so whats up with decentralisation

Wow! I'm being very trendy with the topics on this blog. Sorry about that. In compensation, I'll try not to talk about cryptocurrency a lot in this post. It will simply remain the unspoken background that colours everything else I say. Maybe I'll talk about it at the end. I don't know. You (and I) will see.

my position

I am not very interested in decentralisation. I am interested in decommodification. What this means is that I should cease to be profitable. To put that in a slightly less ridiculous way, I want to use services for which I am a cost, services, that is, where I am not only suffered to use them because my usage is profitable to them. So, for example, if I use Facebook then that directly translates into more ad impressions which translates into more money for Facebook. Even if I use adblockers, I am still contributing to the network effect of Facebook that attracts non-adblocking users, which again translates into money. Services which use you for profit like this are harmful both to you and to society in many ways.[1] These services are almost invariably ad-funded[2], which means that they get money directly from you staying on their site for as long as possible. The site, therefore, is optimised for addiction. In addition, when "you are the product" of a service, then you are at the total mercy of that service. A ban from Twitter is annoying; a ban from Google is a ban from GMail, and a ban from e-mail is effectively a ban from every single account that you have ever signed up for. And this isn't even getting into the privacy woes of these services.

decentralisation for decommodification

So how do we solve this problem? The solution that people have grasped upon is "decentralise everything". Let me explain through an example. The flagship platform for decentralisation is Mastodon, which is a federated service. It is, to a first-order approximation, decentralised twitter. What this means is that instead of you signing up for an account on one single website, twitter dot com, you can sign up for an account on one of many Mastodon instances. These instances are all internetworked, so that you can follow people on other instances and they can follow you. Since these networks are volunteer run, with no ads, for no profit[3], there is no incentive to addict you, or even an incentive to provide content in hyperdigestible tiny chunks (the iconic 140 [now 280] characters of Twitter), which means that Mastodon has no limit on post size. (I'm not putting in a footnote on Twitter threads, but they really really suck.) And since you are on a volunteer run instance, the moderation processes are transparent, and the caprice of Twitter's moderation that stems from its impersonal nature is removed. Plus noone sells your data!

Well, that's the idea, anyway. In practice, Mastodon is an internet subculture, with all that comes with that. When I said that Mastodon's moderation removes caprice? I wasn't exactly lying, because it does remove the frustrating random factor of "your appeal has been sent to one of hundreds of nameless faceless employees, whose unsupervised decision based on very little data will be enshrined as Fact." But it adds the factor of the volunteer moderator, a species just as often motivated by a power fantasy as by selfless devotion to a community. (Picture Reddit/Discord mods, if they literally owned the subreddit/server you used and couldn't be overruled by admins.) Mastodon drama is vast and incomprehensible, a fact only complicated by federation. For indeed all of these moderator fiefdoms are interconnected, and each fiefdom has no control over those connected to it apart from the simple fact that they can choose NOT to connect to another fiefdom - "de-federation". So when two instances, or two instances' mods, come into conflict, users from one instance might find themselves totally unable to interact with those from another. Not so great!

So, what's my verdict? Well, it's better than Twitter, if from nothing else than that they aren't selling your data. One can also use Mastodon while remaining unaware of drama, if one chooses an instance with a) relatively sane mods who b) largely align with your values. One very good way to do this is to host your own instance. In fact, that brings me to peer to peer networks, which is something I do want to talk about. But I'll shunt that to the side for now, and talk about something else.

centralisation (good)

The fact remains that whenever you join a mastodon instance, you ultimately have to put some trust in whoever is running it. But, hey, newsflash: trust is good. Sometimes you can trust things. (Insert bile about crypto's "NO TRUST" slogans - OK, OK, I'll stop it.) And that trust that you can put in a centralised member of a decentralised system can just as easily be given to a straight up centralised system. And in fact, some of the greatest achievements of the web today are centralised. Wikipedia is centralised! Sci-hub, Libgen (complicated situation here, with a lot of forks), AO3... all of these are centralised. And I think they're fine that way! There's no real reason that these need to be decentralised. The key factor here is that all of these are not-for-profit organisations that operate, essentially, as a public service. It is not coincidental that these sites are what I would point to as the "gems of the internet"!

peer to peer

I'm going to play a little fast and loose with this term here. In my ideal world, everyone would host a server - just a little one, a Raspberry Pi for instance - from their proverbial basement. In my fast-and-loose parlance, a federated service where instead of using public nodes people almost universally used their own would be morally peer to peer. The web itself, something that would usually be called a federated system if indeed it fits any of these categories at all, is also as a publishing platform peer to peer among publishers (obviously not content delivery), since each publisher runs their own node. Peer to peer systems are good in a lot of ways - why should you upload something to a third party just for someone else to download it? why should you have to send your messages to a third party to directly message someone else? - but their implementation is greatly hindered by (spitting) NAT (necessary due to (spitting) IPv4), which directly compromises the end-to-end principle. There are ways you can get around this - STUN hole-punching for consumer protocols, port forwarding for Gamer protocols - but it is in fact "all, basically, fucked".

The great virtue of peer-to-peer systems is the total control over your own data. The great problem is that if "the last seeder" (a concept that transfers surprisingly well to most peer to peer systems - person you are trying to contact, etc.) is offline, the data is gone forever - and in peer-to-peer systems, where peers are usually ephemeral, that's a much bigger problem than in centralised/decentralised systems. Of course, in my perfect world, everyone would leave their basement server on 24/7/365.25, and this wouldn't be an issue. And indeed, in practice, those deeply 'into' peer-to-peer systems tend to adopt this solution - hence, the seedbox.


Cryptocurrency is inherently commodifying and also inherently combines all the disadvantages of centralisation (being a totally central source of truth) with the disadvantages of decentralisation (duplication of work, bandwidth, etc). FUCK it.

an apology

While "decommodify not [necessarily] decentralise" is a good motto, this post is kind of a mess. It's basically just a disjointed and muddled dump of my thoughts on the subject. This needs editing, and also needs me to write conclusion that I was going to write, but I don't want to do either, so I won't (yet?). Sorry about that Lol :ched:. I should write an edited version of this, because I don't think it's been said before (??), but this version sucks

Anyway basically SOMETIMES CENTRALISED SERVICES ARE FINE , but only if theyre communism. Thats the big idea

[1] Don't think that I'm saying that these services are an unmitigated detriment to the world. Obviously a lot of good has come from instant communication worldwide, etc.

[2] Services like Patreon which aren't are much rarer, and are not the main focus of this post. Suffice it to say that in general the exploitativeness of these platforms is more towards the artists than the patrons.

[3] Theoretically someone could put ads on a Mastodon instance and run it for profit. Practically no-one would use that.