kind of argument that you intended to make? Because I would question that kind of argument. If it's not the kind of argument you intended to make, maybe you should think about that argument and how you might redeploy it.

For the record, I don't have any kind of responsibility to prevent the Chinese government being assholes. I really don't. If I accepted that anything that I create, any tool, any thought, any process, could be used by people that I disagree with to accomplish their unfair ends because my idea, my tool, my thought, my process, is actually good and effective and thus should never be publicized, conceived up, or shared…? You've just justified never doing anything. You've just justified never trying to make the world better, because every tool – every tool – can be used by people that you don't like to do things you don't want.

It's that simple.

I appreciate the need to organise the posts in a more user friendly way - my most basic suggestion is to make filtering the lists by tag keywords a very easy affair. That would dramatically improve the UI in that regard.

It's already easy to filter lists by tag keywords. That interface could be a lot better, but a lot of the interface of Steemit could be a lot better.

But, and I say this as someone who has been a strong proponent of folksonomic taxonomy online for longer than many of the people in this discussion have been alive, tagging keywords is a terrible way to get more content in front of me that I am likely to enjoy. All tag keywords do is drop a very rough knife to take a very rough slice out of the space of Media which are available to consume. They provide absolutely no assistance for discovery. They provide absolutely no help for determining what part of the space within that slice is likely to be useful to me. In order to define a subspace within that eigenvector, I have to put in a really large number of tags, a massive set of Boolean operators, in order to define a space that I want to explore.

Publicly generated tags are an assistive technology for clustering. Derived tags (involving metadata like author, how old it is, number of replies, etc.) are equally as helpful in describing a specific piece of Media and allowing a clustering methodology to bring things together. They are pretty terrible for being the operable mechanism by which you tell the machine what you want to see.

Deliberately constructed Communities are better. The user signaling demonstrated by the act of consciously opting in, the way that content is typically moderated by people who care about the subject and thus everything is roughly related with in that Community. The fact that other members of a given Community act as an inbuilt, self-selected recommendation pool. All of these things are far more useful than suggesting tags or an enhancement of a tag system as a mechanism for discovery.

Like you said above, I don't actually expect most of the people into cryptocurrencies to be aware of the long history that the people that developed the underpinnings of what is now the vast social media network did. The study of history seems to be a lost art.

But that brings us to where we are now.

Any solution must be assessed for it's openness and capacity to introduce unintended side effects and limitations.

I strongly disagree. Any solution should be assessed, first and foremost, for its utility. "Does this work?" is the most important question in the first question that we need to ask. If it doesn't work, don't do it. If it does work, then the question of whether people who disagree with you could use it for disagreeable things is unimportant. Day one, step one, minute one: make something you want to work work.

Everything else leads to an infinite regress of worrying that because something works someone else will do it better or do something bad with it. To "a wiser man than I, "ain't got time for that."


The heart of this disagreement goes to an issue that I have been running into more and more often as I have delved deeper into understanding the idea of "the blockchain" as a tool in general and cryptocurrencies in specific. That is that there is a lot of talk about democratization, about decentralization, about empowering the powerless, enriching the poor, and changing the world. There is a lot of talk about being the instrument of change that shakes the pillars of heaven and rouses the old gods so that they may be destroyed.

There's a lot of talk.

In practice, looking at how systems actually work and what people actually talk about wanting to happen – there is an architecture and assumption of top-down authoritarianism, of impositional expectation that underlies a lot of people's interaction with the actual implementation of systems.

Or to phrase that in terms that normal human beings might actually say: People talk a good game but when it comes down to it what they want is not the power to say things but the power to keep other people from saying things. When it comes down to it, they don't believe that individuals should be given power to accomplish their ends, they believe that power should only accrue to the people who agree with them.

But most damning of all, especially in the context of being a social media platform – and this applies to all of the social media platforms which have a cryptocurrency as their core and not just steem – they implement systems which assume that the madness of crowds is the true determinant of what is "worthwhile."

