It is an overcast Thursday, 9 June, 2022 in Portland Oregon and it’s also the last day of school.
A bit of a different episode, today.
This is just another way of me thinking about the Metaverse again, without trying to use the word “metaverse”, and because Ed Zitron’s piece Where (And What) The Hell Is The Metaverse? crossed my feed the other day.
I thought one of the deals with the metaverse was that it was about a set of shared virtual spaces where you could take things from one place and then use them in another place, or, even, a shared virtual space (a three dimensional one, right?) that acts “like the physical world we inhabit, but where we get to change the rules a bit”.
It’s always fun when we get to change the rules. It shows what’s important, who it’s important for, who has the power to make the rules, how the rules are applied. So many fun axes upon which to be humans doing human things to each other!
So on the one hand, you have a company like Meta going around and getting super excited about shared(ish) virtual spaces being totally the next thing, plus all the hardware they’re going to bring into that equation. More engagement time, I guess.
And on the other hand, you’ve got all of this brilliant web3 blockchain stuff which I’m trying very, very, very hard to figure out where it’s at least a good solution to an actual problem, never mind a better solution than existing solutions.
I will admit that a solution to a problem, or at least a workable, practical one that’s being used in practice by an appreciable / enough number of people is better than a solution that is technically feasible but isn’t happening, but that’s leaving aside the part that it’s oh-so-easy for solutions (or approaches, I guess) to be inequitable or reinforce inequities. Rules, remember! We get to choose what they are. We also don’t necessarily get to choose the environment in which we operate. To which…
Actually, it’s about interoperability and portability, combined with money.
I will also point you at, well, everything Raph Koster has ever written, and you could probably start with his Real Talk about a Real Metaverse talk, from earlier this year.
You want to take stuff from one place and use it in another place? Successfully doing that “at scale” would require juggling answers and approaches to problems like these:
And that’s before you get to problems like this:
And why are we suddenly talking about metaverses again? Why now? I think one of the reasons is because there’s a stupid amount of money lying around. People are trying to figure out what to do with that money, and when you have a notional pile of money, you’d like to turn it into Even More Money. Or at least that’s the environment that we’re in right now. Also platforms/aggregation theory yadda yadda means that the kind of people who like to make even more money (like, “space is big” kind of amounts of money) start getting a bit ray-traced glassy-eyed imagining exactly how far it will be to the end of the large number that describes their money, much farther than how you think it is to the chemist’s).
So it’s the same as it ever was. Money is a reason why people want to solve this problem because a bunch of people (new people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) have got some money now and they have a whole thing that lets you point at something in… a new way? A public way? And then… do something with it? Because it’s data? That people can see? And we have general purpose computing devices, at least we do for the time being, until some politicians realize that we can use them to express concepts like “what if we were nicer to each other and society was, like, equitable?”
I am someone who has always said something like “a database. What you’ve done there is you’ve made a stupendously slow, expensive, carbon-hungry, tiny, tiny transaction-per-watt database” when someone excitedly points to A New Thing Crypto Or Blockchain Or Whatever has done. And now that I think about it, the thing that is maybe just that little bit exciting is something that doesn’t have to happen with blockchains, but is assumed to be a requirement with blockchains, which is the public ledger.
You don’t, of course, need to have a public ledger with a blockchain. You can just run a private one. At that point, I really am just yelling at you and asking “but… why not just use a database? Or, for the love of god, probably just a bunch of files?”
But the practical attribute, from what I can make out, about all this crypto stuff is the expectation that the ledger be public and world-readable. I mean sure, you can encrypt the stuff that’s stored on-ledger, or the ledger can still point to a resource that’s off-ledger which is potentially of significantly less utility, but the idea that you’ve got essentially a giant text file that anyone can look at and that you can only append to, with certain metadata about each transaction? It’s not that that’s not possible with any other technology (and in many cases it’s, like, dumb? And a security risk? And also dumb?) So you don’t need blockchain as a technology* for making a bunch of transactions public and auditable (which is what I gather lots of crypto people are excited about), because you could, like I said, do that a bunch of other ways.
It’s more like crypto is a very opinionated design pattern that comes along with a very opinionated technical point of view as to how you’d implement a public ledger. But the whole point is to implement the public ledger in the first place.
