For a while Corey has resisted the “siren’s song” to do an episode on web3. Well, the time has finally come to change that. Today’s guest, software engineer Molly White, runs a collection of interesting stories at web3isgoinggreat.com, where she demonstrates a flair for making web 3 somewhat approachable, and levels her own just critiques.
Molly discusses the “handwaviness” of web3 as “the future of the web” and how the hype might be overselling. She and Corey talk about the sometimes warranted hesitancies about certain technologies, and how web3 falls into some of those. She shoots down some of the misinformation about crypto and the odd ball stuff popping up around it, and lets us in on some of her own criticisms. Which are finely hewn and actually make sense! Unlike the dark morass of crypto itself.
Molly White is a software engineer and team lead. She's also a longtime Wikipedia editor and advocate for free and open knowledge, and has more recently become an outspoken critic of cryptocurrencies and web3 more broadly.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
. I’m Corey Quinn. For a while now I have resisted the siren song of doing an episode covering the wide world of Web 3. So, if you’re deep into that space, you can rejoice because it’s finally time to change that. Now, the other side of that, for at least some of you, is that my guest today is Molly White, who’s a software engineer. But more notable as of recent days for running a collection of interesting stories coming out of the world of Web 3, at web3isgoinggreat.com
. Molly, thank you for joining me.
Molly: Thanks for having me.
Corey: So, by day, you’re a software engineer, which means you’re already predisposed to writing things that humans find very difficult to understand. And now you’re—in your spare time apparently—writing about Web 3, which is a topic that humans find very difficult to understand. For some reason, you have a flair for telling stories about this basically impenetrable to outsiders space in a way that makes it look, first off simpler to understand, and secondly—let’s be clear—patently ridiculous. How did you find your way into this part of the world?
Molly: Well, [sigh] I think as a software engineer, it’s a little hard to avoid the Web 3 thing. You hear about it from your colleagues or the people on tech Twitter, or, you know, you see it in the news. And it’s—
Corey: Or people behind you at Starbucks who won’t stop talking, et cetera.
Molly: Yeah, they sneak right up on you. And so people, you know, when you hear about something that’s supposed to be the future of the web, you know, if you’re a web, software engineer, I think it’s sort of natural to try to figure out, “Oh, what’s this thing? You know, I need to learn more about this.” And that’s sort of how I got into it. You know, I tell the story about how I’ve known about cryptocurrencies for a long time—you know, Bitcoin has been around for a while now—and I was just extremely uninterested [laugh] in them for a very long time.
But with this sort of rebrand, recently, I’ve sort of been forced, I think, to pay a little more attention to it since it seems to be one of those things that people have to engage with whether they want to or not. Or at least people hope that is what the Web 3 thing will become. So.
Corey: I come from a background of being a grumpy old Unix administrator, and I’ve been around long enough to see the inevitable cycle where this shiny, exciting new technology of today is the legacy garbage I have to support in production tomorrow. And this breeds more than a little bit of cynicism, where whenever someone says, “We have this new thing,” it’s, “All right. Let me get out the checklist. What happens when jerks get involved? How is it going to break? How am I going to hate this thing? How is it going to completely ruin my week?”
And people building technologies—this is probably no surprise—don’t generally like questions like that. And I get it because they’re trying to do something creative and build something that solves a problem that sometimes they can—they’re the only ones who can define. But also tends to be this sort of love with the technology where, “I see nothing wrong with the technology I’ve built whatsoever.” It’s, “Yeah, you probably wouldn’t.”
And that’s okay because that doesn’t bound itself to cryptocurrency or blockchain stuff—
Molly: Yeah, absolutely.
Corey: It runs the gamut from databases to messaging protocols to someone’s sketched-out version of an iPhone they wish that someone would build, et cetera, et cetera. No technology is perfect. There’s an ancient place on the internet I used to hang out that had the motto of, “All hardware sucks, all software sucks.” Varying degrees and to different levels, but they all suck. And they’re not wrong.
I love aspects of the Web 3 community: Their optimism, for example, is something that I find inspiring; their ability to stay on message is also incredibly—honestly, it’s admirable. I just wish the message were slightly different. What is your take on how all of this stuff is—I guess, not just the technology itself, but the hype train that accompanies it?
