Explanations and Discussion: Corporations and Communities

A corporation is a formal, centralized entity that is registered under state law. Technically immortal, corporations must continue to make profit to survive. The average lifespan of a corporation is only 15 years, and has been decreasing since the 1920s. Corporations are, in practice, quite transient things. Business models change, corporate structure can ossify. Eventually, corporations simply get old and die.

A community is a group of people who connect and interact over some shared object, location, idea, or belief system. A community can survive so long as the shared object maintains the group’s cohesiveness over the natural decay of time. Although communities can be short lived, they are capable of lasting centuries, even millennia, if the shared object is strong.

In the world of the internet, most of our communities are run and regulated by corporations. These corporations are not just ISPs, nearly all internet communities are attached to other profit seeking corporations. From Facebook to reddit, we are building our communities on shaky ground. Aside from a few stand-alone websites, think how much community would be lost if Reddit or Github went down? Sure, these sites seem healthy now, but a lot can change in a decade. So many of the core communities of the internet are dependent on advertisement revenue, what would happen if that collapsed? Even popular sites have had a hard time paying the bills without showing ads.

One of the reasons I am interested in blockchains is that they have the possibility of overcoming this problem, in part or completely, depending on advances in the technology. A permissionless blockchain can be kept online as long as some member are willing to pay the cost of upkeeping the chain. With recent advancements in Proof of Stake consensus technology, this can be done safely at much lower cost than with Proof of Work. Blockchains have the potential for much greater longevity then corporations do. Cryptocurrencies act ais natural shibboleths for a community, as they are a costly hard to fake signal that can unite people under a common version of reality. I’ve heard it said that despite massive differences of opinion, two people can come to consensus on how many bitcoin each of them has. This is impressive, giving that they might not agree what defines “Bitcoin” or which chain is the “real Bitcoin”!

I am very interested in building communities around blockchains. Most of the communities that are currently built around such things were created accidentally, before people knew what they were doing. I think we can do better. The Causevest protocol is designed to foster a community that helps fund good causes. I hope that, in time, it becomes a place where people can gather knowledge and information on good causes, big and small, and can police causes that act badly, using evidence that is uploaded to the chain. I also want to experiment with different fund transfer governance ideas, such as liquid democracy, and participatory budgeting, to see if these improve community governance.

Overall, I think there is a significant probability that a vibrant, new community could be built from these building blocks. One that could outlast Causevest the corporation and even myself.


From http://digg.com/2018/second-life-in-2018

In his haunting Dead Mall YouTube videos, filmmaker Dan Bell explores grim, abandoned retail spaces. For those who grew up in the suburbs in the '80s and '90s, they are especially evocative. Malls were one of the few “public” spaces to gather and meet with friends. Revisiting them in these videos years later, one feels heartened that humanity can still find joy and connection in even the most soulless, artificial environments. Teen romances living and dying in the sugar-dough air outside of Cinnabons. But one also feels sort of depressed by their precariousness. Even corporate-controlled environments that once seemed invincible can become ruins.

In both instances, this precarity is inextricably linked to commerce. Malls can serve as spaces for people to meet and hang out, but this is only incidental to their primary purpose, which is to generate wealth for their corporate owners.

This is troublesome, as these social spaces are incredibly fragile. They often fail under the strain caused by true public use. This manifests itself in different ways, some more alarming than others; like “no skateboarding” signs, or rules banning large gatherings (protests are bad for business, after all). The businesses can also suddenly fail — maybe their prices are undercut by a more convenient, monopolistic online retail company — taking the extraneous community spaces down with them. Not that we should weep for dying corporate chains or anything, but in lands of suburban sprawl, they at least offered places for people to go, however bleak.

I wonder if we can think about our digital social spaces in the same way. Many of those that were popular in the '90s and early '00s are now vaporware. The companies went bankrupt or were purchased and mismanaged to death. Users fled. Communities were destroyed. Data was liquidated.

We should be concerned that a majority of our online spaces are owned by corporations who do not have our best interests in mind, despite fuzzy PR statements about “building communities.” Our digital spaces can suddenly be destroyed or altered in disturbing ways without our consent. Why don’t we have control over them? Why can’t we? Always remember: Facebook and Instagram and Twitter are malls, not parks.

At some point, Linden Lab will meet one of the many dire but inevitable fates of most companies. “Second Life” will disappear. The nude beaches, the vast forests, the Demo Dicks, the memorials for those who devoted time to build and maintain it, will all crumble apart into a digital blackness. The people will go elsewhere.


Great post interesting read. Hey Ben why don’t you share some of the other posts you like to read in the group to. Maybe we should make a reading list channel ?