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June 15th, 2021

We construct self-identity as a necessary part of existing in a social world. We share life stories with each other, and cultivate associations on the basis of the shared beliefs and values that these stories convey. These, in turn, help us to negotiate norms and moral standards that create functional societies.

Today, with 75% of young people spending almost all of their time online, a portion of our identity construction process has moved to the social web, resulting in modern-era digital identities that are independent of nation states.

Similarly to how state-issued identities allowed citizens to work and live in urban environments, these corporation-issued web identities have allowed users to log in and use online services - such as media streaming via YouTube, or mobile payments via Venmo.

But the centralization inherent in the storage and control of these identities presents numerous challenges, including exponential security risks, and an artificial and reductive social identity siloed in corporate platforms.

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June 11th, 2021

Four months ago, our team launched Mirror Crowdfunding. We have had a number of successful campaigns - attracting a median participation of 54 backers per project, and raising a total of over 134 ETH ($351,400 at time of writing) for books, essays, software, newsletters, and public goods.

This essay is a critical exploration of the success of Mirror Crowdfunding so far. I also argue that a rare combination social exchange underlies these campaigns - generalized and productive.

What is a Mirror Crowdfund?

A crowdfund on Mirror is a simple way for someone to describe an idea, and receive support in the form of Ethereum token contributions (ETH) to work on it.

May 27th, 2021

Things are going to be wild on L2. Much faster, much cheaper — it's like the speed of light will have increased and everything will grow so much faster. Very exciting.

But for the time being, it often feels like we're in a holding pattern until the L2 solutions actually come out.

We'll say, "this is an awesome feature, but it won't work when gas prices are really high. Would be amazing on L2." And it turns out to be true for most features.

There are many things about the L2 world that we really don't know. Some applications might, not work ideally on L2 — like those that really need integration with other protocols.

May 23rd, 2021

You must concentrate on the fundamentals, at least what you think at the time are fundamentals...

Richard W. Hamming, The Art of Doing Science and Engineering

In any area of expertise, it's really the primitives that unlock creativity and higher performance. This is true whether it's mastering the deadlift for functional movement disciplines, Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat for cooking, or something like zero-knowledge-proof verification in crypto.

As you discover the secrets of Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat, you'll find yourself improvising more and more in the kitchen. Liberated from recipes and precise shopping lists...you can make anything taste good.

May 20th, 2021

And the world again
suddenly worth risking
worth seeing,
worth innocence
worth everything.

My writing dried up recently - except, see: Engineering Splits - and I'm here to explain why. I had health complications. A hernia that I probably attained from CrossFit workouts. I got fevers. I lost 15lbs. I took antibiotics twice, and had invasive procedures to diagnose the issue. It took a few months to figure it all out.

My much idealized girlfriend broke up with me during one of those fevers - before I really understood what was happening. My temperature was 104° F as she said the words, "I'm not excited about our future."

Perfection is a fragile, ice-thin ground
that barely holds our human weight,
one false step and everything cracks

April 7th, 2021

There are two cultures in the DeFi space. Not a perfectly clean divide, but as much of two cultures as you can have.

Let's call one side Left and one side Right.

On the Left side, we have heavyweight American protocols like Compound and Uniswap. The leaders of these protocols have Twitter profile photos of real people with real names. They're polite and articulate. They're from Wharton and Columbia and they live in NYC or SF. They're backed by a16z and USV. They're audited by Trail of Bits and never require more than one or two revisions. You get the idea.

On the Right side, we have international heavyweights like Aave, Yearn, Synthetix and Chainlink. Many of the Twitter personalities here are more likely to be anonymous. Their grammar often seems full of intentional mistakes. They have armies of green frog followers. They're scorned as "toxic anons".

March 31st, 2021

There are some specific cases where contracts should be upgradable. However, I think that for the most part, it's much better, and aligned with the ideals of the space, for contracts not to be upgradable.

