Thinking about Decentralization is hard

So my article on block chains and the potential for disruption in financial services is published today on Contributoria.com

I’ve had lots of lovely feedback, thank you.  But it does show for me that we’ve got a long way to go in thinking about decentralized models for anything at all.  Our experience of decentralizing media, for example, has been that we started out with high hopes of revolution and found that what happened was  our tools were co-opted by the big players and new players came along who used blog technology to build a new kind of newspaper – cheaper to run, but still along the same lines: we’re going to collect all the stuff and sell advertising off the back of it and we’re in competition with everyone else who tries to do the same.

I do think that decentralizing finance is a different matter, but maybe we’ll just build decentralized markets that are supposed to belong to the participants but then get taken over by the incumbents.  That’s what we’re trying to guard against with the stuff around mycelia.  Maybe extractive capitalism is just too strong, or maybe we just need to get better at helping people think in decentralized models.  I’m aware of the irony that the partially decentralized publishing platform that paid me for writing it is folding after 21 months.

Mycelia: a chance to build a distributed metadata commons for/with musicians

This is a thing that came up at #tuttle last week and I’m ashamed that I haven’t written it up yet, but here it is.

Mycelia is Imogen Heap‘s name for her project to reboot music production and publishing as a “Fair Trade for music environment with a simple one-stop-shop-portal to upload my freshly recorded music, verified and stamped, into the world, with the confidence I’m getting the best deal out there, without having to get lawyers involved.”  That quotation comes from the first of two articles published last month on Forbes.com.  If you’re at all interested in the music business, you should read them both.

My interpretation of it is this – artists will have a way to share their work while retaining control over credit for the works; the assignment of rights of copying, distribution and sale; and how payment by listeners makes its way fairly back to those who made the work.  It implies to me a blockchain-based smart contract platform (don’t worry too much about what that means, the important bits are it is not centralised, transparent and very hard to tamper with and which can have rules embedded in it about eg ownership, rights, payment etc) for metadata about music.

It’s a distributed metadata commons for musicians (and possibly a model for other artists too).

That’s great.  As long as it’s musicians doing it for themselves.  But they are not the only actors in this scenario.  Music Industry Professionals (the ones who have been running the business side of things rather than the creative) stand to lose out here.  Again.  The involvement of the old-skool corporate music biz raises the fear of a tragedy of the Mycelia commons and hard-coding of 20th Century practices into our new fair network-based thing.

I believe that this thing needs to have the chance to grow without commercial interference from corporations, so I’d like us to discuss how that could happen.  How can we defend, govern and manage this emerging metadata commons?  What sort of licencing could or should apply to re-use of the data, for example?

I’d like to get some people together to talk this through (yes probably in one place at the same time and that means London) and take the thinking forward as soon as we can, and preferably before this event at the end of September.

I think we need:

  • Working musos who have successfully ridden the first wave of disruption;
  • Lawyers with an interest in music rights;
  • Academics looking at new models for creative industries;
  • Representatives from organisations interested in open data and digital rights; and
  • Technology experts who get how this might all hang together.

Is that you?  Can we get together soon?  Get in touch.  I’ll be looking for a venue and trying to set a date over the next week.  Could you provide a venue?  Great!

Do you understand this better than me?  Where are you writing about it?  If you haven’t written anything yet, could you please write something and link to this post?

Thank you, lovelies.

Postscript: 

Why is this a thing, why does something so cool need defending?  Because it’s open and most vulnerable to influence by vested interests early on.  When we started #tuttle it was like “everyone come along and be part of it, you can do whatever you want” and so some people be like “woah there’s this great open thing where I can do whatever I want so I’m going to hard sell my shit and use this thing to capture new customers and their eyeballs forever!”  and so we had to establish that even though it looks like there are no rules, there are some things that you need not to do in order to let the commons bloom and continue to be fruitful for everyone.  That’s what I’m aiming for here, not fighting anyone, but setting up some expected norms as defences against the natural urges of capital.

Podcast with @leashless : Blockchain, Smart Contracts and The Social Need for Jobs.

Today I chatted with Vinay Gupta about the impending (when? when?) arrival of full white collar automation.  Along the way we talked about ethereum, smart contracts, social attachment to jobs as a means of making one’s living and the internet of things.

This is part of my work on my Contributoria article “The City of London. Eaten by Code, Replaced by Robots?” which will be published at the beginning of September.  If you’d like to be interviewed for this piece or you know someone else who could represent the views of non-tech City workers, please let me know.

Other useful links for you to click as you listen:

 

Hacklands Podcast with Helen Keegan @technokitten

 
I got together today with Helen Keegan (we last podcasted together 10 years ago!) to give you an idea of what to expect on the weekend.

During our chat you’ll hear references to

and most importantly of all how to Book Your Tickets!

Rooster Recorded by Mike Koenig
Cow Recorded by BuffBill84

On @hitchBOT and trusting the kindness of strangers #hitchbotinUSA

A hitch-hiking robot has been damaged beyond repair, by person or persons unknown, two weeks into a trip across the USA having successfully travelled around Canada and Germany.  I have some identification with little #hitchBot after my own trips across the USA.  For those who don’t know the story, I spent the month of March 2011 travelling coast to coast across the USA.  I turned up in San Francisco on March 1st with a plane ticket back from New York City on 31st March and very little planned in between.  I then used blogging and social media to move across the continent through members of my online social network.  So the main differences are: I am not a robot; I have built relationships with people online over many years; I did not hitch-hike.

