Socialized Proof of Work

There’s an increasing obsession with “humanness” these days: (added 30. July)

While necessary in some contexts, it’s a limited solution to a contrived problem. There’s always gonna be a need for anonymity and permissionless identity on the web; it’s how disadvantaged minorities can put forth counter cultural ideas to be judged on their intellectual merit alone, decoupled from personal identifications at risk of discrimination and censorship.

As an alternative to proof-of-humanity, I’m toying around with proof-of-work in a practical sense of social networking, completely unrelated (but not in opposition) to blockchain.

Outside of making a personal connection, I don’t need to know the identifications of the person on the other end of the line in my online interactions so long as they’re doing good things that align with my values. If something of value can be created through our interaction, my anonymous co-conspirator can be three raccoons in a trench coat for all I care.

Faced with a new prospective collaborator, rather than looking for proof of humanity I look for proof of positive intent. In contexts of cheap oversight, like a 1:1 exchange or a document for which I alone can authorize external contributions, intent can be easily determined from the contribution that I'm being asked to receive.

For entry into larger communities and spaces of shared purpose, some form of gating is needed to keep out bad actors, without clogging the flow of good will. In a many-to-many context, reviewing individual contributions doesn't scale. Instead, general intent can be surmised from a record of positive-sum work.

Having a record of work, especially open source contributions, builds trust in an increasingly untrustworthy web.

"Green Wall" of contributions on GitHub

Computer programmers have had their record of work represented in flashy “green walls” on GitHub for a decade and a half. Meanwhile most of the work I do as a community advocate, product manager and open source strategist is largely unlogged.

Having a recorded proof-of-work, especially for ones open source contributions, builds trust in an increasingly untrustworthy web. Every component of the emerging Community OS stack helps me document my work as an internet-native knowledge worker:

You don’t see a lot of spam commits on GitHub, because it’s a platform with very strong incentives for constructive, ‘real’ content. Once the incoming content is of legitimate value, whether or not it's being sent by a human or some other “untouchable” is largely irrelevant.

If I learned today that someone who contributed something to a project of mine turned out to be a violent criminal, I wouldn’t revoke that contribution. The bad actions of that person can’t cancel out their good actions, and vice versa. Rather, I'd be happy to have made space for an otherwise harmful individual to put some good into the world.

Similarly, it won't be such a bad thing that our World Wide Web gets overrun with autonomous bots so long as they’re doing good stuff. Point being, I care first and foremost about discerning good contributions from bad ones, not a prospective contributors' humanness.

I want to make a place where anyone who’s willing to share their work, however nascent, is welcome. Doesn’t matter if the the person behind a profile is one person, multiple persons or not technically a person at all; a proper profile weaving together the web of an online identity represents a body of work. That online record is the proof of that internet actor's existence, not some retina scan and a government issued passport.

Fediverse Discussion