Sunday, January 9, 2022

"Cryptocurrency’s failure to scale beyond relatively nascent engineering"

Very interesting essay by "Moxie Marlinspike" consistent with my thinking on cryptocurrency and blockchain; excerpt:

“It’s early days still” is the most common refrain I see from people in the web3 space when discussing matters like these. In some ways, cryptocurrency’s failure to scale beyond relatively nascent engineering is what makes it possible to consider the days “early,” since objectively it has already been a decade or more.

However, even if this is just the beginning (and it very well might be!), I’m not sure we should consider that any consolation. I think the opposite might be true; it seems like we should take notice that from the very beginning, these technologies immediately tended towards centralization through platforms in order for them to be realized, that this has ~zero negatively felt effect on the velocity of the ecosystem, and that most participants don’t even know or care it’s happening. This might suggest that decentralization itself is not actually of immediate practical or pressing importance to the majority of people downstream, that the only amount of decentralization people want is the minimum amount required for something to exist, and that if not very consciously accounted for, these forces will push us further from rather than closer to the ideal outcome as the days become less early.

When you think about it, OpenSea would actually be much “better” in the immediate sense if all the web3 parts were gone. It would be faster, cheaper for everyone, and easier to use. For example, to accept a bid on my NFT, I would have had to pay over $80-$150+ just in ethereum transaction fees. That puts an artificial floor on all bids, since otherwise you’d lose money by accepting a bid for less than the gas fees. Payment fees by credit card, which typically feel extortionary, look cheap compared to that. OpenSea could even publish a simple transparency log if people wanted a public record of transactions, offers, bids, etc to verify their accounting.

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. People have made money through cryptocurrency speculation, those people are interested in spending that cryptocurrency in ways that support their investment while offering additional returns, and so that defines the setting for the market of transfer of wealth.

The people at the end of the line who are flipping NFTs do not fundamentally care about distributed trust models or payment mechanics, but they care about where the money is. So the money draws people into OpenSea, they improve the experience by building a platform that iterates on the underlying web3 protocols in web2 space, they eventually offer the ability to “mint” NFTs through OpenSea itself instead of through your own smart contract, and eventually this all opens the door for Coinbase to offer access to the validated NFT market with their own platform via your debit card. That opens the door to Coinbase managing the tokens themselves through dark pools that Coinbase holds, which helpfully eliminates the transaction fees and makes it possible to avoid having to interact with smart contracts at all. Eventually, all the web3 parts are gone, and you have a website for buying and selling JPEGS with your debit card. The project can’t start as a web2 platform because of the market dynamics, but the same market dynamics and the fundamental forces of centralization will likely drive it to end up there.

Regarding those "market dynamics," also see our guest writer Louisiana's post from last year on meme stocks. I've been using that post as a notebook to record thoughts about how "cryptocurrencies" are simply gambling tokens, just like shares of stock in worthless companies.

1 comment:

CP said...

Beyond my imagination, bitcoin has achieved the unlikely goal of being even less convenient than gold for actually buying things (the job of a currency). The exchange rate of bitcoin is almost completely a random walk, impossible for anyone to manage (unlike a regular currency), and much worse than even gold.

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