Steemit is built on the assumption that if enough people upvote a thing, that thing is valuable, the creator should be rewarded, the people that found that thing should be rewarded, and that everyone involved should find that thing to be better than the other things which have less rewards. At first glance that sounds perfectly reasonable. Of course you want creators to be rewarded for making things people like! Of course you want people that find stuff to be rewarded for finding stuff they think people will like! Of course the things that are most like to buy the most people are the best!

Whoa. Hold up. Let's examine that last assumption.

Let's ask the big question: is it true?

After all, if it were actually true then there would be no need for a currency other than bitcoin – or the US dollar. Or the pound. Or the euro. We would only need one currency, which ever one is the most popular.

Wouldn't life be so much better if there were only one choice?

That's what we're actually implying. That's what the unified architecture of a single commodity as the determinant of quality actually manifests in practice.

That, specifically, is why there are vast swarms of bots wandering the wilderness, fighting each other with votes and proxy delegation, with the actual content being fought over in between being effectively meaningless. That's why New and Trending are pretty useless tabs to view content. That's why the system doesn't actually deliver any kind of discovery for content that it thinks I want, because it has no concern or care that I exist.

I only have meaning and purpose as part of a larger aggregate in which, like many other minnows, I have little to no influence.

If I weren't writing about Steemit itself and about the blockchain, if I were actually writing about what I often prefer to write about – narrative role-playing games – I wouldn't have a chance in hell of earning any steem at all. None. Absolutely zero. I would have better luck re-sharing pictures of cats that I plucked off Twitter. I would have better luck taking $10 and putting it into a bot swarm which promises to vote up my content with delegated power – no matter what that content is.

The system doesn't work. Steemit doesn't work.

I know this is going to be an unpopular statement from someone who has been here without enough time to even see a single payout. I know that. I get that. I'm an absolute outsider bringing knowledge and experience which hasn't really been anyone's interest or considered relevant to what's going on, and I have the absolute ego to pretend I have input which would be important to people who are involved in shaking the pillars of heaven.

That's what I mean.

The cryptocurrency-backed social media network has no room for the individual, by design, from the ground up. If individuals interact with it, they have to be interested in gaming the system first and foremost and with the social aspect far down the line. We know this by looking at the system. We know this by looking at the mechanics of the game. We know this by looking at what new users say and do.

To quote a great man, "that's very sad."

The second question we need to ask, perhaps the second most important question is, "can it be fixed?"

I believe it can. If I didn't believe that it could, I wouldn't continue shouting my words into the void using this mechanism. I would go do something more obviously and clearly rewarding, like posting to Facebook, or Twitter, or telling everybody in all the corners of the world about Flattr. For some mad reason I have decided that Steemit is a thing that I should try to support.

It's not because the system is wonderful.

It's because some of the people that are involved are legitimate, interesting people. Some of the people really want to change the world for the better, even if they are dumb kids who have never had a real job. Some of the people that I've spent time with, talked to, exchanged words with – they're worthwhile people.

The social aspect and conductivity of the platform motivates me to want to help those people make things better, even if I am an evil Randian Objectivist who loves capitalism and believes that free markets are the solution to all of mankind's problems.

Even if.

That's the key. Understanding that the social network is the motivator that can connect people with one another and get them to care about things. First. And then care that they get paid.

That gets lost. That's not important. Most of the discussion of how to refine the system is all about how to reduce the influence of bots so that "real people" can get paid for "good content." The only place that individuality comes into this is as someone to get paid.

That's toxic. We know exactly what that leads to.

What cryptocurrency-backed social media networking needs is recognition of the individual, focus on the individual, a laser-like obsession with the individual.

Individuals are the people that make content.

Individuals are the people that curate content.

Individuals are the people that consume content.

They want things. They want you to help them get those things.

If you help them get things that they want, specifically the things that they want and not the things that you think they should have, they will not only appreciate you, they will shower you and money. Real money. All kinds of money. All you have to do is be useful to them. All you have to do is invite them in. All you have to do is help them.

That's why I've been writing about web of trust systems and talking about the the authoritarian nature of the assumptions of the blockchain – because I think that we can actually help people get what they want if we get ourselves out of the way and help them.