The founding myth of Ethereum is that Vitalik was frustrated that a video game he way playing could change its rules. He had been leveling up some character, when the game manufacturer decided to change the way it allocates skills. And so he built Ethereum, where you can't change the rules of the game.

Obviously that's a myth and not the "real story" of why Ethereum exists, but I think that foundation myths are really important. As I tried to explain in my post about Facebook and the movie The Social Network, foundation myths illustrate what's psychologically for us to understand about platform, and can be powerful.

In Ethereum, the psychologically essential narrative is that there are games here where the rules can't change on you by some centralized party.

March 14th, 2021
Single Mona Lisa by George Pusenkoff
Single Mona Lisa by George Pusenkoff

When an image is presented as art, the way we see it is affected by our learned assumptions about beauty, form, status, and taste.

In the United States, many of these learnings stem from a cultural "authority on art" that began in the 1850s in Boston (by those known as the "Boston Brahmins"). These institutions have aimed to legitimize art versus entertainment and "sacralize" special works as "high art".

Many of these learnings, however, are incongruous with a modern, digital world.

January 30th, 2021

Blockchain development entails a unique challenge: How do you deploy immutable contracts to create a product, when you can't see that far into the future?

Operate too leanly in product and engineering, and you can find yourself in chaos. In this environment, it's better to develop with conviction and a concrete understanding of what the product does. This is how Compound and Uniswap were successful; they did roll out out multiple versions, but each was a well-considered, best-in-class product for the given market. They did not launch a "kinda working" model to riff on. Mistakes on-chain are costly and sometimes impossible to undo.

Related to this, our challenge at Mirror has been thinking through how to on-board new users, amid the fog of unexplored terrain.

Building a startup is like working in the fog of war, where you can't see what you haven't explored. Denis made this comparison yesterday, and it was apt.
Building a startup is like working in the fog of war, where you can't see what you haven't explored. Denis made this comparison yesterday, and it was apt.
January 29th, 2021

Today we deployed a program on Ethereum that crowdfunded $10,000 for an essay in 30 minutes.

Dozens of contributors each sent small amounts into the contract as soon as it became live. In exchange, the program minted 10 $ESSAY tokens for ever 0.01 ETH contributed. 10 ETH was our limit, and so we closed funding at that point. The technical aspects all worked flawlessly, and it was a great display of collaboration from our small team. But let's talk about the meaning of this...

Because we're getting into a novel concept: platforms where creators can mint tokens.

The homeowners on Airbnb, the drivers on Uber, the Redditors and the YouTubers -- none of these content creators can have their own token.

January 26th, 2021

I'm busy reading a series of essays from a website called LessWrong.com, which they have collected into a book. They're all well-written blog posts, created over years by a community with strong ties and deep commitment to rationality and curiosity and a love of wisdom.

Thinking back about our ideas about crowd-funding essays, it seems quite natural that we would be able to crowdfunding a series of essays in just the same way. A community could propose creating a book together, and funding could be raised and equity distributed. What's nice about this idea, is that the community itself could get equity in the sales...

I don't know how LessWrong chose to fund their book, or where the profits went to (if there were any). But I like to think that they could have air-dropped equity tokens in the publication to all of their contributors - and not just the ones who wrote essays included in the book, but all of the writers who contributed their ideas and feedback over the years. Once airdropped, they could have raised funds for the publication from investors and others who wish to see the book published. Finally, once the book had been written, the rights could be sold, and profits distributed to all token holders.

This seems like a great model, and worth trying out. I'm glad that we're doing the prototype, and will be happy to move onto the next step with these ideas, which will probably be to formalize the "publication" part.

January 23rd, 2021

Zora is about to launch their new protocol, which aims to improve on the ERC721 token standard. One of its new features is the coupling of a market contract to an NFT. This means that every zNFT (Zora NFT) has a canonical marketplace for trading. This solves the problem of fragmented liquidity for the trading of NFTs.