Molly: Yeah. Well, first of all, I agree with a lot of what you just said. I think optimists have a great role to play in the software world, and I think cynics also do, and I sort of wish there was a little more balance in this particular technology. I also agree with you the community and sort of the people who—a lot of the people who are trying to get involved in this stuff, I really admire and I think are really passionate, and, like, really smart and, you know, have the right motivations. But it’s a little frustrating sometimes to see that the optimism can turn into a very aggressive, sort of almost protectiveness around the technology where they are almost unwilling to, you know, examine whether or not there might be flaws behind the product that they’re hoping to build.
And that’s where I get really worried because I think in order to build software responsibly, you need to be open to the skepticism and the criticism and the questions, and it overwhelmingly has felt like the sort of Web 3 community has not been, which I find really worrisome.
Corey: Spare me from the cascade of, “Do your own research,” whenever you say something negative. Like, it seems to be a pervasive ail of our society, where it’s, “You’re just going to believe what people tell you?” “What, you mean, legitimate experts who’ve been looking at”—
Molly: [laugh]. Yeah, the experts?
Corey: —“The space for decades?” Yeah, it’s like, what research am I going to do on YouTube in 20 minutes that is going to outweigh that? It’s not do your own research; it’s carefully curate the bias of the media your consuming until you come around to my worldview, and that’s not the same thing as research.
Molly: I agree. Yeah. And it’s weird how we see that same thing cropping up in, like, Covid-19 conspiracies and QAnon, and then it’s like, “And also crypto.” Okay, that’s a little weird.
Corey: It’s very odd watching the rise of this. Blockchain is an interesting technology, absolutely, and this recent extension into non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, I—the first time I saw it was relatively recently and it very quickly became impossible to avoid, if for no other reason than I keep getting tagged by brand new empty Twitter accounts doing replies of, “Tag three people to wind up getting airdropped on this,” and I sure do love the fact that Twitter can find no way whatsoever to stop this from happening. Lovely. And it’s, “Okay, looking at this, what is this?” Like, “Look at how much money these things sell for.”
And I have extensive background in finance, so I can spot it from a mile away, like, “Oh, yeah, that. That’s a money-laundering scam.” Like, wait, that doesn’t seem fair. Like, you tell me everyone involved in NFTs is a money launderer? Oh, absolutely not; that’s a terrible money laundering scam.
You need to have people who are not money launderers, otherwise, the entire thing gets shut down and everyone gets arrested. You need to have people who are not themselves criminals, basically interspersed and the dominant party in this, so the rest of us can money launder. And it’s like there’s nothing new under the sun, and the idea that regulators are somehow complete naive fools does not usually pay dividends. And people have a long time to reflect on this in federal prison.
Molly: Right. Yeah. And I think we’ve been seeing this sort of trailing regulation coming in a little bit. You know, there’s a lag between when someone does something blatantly criminal and then when the, you know, the US Attorney’s Office announcements come out a year or two later saying that, “Oh, and we just charged this person with”—you know–“Fraud or whatever it is.” I sort of, every once in a while, I read some of those announcements from, you know, the Department of Justice or the various other groups and, you know, they’ll describe what someone has done in the crypto space or, you know, financial fraud, and it’s like, whoo, boy that looks similar to a lot of these projects that are just launching now. I wonder if anyone’s getting a little bit uncomfortable reading these. [laugh].
Corey: This thing that I understand as well that I am, I am a cynic and I have been basically down on emerging technologies a lot, which means I’ve been wrong an awful lot. In 2006 2007, I thought virtualization was a very niche thing that was only going to be suitable for a couple of weird workloads because, like, how many underutilized computers could there really be in the world? Yeah, I was wrong. Then I said that cloud was absolutely not going to take on, and through about 2012, I was very anti-cloud because, “Oh, you’re going to trust your stuff on someone else’s computer and give your uptime to them and your—their security over to them. It’ll never catch on.” Yeah, I was wrong there, too.
I thought containers were ridiculous. And they are in some ways, but they’re also the way the world works. I’m actually very bullish on serverless, which means it’s not going to succeed in the market because I’m invariably—
Molly: Oh, no. [laugh].
Corey: —wrong in this. Exactly. But people are saying, “Well, what makes Web 3 or any of these blockchain technologies any different than all the other things that I was wrong about?” And my feeling around this is that at least I could understand what those other technologies, what the problem they were setting out to solve was. It continues to shift depending upon the narrative line that people are pushing on this.
