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Token-Curated Registries in 2023 and A Problem With Price Signals
Also: Super-Optimism & LK-99, The Boys of Summer, and The Struggles of Fiction Mags
Since I helped popularise Token-Curated Registries and other tangential ideas like curation markets, people have asked me, 5-6 years on, what I think about it now. In short, I’ve softened on it, because when you introduce pricing to an information system, it can crowd out all other incentives. The users end up serving the protocol, not the protocol serving the users. This is a very fine line and I’m not sure how to get it right.
In it’s original form, a Token-Curated Registry attempts to curate a list of information by using a self-sustaining set of crypto-economic incentives.
Each list would have an associated token that curators would use to propose an item to be included into a list (eg, “I think Beck’s Odelay should be on the list of Top Albums of the 90’s”). The token is kept in escrow when proposed.
Other curators can challenge this entry by similarly putting up their tokens into escrow. A voting period starts where the crowd votes whether it should be included or not by similarly putting up tokens in escrow.
If accepted into the list, the challenger loses their deposit and it’s distributed to the voters who voted to include it.
If not accepted into the list, the challenger wins some of the tokens as well some of it going to the voters who rejected it.
This is most basic version. The details don’t matter as much as the point that part of the original design goals was to use crypto-economic incentives to curate information. The designs for other curation markets were even stronger: directly boosting the prominence of information by bonding it with tokenized value.
The reality is, is that while it could potentially be helpful, if you incentivize pro-social behaviour by ONLY using financial returns and pricing, the system itself becomes too beholden to it and thus volatile to its pricing whims.
It’s not unique to TCRs, but information that’s made for being monetized (eg, YouTube or recent Twitter Creator threadguys), doesn’t prioritise meaningfulness as much as it prioritises virality.
When the system grows, it goes well. More people are incentivized to curate, the information quality improves and it rewards the participants automatically for the work they are doing. BUT, when it goes the other way, when it reaches saturation or experiences a decline, it can unravel just as quickly.
Users ONLY serving the protocol results in curation being an afterthought, not the primary purpose.
There is a fine line here where you want to reward users for curating information alongside the other incentives to do so: altruism, the simply joy of organising, social, etc. We want people to curate and make a living from it, but not at the cost of the quality of the curation.
One way that I’ve enjoyed how to thread this line, is the prospect of retroactive funding protocols. It means that the work that’s being done, is first done for alternate reasons (not financial). As in, the work (whether it’s a tool or curation) has to exist independently. Then, users submit their work to be rewarded for their contributions. It also has its own problems, but what I think it gets right to a certain extent, is that while a future financial return is on the mind of the contributor, it’s not the primary goal.
The ideal outcome of crypto protocols that reward curation will struggle when they have a financial reward as its primary goal. Perhaps this is ultimately unavoidable because the fundamental building block of this system is such that it only exists because there is a financial reward for maintaining this proverbial “database outside of an organisation”. That, or in certain contexts, attaching price signals to information fundamentally alters it away from its other uses.
That being said, I’m still optimistic that we figure it out eventually. A world where we get to see people create great works, provide quality curation, and in turn being duly rewarded for it.
What do you think of information curation in our current era of the web?
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Super-Optimism & LK-99
My knowledge about all of this non-existent, but I really enjoy the optimism about. This tweet captured the spirit.
Someone else compared it to the Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal in 2021. There’s only one-way optimism in here. Perhaps one can call it superconducting optimism: optimism with no resistance.
A world with room temperature superconductors can result in more practical zero-loss transmission, better energy storage capacity, higher computing power, etc: all things that will improve the lives of many. That is super-optimism.
That being said, we can’t always see second-order effects, no matter how positive it looks from this vantage point. I’ve been around that block too many times to not also have a healthy sense of caution. The upheaval comes from how improvements in technology affects existing relationships. NFTs are a good example of this: a new distribution mechanism means that existing systems of power is challenged by it.:
The dyad (we’re so back + it’s so over) is probably most accurately called a “meme,” but I think it’s also a way of articulating a particular post-pandemic vibe. We’re emerging from a unprecedented political-economic situation into an unclear future, dependent on monthly updates of case numbers, or inflation indices, or unemployment rates, hoping for signs of a stable forward trajectory. “It’s so over”/”we’re so back” embraces the spirit of volatility, overreaction, over-extrapolation, and over-commitment that characterizes incremental updates around unusual developments.
