There’s been a flurry of manic enthusiasm surrounding blockchain technology in recent months. It’s slated as the next panacea for every problem in Silicon Valley, from database management to diversity in the workplace. To hear the leading authorities tell it, every critical technology in existence will rely on some sort of blockchain in the next decade. This sentiment is, in more ways than one, the drug-addled fever dream of a Ukrainian hacker. I’m going to make it readily apparent, if not crystal clear to you, that so-called blockchain tech is ruining absolutely everything good about the internet.
What Can Blockchain Tech Really Do?
Never mind that no one seems keen on explaining just what a blockchain is, or the near universal failure rate of supposed blockchain applications outside of mainline Bitcoin: the biggest problem in the space right now, bar none, is the relentless, psychotic positivity that infects those interested in the subject. Maybe I’m on the wrong side of history, and maybe I’ll be laughed at for how far off the mark I was in my assessments here. I don’t care. We need some neurochemical balance in the blockchain narrative. I’m trying to provide that here. Sure, it enables you to be somewhat certain your legally purchased marijuana is authentic, and assists you in permanently de-anonymizing yourself, but what harm could blockchain technology really do?
As it so happens, quite a bit. Here’s a list of what it’s ruined so far:
1: Blogging and News Aggregation
These phenomena are integral to the modern news media, and I can tell you first hand that they aren’t without their problems. If their monetization strategies don’t get in the way of the truth, then their botting vulnerabilities and architectural weaknesses will. Reddit is regularly manipulated by specialized PR firms and bot networks, bloggers take sponsored content for surpisingly cheap, with surprisingly few scruples about disclosure. There are glaring flaws in both ecosystems that are crying out for a solution.
Interestingly enough, we’ve gotten a case study in how to bring out the worst in both spheres in the form of Steem, a revolutionary blockchain technology that claims to solve every problem a blog or news aggregation could possibly have, supposedly by shifting the incentives toward honesty with money.
In practice, they’ve certainly managed to shift incentives. By monetizing most aspects of human interaction on their flagship site, Steemit, they’ve managed to transform normally sane, kind people, into what only can be described as whale-milking, robot tickling uber-sycophants.
On Steemit, money talks, and you need it to have a voice. There are stakes on literally every interaction on the site. Nothing posted there is without consequence if you buy in. As it turns out, people tend a lot more towards honesty if they think there won’t be any ramifications, and Steemit has proven this part in parcel. After a short round of feeling it out, the entire site devolved from fare you’d normally see on Fark, Blogger, Tumblr, or Reddit into one prime directive – pleasing the whales. The people with money invested in the platform had clear preferences, and the content quickly honed in on what those preferences were. So much so that accusations of botnet interference were immediately raised in the wake of the change in trends. By trying to innovate upon the foundation of blogging and aggregation, Steemit brought out the worst flaws and excesses inherent in each and discarded all of the extraneous content that made the legacy platforms worthwhile. All thanks to their unique blockchain tech offering.
2: File Hosting
It seems like yesterday that there was a completely different technology ruining file hosting. It was the buzzword on every suit’s lips, and the worst thing to happen to meteorologists’ SEO prospects until Meteor.JS. The days of the cloud’s supremacy in business jargon are numbered though. Disruptive upstarts like IPFS and Maidsafe burst onto the scene, branding themselves as the next big leap in the way people put their files on the internet. What sets them apart from Cloud Storage or cheap VPS services? Why, their blockchain technologies, of course!
There are several offerings in this range, calling themselves “fat protocols” or “distributed hosting platforms” all with varying stages of merit and built-in monetization. The thing they have in common, though is their claim that their blockchain tech is somehow more efficient, secure, and/or censorship resistant than traditional hosting solutions. In practice, on the other hand…
Before the likes of Maidsafe and products like it, you had to pay someone else to host your data, or agree to some faceless corporation’s terms of service. You might as well be a serf in feudal Europe, eking out a living on the tiny plot allotted you by your lords, the high availability storage owners.
Maidsafe et al. is nothing so brutishly straightforward. It lets you host your files on a distributed network, fairly, in an encrypted, chunked up format, using an altcoin to fund it as part of the protocol. Alternatively, you can offset those altcoin costs by opening your machine up to the wide network of possible child pornographers participating like you are, to do the same on your hard drives. Did I mention that there’s no way to know what’s stored on your machine and no way to be certain your data is safe or even being properly served to others? It’s amazing what blockchain tech has done to democratize catastrophic failure.
The frosting on this monumental fecal confection is that most of these hosting methods also hash transactions made on the network, because it wasn’t enough to just monetize file hosting in the most obtuse and scam-prone way possible, they had to shoehorn blockchain tech into the inner workings of their convoluted systems. In theory this means you can call for revocation of the chunks of data you own for permanent deletion. Or help verify the source of data you’re downloading. In practice, it means there’s an open, permanent record of everything everyone does on the network. Someone gets caught with and compelled to decrypt their hosted illicit material? Have fun being implicated if even a few kilobytes of it made it to your machine.