By "fragmented liquidity", I'm referring to the problem where there isn't a single, logical place to go to buy an NFT (e.g. digital art), and so trading happens in a number of different storefronts. This leads to a number of inefficiencies! If everyone were just trading in the same marketplace, then you could deploy a single contract for each NFT type, and have everyone trade on very efficient layer-2s, and have it all conform to the same metadata standards.

We (the team at Mirror) proposed to Zora that we build a crowdfunding contract for NFTs, and integration with their protocol. I wrote up a prototype smart contract for this purpose, which you can view here.

The flow is summarized in the following diagram, and I also walked through the contract on today's livestream on YouTube (link).

January 15th, 2021

My head's clearly been stuck in the Publication contract for the last few days, since I've been implementing that.

There's a lot that I like about the Publication contract paradigm, but it's not derisked yet as a feature. Currently, the cost to register on Mirror with the Publication contract would be around $100 on Mainnet, which is a lot of money relative to some other options.

Registration cost calculation using Numi (excuse the typo)
Registration cost calculation using Numi (excuse the typo)

I can decrease the cost of this deployment by using a pattern whereby only the storage is deployed per user, and everything else delegates back to a single "implementation" contract. I will almost certainly do this! Uniswap does not do this for new token pairs, which makes it expensive to add new tokens.

January 15th, 2021

My head's clearly been stuck in the Publication contract for the last few days, since I've been implementing that.

There's a lot that I like about the Publication contract paradigm, but it's not derisked yet as a feature. Currently, the cost to register on Mirror with the Publication contract would be around $100 on Mainnet, which is a lot of money relative to some other options.

Registration cost calculation using Numi (excuse the typo)
Registration cost calculation using Numi (excuse the typo)

I can decrease the cost of this deployment by using a pattern whereby only the storage is deployed per user, and everything else delegates back to a single "implementation" contract. I will almost certainly do this! Uniswap does not do this for new token pairs, which makes it expensive to add new tokens.

January 14th, 2021

A decade before Facebook turned into a dominating global political institution and banned the President of the United States, The Social Network was filmed to depict its foundation story. Like all creation myths, it's not meant to be literal. These myths serve as dramatic representations to guide our intuitions about what an entity stands for.

This is true for national epics like The Aeneid about the founding of Rome, which provided solid ground for a nation's moral values over centuries. It is also true for this haunting film, The Social Network, which cautions us about how to approach Facebook and the culture of Silicon Valley.

I watched the movie tonight, for the first time in years, and the salient themes today, as depicted by David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, are envy and deception.

As we reflect on the thing Facebook has ultimate become, we realize that it's not our ability to connect, but to compare that is the driver of platform's engagement. And its ability to deceive us -- about how it is using and controlling us and our politics -- is how it continues to survive.

January 13th, 2021

Well...almost. Today I implemented the code and wrote tests for the basic functionality that we've agreed on for the v1 of Mirror's on-chain components. Tomorrow I'll deploy that to testnet and wire up the frontend.

So you've got your Mirror Invite Token, this allows you to create a Mirror Publication, which has a Mirror ENS subdomain. The Mirror Publication allows you to have a token (it's has mint()), which is cool, because every Mirror Publication is a legit publisher this way. It can also do fun things like say "if the reader has 5 of my tokens, allow them to comment", or "only readers with at least 1 token can read this exclusive entry".

In terms of launching, today I realized that we should add commenting functionality, and allow anyone to "sign up" and get a contributor account for commenting, without needing an invite token or to deploy a publication. This would allow us to see who shows up and contributes good comments, which I think would encourage us to mint $WRITE tokens for those folks -- having shown they are interested and responsibly contributing to the community.

I'm not sure this follows for "liking". Liking is definitely not as cool as commenting, and I think liking might actually have been bad for the internet in general, because it perpetuates status anxiety. I think vanity metrics are overrated. This has been on my mind more after getting into Jaron Lanier's stuff this week (have listened to a few hours of content from YouTube so far, starting with the Radical Exchange interview).

