The primary reason the cryptocurrency space was born was to solve this problem:
When Satoshi says “trusted third party” here, he’s not just referring to banks, who often abuse our trust:
Abuses of trust come in many shapes, usually from those in positions of power.
For the purposes of this thread, I will be generalizing “trusted third party” to primarily refer to those in charge of the governance of a ledger.
It appears to me that a majority of the projects in this space do not yet understand the problem that Satoshi was trying to solve. Yes, Satoshi built a distributed ledger… but the underlying problem he was trying to solve is much bigger than that: he was trying to solve abuses of trust by those few who have leverage over large numbers of people.
Hence the emphasis on decentralization, power to the people, etc.
Right now, in the real world, it’s really hard to democratically contribute to the decisions of a given country’s Federal Reserve. You have to become a politician, move to the best geographical locations where you can meet the right people, etc. In short: there are huge obstacles for 99.9% of people.
As such, in most countries, the people’s currency is managed by a tiny group of people, who do whatever they want behind closed doors, and typically get away with it, as there is no one there in the room to question them. As a result, we’ve accumulated insane amounts of debt, devalued our currencies, and destroyed the lives of many people whose concerns were never heard.
Cryptocurrencies, by virtue of their digital nature (not bound by geographic barriers) could offer a solution to this problem, but only if governed transparently and in decentralized fashion.
A distributed ledger that is governed by a non-democratic corporation doesn’t solve the problem in any way.
Having the ability to fork these ledgers is helpful, but it doesn’t solve the problem either, because it is still a very disruptive process, akin to revolutions or war in the real world - except, instead of being subject to violence, people get their finances destroyed instead.
Unfortunately, Satoshi either didn’t have time, or did not understand the underlying problem well enough at the time to be able to provide us with the vision and tools for how to build these democratic institutions in the digital realm.
DAOs will hopefully finally bring us the answer.
There are two things that I think are core to this space and that we have to do, eventually.
Right now, as we all know, we have a single point of failure in the network. I don’t have to go into detail on this, as we’re all familiar with this problem. Coordicide is an attempt at solving it, and we seem to be making headway.
Today, the IOTA network is governed by a centralized organization called the IOTA Foundation. For all practical purposes, the IF is the IOTA protocol’s Federal Reserve.
A quick history lesson reveals that centralized organizations are more effective than decentralized ones. Just look at governments. Dictatorships can implement change much faster than democracies. Nevertheless, we must strive to decentralize the governance of our protocol, because although we may have a benevolent dictator today, that might no longer be the case tomorrow.
Whenever you’re in charge, you have leverage on people. That is what’s called having power. You have access to the metaphorical nuclear codes. We saw what happened when CFB had access to the nuclear codes and decided to nuke everyone. He destroyed the finances of thousands of people by being irresponsible.
So, no matter how hard we try to create the friendliest or most inclusive environment ever, there will always be an element of leverage and trust that’s required.
To minimize damage to people’s lives, in the real world, we’ve invented democratic systems that allow us to rotate who gets to have leverage for a short period of time.
Currently, for the governance of IOTA, we don’t even seem to have the most basic of security measures, like for example: limitations on how long someone can serve on the IF Board of Directors, or mechanisms by which we can rotate who’s in charge. Even IGDA and other traditional non-profits outside of DLT are more decentralized than the IF…
So adding some of those things will be a great first step on the road to the full decentralization of IOTA.
Now, I don’t think it is realistic to say that everyone should be on equal footing when it comes to governance. In fact, we have overwhelming evidence as to why this doesn’t work. History has taught us (over and over again) that we should be appointing experts, who then should have a final say on things related to their domain, not the wider public.
So the next question we have to ask ourselves is: how do we create more experts? The answer, I believe, is more transparency and greater access to education.
Right now, the IOTA community lacks a lot of context. We’re treated like peasants outside the castle gates. We have no clue as to what is being done or discussed behind IF closed doors. Even muXxer, who is a decentralization champion, eventually felt compelled to join the IF (as many others have, as well), because he probably recognized it was the easiest way to unlock access to expert discussions & make the quickest progress.
Imho, when that starts happening, we need to start pumping the brakes and ask ourselves: why are people joining the IF instead of just building in the community?
