University of Maine’s Digital Curation program hosted a webinar titled “Decentering the Web: From Platforms to Protocols” today at 11:00 AM EST. Jon Ippolito and John Bell were the hosts. The panelists were Glen Weyl and Mike Maizels. The writing below contains my thoughts, scribbled notes, or impressions, and I encourage verification of content before acting upon anything.
The conversation started off with an overview of the current shift from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0. Web 2.0 platforms such as Twitter and Facebook work off of having connected users, social dynamics, and interactive pages., However, they are also controlled by individual parties (Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg), and therefore, the actions and decisions of the controlling parties effect the end experiences and social connections between users. Web 3.0 makes use of decentralization, having users interact with each other without large corporations as the moderator controlling the interactions., Blockchain technology is purportedly used to facilitate these “peer-to-peer” interactions without oversight of large corporations or specific individuals who have large control over all of the stakes., Weyl argued that blockchain technology is a way to create shared cultural understanding. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are “digital assets” - they are bought and sold digital records that make it easier to track ownership or verify authenticity because they are powered by blockchain technology.,
The major topics discuss then ranged from if and how blockchain technologies could be used to help individuals trust spread information, how authenticity and blockchain trust worthiness are established, truth as established by a crowd vs through institutions, using distributed systems to challenge, replace, or encourage the improvement of centralized systems, the inherent inequalities developing in a system where those with better funding and technology are able to establish stronger records of authenticity before the less fortunate, if the systems are customizable to local decision making and verification needs, and about how the lack of regional or ecological correlations in the system can be an asset.
My major thoughts walking away
This system, as it is currently built, is inherently built off of a desire to buy, own, and track origins and authenticity. Many things are not buyable and ownable. What of these? Also, the tracking authenticity only apply to individual assets, but not to their inspirations, so while these proofs of authenticity might exist, they still do not promote easily crediting works a derivative is made from.
NFTs are digital assets, displayed in digital ways. Not only is their minting a huge use of energy, but their subsequent display uses not just computer resources but continual use of energy. The more people who own NFT art and display it constantly, the more it encourages the continual use of energy and electronics. As an artist who makes work dependent on technology, I am constantly internally wrestling with the idea of creating work that does not inspire individual audience members to need to go out and buy their own specialized equipment to view the work, or to continually use energy that would not be already used. How can I ensure that if I ever decide create NFTs, they do not unduly encourage use of extra resources?
At the moment, I am not convinced that blockchain promotes the spread of true information. It promotes trust in the chain through which transactions happen, but just because we can prove the channel along which information has been exchanged does not mean that the information that has been transferred is accurate. It might be considered verifiable by the people who participated in the interaction, and even by those who watched the interaction, but the initial source information itself may not be accurate, and any modifications that happen along the way may distort the original message or information. The changes could be tracked down, but in the end, it does not make the information any more trustworthy than other sources of secondhand information.
Inequality is real! Societies with less access to modern technology and less enthusiastic or less well to do adopters of the technology will not have the same levels of trustworthiness according to the blockchain system, because they will have fewer connections and interactions stored in the blockchain. So this system seems to perpetuate inequality, making those who use it more often and longer the digital elite with more sway over the happenings of the blockchain. (At least, if I’ve understood how the blockchain works.)
I’ve got more to learn, but that’ll be for another day. In the meantime, this talk has encouraged my decision to keep improving this website, to kickstart my mailing list, and to experiment with decentralized communication networks. I joined two so that I can experiment. Find me on Mastodon at @email@example.com and on DiasporaFederation at @firstname.lastname@example.org.
The struggle here is that if I’m trying to maintain all the online identities, none of them will get adequate attention and many will be done poorly. I enjoy being connected online, but treasure in person activities and interactions too. Balancing the online with the in person is a struggle I will continue to pursue.