Hi! I'm Gail This chronicle of Minds is unauthorized, yet the Minds team has been unfailingly gracious in interviews. This is a series, written to make sense wherever you dive in. Part I :"Bill Ottman's Minds, Leading the Charge Against the Globals". Part II : "The Minds Who Power Minds". Part III-A:"Minds.com, Artificial Intelligence Used On The US, Cambridge Analytica and the Alts" ; Part III-B : "The Nuts and Bolts of Freedom of Speech". Part IV Minds Enters the Cryptocosm in the Summer and Fall of WTF is below. [Gail McGowan Mellor is dragon@authorpendragon on Minds.com. Front banner illustration: "'Internet Really Is The Birth Of Global Mind' -- Terrance McKenna", with permission @MindsPanelShow]
25. THE POWER OF BILL OTTMAN'S COFFEE CUP
Something had to change, and a lot of things did. One July weekend in 2018, some 150,000 Vietnamese turned up on Minds from Facebook. The blog gallery overflowed with posts whose unused banners had defaulted to the bright yellow Minds logo, leaving a sea of lightbulbs with captions that were to most of us indecipherable. Vietnam War vets who remembered a smattering of the language and liked the people, alerted us, and some of us dove in to ease the new users' paths onto Minds.
The Vietnamese said that Facebook, which blocks and bans political activists on both the left and right, had started turning nonviolent Vietnamese dissidents over to a Vietnamese government that murders its opponents. They knew that Minds' code deliberately makes it impossible even for its own execs to retrieve users' private information if pressured by a government, and praised Minds' acceptance of anonymity. indeed, Minds founder and CEO Bill Ottman urges people to "create multiple anonymous accounts to give yourself more vents for creativity. Let it out...."
Which is a double-edged sword but we'll get to that.
Bill had been in private talks with the Vietnamese dissidents, and was soon invited to a panel discussion on BBC Viet, where the Vietnamese zeroed in publicly on whether he unlike Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg would stand up to a totalitarian government.
Bill, lanky, with flyaway hair, a closely-cropped full black beard, and the slightly too-wide eyes of a person who snatches sleep when he can, held a coffee mug. While others spoke, Bill's mouth and nose were buried in the mug, but his large, long-lashed blue eyes were attentive, listening, peering over it. When he gently set the mug down in order to speak, the overly-miked table picked it up as a clanging thud.
Bill set down his mug [clang-thud] and responded that since Minds is incorporated in the US, it obeys the US laws on free speech. Bill had more to say but there was the key. The Vietnamese knew it. On Minds, Viet groups lit up: "subtle" ""brave" "smart" "cautious" "honest" "very hairy" "nice guy" "naive, our government will try to smash him", "we can help him" "funny" "scared?" "he will be a very rich man" "did you see the coffee cup? :))))" A Vietnamese paired a photo of himself drinking coffee with a photo of Ottman wide-eyed over his mug. Captioned Coffee with Bill, it went viral. Within six weeks, there were 250,000 Vietnamese on Minds....
Some of those "Vietnamese" were not what they seemed to be; they were spambots.
Even as part of Southeast Asia came on board, Minds was phasing in another part of the game plan, shifting to blockchain technologies. Through its Rewards for Work program, it had pioneered in paying users for contributing to the site by commenting, liking, subscribing, finding bugs, etc. Bill had promised users the option of being paid in blockchained tokens, and on August 13, 2018, Minds delivered. Spam activity shot up as expected, but to a degree that was not expected. Co-founder and COB John Ottman, Bill's father, notes that among the prodigiously proliferating spammers -- and some seemingly popular yet empty new Minds channels -- were Artificial intelligence [AI] bots, able to change evasive tactics.
The code team, watching the patterns, creating traps and solutions, saw that many spammers seemed to be Vietnamese. Why, when Vietnamese dissenters had not been noted for spam on Facebook? Could that be the Vietnamese government, retaliating already? How could Minds stop spam if it couldn't easily distinguish AIs from humans, and if a single user could have tens or hundreds of accounts?
It was site security versus user privacy, and Minds values both. Change came so hard and fast that some angry Minds users called it"The Summer and Fall of WTF??" (or in the southern hemisphere, "The Winter and Spring of WTF??"), but it ended with an investment in Minds of six million dollars from a major champion of the blockchain. Curling up in an armchair to tell you this portion of the Minds tale, I find myself considering the wall at the end of the solar system, The Well in San Francisco, and that nanosecond in 1993 when geeks trusted Al Gore. They're all relevant to what happened next on Minds....