Let's empower them, even if they want to do things that we don't want to. Let's pay them, even if they've made stuff we don't like. Let's encourage them to interact, even if they're people we don't like. Let's let them in.

Well, enough of that.

I believe my next post will be on a stupidly brilliant or brilliantly stupid idea that I had pseudo-web of trust systems leveraging blockchain technology which might be possible using advanced applications of smart contracts. I don't know. I'm a newbie. I'm just making it up as I go along.

But everyone else seems to be doing the same thing, so it's okay.

Tomorrow then.

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Everyone sure is doing some thinking and it is beneficial. I am not sure many are sharing the self-supposed to-be-ill-received thoughts that they have within the ecosystem, while others are happy to share them in spades. Theres no organic way to follow response-posts to posts and so the comments can contain more content than the OP and its not indexed , very true. I often think about -what if steem was a dollar bill and I was talking into my wallet to earn more, would people think i am crazy- Steemit.com is, before all, just that; The official wallet of the steem blockchain. People made the leap to invest and make steem what it has become, for external agitators to suggest modification of how the wallet works I would suggest that it might be to tall of a task. Perhaps its a time where adaptation to this platform is more necessary than the adaptation of it. For if there is one nerfing there shall be another and another and another.

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For if there is one nerfing there shall be another and another and another.

I can't even conceive of a nerfing that would begin to fix the issues that have been stated which would be fixable by nerfing of some kind.

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Maybe there is some future form of a fix that can help. Im keeping myself open to change if it comes. I wonder what happens when all the bad bots and spam are effectively muted and people still dont make as much as they want. My thought is that users really start turning on each other then. In a way the bad behavior is the glue between the good behavior of steemit.

hot damn... this peaked my interest and i kept reading... you aint hurting for words. haha.

honestly i kept reading because i liked what i was reading. and just when i thought i was disagreeing you would flip it back to something i had thought as well.
and in my opinion you nailed the end. The Individual, Individual, Individual......'If you help them get things that they want, specifically the things that they want and not the things that you think they should have,'

i could talk of all my points and how they pertains to yours. but i think instead i'll say just one idea that i want as an individual.
I want a second feed. the one feed can stay as is... where i just see all the people i follow and can randomly pop into points of view i may not agree with... little breaks in the feed back loop.
but the other i want is a my favorites feed... i dont care what the call it. i just want to be able to separate those that have passed my little test of content of quality, and being real. a place where i can put my Eric and my @illuminaughti whether i agree with them all the time or not... its that i want easier access to those that i honestly am already following. but now i have to search for them...or find a comment i made to them so i can click and find there newest post. i dont want to not follow all those other folks... i just want a direct access point to the folks i have sifted through and pass my personal seal of approval. empower me steemit....give me the 'my favorites feed' tool i want steemit. pretty please 😁
thanks for you musings @lextenebris

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hot damn... this peaked my interest and i kept reading... you aint hurting for words. haha.

This is what happens after you've written a couple of books and spent time in the trenches doing corporate and enterprise-level technical support. You get wordy. You get expansive. You tend to over explain things.

You know, like I do.

but the other i want is a my favorites feed... i dont care what the call it. i just want to be able to separate those that have passed my little test of content of quality, and being real.

On most social media platforms this is called "a friends list," and is one of the primary driving forces of user engagement with a site. I think everyone has been on Facebook and Twitter, the two 900 pound gorillas in the room when we talk about social media. Both of them are heavily focused on directly communicating with people that you "know."

It's extremely important to register that both of those platforms started with and became popular for that singular particular thing, that they allow you to decide there are some people whom you want to know what are up to. Both of them added more complex organizational and social connectivity later in their lifecycle; Twitter added lists and Facebook added Pages relatively recently.

Twitter did that because by default it points a firehose at your face, turns it on full blast, and let you drown in the stream. Being able to construct and manage lists of people that you want to see at any given time makes that feed manageable for a lot of people.

