Beyond the shouting match: what is a blockchain, really?

A blogpost I've promised for a while. It's long, but I hope it brings some clarity.

Oops, I had forgotten to check in an image... this image! So it was broken. Fixed now.

It's by Mark Miller and is one of my favorite pieces of imagery for thinking through the layers of decentralized networked systems.

After writing this piece, my friend Kate Sills provided two valuable sources of feedback:
- A better definition of "smart contracts"
- An additional criteria for blockchains in terms of "incentive alignment"

I incorporated both:

Full agreement on "sportsball" and how annoying the toxic masculinity of trading culture

Marginalized individuals are often excited about DeFi (decentralized finance) because it disrupts the pawn industry. First Nations and nations in the global south often want the same thing that Britain wants with their own currency - global recognition of their autonomy. And for the global south, access to currency markets (the ability of trade partners to secure a stable exchange rate) without using their reserve currencies is important

I wish decentralization was an assured selling point with the EU. VMs on CapTP will definitely be more efficient (competitive) than EVM, even with Eth 2, though you'll need applications to do apples to apples comparisons with Algorand and Cardano. Decentering US tech companies, playing nice with blockchains and SOLID, creating business opportunities for EU-based hosting companies, and providing services like glue logic, public key infrastructure, and discovery (via the document management vocabulary of Activity Pub) seem (to me) to be more reliable appeals

Also the "right to be forgotten" is a key application of "time travel"

Good luck 🍀🤞🍀👍

@cwebber people take blockchain as a silver bullet. but really it's just a very awkward and extremely exceeding way if storing data. and it only has sense while many independent users have copies. without mass use it's just an usual cluster DB and there's no sense in blockchain. but as the data volume grows with time it becomes heavier. too heavy for mass user storage, and finally blockchain turns into something that a few key players may store. so it does not differ from controlled corporate data storage hereafter.
so in general I don't see any sense in it at all.

The specific issue, here - and one that annoys the bejesus it of me, too - is that the polarization prohibits meaningful discussion

Not the point that @cwebber is trying make, but if we accept the premises that more investment is being made in blockchain adjacent technologies than Activity Pub and that OCaps with Activity Pub can provide more efficient alternatives to many of the anticipated use cases for blockchain then the burden falls on this community to demonstrate that our discourse is conducted in a nuanced and sincere way. The uninformed repetition of commonly accepted opinions about blockchain appears disingenuous because most of those opinions have been debunked already (at least in the minds of blockchain partisans) or don't reflect the current state of the technology. We don't get to a place where we can influence those developments or draw benefits from them by shouting past one another

Specifically, people implementing applications on blockchains use other distributed data stores in the backend and traditional web applications on the frontend; there are also heavy integrations with Telegram and Discord. Blockchain is not trying to be a silver bullet; there are clear concessions to other technologies for ephemeral messaging, bulk storage, and usability. Also, Ethereum is splitting into 4 chains this year in the interest of more efficient processing

That isn't to say that blockchains aren't receiving disproportionate investment of attention in development and integrations, but only that very few of the arguments circulating against blockchain are actually on point, which means that these arguments generate more heat than light. This situation is harmful to those who have any significant amount of empathy and/or are trying to work in this environment

@yaaps @iron_bug @cwebber At present, I don't see blockchains as a solution to any of the critical problems which the internet has. I see blockchains primarily as a mechanism for wielding power and forms of capture and extractivism, and this is why they've been getting a lot of investment.

@cwebber > By the way, I don't think anyone has given a good and crisp definition for "smart contract" either despite some of these people trying to give me one, so let me give you one that I think is better and embraces its fuzziness: "Smart contracts allow you to do the kinds of things you might do with legal contracts, but relying on networked computation instead of a traditional state-based legal system."

I need to look at what Mark Miller and others meant with smart contracts before people put them on the blockchain, but your definition here puts my mind on a trajectory that ends up with "a smart contract is a contract that creates new state rather than insisting that someone create new state".

A dumb contract says that we agree that if party X does Y then party U does V. A smart contract puts a rule in some world that says that if Y then V will follow. Nobody needs to hassle U to make good on their promise, and you don't need clauses like "if U doesn't then they owe a debt to X", because there is no way V doesn't execute.

Thank you @cwebber for an interesting read, as usual.

The time travel features of the blockchain were already familiar to me: I am an alumnus of the Time Travel School, courtesy of @bleeptrack & @blinry 's excellent Git Learning Game #OhMyGit - see .

Speaking of multiplayer games on top of #Spritely #Goblins, are there any plans to make such a demo? I agree demos speak louder than words, and multiplayer would be powerful (but maybe a time sink).

@stdh @bleeptrack @blinry Yeah I laid out something I've meant to do for a while. So I more or less converted the plan into an explanation in the blogpost.

I'd like to do it but it's not the top priority... maybe sometime in the next few months.

@cwebber thought that comes to mind while reading: Bitcoin gives global double-spending protection, but actually we only need double-spending protection between the participants, so it synchronizes far too much — which makes it much slower than it would have to be to solve the problem.

The amount of synchronization in Bitcoin (global truth of wallet) is only necessary if you want to be able to wave your wallet around for all to see without additional cost.

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