27. THE FRUITS OF GARGARIN'S RIDE
Space travel and the internet began with a high-flying ball that beeped. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR, the "Russians"] had worked feverishly to beat the US Navy's attempt to do the same thing, and launched a highly polished metal globe the size of a youth basketball into orbit in October, 1957. "Sputnick I" was Earth's first artificial satellite. its transmissions were picked up by ham radio operators around the planet, a smashing success.
A month later, Sputnik II launched into orbit a friendly Siberian husky named Laika. She was incinerated as the capsule hit the atmosphere on reentry.
The Russians in 1961 then put the first human, Yuri Gargarin, into near earth orbit and brought him home alive. Humanity reacted as one, cheering the courageous Gargarin. Time Magazine made him their Man of the Year.
In the throes of the Cold War, though, three US presidents -- Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson -- and Congress were determined "never to take a back seat to the Ruskies again". Releasing a flood of cash, the government ordered the kinds of fundamental scientific and engineering work that can go a decade without pay-off in order to deliver a spectacular win, the kind that capitalism cannot profitably attempt. US capitalism moreover was in the wings, ready to build on it. It was a one-two punch.
Because scientist and engineers brought up on sci fi were eager and able to do the work, the US caught up fast. Two scientifically gifted empires "slipped the surly bonds of Earth" and one took humanity into and through the solar system -- and in 2016 beyond it, into interstellar space....
The second gift of Sputnik Envy was the Internet. Thanks to the Department of Defense's ARPANET program, computers already existed, huge hot-running mainframes encased in air-conditioned glass rooms.The US National Science Foundation created a high speed "backbone" array then publicly-funded the creation of supercomputer centers in key universities. In 1969, it linked them, creating the 'net. Remembering that day, UCLA engineering professor Leonard Kelinrock in 2008 told Vanity Fair reporters Keenan Mayo and Peter Newcomb,
Nineteen sixty-nine was quite a year. Man on the moon. Woodstock. Mets won the World Series. Charles Manson starts killing these people here in Los Angeles. And the Internet was born. Well, the first four everybody knew about. Nobody knew about the Internet. So on October 29, 1969, at 10:30 in the evening, you will find in a notebook log that I have in my office at U.C.L.A., an entry which says, “Talked to SRI host to host.” If you want to be...poetic about it, the September event was when the infant Internet took its first breath....
It was all open source. Inspired experimentation was key, so the new US Internet's code was available without patent or copyright, inviting changes worldwide. In 1991 Tim Berners-Lee, a Brit working at CERN in France, invented the World Wide Web on top of the internet. At Berners-Lee's request, CERN left it open source like the US net. Then in 1993 the US Center for Supercomputer Applications at the University of Illinois' gave the world Mosaic, a "browser" that crawled the entire web, it too open source.
That free public backbone exploded with people and commerce. In the interim, tinkering people had also created the personal computer, freeing us from the tyranny of government and corporate mainframes. Distributing real power , PCs and the net/web/browser were the ultimate tools of individual freedom and democracy.
Yet some of the same people who were putting PCs on our desks were sucking all that power back inward toward themselves. The paradigm-breaking Apple II inventor Steve Wozniak (the "Woz") said of his business partner Steve Jobs, when Jobs died, "He didn't have to be evil". But he was. When Steve Jobs wasn't making marketing breakthroughs or cheating Woz, he among other things replaced open source with "proprietary" products, forbidding people to tinker with their own paid-for gadgets.
Microsoft products for their part were cheap because necessary peripherals were extra, and Windows releases were released when they were still so buggy that National Security Adviser Richard Clark would later name them "the major US national security risk." Microsoft's Bill Gates not only like Jobs made software proprietary but also crushed superior products without learning from them. For example, Perfect Writer, an extremely stable and for its time sophisticated word processor had "windows" (with a cut and paste function that worked between them), indexing, footnotes, in 1983, many years before Microsoft factored them in. Microsoft/IBM also drove Kaypro into the ground.
In an age of still delicate desktop PCs, Kaypro made a rugged "luggable" computer, and had an owner, Alan Kay, who was past master at object-oriented programming, which also fell by the wayside for over a decade. Gates, not the generous grandfather that people now see, in other words undercut far better competition with flimsy products, retarding technological progress.