And I also remember the response I got every case previously, which was, “You’ll see it sooner or later. It’ll be fine.” There was never this urgency baked into it of, “You have to get in now, or you’re going to lose out and be poor forever.” And I was extraordinarily gullible growing up, so when I see this, it’s like, okay, when you’re trying to pressure me into doing something, it’s because you’re deriving some benefit if I do. And I’m very cynical these days, perhaps unfairly so.
When you grow up being constantly you may have to fall for pranks and whatnot because you have no sense of guile, then great. You sort of have an overreaction the other direction. It’s mostly served me well, but I look at this and okay, ignoring the entire bubble of that ecosystem—and I’m hoping you have an answer for this—what is the real-world problem that I, as an individual or as a business, have that Web 3 solves for me?
Molly: Well, it’s been great for ransomware. So if—
Corey: Oh, yes.
Molly: —you’re doing that—[laugh]. Yeah, no, I have a very similar feeling to this around, you know—
Corey: Ransomware is ridic—there’s already ways to do that. It’s like, we’re going to take your data and we’re not going to give it back to you unless you pay us enormous piles of money. Yeah, that’s called cloud egress charges. It’s been done, and it’s a lot less computationally intensive. I’m mostly kidding, but not entirely.
And yeah, yeah, it’s so much easier now to wind up extorting money from people through this thing. Yeah, I. Don’t find that often to be a feature, and, frankly, people who do I don’t really want them within a thousand miles of me.
Molly: Right. Yeah. And I mean, I think a lot of the problems—you’ll even see people saying this, you know, with very thin veils of legitimacy, but a lot of people are basically saying, “Well, we want to do something that we can’t do with traditional money because it’s regulated.” [laugh]. And so seeing that, it’s like, “Really?” You’re like, you know, the regulations—
Corey: What are you trying to do over there, buddy? And yes, I admit, there are certain things that I find obnoxious about the way that in, you know, non-crypto society that we deal with money and the challenges we have with it. Some of the fees attached to things, some of the way that it takes, “Wow, we can send messages at the speed of thought in real-time, but it still takes how long for a payment to clear through these systems?” I get it; there are reasons they are the things are the way that they are. But it all mostly works, to be clear.
Are there opportunities for improvement? Absolutely. Do I think that the way to do that is to basically come up with an entirely new form of money? I—maybe if you’re starting from scratch, but I kind of have a hard time accepting that it’s going to work that way for everyone.
Molly: Right. And I also think there’s sort of this pervasive issue with a lot of the projects in Web 3, where they are actually trying to solve very real problems, very serious problems, and you know, the fact that there’s, you know, unfairness in the banking system, or that there’s fees, or that, you know, there are people who are making an enormous amount of money off of people just trying to send small amounts of money, like, I get that, and I get that you might want to solve those problems. But overwhelmingly, it seems like there’s sort of this opinion of like, okay, so we have this bad thing now. We have this different thing here, so this different thing has to be better than this bad thing. And it’s like, no, no, no, wait, hang on. It’s possible to, like, replace a bad thing with something that’s worse, and I think we need to consider that what we’re trying to do here looks a lot like that.
And so you know, people are talking about, you know, “Oh, well bank the unbanked.” They don’t have access to banking and so we’ll fix that with blockchains. And it’s like, no, I think what we’ll do actually with the blockchain is we’ll probably end up scamming the unbanked because this place is totally unregulated and regulations actually protect people a lot of the time. You know, so that I think that’s really worrisome, the sort of just idea that we have something different and so it’s better.
Corey: The thing that always catches my eye when people talk about this: “Oh, it’s the new form of money. It’s going to solve all of the social injustice problems.” Okay, maybe I stumbled upon this secret hidden community of altruists that are out there, but generally speaking, looking at the broad sweep of human behavior, you can make a few observations, and one of them is that the rich generally do not desire company. And the idea of, oh, this is going to magically fix systemic inequality, I don’t know that that’s necessarily true.
Corey: And a lot of the pr—say what you will about problems with the existing financial regulations that are out there if I screw up, and I accidentally wind up doing a wire transfer of rent or for buying a car to the wrong account, there are established ways that gets reversed, and between large institutions, it’s basically a phone call, a letter, and it gets done within a day or so. Whereas with crypto, it’s [sings] doesn’t it suck to be you? Di di. And that just becomes… well, is there any recourse? None. That doesn’t strike me as a feature, to be honest, that strikes me as a bug.