January 12th, 2021

I was away from my computer this the weekend, hiking in Berkeley (photos below). Because posting entries on Mirror require a device signature, and the private keys are on my computer browser, I was unable to post an entry. This relates to the fundament crypto UI problem:

The browser is a sandboxed OS; every flavor of app/game/UI will be efficiently and safely executable within this container, but we don't store private keys in-browser, and users don't all carry private keys all the time. Metamask is a bridge between the browser and your keys, but it's not safe; we call it a kind of "hot-wallet" since it's always connected to the internet, and therefore at higher risk of being hacked. Read more on this tweet thread

Figuring out this interaction will be a breakthrough, and I can see it as something that Apple might be able to do -- through a secure enclave for your private keys built into your phone. It would be typical for Apple to wait until the crypto space is mature, and then create a beautiful solution to the biggest design problem, working from first principles -- not as a browser extension (Metamask), app (Dharma, Argent) or hardware wallet (Ledger), but as something that's a core part of your phone's hardware.

In any case, for Mirror, we do store the private key in the browser for signing entry (we call it a "signing key"), but it's not an Ethereum key that we store. The private key we store is a non-exportable type that can never be shared and cannot hold economic value. In the future, adding new devices will be quite easy to do, simply by creating a new signing key on the new device, and then sending that key to the original device to be signed by an Ethereum wallet.

January 8th, 2021

There isn't much prior art on blogging products for Ethereum. Most Ethereum products are narrowly financial; DAOs, for example, have been typically intended to be venture funds, or funding campaigns — not publishing entities.

When I consider what a publication might look like in the world of Ethereum, I imagine a deployed contract such as MirrorPublication that holds state such as contributors and admins. But this costs a lot of gas and would make onboarding Mirror expensive. What should onboarding cost? Well, it depends on the publication...

If the publication is for a single contributor — like a personal blog — then maybe it doesn't need a publication contract. The writer could lose out on a some other interesting features that also come with a publication contract, but it should be okay for a lightweight hobby account.

A fully deployed publication could be something that someone upgrades into. I ran through the logic for this and it seems feasible (I'll spare you the details). When a user upgrades to a deploy Publication, it's more of a company structure with a number of different writers, a treasury, etc. And this could be very cool, and also not something we do this week.

January 7th, 2021

Today the priorities were to publish our first dev blog post (The MVP before Christmas), and then to plan our next sprint.

I'm very happy with the way that the blog post turned out. I wrote most of it near midnight the night before, and then our team came together and helped to polish it in the morning. While reviewing the entry, we also took the opportunity to make many design improvements to the Mirror reading experience, which shows the value of using our own product to raise the quality for everybody. This is typically called "dogfooding" your product -- "eating your own dogfood". I once worked with a Spanish-speaking engineer from Chile who was very confused by this expression, and asked another engineer, in Spanish, why everyone was talking about "eating the dog's food"!

Meetings, again, were more meandering today than they ought to have been. I think think we could do better by structuring our internal meeting times more--having really clear outcomes for our meetings, time-boxing them, and knowing when we've "won" the meeting.

Another thing that's on my mind is how to be great at product idea exploration. It's clear that it's part generative and part pruning, and if we're pruning too early, we stifle potential ideas that sound bad at first, but could flourish into something good. At the same time, some people in the room may have enough experience simply to know a dead-end when they see one. Balancing the rapid generation of ideas while quickly pruning bad ones is an art; a valuable art for any startup to be able to perform.

January 7th, 2021

When more important ideas are written and captured on permanent-storage blockchains or "crypto networks", timestamped and digitally signed (which Mirror is attempting to make easy and mainstream), then AI algorithms should be able to automatically cite and credit the originators of ideas.

For example, if a researcher is writing a paper (hopefully on a client backed by Mirror), the software will be able to scan all articles that have ever been posted before, and automatically find the appropriate reference for a given idea, if a reference exists. This will improve the writing experience for the researcher, and will also prevent the appropriation of ideas.

