Episode IV: A New Hope
I had to take some time to detox from crypto news after the day we learned about both the fart jar NFTs and Cryptoland. But the former was almost certainly a PR stunt, according to Chris Stokel-Walker of Input’s investigative cryptoflatulence unit, and Cryptoland is collapsing amid “cease and decease” letters and what Ryan Broderick called “libertarian kryptonite”—the question of what the age of consent should be.
Bitcoin mining is banned or nearly banned in China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and even Abkhazia, a country that barely exists but still has a more functional government than Texas. But web3 continues to jam its crypto-fraud funnel into new orifices anyway. The AP is launching an asinine beanie baby market for NFTs of AP photographs, for some reason. The Verge’s Mitchell Clark reported that “the project seems entirely aimed at collectors who want to, as the press release puts it, ‘seamlessly buy, sell and trade official AP digital collectibles through the marketplace,’” and just barely managed not to ask “who wants to do that? WHO?” Even more absurdly, according to the Wall St. Journal, the DeFi project Toucan “lets users who own carbon credits link them to digital tokens. The tokens, called BCT—for Base Carbon Tonne—can then be traded on cryptocurrency exchanges.” Turning carbon credits into cryptocurrency is like recycling plastic bottles into 6-pack rings and then dumping them directly into the ocean, but BCT holders can also trade in their tokens for a derivative token called Klima which will allow them to ascend into the purest ethereal realms of financialized bullshit. Both projects are run anonymously, so all the money in them will soon be stolen by whoever has the keys to the vault, a crime so common the crypto community has come up with a cute nickname for it: “the rug pull.”
Last week tech privacy weirdo and Signal founder and now-ex-CEO Moxie Marlinspike reported on a couple experiments he did with NFTs and distributed apps which, as Casey Newton put it, “pantsed Web3 in front of the whole class.” It turns out that despite the crypto aspects of web3 wasting a lot of energy and making every project work badly and cost a lot, the ecosystem mostly doesn’t even use the blockchain at all:
Given the history of why web1 became web2, what seems strange to me about web3 is that technologies like ethereum have been built with many of the same implicit trappings as web1. To make these technologies usable, the space is consolidating around… platforms. Again. People who will run servers for you, and iterate on the new functionality that emerges. Infura, OpenSea, Coinbase, Etherscan.
When you think about it, OpenSea would actually be much “better” in the immediate sense if all the web3 parts were gone… However, if they had built a platform to buy and sell images that wasn’t nominally based on crypto, I don’t think it would have taken off. Not because it isn’t distributed, because as we’ve seen so much of what’s required to make it work is already not distributed. I don’t think it would have taken off because this is a gold rush.
In 1999 I started a website called Kuro5hin (pronounced “corrosion,” it’s a pun on my name. Rusty? Corrosion? I promise that someone who’s known me for decades is just getting the joke this minute, so whoever you are, congratulations). Kuro5hin (or “K5”) was a group blog that existed alongside sites like Slashdot and Metafilter, but with the wrinkle that submissions to K5 were put in a queue where any registered member could read and vote on whether to post them or not. In theory it was a self-editing collective publication that anyone could participate in. In practice, I learned that without any form of enforceable identity, it only worked as long as no one was trying to attack it. Eventually, as also happened with comment moderation on Slashdot, some users built networks of sock-puppet accounts that could be remote-controlled to perform whatever moderation actions their owners wanted.
Kyle Chayka and Daisy Alioto’s newsletter Dirt has funded itself with a pair of NFT drops, season 1 in May 2021 and then season 2 in October. The NFTs have been little more than digital tchotchkes so far, more or less a thank you for donating to a pool of money that Kyle and Daisy have used to pay freelance contributors.
But today Dirt announced DirtDAO, a fledgling decentralized autonomous organization which will start collectively making editorial and freelance budget decisions for the Dirt newsletter. Holders of the NFTs are being given crypto tokens that represent their stake in the publication and confer the right to vote on freelance commissions. From the FAQ:
What is a DAO?
A Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) is a group of people holding the same crypto token or NFT, making decisions together through proportional governance — usually voting.
What does the Dirt DAO do?
The Dirt DAO currently controls a budget to greenlight and commission longform Dirt features. In the future, it might make decisions around NFT artwork, events, and Dirt product development.
If you squint just a tiny bit, Dirt is evolving into exactly what I wanted Kuro5hin to be, but more carefully and on a much more sustainable and professional level. All I could ask for twenty years ago was an email address, but email addresses are unlimited. The fact that crypto has created a form of purely digital scarcity means it can act as an identity backplane for a self-governing coöperative organization.
For all the fraud and grift that’s rampant in the crypto ecosystem, and all the bullshit and hype driven by the same old VCs who learned how to recognize and exploit a gold rush back in web 1, I still can’t completely dismiss crypto because it does provide this one capability that I don’t think existed before, and I don’t think can be precisely replicated by any other distributed system. I could be wrong about that, but whatever might be possible without a blockchain, the fact remains that blockchain-based infrastructure is currently the obvious choice for anyone who wants to build something like DirtDAO. If you need gold, you look for the gold rush.
I’ve been friends with Kyle for a long time and it’s no secret I enjoy reading Dirt, but I hold no NFTs or tokens (theirs or any other), and I have no stake in the success or failure of any of this. I don’t care if you buy into it— in fact if this is the first you’re hearing about it, I would say you shouldn’t. I remain extremely skeptical about virtually every other crypto project and the long term viability of anything that currently exists in the space, including this, but I am fascinated to see Dirt evolving into a project that could fulfill an idealistic web 1 dream that I had half a lifetime ago.
Wordle strats and Absurdle, the adversarial Wordle. Man receives genetically modified pig’s heart, pig receives old fashioned death. Speaking of pigs, “LAPD Officers Ignore Robbery in Progress to Catch Snorlax in Pokémon Go.“ Perfume Genius: THE WATCH WAS WET WHEN THEY HANDED IT TO ME. MY HUSBAND IS DEAD AND THEY HANDED ME A WET WATCH. Guided meditation fad “Quantum Jumping” promises to help Zoomers put right what once went wrong, hoping each time that their next leap will be the leap home. Today in Crabs. And Danielle Kurtzleben finished her Seinfeld script about Mr. and Mr. Smith’s new media venture.
KRAMER: So, Jerry. I've been thinking about your girlfriend.
JERRY: I don't like where this is going.
KRAMER: We're gonna monetize NEWS on tiktok.
ELAINE: How are you going to do that?
KRAMER: Well, you know what a good news audience would be?
KRAMER: the people who aren’t an audience.
KRAMER: yeah and there’s a lot of ‘em. Globally.
JERRY: Uh huh.
KRAMER: It’s a [jittery hand gesture] market opportunity.
Today’s Song: Phoebe Bridgers, “Nothing Else Matters”
~ tabs I seek and I find in you ~
I guess I wrote an essay about crypto today? I guess that’s a thing that can just happen? Update your records accordingly. If you wish to praise and/or argue with me on social media, please at least link to the post! Ty. I will be back tomorrow with: Wednesday.