Molly: Right. And I was actually—it is interesting. I was recently rereading the Bitcoin white paper because it’s one of those things that people are constantly like, “Well, read the Bitcoin white paper and you’ll totally understand it all.” And it’s interesting how in the Bitcoin white paper, they talk about how this new system will prevent fraud, but if you look at what they’re talking about as fraud, they’re talking about people illegitimately reversing transactions. So like, you know, take the example you buy something on Amazon, you receive whatever item it is, and then you do a chargeback. And you then you have your item, and you haven’t paid for it.
That is, like, the one thing that this, you know, person who came up with Bitcoin is describing as fraud. And that’s, like, the one thing that is hoping to be prevented. And it’s like, I kind of get the idea that, like, [laugh] at some point, you know, someone’s scammed, Satoshi in this way, and it’s just, like, this is what came from it. But it’s such an odd perception that is, like, the only kind of fraud and, like, that is always a bad thing to be able to reverse a transaction. I find that really fascinating because it’s just like, that’s actually a really good thing a lot of the time.
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Corey: But I will defend the Web 3 community, which I know is somewhat surprising because again, my feelings on this stuff are nuanced. But—
Corey: Everyone says they have this massive problem with InfoSec and the rest, and I don’t believe that that is necessarily true. I do not believe that the people writing the code that powers these blockschain—or however the pluralize is improperly—are somehow much worse developers than everyone else. But the incentives are radically different because if I screw up on some of my Lambda functions, great, you can get access to I don’t know the API tokens for my lasttweetinaws.com
Twitter client. Okay, great. Now, you can spam Twitter. It’s not that interesting to people and it’s not considered high value.
Whereas yeah, if I wind up breaking through this little thing, I can wind up getting, what, $200 million? Yeah, suddenly, it’s probably worth spending significant time on security reviews. So, I do think that folks are being a little unfairly maligned there just because the way that they’re approaching this it does not match the rigor that is take—and care that is taken to systems that in the fiat finance world—as they love to call it—that wind up [unintelligible 00:20:10] money, there’s oversight, there is planning, there is testing, there are entire teams of people doing nothing other than InfoSec review, rather than, “Well, it’s on GitHub; my job is done.”
Molly: Yeah. Yeah, I’ve heard people refer to it as self-paying bug bounties before where the bounty is, you know, the money that you can pull out of these exchanges or whatever project you actually, you know, are able to exploit. And I think that’s very accurate. And I think you’re right, you know, I think that there’s nothing that—I mean, there, I’m sure they are particularly incompetent developers in Web 3 as there are particularly incompetent developers in any sector, but I do think that you’re right, that it’s just an enormous incentive to find any small bug. And I think also part of it is that a lot of the concepts that people are working with are extremely difficult to, sort of, wrap your mind around.
You know, this is a little bit of a tangent, but a lot of the attacks, we just saw three attacks in one day that all relied on something called a flash loan exploit. And trying to wrap my head around what a flash loan is just like, it doesn’t jibe with, like, current financial systems and so it’s really hard to, sort of, comprehend, and I think it’s probably hard for developers to code against because it’s just a very different way of thinking about loans. You know, like a flash loan is basically a loan that you take out the loan, and you pay it back in one transaction, which, in real life has no purpose, right? There’s no reason you would go to a bank, borrow $10,000, and then immediately give them those $10,000 back. But you know, [crosstalk 00:21:47]—
Corey: Financial equivalent of a managed NAT gateway that winds up just transferring for every cent that’s passed through it. I’ve seen stuff historically, before they fixed bugs like this, in credit card reward systems, where basically you can just cycle spend through and it doesn’t do anything other than suddenly starts cranking your point balance into the stratosphere, so you could save up your poi—frequent flier miles to go to space or whatnot.
Molly: Yeah, exactly. Right. And I think, you know, that’s the, sort of, same idea here. You know, people use these flash loans for all sorts of weird, you know, yield farming and just sort of bananas stuff. And, you know, I think trying to code against a lot of stuff, you have to really understand those things very well, and not necessarily just be a good developer, but also understand the economics behind it and the incentives that people are, you know, chasing. And that’s tough. [laugh].
Corey: I will say that you are far from alone in criticizing crypto, but I’ve patterned a lot of my own cynicism and trepidation around the space after the way that you engage with it. And what I mean by that is not that I build hilarious websites about these things that chronicle its shortcomings, but rather that you don’t personalize it, you don’t take the step that so many folks do and say, “Oh, this person is now going to work at a crypto company, therefore, they’re a sellout. Therefore, they’re out to scam people. Therefore, they’re just the devil incarnate.”
