Non-binary code


April 28, 2022

Here’s a fun drinking game: rail a shot for every sentence it takes El Prof before he makes his defense of crypto all about identity politics. You’ll walk away sober. 

Chad & El Prof


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  • The most effective crypto market strategy is strategy is to assume it’s all one big meme. Case in point:
Image: The Independent

Non-binary code

Image: Storyblocks

It’s 2022, so identity politics are hardly new to the scene, and they lug around enough subtext to stifle whatever conversation they stumble into. Well, before you bend over backward to make up some awkward excuse to leave our little chatroom, let me get to the point: above politics, above identity politics, there is just identity. No two individuals, regardless of their shared experiences, are identical. I am here to celebrate this, and to argue that web3 does, too — unlike, say, the web2 algorithms optimizing toward profit at the expense, or detriment even, of their individual users.

Like most things we cover and discuss in this dumpster fire of a web3 publication, identity is an incredibly nuanced discussion, the discourse of which is often twisted in favor of self-serving political takes and quips that hardly convey the whole truth of this intangible core to our human experience. So why bring it up today?

Well, like Chad promised when he shat all over my favorite emerging technology last week, El Prof has arrived to resuscitate the 0.2% of my ego he soiled with a spirited defense of my optimism for the space. It’s been well-documented in our archives through my diatribes against big tech giants, and spans collaborative intelligence, equitable distribution of wealth, and freedom and accountability for all. But the most specific case for crypto technology is one I’ve more or less relegated to the margins… until today. It is a possible solution to the World Wide Web’s identity crisis. 

IRL, we see identity most often discussed by social movements, or reactions to them, that struggle to deconstruct the intangible, networked, nuanced reality of personal identity to create an overall more accepting — if somewhat oversimplified — reality. Or, alternatively, by old men in power, fighting to force it into comfortable, controllable boxes that reflect only their lived experiences. But, naturally, we are also starting to see it factor into the artificial bastardization of the human experience that now dominates the vast majority of experiences on the planet – the Internet.

The Internet could not operate without identity. Every time you log into an app, an inbox, a shopping cart, et al, the software needs some way of knowing it is you logging in, so it can show you the correct data in return. The current ways of proving online identity leave a lot to be desired — peep all the bots that are allowing rich kids to buy their way to influencer status or spreading misinformation. For one thing, your entire existence is on a server, vulnerable to hackers or, worse, the probing hands of one of five mediocre white guys who hold it. The web2 identity system is based around these user tables (read: fancy spreadsheets) for every unique application an individual wishes to access. these applications command custody of your identity, and thus are chiefly involved in designing the little internet bubble that forms your online reality. Whereas an intuitive option would be quite the opposite.

That’s where blockchain technology offers a potential solution. This is the anonymous, decentralized identity proposed by web3 evangelists like myself. Users, in theory, could hold, control, and monetize their own data, without losing any of the convenience of these modern web2 applications. Mirroring the tide of social change, online identity could be returned to the individual.

This means that, rather than contributing their information to a shared blockchain, each individual could have their own cryptographic table – compiled in a distributed user table, enabled for developers to define custom data models. Your information would be catalogued for future distribution, while remaining in your custody. It would be hosted decentrally on multiple open networks, flexible to any identifier or data structure, composable across non-standardized contexts. And, like real identity, it would evolve naturally and fluidly over time.

Would users even want to handle their own data? Well, in practice, they already do, every time they fill out a profile or set up an account on one of these platforms. And most of the requirements for these systems — as well as what’s valuable about them — are already understood well enough to be standardized. A single blockchain in which every user has a unique cryptographic address and new data is issued as NFTs, standardized and transferable to every application, is great in concept. But, in reality, there are bound to be competing schools of thought on what this standard should be, and thus, competing blockchains will emerge to secure it.

We’ve actually covered a few such protocols before, like these wannabe Bond villains trying to use biometric eyeball scans to create a universal basic income. Some are less Rick & Morty b-plot worthy, like bonafide Bond villain Vitalik Buterin’s project of choice, Proof of Humanity. Launched by a non-profit blockchain arbitration protocol, PoH uses a hodgepodge of defensive onboarding techniques such as refundable deposits, facial recognition tools, and user curation to build a registry intended to encourage safer social media environments, fairer voting systems, UBI, and – to the billion people in the world who lack a legal ID – a quantified sense of identity. But, aside from the problems with efficiency, scalability, and adoption, their methods for proving identity runs counter to the Ron-Swanson-esque hard-on for anonymity shared by many degens. 

Nevertheless — like Neil Armstrong when Stanley Kubrick called ‘Action!’ — I will plant my flag on the final frontier, even if it’s one day revealed to be a soundstage. Proof of online identity remains an elusive challenge. But, after a year of immersion in the space, I now wholeheartedly believe it will be solved on the blockchain.

