#62: Timeless Ethereum Guide - Public Goods
Writing as a public good; a path to sustainability for online writers
I just finished reading Conversations on Writing. The writer and radio show host David Naimon interviews the late legendary science-fiction author Ursula Le Guin.
The back-cover applauds the book with the following accolade:
When the New York Times referred to Ursula Le Guin as America’s greatest writer of science fiction, they may have just undersold her legacy. It’s hard to look at her vast body of work — novels and stories across multiple genres, poems, translations, essays, speeches, and criticism — and see anything but one of our greatest writers, period.
This is — hysterical. Because in the interview Ursula tears apart the New York Times — expressing a general distaste for legacy media powerhouses.
To paraphrase Ursula: “Hopefully,” she writes, is a word that haughty publications like the New York Times do not allow. She continues to condemn the NYT for being the grammar police.
Like other media powerhouses, the NYT is exclusionary. To write for one of these illustrious publications, one must be cut from a certain cloth. One must be, dare I say it, a certain type of boring.
Please don’t kill me. I’m just the messenger. I have never written for a publication like the NYT but I hear this sentiment all around me from online writers who have been around the block much longer than I have. Legacy media powerhouses will chew up and spit out writers. It’s a game of status and power. It’s not supposed to be inclusive.
Well….this sucks. But, people, like myself, are working on this problem. The solution is to create systems to fund public goods. Because writing — just like clean air, parks, airports, and common lands — is a public good.
A public good is something for the benefit of all people that does not exclude non-payers, usually maintained by the government through subsidies and taxes.
My writing — this newsletter that you are reading — is a public good. I am not charging you for it even though you are getting value. Obviously, this is not financially sustainable in the long term. Many writers start to charge for their newsletters and create multiple income streams.
Paywalling is not the only way. Another way is public goods funding.
Michael Nielsen and Andy Matuschak, researchers working on tools for thought, frame the problem like this:
Many of the most fundamental and powerful tools for thought do suffer the public goods problem. And that means tech companies focus elsewhere; it means many imaginative and ambitious people decide to focus elsewhere; it means we haven’t developed the powerful practices needed to do work in the area, and a result the field is still in a pre-disciplinary stage. The result, ultimately, is that it means the most fundamental and powerful tools for thought are undersupplied.
They certainly are important and exciting subjects. What’s more, at present AGI (artificial general intelligence) and BCI (brain computer interfaces) are far more fashionable (and better funded). As a reader, you may be rolling your eyes, supposing our thinking here is pre-determined: we wouldn’t be writing this essay if we didn’t favor work on tools for thought. But these are questions we’ve wrestled hard with in deciding how to spend our own lives. One of us wrote a book about artificial intelligence before deciding to focus primarily on tools for thought; it was not a decision made lightly, and it’s one he revisits from time to time. Indeed, given the ongoing excitement about AGI and BCI, it would be surprising if people working on tools for thought didn’t regularly have a little voice inside their head saying “hey, shouldn’t you be over there instead?” Fashion is seductive.
As I mentioned, after a while it becomes financially unsustainable to write for free on the Internet. The question is: what new system can we create to invest in the long-term value of writing — to fund writers so they can live sustainably and create quality work?
We are seeing experiments using Ethereum to fund public goods. Projects that are using the open, permissionless blockchain to build new sustainable models that incentivize the creation of public goods.
Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, is actively involved in these experiments. One of the most successful projects that is funding public goods, specifically open source software, is Gitcoin. Millions of dollars flow through the Gitcoin ecosystem, and a novel mechanism called quadratic funding is used to match grants and support open source builders.
Kevin Owocki, the founder of Gitcoin, and I used to work at ConsenSys together. He’s down to earth and well-intentioned, for sure a gentle and kind super achiever!
I’m also working on one of these public goods experiments with Foster, a writers collective. We are creating a DAO and our first initiative will be to fund 100 collaboratively written essays. Everyone in Foster DAO wants to build a future where online writing can be a sustainable career, for ourselves, and for the writers who come after us. We’re playing positive sum games — win-wins, not win-loss.
From yesterday’s post, DAOs enable people to:
create and maintain a transparent and shared treasury
submit proposals for how to spend treasury monies (e.g., pay members, fundraise, give grants)
cast an immutable vote yay/nay for a proposal
experiment with emergent, non-hierarchical organizational structures and create models for the future of work
This post was inspired by Other Inter.net’s post Positive Sum Worlds: Remaking Public Goods and Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen’s post How Can We Develop Transformative Tools for Thought.
Take care, friends, and be well!