It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of fiat, it was the epoch of cryptocurrency, it was the season of Hodl, it was the season of Dumping, it was the spring of upvotes, it was the winter of self-votes, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Whale-dom, we were all going direct the other way—
Allusions aside, I can't help but notice a rising comfort level with some of the recent changes and trends on this platform, and they are beginning to disturb me. It seems that there are now two Steemits living side by side in an unhappy harmony. One of these paths allows Steemit to continue to grow and develop in an organic way. The other appears to me a recipe for disaster and ruin.
1: AUTHENTIC STEEMIT
The first tale of Steemit is the authentic one. Members join to engage and write and share themselves with the growing community. They create solid content and seek out help on the various Discord channels. The whales and curation class actually seek out and celebrate great content. Everyone's underlying goal is contributing to the platform and reaping the rewards from that contribution. It is a tale of people using Steemit authentically which allows an organic robustness to the platform.
THE INCENTIVE AS MOTIVATOR
Ultimately, greed may still be driving these authentic users, but its the type of greed that drives all capitalistic systems. As a user chases the twinkie, or the payouts, they are indirectly supporting the community through content creation, content curation, and strengthening the amount of active users, engagement and marketing of Steemit. Authentic users are driven by the rewards, but their actions make everyone better off. This is the long-lasting engine of capitalism that makes everyone in the community better.
2: AUTOMATIC STEEMIT
Which leads us to the second tale of Steemit - the automated version. New members join to automatically invest in bidbots that allow them to self-curate. Their posts are spam at best and plagiarized at worst. Whales, investors, and the curation class are just chasing an ROI their early investment which means they sell their voting power to bots to let people self-curate. The underlying goal is no longer about contributing to the platform, but searching out every loophole possible to make sure the piles of Steem, SBD and Steem power keep going up. It is a tale of people using Steemit automatically which makes for a very fragile system.
THE INCENTIVE AS END-GOAL
And this image immediately highlights what happens when the incentive system is broken. Now, it doesn't drive positive behavior. It drives behavior that makes the twinkie, or reward pool, the end goal in of itself. When you let people self-curate, you break the fundamental role of those with Steem Power to act as defenders and arbiters of quality. They are purposely chasing a short term return at the cost of quality distribution of the reward pool. Almost prophetically in the Family Guy episode shown, Chris Griffin shouts, "I'm going to turn you into poo," when he captures the twinkie. And unfortunately, the automated tale of Steemit has the same end destination with self-votes, spam, bidbots, and self-curation turning Steemit into a large, steeming pile of poo.
So, now instead of indirect benefits, a post has the following lifecycle:
- Spam gets posted.
- Spam gets self-voted.
- Spammer gets paid.
- Bot-maker gets paid.
- Delegators get paid.
- New spammers hear you can easily get paid with Steemit, and the cycle continues.
Ultimately, none of it builds or promotes the platform in any way other than the underlying price of Steemit. And if you really look at Steemit in this way, it is easy to see how the platform so easily draws the comparison to the dreaded P-word: a Ponzi scheme.
A BALANCED CONCLUSION
So, where does that leave us with our story? Which tale of Steemit will win? Which one is winning now? I realize that there needs to be a balance and there will always be a little of both. Selfishness can be good. It drives the engine of authentic Steemit to cause people to act in their own self-interest and the interest of the platform holistically. However, that engine simply does not work if there is no benefit of a Steemian's labor. If investors can simply do nothing but invest and encourage the worst behavior in spammers and new 'investors', then you'll quickly find the content worth absolutely nothing except the votes that are purchased for it. And worthless content means one day or another that the underlying system will be worthless too.
Ultimately, I belief in an authentic Steemit. What about you?
SOME CORRECTIVE IDEAS
And I'm an engineer, so I am not one to highlight a problem without suggesting some possible ideas to fix it:
Limit the total amount of SP that can be delegated by an account to some percentage (10, 25, 30%)
Reduce the value of delegated SP in some way (1/2, 1/3, 1/20). i.e. Power in your hands is worth more than power loaned to someone else.
Improve the discovery capabilities in Steemit.
Adjust the payout duration to reward longer lasting content instead of just more ephemeral content.
Compare and contrast why 'Promoted' posts are less effective than more complicated vote bots.
Adjust the Promoted page to improve discovery and surfacing of promoted posts.
Build out new features that mimic the capabilities that cause people to drift to Discord rooms.
Adjust payouts to better reward minnows. In many ways, the concept of a few whales acting as gatekeepers to content is also antithetical to Steemit's ideals as a decentralized blog. The core idea from my perspective is that hard-working and solid content creators can find the long-tail audience that supports them without the need for a dolphin or a whale to throw them a mercy upvote, for them to buy bid-bots, or for them to speculate their way into actual discovery.
What do you think, Steemit?