3: Tech Startups and OSS Projects
Used to be that you thought up an idea, wrote some code, and sold it as a product or maintained it as an open source project. How dull. Those days are fast reaching an end, though, as more and more luminaries in the field incorporate exciting blockchain tech into their open source projects. It’s done amazing things for these developers. They don’t have to choose between making money and opening up their code any more. People by all rights should be paid for their hard work, and what better way than by making your own money?
Blockchain tech startups like Brave Inc, Factom, and the others mentioned in this article are pioneering a new frontier in software innovation. You no longer have to hope for widespread adoption of your OSS project, or good sales on your commercial offerings. As long as VCs get their share of your tokens before open trading and you get yourself listed on some exchanges, everything else basically solves itself. That’s the true power of blockchain technology. It gives developers ample room to breathe.
Take Brave Inc. as an example – they develop a web browser, whose chief differentiator is that it comes with a paid version of ublock origin that replaces ads with other ads if you don’t want to buy their altcoin – and people love it. Nevermind the fact that they’re robbing or holding the sites they ad-replace hostage for ‘partnering,’ or that better traditional solutions exist that are completely free, the altcoin makes all the difference. It makes them innovative without actually changing anything.
Blockchain tech is driving this paradigm shift in open source development – the space is maturing. Just like the games industry matured with dlc and microtransactions in sixty dollar releases. None of it would be possible without this byzantine fault tolerant merkel tree distributed ledger database that we’ve all come to know and love.
4: Web Apps
Love them or hate them, we’re all pretty much forced to use them at this point. Even tinfoil-wearing, chemtrail-watching IRC purists set up gateways into Slack and Discord. They’re just a fact of life. They also, like every other technology, have problems. Luckily for us dirty, centralized service using peasants, blockchain technology has swooped down from on high, on wings of peer to peer righteousness, to enlighten us.
Everything from the million dollar homepage to large content delivery platforms have knock-off clones that are ‘blockchain enabled.’ Blockchains are the fix for every systemic problem in web development, and now that we know this, everything is changing. The difference is night and day. Can you think of a nominally functional service that raises have privacy or service related concerns for you? If there isn’t a much smaller version with it’s own altcoin and insular cult (read: genuinely cult-like) following, there will be soon.
By the end of the decade you’ll have meaningless cryptocurrencies for previously unworkable things like navigation, checksum verification, ad-blocking, media sharing, and so much more! If that doesn’t sound like a web you want to participate in, then you obviously have no sense of flair, and you’re probably severely anhedonic. Every opening of your browser will be its own adventure. Who knows what new colorful logo you’ll have to buy into to check your email next?
5: Video Streaming
It seems like you never stop hearing about problems with Youtube. Month after month the story is the same – Google is (repeatedly) running the platform into the ground with it’s oversight, and the creators are disgruntled. Surely the magical, near miraculous power of blockchain tech can come to their rescue.
Enter LBRY, a confusingly named blockchain application that is looking to sell an altcoin and strap a distributed YouTube replacement to it – and if we’re lucky, vice versa.
Luminary and CEO of the company, Jeremy Kauffman seems to be more cautious of the technology than other proponents, saying:
“Blockchain is a buzzword and there is a lot of bullshit. Honestly, I take advantage of this, because it’s useful.”
Regardless though, blockchain progress marches on in the form of his LBRY, a wonderful solution to the problem of making money off of the backs of content creators while offsetting their hosting costs. LBRY insiders get to speculatively trade their share of the altcoin, overwhelmingly influence content rewards, and pay the people doing the legwork on both the creative and hosting ends a pittance in said altcoin for their trouble. It’s genius. The robber barons are looking down on them fondly, and none of it would be possible without the awesome, earthshaking might of the blockchain. What a brave new world it’s ushering forth. I, for one, can’t wait to be part of the post-blockchain reality.
Hopefully I’ve painted a picture here that makes an impression. Blockchain technology is ruining everything, and you just need to look around to prove it. It’s The IoT of software solutions, and IoT is the sentient herpes of industrial design. Chances are, if it works alright without it, it’s only going to made worse by adding it. Anyone trying to shove it into systems that aren’t broken are doing so to monetize things that have no business being monetized, and run off with any value their system creates before people realize it can’t scale. Buyer and user beware.
Sure, it’s not all bad, it’s just mostly bad. Going forward, take amazing blockchain tech claims with a grain of salt, and if someone is selling a solution with a coin that doesn’t seem like it needs to be there, run for the hills. Thanks for reading.
Do you agree with this assessment? Would you prefer to defend blockchain projects? Let’s hear your opinions in the comments.
Image via Tyson O’Ham