There are many variables, of course, and they’re probably complex, but in the end it all boils down to one simple answer: incentives.
First, like I said, the only real way to unlock full expert context at the moment is to join the IF. The #tanglemath channel on IOTA’s Discord is not the same as whatever secret research channel there is currently at the IF. This immediately puts the community at a competing disadvantage.
Secondly: there are currently no channels in the community for obtaining a stable and reliable income while working on IOTA. We have some grant programs (EDF, Touchpoint) but none of that is the same. At the IF, people don’t have to worry about losing their stable income if their research or product flops. In the community, we do have to worry about that.
Those things (and probably others) combined make it almost virtually impossible for anyone in the community to generate any serious momentum capable of “outcompeting” the IF.
It’s not the case that the community wants the IF to be doing all the work. We literally just don’t have access to the same incentives & perks that are made available to IF employees.
Imagine if the community had not donated a % of the initial token supply to fund the early IF. Would the IF have had built any of the things that we have now?
Great community projects (e.g. Hornet) have been gobbled up by the IF as a result of the incentives I laid out above. Someone offered the counter-argument that by the time you’re spending your full-time working on IOTA, it makes perfect sense to join the IF, as you don’t have to bother with filing your own taxes, and so on.
That is perfectly valid, and part of the reason centralized orgs are more effective than decentralized ones. But we can probably recreate those same perks and incentives in decentralized fashion. The only reason people at the IF don’t have to worry about taxes is because they have a department who does it for them. So we could, in theory, build a DAO that is in charge of doing that kind of stuff for other community DAOs.
Naturally, this type of idea would require a lot more thinking, research and execution, which I am unequipped to offer right now. For now, I am just asking for the help of everyone else in acknowledging that this is indeed a problem we should be thinking about, and trying to solve going forward.
Basically: we need to formalize & establish stronger incentive loops in the community, that can compete with the incentives & perks currently provided by the IF. Remember: the world runs on incentives & game theory. This is why good tokenomics work for pumping token prices. So now let’s ask ourselves… is there anything we can do to establish stronger incentives in the community?
I believe it is the IOTA Foundation’s responsibility to help the community in this regard.
Here’s the bottom line: why are we running this community like it’s a World of Warcraft server? I find this very odd. There should not be a secret room where people have secret discussions about what to release in future patches. Why is the community kept in the dark about future developments?
We’re building a digital country here. It needs to be ran like a government (except better). Full (or close to full) transparency.
Have you ever seen those live sessions on TV where politicians in parliament shout their ideas to one another and so on? There’s a reason we have those sessions on TV. We need some of those but for IOTA.
Imho, the IF slack/private channels should only exist to discuss partnership projects (e.g. EBSI, Intel, and other stuff which are under NDA), i.e. things that have nothing to do with development and research of the core protocol & its core solutions.
Research and development should all be happening 100% in public imo, on equal footing with the wider community. That includes sharing designs we’re unsure of, half-baked ideas, and so on. If the research team ever gets stuck on a problem without a solution, we need to know in real-time. We shouldn’t worry about a tiny minority of people who will create FUD when we acknowledge that we have a problem and don’t know the answer to it. We’re researchers, it’s totally natural. Being more transparent will pay dividends.
No one worth paying attention to is gonna judge people at the IF for occasionally saying silly things in public, or demonstrating that you don’t have a solution to a problem and are trying to figure it out. This is how research & solving hard problems works. If you treat the community like children who can’t handle the truth, you’ll only attract children who can’t handle the truth to the community.
My goal with this discussion is not to try to force these changes overnight. For now, I just want to slowly start building momentum. Convince 1 or 2 folks at the IF of the importance of this. Then 5. Then 50. Then eventually (hopefully), all 200. It’s ok if it takes us a year to apply this. Change sometimes happens slowly, but I believe this is important.
We need to seriously start thinking about decentralization - and I don’t mean Coordicide. We have to start phasing out those secret research & development channels starting next year. Let’s make it our 2022 resolution. Happy new year everyone, and thank you for taking the time to read this!
P.S.: I have plenty of concrete suggestions for how to apply this. Once we all agree that this is something we should strive to achieve, I can offer actionable steps.