For example, African-American activist Tarana Burke started the grassroots Me Too movement in 2006, to help sexual assault victims after being assaulted herself. Later, white actor Alyssa Milano popularized "me too" with a viral tweet urging harassed and assaulted woman to tag “#metoo” in social media posts.

In light of the incredible influence of the campaign, it is important that Tarana Burke herself receives credit for the origins of the meme, and that expanders, benefiting from scale, are prevented in principle from receiving all of the influence and credit.

January 6th, 2021

My goals today were to:

  • Set up a dev blog, which we will use to further our efforts to work "in public"
  • Write the first blog post for the dev blog, detailing our first month and the launch of our MVP
  • RFC a new way to store Entries in our API backend (which solved a few of the outstanding issues from the MVP launch)
  • Kick off the technical introduction with Zora about future integrations

I also had in mind the goal to be more communicative with the team about when I'm online and available for discussions (given that we're all remote, Slack is basically the only forum at which to reach me). I implemented a small change in Slack to make this more formal, creating a whereabouts channel that I can use to be more explicit about when I'm away or particularly focused and not available for discussion.

All of my goals were achieved, although they could have been much more efficient — especially the meetings. Both of my meetings today took two hours, which indicates that formal goals and parameters we not laid out. The net effect of this meant that I ended working at around 12 AM. In future, we should set specific goals for meetings, and know when we've reached success or failed within a time-boxed frame (unless we're just jammin').

January 5th, 2021

There's a fabulous essay called Naming the Nameless by @s_r_constantin that describes the tension between creators and tastemakers. Creators originate ideas and styles, and tastemakers expand the market and popularize them. In our current form of capitalism, expanders get a greater share of the economic value produced by this relationship, through scale and distribution - by commoditizing the invention. Here's a quote from the essay that frames and explains the problem:

...we don't really have good tools for fairly compensating people for intellectual originality. Intellectual property law is a kludge, with a lot of problems. Creators don't really know how to extract "fair market value" for ideas, possibly because they're intrinsically motivated to create them and the kind of "payment" they want is more like appreciation or kindred-spirit-ness than money. Standard startup ideology says that ideas are of low value: "If you go to VC firms with a brilliant idea that you'll tell them about if they sign a nondisclosure agreement, most will tell you to get lost. That shows how much a mere idea is worth. The market price is less than the inconvenience of signing an NDA." That may be true, but you could also interpret it as markets not knowing how to price ideas, in the same way that markets can't price natural resources until you figure out a way to define property rights over them.

So, whenever you encounter a piece of media -- words or images or music or anything representational -- no matter how many levels of imitation or expansion it's been through, you're still hearing some distant signal from its originator. And its originator probably feels ripped off and undervalued. When you go looking for good art, you're looking for art that's closer to its creative source, and that means you'll hear in it the voice of the frustrated creator.

The "creator economy", prominently proposed in the crypto space, can solve this problem - specifically, by "[figuring] out a way to define property rights over [ideas]". I think Mirror can help to do this.

December 28th, 2020

Original Source: The Tails Coming Apart As Metaphor For Life | Slate Star Codex

What is the author's primary thesis?

In our study of morality, many systems of morality can reasonably agree on ordinary scenarios, but diverge greatly and fail completely when considering extreme scenarios.

December 24th, 2020

As I look to the future, I also root myself the ancient past by introducing this publication with quote, chosen at random, from Virgil's Aeneid. My interpretation will yield an unbidden gift from this quote, which I will choose to carry with me for the life of the publication:

"In victory Hercules

Bent for this lintel, and these royal rooms
Were grand enough for him. Friend, have the courage
To care little for wealth, and shape yourself,
You too, to merit godhead. Do not come
Disdainfully into our needy home."

Virgil., & Fitzgerald, R. (1983). The Aeneid. New York: Random House. Book VIII, line 480.