And it’s no, I don’t believe that either. I’m curious to hear their reasons for it. They don’t owe me an explanation and I’m certainly not going to harass them on Twitter about these things, but the idea that someone is somehow now working for a company that engages in this stuff, and therefore they are now to be written off as a human being is something that I just find distasteful in the extreme. And I’ve never once seen you cross that line.
Molly: Yeah, I also really disagree with that. Which, you know, may be controversial to some of my fellow skeptics, but I think we can agree to disagree on that. I don’t think that it is, you know—I think that people have very good reasons for going to work for companies that I don’t necessarily personally agree with, you know? And I think there are a lot of examples of people who work for companies in spaces that are, you know, questionable. A lot of the big social networks have done things that are pretty horrifying when, you know, look at the recent exposés around Facebook or, you know, all those things.
You know, there are people who work for defense companies, which I don’t necessarily agree with, you know, those kinds of things. And I think everyone has to do their own, sort of, personal math around what makes sense for them, where their ethics lie. You know, a lot of these companies I will say pay a lot of money, and I can’t necessarily fault someone for needing to pay the bills, right, even if it means working for a company that I think is maybe not the best. But I think there’s—
Corey: Yeah, I used to give people who worked with Facebook tremendous amounts of crap. I don’t do that anymore. I was wrong. I’m not going to personally harangue people for where they work. You never know someone’s individual situation. I—
Corey: I’m not apologizing for the company; I want to do no business with them, but I will no longer be going after people individually because they work there. Because until you walk a mile in someone’s shoes, you don’t know what’s going on there.
Molly: Right. And I also think there’s just not much point to it, right? Like, if we want to hold Facebook to account, for example, I don’t think going after some software engineer or customer support rep or whatever is going to make any difference, other than making their life particularly unpleasant. And, you know, that I think applies to the Web 3 crypto space as well. You know, I will absolutely dunk on someone who I think is, you know, malicious and scammy and taking advantage of people, and I will say the same things about companies that are doing that, but I do think that there are very well-intentioned people who are working in this space for a ton of different reasons.
It’s, you know, personal curiosity; some people just aren’t convinced yet that—you know, some people think this could do a lot of good and that they, you know, should engage in the space in good faith and, you know, go work for these companies, and try to make sure that the companies are pushing towards good. You know, I don’t personally think that there’s much that can be done there; I think that’s a tough angle, but I respect people for trying. And I think there’s also a huge amount of just, uh—I think a lot of the hate or the vitriol that has been targeted at these people who are going to work for crypto companies is very selective, in some ways, you know? You see a woman going to work for a crypto company or person of color going to work for a crypto company and their replies look markedly different from the white guy who goes to work for a crypto company. It’s all, “Congratulations,” and, “Oh, he’s going to be so rich,” and all that kind of stuff, and there’s not so much you know, hand-wringing of hands, whether or not they are a scammer or all that kind of thing. It’s like, you’re only allowed to, you know, go and get that bag or whatever if you’re a white guy; everyone else is held to a different standard.
Corey: For people who look like me, the bars on the floor, let’s be very clear here. It’s, “Good for you. Go after it. Go and get it.” And there is a systemic problem, on some level, that I think that we have not really grappled with as a society, which is that even well-paid software engineers still feel the pressure that in order to be prosperous and guarantee financial security for you and your family, you now also to be a part-time trader in various ways, and invest, which very often is misused in place of what it actually is, which is speculation or gambling.
Molly: Gambling. Yeah. [laugh].
Corey: That is the way to prosperity. Because we have survivorship biases; no one likes to trumpet their failures. It’s the same problem we see with tech conferences: People get up and talk about, “This is the thing we built and it’s awesome.” And you talk to people who work there. It’s like, “Yeah, I don’t recall that project going anywhere near that well.”
And, yeah, it we all tell these aspirational, heroic stories of what we’ve done, and we trumpet the things we’re proud of. And it just, it isn’t sustainable. It isn’t something that I think we’ve spent a lot of time on. And this is software engineers were talking about. Remember, once growing up, at least, there was the idea that you could—this was this wild, subversive idea that you could be a schoolteacher in a city and actually live in the city in which you taught. Now, that is basically a fantasy. And we see that across the board. That’s not great for anything.