Assuming that in some cases the public ledger is a good idea (which… it might be? If you want to prove that you did something, if you want, say, Activision to throw something onto a public, world-readable list of “people who did shit in Call of Duty” that’s signed with Activision’s certificate or whatever, and anyone else can check it because it’s also signed with your certificate or whatever? Sure, go for it? Activision could’ve done that any other number of ways, but this happens to be the way people are doing it now, and money is the reason why people are doing it.
It is tremendously unfortunate, unethical and irresponsible to be doing so in such an inefficient way, and I’m kind of proud that searching Google for “transaction-per-watt” yields only two pages worth of results and an eyeballing that the earliest mention is in 2008. So, you know, go me for having an insight! If you’re going further, you could also try to figure out transaction-per-CO2e, and a 2021 study from Frankfurt School Blockchain Center (FSBC) and INTAS.tech puts the average bitcoin transaction at 670 bytes and a CO2e per transaction of… 369.49 kgCO2eq! That sounds like a lot! This top hit for “what’s the CO2e for flying from New York to London” puts that flight at 509 kg CO2e which, if I assume the units are comparable, is horrific!
So. My stupid idea is that if one were to try to divert crypto and chains to something else that does something equally interesting, then figuring out an open, public, world-readable append-only ledger that a whole bunch of people can write to, with a stupendously high transaction-per-watt figure and a correspondingly low transaction-per-CO2e figure would be a Very Good Thing to do, because then we get to see if this whole deal is in speculation (I have my suspicions!) or if it’s in “hey, we could do some interesting stuff if we had a widespread practice of recording things publicly and in a way that’s easy to audit.
Yesterday, I accidentally coined a phrase/concept that amused me: the Mass Platform Extinction Event. It’s one of those things where I try to say something silly because on another level I’m also perhaps experimenting with another way of saying something, or another way of understanding a particular concept. One way of playing with a concept is by throwing everything inside quote marks and making it look like someone else is saying these things, and not me. And then a subtype of that is when I pretend to be a news article writing about the thing.
In this instance, the concept was along the lines of “the tragedy when a huge corpus of online content is lost forever”. This is partly because I have for some reason been reading about the k-t boundary again, which shows my age, because it is not known as the k-t boundary any more.
When a phrase or concept like that enters my head, it gets stuck and then I end up having to play with it. There’s a thread, but I wanted to record where it went here, as well. Here’s some of the bits and pieces:
“An example of a Mass Platform Extinction Event would be the G-C Boundary, i.e. the Geocities Content Boundary.”
“Remember that time when all that charismatic megacontent got destroyed in an acquisition extinction?2“
And then I started playing with archive.org:
“The only record of the Geocities Content Boundary is a thin layer in archive.org, the only remaining evidence the Geocities-hosted explosion of web content creativity, often called the Cambrian Explosion of digital expression”
“One day, urbandictionary will suffer a mass platform extinction event (subtype: illegal, obscene content), and all that will remain is another tiny smear in archive.org. When digital archaeologists discover that smear, it’ll be called the Extremely Online Rosetta Stone.
And about the Extremely Online Rosetta Stone, people will write that
”… the discovery of the Extremely Online Rosetta stone unlocked unprecedented understanding of the rapidly evolving culture of the early 21st century…”
There are always bits about Tumblr:
”… the increasing recognition of mass platform extinction events has led to archive.org lobbying UNES.CO to formally recognize Tumblr as a World Heritage Site–“
“the declaration of Tumblr as a UNES.CO Metaverse History Site (with support from the Open Metaverse Foundation for Cultural Understanding) led to a statistically significant 500x increase in read-only visitors over the subsequent 28 Mm period–“
And then while I’m at it, a new unit to measure time, and that’s by the passage of meme production:
“increasingly accurate meme-dating (using deep-learning meme evolution reconstruction techniques pioneered by deepmind.lol puts the Geocities Content Boundary at approximately 238.9 Yma (Yottamemes ago)”
Okay, that’s it for today. A bit different. and definitely closer to 30 minutes than 15.
It’s nearly Friday! How are you? And do you remember where you were, when the Geocities Mass Platform Extinction Event happened?
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