Facebook added Pages because they wanted to improve their search cohesion and add one more way for people to flag their personal interests, and Pages does that extremely well. As an added side effect, Pages allow people who do not have a personal connection but who share a common interest to have a channel by which they can receive content that they are extremely likely to be interested in and, incidentally, discover other people whom they want to add as "friends," and be updated on their broader, more regular content creation.

Steemit, despite Communities being on the roadmap – and I want to reiterate, that's one of the things that every social media platform really needs to have and do well – still doesn't have good mechanisms for the social part of social media.

That's a real problem. I think everyone that wants to use Steemit as a social media platform, what it ostensibly pretends to be, feels that absence extremely keenly.

Alongside that is the issue of separating "resteeming" (which I maintain is a lazy way of trying to enable better discovery options and probably shouldn't be part of the system at all) from actual new content.

That may be an entirely other post.

I appreciate the fact that you have managed to suffer through the vast bulk of my rambling, and I hope that you will continue to be entertained as time goes on. Or that I don't get bumped off of here for being a bitter, cynical, ridiculous old dude. Whichever.

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oh...that would be a good new button... bump the bitter old dude button. sort of a labeled flag..haha. resteeming pisses me off often too....i dont mind one resteem. but people be re-spamming. 6-7 in a row from same person in my feed. unfollow very much.
i wouldnt say i suffered through your post...but i did do a double scroll down. reading for a while and then ...thinking about what it meant to me...formulating what i would say...then more reading....then being like...how long is this and my finger had to do the retrace from bottom to top several times...holy shit. but you had me. so that says something... i went back up to my spot and continued the slog because i wanted to...thats not suffering.
well i hope they hurry up with that community section. because yeah...as you pointed out.. they forgot the social part of the social media.

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Have you seen this? Scipio's UA Concept? Sounds kind of familiar.

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I have seen that text, and there were a bunch of very useful things – but I found myself disagreeing with him on at least two occasions which I will cut down to one in the interests of brevity:

  • The UA system doesn't so much work with the individuation of the user base, because as it stands only a single view of the users exist within the UA space.

(Edited later to cut clear insanity and say, "What the Hell was I thinking?" Always go to bed before exhaustion curdles your mind, kids.)

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Well, you could think of it as an 80% solution in that it would help to eliminate noise and provide a far saner starting point than the current view of the system.

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I will absolutely grant that it certainly would provide a far saner starting point than the current view. No question about that.

It still provides a top down impositional valuation rather than asking me what I like and building something bottom-up, but that's a whole separate fleet of issues.

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Asking what the user likes is a great way to get a biased and incorrect answer... As a user, the one thing that I'm certain about, is that I don't really know what it is that I want from the platform with regard to finding other people's work. I know what I want myself to create, but I don't know what I want to find of others.

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But making up what the user likes and pretending it's true is also a great way to get a biased and incorrect answer.

The only way to get an idea of what the user actually wants is to pay attention to what the user actually says he wants.

The alternative is, philosophically, to fail to care what the individual wants and only care about what we want to give them. That's not a system I want to be a part of. That's the exact opposite of a system that I want to be a part of.

Part of the problem is that we can never know all of what is being created, all we can do is provide ourselves the best opportunity to be exposed to things that we are likely to want. That's the key problem. We need to maximize that probability. We can't make it perfect, but we can make it better.

If we can make it continuously better – we win.

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Think of it this way... man I wish I had a link, I'll just have to paraphrase.

Question: How do you define pornograph?
Answer: I don't know, but I'll know it when I see it!

I was just cautioning that the user may think they like something or that they ought to like something based on some idea of their self image or whatever, but it might be more useful to put stuff in front of the user that you think they'll want, and they can choose to axe it and you can make a better guess next time.

Meanwhile, the user is still free to peruse content to locate stuff they want without forcing them to surrender a preference a priori.

The downside is the user may not get a chance to say they like a thing because it was never put in front of them, especially if the raw signal is such a firehose that they drown whenever they go off on their own.

Part of the problem is that we can never know all of what is being created, all we can do is provide ourselves the best opportunity to be exposed to things that we are likely to want.

And I think we're now starting to converge on the same idea.

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