Molly: Yeah. And I actually blame, you know, economic circumstance for a lot of the crypto hype. You know, there are a lot of people who are in tough spots right now, you know? The pandemic has certainly had a huge impact on some people, especially people working in, you know, service jobs and things like that. And so people are in, you know, pretty dire straits as a result of that.
There’s also enormous student loans, the housing market is bonkers, you know? There’s so many things that are really making people suffer financially. And so then when crypto comes along, and people start talking about 60,000% APY and all this, you know, you’re going to triple your money, you’re going to buy this bored ape NFT at $100 and it’s going to be $500,000 next year. People fall for that because it’s enormously appealing, right? And I think there’s a lot of blame to be placed on the media for, sort of, buying into a lot of that.
There’s been a lot of very credulous reporting, I would say, on some of the people who claim to make a ton of money off of these things. And so people, you know, that, when they see, you know, CNBC, for example, will highlight these, you know, people who were just scraping by, they were going paycheck to paycheck, they put $50 into a project and now they’re millionaires, you know? And people see that because there’s no point for CNBC to talk about the person who invested their, you know, their rent payment into a crypto project and then couldn’t pay rent because they lost it all, you know? Or the person who took out margin loans and is now in debt to these various companies that are lending people money to gamble on crypto. Those are not the stories that make the headlines and so people get a very skewed view of how many people are actually making a ton of money in this space and how many people are actually losing a lot of money in this space. And I put a lot of blame on various media companies for that.
Corey: Well, take Twitter as an example. Yeah, I would classify them in many respects as a media company. Imagine for a second that if every time someone tweeted something about AWS, like, “Well, I got surprised at my AWS bill,” or, “Huh, I’m having some trouble with AWS Lambda.” Suddenly, 15 bots all replied and quote tweets and the rest saying, “Ah, this person helped me out. Talk to them,” or fake accounts with a, “Here’s our support forum. Please fill this out.” It goes to a Google Doc.
It seems like the easiest thing in the world to automatically wind up detecting and blocking—just because it is clearly keyword triggered, it is very obvious when it happens, and somehow, it just keeps persisting. It makes you wonder, on some level—like, counts as engagement and users, so it makes the numbers that we report on earnings go up, so I guess we’re going to keep doing it. It just feels like, on some level, Twitter has empowered a lot of this in a way that most normal places would not.
Which, of course, brings us to the other project you’ve been involved with for a very long time: Wikipedia. Now, it seems like a weird thing to say, “Oh, yes. You’ve been an editor on Wikipedia.” Yeah, so is basically everyone at some point because it turns out, it’s a couple of clicks away. Your something a little more than that, but I don’t pretend to understand the Wikipedia [instructor 00:31:31]. Tell me about that.
Molly: Yeah. Yeah. So, I’m a Wikipedia editor. I’m a prolific, I guess, Wikipedia editor, you might say. But I’ve been actively editing Wikipedia for over a decade now. I’m also a member of the, sort of, administrative group on that project, and I’ve also served a couple of terms on what’s called the arbitration committee, which helps mediate disputes among community members. So yeah, I’m pretty involved. [laugh].
Corey: How much of your involvement in that community has bled over into your, frankly, amazing coverage of Web 3?
Molly: An enormous amount. [laugh]. I think you can very—I think, if you look at the entries on Web 3 is Going Great, you can kind of see the Wikipedia voice in them. It’s a little hard for me to escape that sort of style of writing because I’ve just been doing it for so long, and it’s the majority of the writing I do. So, you definitely see that a lot.
And, you know, I’ve had a couple of people say things, you know, like, you know, “How do you cover stuff in such a, you know, detached way?” And it’s like, “Oh, well, I write encyclopedias in my spare time.” [laugh]. There’s obviously a lot more sarcasm and sort of personal bias in the Web 3 is Going Great project, which is why I started it because I can’t do that on Wikipedia, and I won’t do that on Wikipedia. But that’s where a lot of it comes from, is that sort of that instinct, I think, that you develop as a Wikipedia editor to sort of research and chronicle and record and share what you’re seeing. It’s hard to escape.
Corey: I do want to call attention, though, to other long-form writing that you do because, “Wikipedia, who wrote this?” Well, the answer is always lots of people. But if you go to mollywhite.net
and look at your long-form writing, it’s pretty easy to understand who wrote this.