28. LESSONS FROM THE 'LECTRONIC LINK
Luckily as it turned out, most of the inspired tinkerers of that early computer age came from the US counterculture, world-striding hippie kids who built successful companies that filled real needs, while bopping off to help in Bangladesh. In the 1980s, the counterculture pioneered the social-networking layer of virtual communities, 25 years before Facebook. Their decentralized, exuberant but responsibly entrepreneurial laughter at the whole concept of human boundaries held the antidote to Big Tech. It was forgotten for a while.
Here though are the deep roots of Minds.com.
In 1985, Larry Brilliant was with Ram Dass tackling blindness in Nepal, when with Stuart Brand he thought up the tiny -- but granddaddy virtual community of them all -- the "Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link", the Well. The Well was founded in San Francisco by Brand, a former Merry Prankster and publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, with Brilliant, who had hunted down the last smallpox case, finishing the worldwide vaccination campaign that eradicated it from the planet, and invented all sorts of computer stuff in the process, thus becoming a millionaire too.
As Adam Fisher, who knows all the players, writes in Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley, (As Told by the Hackers, Founders, and Freaks Who Made It Boom), at first The Well was a crude Bulletin Board System [BBS] "hacked together from a few telephone lines, a couple of modems and a nearly obsolete computer from the seventies." The Well was above all a village of Brand and Brilliant's friends - environmentalists, journalists, philosophers and key figures in the invention of personal computing, who knew each other.
Funding the project through subscriptions, they kept the price low though in order to also pull in just plain folks. In 1989, The Well was among the outfits with servers that began offering for a fee to connect less powerful computers to the net, becoming the first Internet Service Providers [ISPs].
Across the country, a family launched Kentucky/Indiana's first ISP, Internet Gateway Louisville [IGLOU]. The 97th person to sign up, I scooted home and waited as my spiffy new Hayes Smartmodem failed 17 times, then connected!! The soul-lifting, pug-ugly handshake of late eighties dial-ups was transliterated by @OitThegroit as, "Beep beep boop boop beep beep beep boop beep beep book boop, bip, bip bip bip eeaaeeae-eaaeeeee, BEEEEIIIIIP...Beep beep beep beep beep beep...Biippity-boppity-boopity-blippers...TSHTHTHSHSTSHSTHTHSTSHHHHHHHHHHHEeaahhhhhhh!!!!!"
Accustomed only to BBSs and a kind of walkie-talkie modem conversations, on the shoulders of that sound, I climbed out of a green Kentucky woods onto an internet that still had no web or browser, and found my way to The Well where laughing people spoke of bonfires, weddings and funerals on the Pacific beaches.There were no graphics yet, no live chats, simply threads, but the writing was startlingly powerful and world-changing brains were deep in conversation. Doctors diagnosed and prescribed without charge, much of the Well sat up all one night with two parents with a sick baby, and two people flew across country at their own expense to help a stranger.
The Well also contained vicious, shrieking "flame wars", and relentless cyberbullies and trolls, though trolls had no name yet.
The Well countered with innovations. Brand summarized his policy as "You own your own words", a declaration that The Well was publishing online without taking the authors' liability or copyright, and that therefore individual posters were responsible for what we wrote and did. Monitored threads gave calm souls the tools to stop flame wars from using up bandwidth, and to boot trolls from threads. Another fix, verified anonymity, gave folks at the center of The Well a list of the real names of all the often anonymous people on the site.
Talking to Fisher, Brand said the Well could not have survived without that last. "An anonymous conference was easy to set up -- it lasted less than a week because people immediately behaved absolutely viciously with each other." The Well required an ID. Only those at the center knew. "You could put on a handle, which would be psuedoanonymous" to everyone else. Bill Ottman's Minds almost 30 years later would be dangerously slow to reinvent that last idea, but would improve on it....
Anyway, back in April 1990, personal computers still seemed really new. The Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] under Herbert Hoover was bewildered by them, and thought of itself not simply as protecting but as controlling the US people. The young, fiercely independent and still small computer culture with its instinctive understanding of a new technology scared the rigidly-pressed dark blue pants off that part of the US government. Famously, Hoover said, "Justice is only incidental to law and order."
