Curating a Virtuous Digital World – Hacker Noon

New experiments, and potential solutions to the corporation’s downfalls, are being tested in the world of cryptocurrency.

New governance models for software platforms are being tested in highly adversarial environments. So adversarial in fact, that creatures of the cryptocurrency swamp are even challenging the corporate software model (i.e. crypto scam bots overrunning Twitter).

One particularly interesting experiment against such problems can be found in the software technique called “Token Curated Registry.” Also known as TCR, it’s a software model for economically incentivizing the wisdom of the crowd in order to draw out, legislate, and enforce a virtuous terms of service.

A token economy (exchangeable for real money) incentivizes a community beyond the control of any one company, to curate the quality of information on a software platform. The term Token Curated Registry or TCR has been the subject of much hype and promise. For example, imagine if you could directly influence the ranked visibility of content on platforms like Spotify, OpenTable, or your Twitter feed, based on how many tokens you have.

Tokens as a way to rank the visibility of subjective content, such as the ranking of “Best Restaurants in Madrid” or the popular “Rap Caviar Playlist,” will likely fall victim to hype.

The problem of subjective TCRs (or ranked TCRs) has not yet been solved. Ranking the visibility of subjective content, based strictly on how much money you have, may seem dishonest or distasteful.

As it stands now for world’s popular content feeds, visibility ranking *seems* to happen according to non-monetary measurements such as Likes on Facebook, Favorites on Twitter, and Claps on Medium. The hope is that then, boosted or paid posts are then clearly marked with #ad.

Ranking content visibility in a strictly monetary way, will likely be a failure in the early theory of TCRs. If my personal content feeds are essentially up to the highest bidder- by secret attempts like Russian bots, Instagram influencing, or biased employees- I’d prefer to be blissfully unaware.

Example of a “monetarily” ranked feed on Steemit, curated by the “Steem” token

What will likely be a successful implementation of TCRs however, takes a different approach: using a tokenized incentive for users to curate reasonably objective information.

For example, imagine if Apple News was governed by an objective Token Curated Registry.

The real Apple News ToS, (which you probably legally agreed to, but never read) likely states a series of complex rules that are barely human readable. Yet human contractors (armed with machine learning filters) ensure that each publication, author, and post meet the baseline requirements of the ToS.

Such filtering would normally happen behind closed doors. And unless a profile was loud enough on a variety of platforms (like Alex Jones), nobody would notice a profile being purged suddenly. Certainly Alex Jones is reprehensible, but his removal reveals a question of how rampantly the corporate curation model could be abused. A more dire concern, is that the limited liability corporation may be ill-equipped to deal with the existential questions of the future.

Effective enforcement of reasonably objective digital laws may require a level of public forum, due process, and vested interest, that’s logistically impossible for corporations. Non machine readable information (although some curators will likely arm themselves with ML aids), filtered by a set of reasonably objective virtues, will likely achieve more successful outcomes in the TCR experiment.

Leveraging a token economy on an open source platform may incentivize the crowd to produce information on and help arbitrate the terms of service in a transparent way. As an example, let’s simulate a token curated app, called dApple News:

Similar to Apple, but without the haze of limited liability jargon, the dApple News constitution cites virtuous tenets such as “forbidding hate speech,” carefully alongside “promoting the right to free speech.” Furthermore, every publication has the right to editorial freedom so long as basic journalistic standards are met. In certain cases, the answer for whether or not a publication breaks the rules isn’t easily determined by human curators, let alone machines. And unlike Apple, its decentralized counterpart has a public forum for arbitrating non machine readable curation.

With dApple’s token curated registry, a form of due process in a public forum, helps each solution become reasonably objective.

Here’s how dApple News works exactly:

In order to be a verified “newsroom,” an organization has to stake a fixed submission fee, let’s say $100 for this example, which is instantly exchanged for network tokens at a dynamic (and volatile) free market price.

At any time during staking, any user can challenge an organization for potential violation of the network constitution. Challenging, however, requires an equal and opposing token stake to the publication’s initial staking fee. The challenge then, is put up to a vote by the larger token holder community, which any user can join. Discussion is enabled during the challenge process, but voting is blind.

For example, if Infowars stakes to be on the dApple News platform, I could challenge it on the grounds of publishing objectively verifiable hate speech. So I stake 100$ against the Infowars original submission and state my case to the community. In my challenge materials, I present time-stamped proof of Infowars posts brazenly inciting violence against a community. Active discussion on the voting board ensues, of which any user of the platform can weigh in on.

After voting is completed, a majority of token votes verify that the post objectively meets the definition of hate speech. Infowars can either stake more tokens to appeal and state their reasons why, or be kicked off the platform for good. Upon success, I receive back my challenging stake, in addition to Infowars application stake ($200 total worth of tokens).

Token holders tend to want to uphold the virtuous terms of service, as these standards give their network value. Being able to participate in such a platform then affords the underlying tokens real value. Such a system encourages a new species of diligent reader and evangelistic token holder.

So long as each organization upholds the dApple terms of service, they’ll never forfeit their application stake. And any frivolous or failed challenges against them will result in their own token holdings growing. The concept of TCRs are still in the early stages, and much work needs to be done to combat unintended consequences. In the case of dApple, will it eventually evolve into an ideologically homogeneous community? Will an alternative to dApple arise with identical terms of service, yet contain significantly divergent content? Will different groups use TCRs to even more harshly enforce their internal orthodoxies? I believe there will be solutions, and these subjects will be explored more deeply as we continue to explore this evolving space.

While still theoretical, I believe the objective TCR may prove an invaluable experiment at solving the downfalls of the digital world. As the digital world is overtaken by the mob, a solution may be found in the wisdom of the crowd.

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