Two years ago, we published a report on Value in the Commons Economy, in which we analyzed the value regime of a number of pioneering peer production projects such as Sensorica and Backfeed. In that report, we posited a sphere of ‘value sovereignty’, within the sphere of the commons, and a membrane between the commons and the market to govern its interaction.

In the meantime, the token economy has exploded, and despite its many faults and weaknesses, it has brought open and contributive accounting to the mainstream as a practice, via programmable tokens that are divided up exactly as the open source communities decide. We have moved from an economy based on capitalist enterprises, which extracted all the surplus value from the developers, to an eco-system in which contributory competency networks, prepare white papers, crowdfund through tokens, and distribute the value much more widely amongst the contributors.

While much remains to be done, this is a major milestone in showing a possible future of or work and reward systems. The two following extracts bring testimonies about how the ‘developer working class’ is looking at these advances.

The question now is, can other sections of workers, those that do not belong to the aristocracy of labor that do software work, also learn and benefit from these new systems, and a second question is, We will be working on these very questions this summer and publish a report about it.

(excerpted from): How App Tokens Changed the Life of the Developer Working Class

Richard Burton: A month of work for the protocol (Ethereum) has completely changed my life. I am free to travel the world and work on whatever I want. It is hard to overstate the mental freedom afforded by having a cash buffer and not having to work all the time to make ends meet. It has had a profound effect on my mental health and freed me up to do the best work of my life. The people who built this protocol took a chance on me and I am incredibly grateful.

Vitalik and his team gave birth to a protocol that over 7,000 people committed to. They effectively held an IPO for their protocol at the start of the project. Since then, thousands more have got involved by trading Ether, writing code, and helping the protocol to flourish.

– “Bitcoin is not just a protocol or money, it’s a new business model for Open Source Software. Prior to Bitcoin, you had to raise money, write software, distribute your product, build a business model, and work towards liquidity. Angels, VCs, salespeople and bankers guided you the entire way, through a maze of tolls and controls.”

Naval Ravikant saw this coming months before the Ether sale. The coins that protocols distribute to contributors are like shares in a company. The key difference is that these shares are not locked up by startup founders and venture capitalists.

There are a thousand nightmarish stories about startup employees not being able to afford to exercise their stock options and missing out on millions of dollars. Alex MacCaw and I wrote about this problem in 2013 after seeing many of our friends go through the stressful process of trying to borrow money to buy the stock they had earnt.

The current stock option system is totally broken. It forces people to stay at companies longer than they want to in the hope that a liquidity event is just around the corner.

App Coins are totally different from stock options. I was paid for my month’s work and I was rewarded for my belief in the protocol at an early stage. There was no cliff, no vesting schedule, no liquidation preferences, no VC ratchets, no exercise window, just coins. I helped the Ethereum team when they had no money and they rewarded me for that.

The moment I decided to move on to a freelance job, I was free to do so. I didn’t have to stick around in the hope that I would make some huge pile of money in the future.

This model is going to completely change the war for talent. If you’re a smart engineer, you can go and join a rocketship startup and work crazy hours. Alternatively, you can head over to Thailand, live cheaply, and work for App Coins.

Protocol creators need your help: They need people to write clear documentation, teachers to help people learn, designers to work on the user interfaces, customer support staff to handle the swelling inboxes, investors to raise capital, and a whole range of other talent to help them build a successful protocol. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write code—you can still contribute.

Protocols will follow the startup power law: millions will be started and only a few hundred will change the world forever.

In the future, billions of people will be working for a protocol. They will define themselves by the protocols they work for and how much they can contribute.

Protocolism might be the solution we need. It harnesses human ingenuity and distributes the benefits far and wide. It can help us build an economy for the 99%.

When a startup succeeds, a handful of people get insanely wealthy. When a protocol succeeds, thousands of people profit. In the future, the great protocols could lift millions of people out of poverty.

(excerpted from): Decentralization as a Means for Developers and other Stakeholders to Take Back Control from Centralized Platforms

Chris Dixon: Let’s look at the problems with centralized platforms. Centralized platforms follow a predictable life cycle. When they start out, they do everything they can to recruit users and 3rd-party complements like developers, businesses, and media organizations. They do this to make their services more valuable, as platforms (by definition) are systems with multi-sided network effects. As platforms move up the adoption S-curve, their power over users and 3rd parties steadily grows.

When they hit the top of the S-curve, their relationships with network participants change from positive-sum to zero-sum. The easiest way to continue growing lies in extracting data from users and competing with complements over audiences and profits. Historical examples of this are Microsoft vs Netscape, Google vs Yelp, Facebook vs Zynga, and Twitter vs its 3rd-party clients. Operating systems like iOS and Android have behaved better, although still take a healthy 30% tax, reject apps for seemingly arbitrary reasons, and subsume the functionality of 3rd-party apps at will.

For 3rd parties, this transition from cooperation to competition feels like a bait-and-switch. Over time, the best entrepreneurs, developers, and investors have become wary of building on top of centralized platforms. We now have decades of evidence that doing so will end in disappointment. In addition, users give up privacy, control of their data, and become vulnerable to security breaches. These problems with centralized platforms will likely become even more pronounced in the future.

Cryptonetworks are networks built on top of the internet that 1) use consensus mechanisms such as blockchains to maintain and update state, 2) use cryptocurrencies (coins/tokens) to incentivize consensus participants (miners/validators) and other network participants. Some cryptonetworks, such as Ethereum, are general programming platforms that can be used for almost any purpose. Other cryptonetworks are special purpose, for example Bitcoin is intended primarily for storing value, Golem for performing computations, and Filecoin for decentralized file storage.

Early internet protocols were technical specifications created by working groups or non-profit organizations that relied on the alignment of interests in the internet community to gain adoption. This method worked well during the very early stages of the internet but since the early 1990s very few new protocols have gained widespread adoption. Cryptonetworks fix these problems by providing economics incentives to developers, maintainers, and other network participants in the form of tokens. They are also much more technically robust. For example, they are able to keep state and do arbitrary transformations on that state, something past protocols could never do.

Cryptonetworks use multiple mechanisms to ensure that they stay neutral as they grow, preventing the bait-and-switch of centralized platforms. First, the contract between cryptonetworks and their participants is enforced in open source code. Second, they are kept in check through mechanisms for “voice” and “exit.” Participants are given voice through community governance, both “on chain” (via the protocol) and “off chain” (via the social structures around the protocol). Participants can exit either by leaving the network and selling their coins, or in the extreme case by forking the protocol.

In short, cryptonetworks align network participants to work together toward a common goal — the growth of the network and the appreciation of the token. This alignment is one of the main reasons Bitcoin continues to defy skeptics and flourish, even while new cryptonetworks like Ethereum have grown alongside it.

Photo by Marco Verch

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