Computer folks for their part had no intention of being controlled by Hoover. John Perry Barlow posted on The Well that an FBI agent had come to his house accusing him of something that he had not done, but before he could protest his innocence, he had to explain to the agent what computers were and what would constitute guilt! As tales of FBI raids on computer users mounted, offers of financial and legal help for them came from the wealthy geeks: Woz, Mitch Kapor and John Gilmore (whose mailing list, Cypherpunks, helped to activate a very young Julian Assange). Barlow meanwhile called for the formation of an organization "to extend the US Constitution into Cyberspace." The result, the Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF], organized in 1991, has been at the head of that fight ever since....
Luckily the EFF was in place in 1991, if just barely, when the Cold War with Russia ended, and the FBI suought new bad guys. The Computer Freedom and Privacy Conference [CFP] in Chicago in 1993 demonstrated the two very different parts of the US government and that, with no bragging rights against the Russians needed anymore, the controlling part was being unleashed on individuals empowered by computer technology.
The hall was a sea of people, mostly guys, all eyes flashing the perpetual excitement of coding intelligence. In between the forums, folks milled about, talking about everything from Pretty Good Privacy, embedded systems and the potential for sexbots to banking online and Terrence McKenna's assertion that "The Internet is the birth of world mind". Part of the US government, like the National Science Foundation and NASA, thought of itself as "belonging to the public", and was acting in the people's interest, on the cutting edge of technology, a visceral creative aspect of the Net.
Suddenly the systems administrator of the public internet backbone ambled through. His responsibilities were enormous, authentic and appreciated. Voices hushed, waves of awed people parted, and sufficient eyes were downcast so that afterward there was some disagreement about his height (10'6" was probably an exaggeration.)
President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore had just taken power in a very different aspect of the government, Hoover's. Purportedly a geek, Gore was scheduled to be the conference's featured speaker.
Gore however never showed. Instead at the last moment, looking and even smelling cold and airless, a man took the podium as Gore's surrogate, stating without preamble the new Clinton/Gore policy that all personal computers should be built with "backdoors" so that the US secret police could access them. It was stunning, 1984 stuff. He couldn't mean that, yet clearly, he did.
Shellshocked people queued up at a floor-mike, calmly and knowledgeably addressing the Gore-surrogate, but unheard. The next night, FBI agents dragged a guy from the hotel, mistaking him for Kevin Metnick, a hacker who mostly talked his way into big important systems. While Metnick was controversial even in computer circles, everyone identified with the hapless guy yanked from his bed just because he was young and a geek.
People whispered that the FBI was catching kids not yet out of middle school and emotionally bludgeoning them into giving up their friends. No one was quitting; far from it, jaws were grim and jutting out, but they repeated three phrases that night: "The net was like a village...end of an era....people who come after us will never know...."
With Newt Gingrich's Republican Congress fully on board, the Democratic Clinton-Gore presidency in the 1990s held a fire sale on the public's property. While they said that they were "returning it to the private sector", they were not in fact making it "private", transferring it to ordinary individuals. They were making it global corporate. The wonder is that the three (or four, when counting "co-president" Hillary Clinton, and people should) did not sell the rivers. They even sold to globals much of the public's internet, built over 40 years totally at taxpayer expense. Selling such treasures at two cents on the dollar, they called that sell-out a "budget surplus".
They sold public airwaves, which had until them been only rented by the US people to the networks, with stipulations that a balanced roster of political candidates be given time to speak. The telecommunications firesale not only sent the costs of running for office soaring, putting an oligarchy in power, it allowed six globals to swallow the print and broadcast US communications media whole, turning them into a single global corporate propaganda outlet. The crack foreign bureaus, fabulous investigative reporters, scrupulous fact-checkers ad seasoned beat reporters were eliminated, to be replaced by kids just out of J-school.
Overnight, the US was rendered blind and deaf as media darkness descended. Only a few were in a position to see and they sounded pretty crazy trying to express it. Under a cover of Normal, US life changed in heartrending ways.
31. THEFT THE SIZE OF A PLANET
In 1955, the wealthiest entities on earth had been countries, and in the US the opportunity for people to thrive had been abundant, beginning to diversify and spreading fast. A single factory worker could support a family of six to eight, buy a house, put two cars in the garage and send all the kids through college, then retire on a pension. Outfits like Exxon, GM and GE got tax-funded US Navy protection in the world's sealanes, military rescues overseas, police protection, access to publicly-funded communications, energy and transportation infrastructures, and a publicly-educated highly productive workforce -- plus land, buildings and bail-outs but in exchange for something.