That last one is the most important factor, I think.  If I had insisted on hitch-hiking with total strangers rather than relying on the kindness of my existing network (albeit many friends-of-friends or people who didn’t actually know me well) I’d have had a very different experience.  If I’d been found in the woods outside a small town in Louisiana, dismembered and decapitated, quite a few people would have said “I told you so”  (because yes, they did tell me so).  I used to hitch-hike in Worcestershire in the early-eighties but pretty much everyone who gave me a lift back then told me that I shouldn’t be doing it.  It’s only got more dangerous and it’s always been considered more hazardous for women than men, let alone small robots with a limited vocabulary.  So I’m tempted to say that running an experiment like this is a bit like sending a young child out hitch-hiking.  Most people would look out for them, but sooner or later, they’d meet someone nasty.

Much has been made of the fact that it survived around Canada and Germany but the journey ended in the USA (particularly the irony of it ending in the “city of brotherly love”, Philadelphia).  Well yes, the irony is always there whenever any harm being done to anyone in Philadelphia, ever.  But that doesn’t stop it happening.  I’ve seen Americans beating themselves up for the fact it happened in their country and making this mean something about the USA.  I wouldn’t leap to any conclusions about national cultures.  Also I do think this was always going to be a time-limited project, the robot was defenceless and entirely dependent on who it met.  When I did my trip, I’ve no idea how many times I made a decision to go with one group of people rather than another, and I could always have talked my way out of trouble or run off even if my actual fighting, self-defence skills aren’t tops.  I felt as safe in the US as i have done in any European city and much more so than in some parts of some cities here.  So no, I don’t think it’s about the USA particularly – bad things happen to good robots everywhere.

I also doubt whether machines can build personal social capital within a human network.  They’re just too different.  Yes we think it’s sweet and its interactions through social media seemed to mimic those we have with people we don’t know very well.  It acquired some fans, though not quite enough to keep it carried safely.  I relied on some people who I had known for many years and I had also built up capital through many small interactions and bits of help of service.

The aim of the #hitchBOT experiment was to “see whether robots can trust humans”.  I don’t think that’s been disproved.  Trust is reciprocal, though that goes without saying in human circumstances – I trusted in my network not to chop me up into little bits in the woodshed and they people who helped me trusted me enough to let me into their homes and meet their families.  Trust comes from perceptions of your actions and your motivations.  For there to be reciprocal trust between humans and robots, those pesky robots are going to have to actively do trustworthy and helpful things for people with no expectation of rewards.

Ongoing Support for #Tuttle through @Patreon

support lloyd on patreon

So, #Tuttle turned 7 years old, six months ago.  There have been times when I’ve walked away from it and let others carry the show, but for most of those seven years, I’ve been showing up every week and helping something beautiful happen.

The conversations these days are not so much about social media, they’re more about how work is changing right now and how technology is affecting that.  And just like when we started in 2008, growth in our technological capacity is outstripping our social capacity to understand and deal with it.  We don’t know how it’s all going to work out.  And free-form conversation like you get at #Tuttle is the best way I know to address that situation.

During the last seven years, many of you have supported my projects through crowd-funding and by participating directly in them.  I’m grateful for all of that.  I thought that #Tuttle would lead to new stuff and it has done, but the thing itself, the Friday morning meetups haven’t gone away.  Now I’m asking you to support the ongoing work of keeping #Tuttle useful and expanding the range of activities  I can do.

Patreon has been around for a while now as a platform.  It does all the bits that are difficult for me to do on my own and lets me get on with making cool stuff happen.  I’m hoping that it will also help me to do more to hold the community together – that’s what the Goals in the left-hand sidebar are about.  The process has also helped me to get clear about what I want to do – summarised in this video.

It’s not make or break.  I’m going to keep doing this stuff because it’s my calling, it’s become who I am and every time someone comes back or turns up for the first time and I see that look in their eye, that says “Thank you for making a space for me to be nourished in today”, I know that I’ve just got to keep doing it.

You can contribute as little as one US dollar per month (there’s no choice on currency unfortunately) but there’s a scale of rewards for more generous contributions.  If you can’t or don’t want to commit to a monthly payment, you can cancel at any time or there’s a range of options for a one-off donation here.

Most importantly of all, if you can’t afford to give anything, the best thing you can do is send me a note of solidarity and maybe come and see me on a Friday morning, I need you much more than I need your money.

That Question, The Answer

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There’s (at least) one question in every important relationship, whether it’s your lover, your mother, your best mate or your favourite client, which can trigger the most almighty meltdown of communication. Something that seems to be taking a lifetime to resolve. Something that presses her buttons and presses yours just as hard. You know what it is. He knows what it is. You both know not to touch it, but every now and then one of you forgets and drifts into this dangerous territory.

Whatever it is you are unlikely to resolve it by talking it out just one more time. It represents something important that needs to be worked out through your experience of relating to each other, not through words. So, no matter how tempting it seems when they say “I know we’ve been over this, but could we just…” Smile, remind them (and yourself) that you love them and get on with being the solution not trying to explain it.

I'm the founder of the Tuttle Club and fascinated by organisation. I enjoy making social art and building communities, if you'd like some help from me feel free to e-mail me: Lloyd dot Davis at Gmail dot Com or call +44 (0)79191 82825

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