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f831e09 Jan 1, 2019
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The YKarma Manifesto

25 Theses Regarding Reputation Cryptocurrencies

  1. Ten years ago the person(s) known as Satoshi Nakamoto introduced a novel solution to the Byzantine Generals Problem, one which can be used to implement secure, permissionless online currencies. Since then, however, cryptocurrencies have almost exclusively been used to recapitulate existing monetary systems in slightly new forms.

  2. This is boring.

  3. Programmable currencies give us the ability to build whole new categories of economies, ones which reject all traditional assumptions about how value is generated, transferred, or stored.

  4. YKarma is an example of such an experiment: one which quantifies reputation as a spendable currency within a gift economy. By design, its currency has zero monetary value; is minted and airdropped to all users every week; is worthless until given to another user; is destroyed rather than transferred when spent; and implicitly decays in value as its network scales.

  5. YKarma is also an example of software as performance art. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a blockchain should only be used to store dense, high-value information such as hashes, URLs, account allocations, etc. YKarma, by contrast, makes a point of using its blockchain as its only datastore.

  6. This was, to drily understate, not done for the sake of efficiency. I would estimate this as having taken 10x more development time than it would have using a basic database, except I suspect the real multiple is more like 20x when configuration / devops are taken into account. Its performance is similarly at least that much worse.

  7. While this was all devised with tongue in cheek, it was also written with (some) serious intent. As we reach the point of diminishing and/or negative returns to traditional capitalism, alternative economic structures will grow in importance. Such structures will almost certainly include reputation economies.

  8. Please note: reputation economies, i.e. modeling reputation as a spendable currency, not, repeat not, reputation systems, i.e. some kind of "social credit rating." The former is an interesting idea worthy of experimentation. The latter is a dystopia waiting to happen. The two are very different.

  9. YKarma is intended both as an implementation of a single, potentially useful flavor of an experimental reputation economy, and as an open-source example of an end-to-end, web-to-API-to-blockchain, fairly complex system, to be forked / mutated / built upon by others.

  10. Let a thousand weird cryptoflowers bloom!

  11. For details on how it works, see the project README.

  12. For technical details regarding how to clone/run YKarma locally, see the project HOWTO.

  13. Running it on the public Ethereum blockchain would be punitively expensive, due to its data storage requirements, and also impossible, due to its sheer number of transactions, if it were to scale at all. As such it currently runs on a private Proof-of-Authority blockchain.

  14. The eventual intent is for each community to run its own chain as an Ethermint zone (or equivalent, on some other pan-chain system), and to decide on the other chains, if any, with which they want to federate their reputations.

  15. Another objective is to preserve the privacy of account balances, using SNARKs or what have you, to ensure that this reputation currency is not used as a reputation rating.

  16. That's admittedly all very handwavey, but it seems likely that in a year or two it will be technically feasible.

  17. Weird performance-art experiments are all well and good, but they're even better if they're actually useful. Conveniently, I can at least conceive of a world in which people actually use this one.

  18. Before we get into that, let me stress: what I'd really like to see is a wave of experimentation with wholly new economic structures and incentivization systems. This is something which blockchains enable, but which has not yet happened, largely because (most) people cannot think outside the box in which they live, and/or are more interested in getting rich in the cryptocurrency casino or building decentralized versions of existing centralized services.

  19. This isn't to reject capitalism, by the way. Well-regulated capitalism is great, up to a point, one which I think we in the rich world have now hit. Even if you don't think it's great, it's not going anywhere. Whatever supplants capitalism will not violently overthrow it in some kind of dramatic post- capitalist revolution; it will subvert from within.

  20. Anyway. The fundamental sticking point for many people, I expect, will be that YKarma isn't just a reputation economy but a reputation gift economy. It relies on people creating and offering rewards, else there will be nothing on which to spend the reputation currency. However, one of its major differences from capitalism as we know it is that, when spent, the currency is burnt i.e. taken out of the economy forever, rather than being transferred to the vendor. Yes, you read that correctly.

  21. You may ask: who would create a worthwhile reward when they will not receive the currency that is paid for it?

  22. As tempting as it is to go all woo-woo Burning Man on you, that question actually has many sober and prosaic answers. Companies offering rewards to their employees; nonprofits offering rewards to their volunteers; gatherings offering attendance or benefits to people whose presence would burnish their quality or public image; individuals offering lunch in exchange for meeting and picking the brains of high-reputation people; altruists offering gifts to those collectively deemed most deserving; hosts offering couchsurfing to particularly interesting people; brands offering freebies to very-high- reputation people, just as they do today, except quantified; etc etc etc.

  23. Whether people will want to participate in a given reputation currency depends mostly on incentives. If the perceived rewards are valuable enough, and/or the community is important enough to them, then they will participate. That said, the complexity, design, and user experience of the currency will, as ever, be extremely important factors in its adoption or lack thereof.

  24. I'm interested in talking to people who find the concept intriguing, whether they be potential collaborators, parallel experimenters, angry critics, or anything else. If you're any of those, please feel free to reach out to me at to converse privately, or @rezendi on Twitter to discuss publicly.

  25. This I believe: every Git repo should include a