It’s not nearly as clinical and encyclopedaic as you might expect, from your description just now. It’s very approachable, very engaging, writing that reflects on topics in a way that only long-form can and Twitter generally cannot. And it’s great, you could read this and not realize that you’re deeply involved in the Wikipedia part of it, right up until the point you get to the end. And then you see the extensive list of references at the bottom of the page because apparently footnotes and citation is a habit that you can’t get away from there, but it’s—
Molly: I can’t help myself. [laugh].
Corey: Nowhere near as dry and clinical as you’re implying.
Molly: Yeah, that’s true. I do take more of an essay approach in my long-form
writing. One thing I’ve really loved about Web 3 is Going just Great is that you sort of don’t need to necessarily know, like, what’s a blockchain, and what’s an NFT, and what’s, you know, distributed, you know, database or whatever, before you start reading it. It’s sort of approachable, you can read one or two entries, and then you can go do whatever else and you don’t have to do this, sort of, deep dive. But it also lacks, I think, that ability to go a little deeper into some of the problems or some of the really huge issues I see with the underlying technologies because it’s, you know, it’s very much of one hit, and then you move on to the next thing.
So, I’ve started blogging a little bit on the side, I guess, to sort of go into a little more depth on some of my concerns, just both as, like, a technologist but also just as someone who’s been on the internet for a long time and who’s been a member of communities. You know, the Wikimedia community is very similar to a lot of the communities that you’re seeing crop up in these Web 3 projects, especially to do with the DAOs. And so, I sort of have over a decade of experience in it community like that, and I’m watching a lot of these new DAOs, you know, who say they’re coming up with this brand new model, you know, they’ve invented this new form of governance. And I’m watching them, it’s like, “Oh, you’re about to step on that same rake we stepped on 15 years ago.”
And that concerns me a lot, especially because you know, the Wikimedia
community, there’s harm that can be done by—for sure, and it has happened, but there’s not really financial harm that happens with a Wikipedia editor, you know? You’re not buying to engage with the Wikimedia community. I certainly hope not because you’re being scammed. But with these DAOs, you know, you’re paying to engage with a community that is not taking lessons that it could be taking from Wikimedia, from co-ops, from mutual organizations, you know? They could be looking at history a little bit more, I think.
Corey: Tech does this across the board. It’s, “We’re in San Francisco. We’re going to reinvent and disrupt industry x.” Okay, fine, great. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. Godspeed. “And while we’re at it, we’re going to reinvent other things, too, that we think the world gets wrong, like, how to interview people.” And the common thing on Twitter is no one knows how to interview engineers properly; it can’t be solved.
And yes, yes it can. There were multi-decade studies conducted in places like GM, Coca-Cola, et cetera, on how to lead to positive outcomes while interviewing and what to do, and whenever you bring that up, Twitter gets very angry about that because, “No, that’s different. That’s a different time and a different era, and the world works differently, now.” And, “Great, okay, keep disrupting things, but you can save a lot of time by having a conversation or two with people who’ve walked that road before? You don’t have to go it alone.”
Molly: Right. Yeah, I think that’s a huge thing. Kelsey Hightower has done a lot of conversations around that, around how—he’s doing incredible work talking about, you know, blockchains, and crypto and stuff—and he’s talked a lot about how it looks like a lot of these projects are sort of reliving history around—you know, he has a very technological approach to it, so he talks about, you know, the sort of security things that are not being considered and the, you know, the various infrastructure sides of things that are just sort of being reinvented without any sort of consideration to the past lessons. I think that’s just a very classic—you’re right, it’s a very classic, like, Silicon Valley way of doing things. There’s sort of the running joke about how people reinvent buses every couple of years.
You know, Uber is like, we’re going to make a service where a bunch of people can all get in a car together and drive someplace. It’s like, “Oh, right, yeah. A public bus system.” We have those. I think there’s very similar comparisons to draw in Web 3.
Corey: There absolutely are. And I want to thank you for being so generous with your time. If people want to learn more, where can they find you?
Corey: Yes. And for fun, I wound up pointing a domain over to you, over to your site as well, ponzl
—P-O-N-Z-E-L dot com. It’s like P-O-N-Z-I except the I is an L because the crypto people can never seem to quite take the L. But there you have it. It’s not a Ponzi scheme; it’s something different.
Molly: It’s a Ponzl scheme.
Corey: Thank you so much for being generous with your time. I appreciate it.
Molly: Thank you for having me.
Corey: Molly White, Web 3 chronicler of our time, and software engineer. I’m
Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an angry comment telling me that no, crypto is not reinventing a bus because a bus can only run over someone once.
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