Software is Hard
Our software infrastructure for handling data is poor and the security of our information is weak, as evidenced by the many breaches of personal information and ransomware attacks. The adapted industrial method of organizing software development has a lot of issues. The health and profitability of the producing organization comes first, the software is a means to that end.
There is an expanse of room to improve upon the organization of software production and the means of incentivizing this. In my view it is important to look after the intrinsic motivation of workers, especially software engineers and especially those who are working on public infrastructure. When people are working on vital infrastructure which is only understood by a relatively small number of contributors, it benefits us all if they are dedicated to the cause of maintaining it well.
Cryptocurrency emphasizes security and robustness, relying on an incentive scheme and ironclad method of enforcing the rules to attract participants who will build and maintain the network and cultivate its resource.
FOSS blockchain projects are examples of hard software, which exists in an adversarial environment where there are great rewards available to anyone who can exploit a flaw. All of the code is open, relying on the principle that “with enough eyes all bugs are shallow”. The prospective rewards are incentives for people to look for those flaws, with bug bounty programs and audits offering ways for white hat hackers to also participate and be rewarded for strengthening security.
Cryptocurrency is FOSS-native, and many of these projects are adept at generating funding to support their own development through various means. This addresses one set of limiting factors for FOSS projects generally, in particular where key personnel can receive funding to work directly on the code without being distracted by other tasks.
As funding is a key constraint for FOSS projects generally, control of development funding for cryptoasset projects means significant influence in their governance. For this reason, a number of projects are attempting to solve the problem of how to decentralize control of development funding, and make the developers accountable to some other constituency.
There is significant promise in the idea of DAOs for funding and coordinating software production, and there are enough high-stakes experiments in motion now that we’ll find out how well this really works over the next few years.
If there is a generally applicable method to incentivize and reward high quality contributions to digital infrastructure, we all stand to benefit greatly from identifying and adopting it.
If it works for FOSS, there’s no reason it wouldn’t also work for other forms of CBPP. Anything that could work well as a commons-based public good (which as far as I’m concerned is all digitizable media) could find utility in new modes of production that leverage DAOs.
We will see how this works first in the cryptocurrency domain, because cryptocurrencies are socio-digital organisms that print money to incentivize their own upkeep and expansion. Centralization is a weakness for these organisms, and so the selection process should favour those projects which minimize or isolate that weakness, in the long run.
There is competition to advance the decentralization of governance on the crypto commons. As these advances are made some aspects will be applicable to the governance of other types of public goods and common pool resources.