Who knows, by next week we might know for sure if this is real?! 😱
The *Actual* AI Demands from the WGA
I must admit. It’s been difficult as an outsider to get the actual demands surrounding AI from the WGA. The shortened PDF alongside their tweets makes it seem that AI can’t ever be used.
There’s an irony here wrt writing and the often felt trap of ambiguity.
Luckily, we have a WGA captain actually giving context and diving deeper into what the WGA actually demands (after Palmer Luckey tweeted about it seeming absurd that writers were completely avoiding AI tools).
In summary, it’s close to what I originally understood to be the case: using AI to write is only a tool and can’t be used to determine credit.
eg, if a studio uses an AI to write a script and gives it to a writer to adapt, the writer doesn’t get an adaptation credit or rate, but a rate as if they wrote the script.
In addition, a studio that changes or rewrites a script using AI can’t tack on a writing credit.
So, it’s really all about ensuring that rates and credits remain strongly in favour of the camp of the writers. In a way, it’s like seeing AI as a tool, like a word editor.
I think it’s the right approach because it still keeps open the ability to use these tools. I’ve also always leaned much more towards rewarding creators above and beyond what we’re currently paying them.
That being said, I still don’t know where one draws a line as what then constitutes AI-produced work and what doesn’t. Is asking an AI for synonyms going to mean that the entire script is “AI” produced? If you use it as a research assistant, asking it questions about character motivations?
There’s a line somewhere that needs to be drawn in contexts like this. Perhaps it’s merely the case that it’s predominantly so, or not.
Curious if you have thoughts on this?
The State of Lit & SFF Magazines
Being interested in the business model of publishing, especially magazines, I found this take fromto be quite interesting. In it, he talks about the state of literary magazines and includes links to some of the problems that SFF mags are also facing.
It doesn’t seem like fiction magazines are thriving. Kindle Periodicals also went away, kneecapping several SFF mags.
From Jason Sanford:
The reason for the alarm is that over the last decade, Kindle subscriptions have become a significant part of the overall circulation for a large number of science fiction and fantasy magazines. Essentially, people like the convenience and ease of buying and reading e-books and expect the same from their magazine subscriptions.
By ending the Kindle Newsstand program, Amazon would no longer allow people on their platform to subscribe directly to magazines. Instead, Amazon announced it would allow certain magazines to remain on the platform through their Kindle Unlimited program.
Again, from Lincoln Michel:
While the professionalism of SFF magazines is fantastic, especially when it comes to contracts and paying authors, the failure of Fantasy does show how the genre mags haven’t figured out how to sustain themselves on subscriptions either. There’s no genre of short fiction in a financially thriving state.
Case in point is Asimov’s circulation numbers.
Having worked in the short-story industry for the past two years, I’m acutely aware of the following. As Lincoln says:
Ultimately, the problems of literary magazines in any genre go far beyond business models. The readers just aren’t there. And the readers who are there are less and less likely to pay. All the usual culprits are to blame: Too many competing entertainment options. Declining shelf space at bookstores. The internet making people expect free content. Etc. I’m not saying anything new, but is there anything new to say?
It might be that format doesn’t work anymore. People do read short fiction, but in a monthly magazine, maybe not. Here’s where new distribution models can work: eg like subscriber serials thatdid, or rethinking what’s actually sellable. Hey, for a long time, novellas wasn’t supposed to be sellable, but now they are.
I laughed at this take, but there’s also some potential possibilities here: where the story is free and widely distributed, but the revenue stream is elsewhere.
Where do short stories fit into, in this era? Is magazines still the right fit?
The Boys of Summer
Not a straightforward intersection: part game, part NFT collection, part art, part conceptual, part quantified self.
“The Boys of Summer is inspired by the idea that statistics and numbers are the tools we use to tell very complicated stories,” Chan said. “They're very simple tools and very blunt instruments, and yet more and more they are the only tools that we use to tell stories. Baseball is where we first get this idea that a person can be represented fairly accurately as a selection of statistics.”
You play these baseball players that change over time, some become successful and some not.
“This is the performance. Everyone plays the game, makes themselves into data, and becomes searchable on the market,” he continued. “We've ended up talking about this really complicated participatory performance art piece about the nature of data in society and capitalism. But I take you there by presenting you with some cute PFPs and a little baseball game.”
Big fan! Coming soon. :)
Architecture in Tokyo - COAST
Found this vaporwave remix/edit of Enya’s Orinoco Flow quite vibey.
Perfect for a sunset. :)
Enjoy! And see you next week. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to share and subscribe.