In fact, we have our own solution in mind, which does not involve virtual bodily violation, nor registering to a billionaire’s little black book. We call it Proof of Community. If communities, united on a common ground — be it physical location, interests, or ideals — could stake their reputations to vouch for the 1/1, human existence of their user base, it could create a truly decentralized, crowdsourced authentication model, while allowing for genuine anonymity, simultaneously, should they choose to operate privately online. Figuring out how to quantify reputations and communities without creating the same arbitrary boxes we’re fighting to break out of, does, admittedly, pose a challenge in its own right. But it’s one we’re beginning to take head on, as we partner with content creators to help them monetize their data and reclaim their identity, online and off.

This crypto technology, when wielded correctly, could empower individuals to govern their identity online and reap the full financial benefits if they so choose, while returning privacy to those who would rather unplug completely. I believe the future is small business powered by big data. But that doesn’t make me a technofascist or anarcho capitalist or even your run-of-the-mill cryptodouche.eth. After all, identity is infinitely complex. And, ultimately, I think web3, unlike web2, allows for that reality.

In the meantime, however, we’ll join @punk6529 in drawing a distinction between web3 and web2.5. (A term I’m pretty sure our own El Prof coined.) A genuinely decentralized web3 may be as far off as the flat Earth’s edge. But the centralized crypto solutions we’re already starting to see will, for better or worse, define the journey there. Whether we’re lemming marching to the promised land or world’s end remains to be seen. But, until then, boo ya H0Rs — welcome to the News2.5. 

Who is Elon Musk?

Image: Okay Bears

Since El Prof had to go and make it all about identity, I feel obliged to mention this, even though it’s not an actual news story. Soon after reports of Elon Musk’s $44B overcompensation broke, degens started circulating their own fan theories on the changes he’d make to the platform. Because, yeah, existence is all one big Star Wars slash fic now. And one of the most common ones — articulated by Balaji Srinivasan here — is that Elon Musk could, or should, or will make Twitter into his own universal Proof of Identity protocol.

It’s built on the (frankly Atlas Shrugged levels of fallacious) assumption that the U.S. government, big tech, and the legal establishment at large will unite to try and cripple Elon in advance of the deal going through on October 24th of this year. To which I’d respond: just because a loud horde of performatively woke white people complain about the deal on Twitter does not mean ‘anything and everything will be tried [to ‘torpedo the deal’] because the American establishment rightly senses they won’t win a game of free speech and free markets anymore.’ It just means that episode of Atlanta set at the billionaire’s party wasn’t as surreal as it seemed. But I digress. 

Srinivasan’s suggestion boils down to this: to stick it to those damned communist bureaucrats running America, Musk should put together a sort of grassroots campaign to win over Twitter’s global userbase before the deal, and get them to do the heavy political lifting for him, putting pressure on their governments to allow the deal to go through. The incentive would be an airdrop of a crypto token — a Twittercoin representing the (to be fair, immense) underlying value of the platform’s aggregated user data — to all users who register their identities by logging into a separate site and, like, pledging eternal loyalty to the lizard man, or something. 

At the risk of beating a dead fringe philosopher, it’s all very Randian. But it’s also within the realm of possibility. Personally, I think Musk will have no problem with the deal going through, because he’s a white male billionaire, a demographic who historically get whatever the fuck they want. And, if he did indeed wield his clout and reach to authenticate the identities of even a fraction of Twitter’s userbase, he could still be looking at millions of adopters — far more than a true grassroots protocol (or even the VC-funded shitshows El Prof slandered up top) would be likely to gain.

I’m a bit more skeptical about the rewards part. Srinivasan asserts that ‘every user [would have] a rooting interest for the Elondrop’ because a Twittercoin ‘could easily be as valuable as Ethereum’s $350B’ — two assertions with which I strongly disagree. A significant portion — maybe the majority — of the popular culture at large opposes crypto on principle, and a new token with highly theoretical value forced on them by a billionaire they hate is unlikely to change that. Furthermore, while the value of Twitter’s aggregate data is huge, the amount allotted to each individual user for their personal data would be fractional at best, and it would need more functionality than paying for a ‘priority inbox’, as the author suggests, to change this.

The only way to give true value to individuals for their data is by pooling it together in ways specific to their identity and beneficial to similar use cases. It’s the sort of niche, communal project only taken on by those with nothing to lose — like the naive, borderline unemployed writers bringing you this newsletter every week. It’s not the sort of project taken on by those with half a hundred B’s to throw away on turning their social media platform of choice into a vanity press.

But. Regardless. Yes, it’s possible our online identity will soon be synonymous with Registered Objectivist Party Member, or official membership to the Elon Musk fan club. To the meme lords go the spoils. 

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