Decentralize It (Don’t Criticize It)

Image Credit: Adam Aladdin

For any of you looking for something on Buttcon/Craptocurrency – move along. Although to be honest, we will be taking a few pointers the Technorati left on the Cutting Room floor… So let us begin.

Dumping Leon Skum’s (h/t c.reider) Springfield Tire Fire for The Fediverse is one of the best things to happen to my Social Media experience in years. I really love my Little Village over at Mastodon – wonderfully kind and sharing human beings who just want together out their thoughts and ideas and help where they can. Reminds me of what the Interwebz® used to be like decades ago. But it’s the fact that I can stay in that Little Village if I like, or grab the binoculars and peek out past the trees and over the horizon to see what’s going on in the bigger world that’s very appealing. I’m not fed a firehose of garbage every time I check in. I’m in control here. I make the rules for what I want to see and read. It’s very liberating.

This post was inspired by thinking about the Decentralized nature of The Fediverse as a whole, Cory Doctorow’s piece on Social Quitting, and most recently this video from Benn Jordan of the problems with Streaming Services and the Artists (Musicians in his case) they claim to help.

It was after watching Benn’s video that the light from the heavens came from above, I heard angelic choirs singing, and I realized that the last piece of the ‘DIY Puzzle’ was laid bare – we need a ‘Napster’ not for File Sharing, but to connect the ‘Stores’ of Labels and Independent Artists to a common Database. 

It would be stupidly simple:

1) Since this is really nothing more than a Database, it should be simple to create and maintain.

2) Accounts are nothing more than ‘Creators’ (those who have something to listen to and sell). The ‘Users’ (people who want to look for tracks) just hit the website and search. No information should be needed from Users (period!) and the Creators will obviously need to add their sales address (web and perhaps even physical) and being able to access/update Metadata (Tags, most likely) about their works. Nothing more please – this is a service, not a another way to mine data for nefarious purposes.

3) Since this site holds nothing more than Metadata and Links, Creators will need to host their wares on their own site, or by a dedicated service (and one would hope something that doesn’t take usury fees for doing so.) As to whether the ‘Big Labels’ can play along is a question that will need to be addressed. My feeling is that as long as the playing field is level for all players (can’t ‘SEO’ the results, can’t buy favorable placement) than why not? But I’m sure there are many more factors than those two and smarter people than me can figure this out.

I’m not Coder, so I know there are potential problems with this proposal. I am also confident that these can be addressed simply and humanely. I also have no idea on how the maker(s) of said site would be compensated for their work other than a small percentage of sales generated by it. And although I said ‘stupidly simple’ it may be much more of a complicated ordeal for small artists wanting to hawk their wares. But I still think the idea is valid, and dare I say ‘needed’. Perhaps the ‘Mastodon Ethic’ of a Non-Profit Enterprise is the key here, but that requires developers willing to take the challenge and the growing pains that come with it…

The ARPANet proposal that became our Weird Wide Web was built on Decentralization as a premise. That lack of a ‘Central Point of Failure’ was the key to ensuring that the thing could keep running even if a major communications line (or multiples of) was disabled.

As that idea spawned into the Internet we take for granted today, only Universities and researchers could afford and utilize the tools required to use the nascent Network and it took ventures like Compuserve, Genie, and AOL to convert that into the idea of a Centralized structure. Users flocked to them because it was the easiest way of seeing what all the fuss was about without having to invest a small fortune into hardware and backend (the rise of affordable PC’s certainly didn’t hurt here either). Decades later we now know what fuss is about and what it’s doing to us individually and collectively and it seems to me that a lot of us are getting tired of how it’s entrenched in every single tiny aspect of our lives. As I’ve said before: “Unless you’re fine with playing the game by someone else’s rules, run in the opposite direction.”

Our history is littered with artists and music genres made by those who don’t play by the rules. They influence scores of subsequent artists and musicians, some of whom will eventually stumble onto something that gets codified and standardized and marketed and profited from. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants.

My travels over the past few years tell me collectively we’re reaching back to our past to unravel the mess we’ve collectively made. The Internet (yeah, spelled correctly for this usage) is still (in my humble opinion) a vast resource full of information that has been increasingly co-opted by the Technorati for power, corruption, and lies. It’s time to take back that resource. It’s also imperative that we heed the past Decades of what actually happened to keep History from repeating itself here as Cory’s post so eloquently documents. 

The ‘Bait and Switch’ tactics of the Streaming Services (and one has to wonder what Epic Games really wants with Bandcamp under their control) is a Zero-Sum Fools’ Errand. Capitalism demands to be fed by Shareholders demanding Returns. Costs will always be reduced to make this happen and I think we all know who will bear the brunt of that… We need a modern equivalent to the ‘Indie Record Distributors’ so prevalent in the past – the Local or Regional collectors of Artists’ wares that could be then accessed by the Record Shops to stock or order. Artists and Bands still created and had the product produced (vinyl, cassette, etc), and then either sold them directly and/or sent them to said Distributors for wider (well…) distribution. This is the idea I’m proposing here, just using the ‘modern’ tools at our disposal.

As I finish this, I realize that it looks like I’m proposing a Centralized Service here. Not at all! Remember that Napster was the first file sharing service to gain notorietythere had been others before them and they also inspired dozens of competitors. There is no ‘One Size Fits All’ in Art, and there is no reason to think that a single point of failure (I mean Service) is the answer – and besides, it opens the door to the kind of Monopolistic Fetishism that Capitalism requires. The whole idea here is Decentralization – multiple sites cataloging and catering to specific tastes or genres (personal or general), and most importantly, doing it with an end goal of community over capital. 

Yeah, it’s head-in-the-clouds, optimistic utopian blue-sky thinking with a healthy dose of a lot of unanswered questions. But it’s worth pondering about, and I believe well worthy of trying for those with the ability to create such a thing while being helped by those looking to peel away from the clenched fist of ‘The Financialization of Everything’. 

Until next time…

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