Maria Montero

The YKarma experiment

Blockchains are boring now. Ten years have passed since Bitcoin was launched, and cryptocurrencies have been used almost exclusively to recap existing monetary systems in slightly new ways. This is boring. Programmable coins give us the ability to build everything new categories of economies, those that reject all traditional assumptions about how value is generated, transferred, or stored. It is time to start experimenting with such systems.

By putting my reputation where my mouth is, your (not so) humble correspondent has done just that. Specifically, I have created, and open source, an experimental non-monetary economy, based on a blockchain, one that quantifies reputation as a usable currency within a gift economy.

I’m not doing this in the hope that it will take over the world. I am doing this in the hope that it is one of many blockchain-based experimental economies that reject the principles of traditional money capitalism, some of which could take root.

Not that I am opposed to capitalism. (A surprisingly controversial stance, in the bay area where I live.) It’s cool up to a point. But there is no reason to think that it is the final system forever, the end of all economic history, until the death of the universe. Blockchains provide us with the first real opportunity to experiment and the first technological substrate for new kinds of scalable, quantified and post-capitalist economies … but no one seems to even try.

And so, without further ado, I hand you the YKarma Manifesto. (Every strange idea needs a good manifesto.) The basic concept: To model reputation as a usable currency, each person in a community or organization is assigned “karma coins” to distribute each week. These must be given to other people before they can be used. Then the recipients can spend these coins on various rewards: a day off, a conference ticket, a coffee with someone notable, etc. etc.

(Please note: this is a reputation economy, i.e. model reputation as a usable private currency, no, don’t repeat, a reputation system, that is, some kind of “social credit rating” like China’s. The first is an interesting idea worth experimenting with. The latter is a dystopia waiting to happen. Both are very different.)

If I seem like I’m being too harsh on the blockchain status quo, well, remember last year, when the hype for cryptocurrency was at its peak, along with the excitement of aspiration? Blockchains were going to change everything, remake entire economies, restructure the internet, replace VCs with ICOs, take power from megacorporations and give it back to the people.

That was then. Now blockchains have settled on exactly one killer app: a worldwide unregulated and permissionless trading marketplace for penny stocks Cryptocurrencies, which I call “crypto casino”. Oh, they are used occasionally for transferring money and for the market for weird predictions or digital collectibles, and if the value of Bitcoin ever stabilized it would make a good store of value and hedge. against inflation

– But let’s not kid ourselves. Take a look at the way people actually use blockchains today, and you can’t help but think that basically all we’ve built is a casino… one that really only has one game.

It is a casino with some extremely interesting tensions, such as the lack of permission and privacy in the face of KYC and AML. It is a casino whose chips are inherently anti-authoritarian, which is no small feat. It is a casino that can become a complete market for, for example, security chips. But even then, it’s still just fintech.

Admittedly, there are a lot of really cool meta-projects dedicated to new types of blockchains (and other decentralized consensus systems), and chaining efforts like Cosmos and Polkadot, and second-tier initiatives like Lightning, and scaling, and privacy, and storage. decentralized / chat / identity, and so on. There are my two favorites, Blockstack and FOAM.

But most of those, and all of those meta-projects, are only important to people already in space. For ordinary people, these kinds of initiatives are still as pointless and as irrelevant to the eyes as, say, the Linux systems wars are to Windows and Mac users.

So let’s broaden the horizon of our experimentation a bit and stop greedily trying to make money. In fact, let’s start experimenting with systems that are explicitly no about money; Which are the opposite of money. Let’s start experimenting with reputation economies, or gift economies, or somehow quantifying commodity pathways, or even cultural economies.

If that piques your interest, go to YKarma. (I find it oddly appropriate to make use of the social, and possibly cultural capital, of my position as a TechCrunch columnist to urge you to do so.) What I hope most is not that I start using it; is that you fork it, use it as a foundation to build your own cutting-edge post-capitalist economic experiment, and help blockchains go weird again.