It had been a two-way deal. Big corporations were expected to repay the taxpayers' investment in them by providing healthy working conditions, good wages with health insurance, and high-quality safe products, while paying corporate taxes and being responsible toward the towns in which they did business. Shared taxes allowed the big public investments in highways, the Internet, space travel, all stimulating small business, always the main job creator. Under that American Social Contract both the US middle class and US corporations exploded in size.
The major corporations however cheated. Refusing to pay for clean up, they polluted to such an extent that least one US river caught on fire, and the soot in the air of Alabama and New Jersey cities looked like modern-day Beijing. Citizens either paid extra tax money to clean up the corporations' highly toxic waste or paid through illness, birth defects and premature death.We were still a democracy. Furious, Democratic and Republican voters, congressional representatives and presidents in the 1970s cracked down.
Instead of cleaning up, however, the major US corporations each suddenly incorporated in all nations at once, becoming the "global corporations", gradually ceasing to pay taxes anywhere while scooping up subsidies everywhere and spreading toxic waste across the planet. Fifty years later, in 2019, of the 200 wealthiest entities on Earth, over three-fourths, 157, were instead global corporations like Monsanto, Exxon or Chase.
The nations, the world's people, are being sucked dry. According to Bloomberg News many of those globals, including all of the global banks and big industrials like GE, are not profitable as businesses. Their "profit margins" are huge taxpayer subsidies extracted from all nations at once. The politicians allowing this are either criminal or stupid or both; there is no other explanation. For example, Republican Governor Scott Walker landed a Chinese Foxconn factory which replaces U.S. farmland, will generate no taxes, and sucks subsidies. According to The New Yorker, costs to Wisconsin include subsidies to the company "totaling more than $4.5 billion.
Since Wisconsin already exempts manufacturing companies from paying [income and property] taxes, Foxconn, which generated a hundred and fifty-eight billion dollars in revenue last year" will pay no tax on property or future revenue."Depending on how many jobs are actually created, Wisconsin taxpayers will be paying between two hundred and twenty thousand dollars and more than a million dollars per job."
The world is being had. Almost all of people's personal money and information are meanwhile in Big Tech's "cloud". A bulletin therefore about "Mr. Fluffy".
32. THAT AIN'T NO CLOUD
Economist Gilder in Life after Google, the fall of big data and the rise of the blockchain economy, describes seeing parked in the lush surroundings of Washington State a 100-acre building complex of towering stacks of servers crammed in tightly-spaced rows, putting off so much heat that it takes the Columbia River to cool it. That's a Google "cloud". Such complexes are commonly sited beside glaciers or rivers which cool the endlessly increasing ranks of servers (melting the glaciers, heating the rivers, killing the fish.) There are 80 of these across the world....
Yet Big Tech cannot or at least does not safeguard even our user accounts. The 2014-2016 Cambridge Analytica's AI psyops attack on the US was powered by Facebook data, acquired in 2011. Yet the first that the account owners heard of it was in 2017!
Zuckerberg himself admitted to 87 million. Then Canadian Christopher Wylie, the AI psops expert who had headed the operation, pointed out that access to 87 million individual accounts had given him access to their friends and to everyone that any of them mentioned. "We basically had everyone in the United States...." The problem is the current architecture of the internet itself.
Gilder writes, "Centralization tells thieves what digital assets are the most valuable and where they are. It solves their most difficult problems for them." That moreover was not a learning experience for Facebook. Only this summer, 2018, after a big Congressional hearing on Cambridge Analytica, Facebook admitted that another 30 million user accounts had just been stolen. Gadgets like Siri, Echo and Alexa, to say nothing of cell phones, feed the various clouds' Artificial Intelligence, and secret police.
Meanwhile, Max Kaiser reports, Amazon drives competitors out of business by underselling them, making up the money by overcharging US taxpayers for work with for example the CIA!
The spy state has found the perfect partner. Big Tech. Mark Zuckerberg requires people to display verified names on posts, spies on even their "private" messages, censors them as he sells their lives to the NSA and global advertisers, and claims copyright on people's work without accepting liability or paying them for it. However, Big Tech has an Achilles heel. Young inventors and small businesses are the twisted system's main source of renewal.
For decades, our brightest people have fed this monstrous thing by building ventures in order to sell to Big Tech and retire early as billionaires.
What if they stopped?
33. LIBERATING KNOWLEDGE, WORK, MONEY AND POWER
A revolution would be underway. In fact it is. Smart and creative tech people who do not view money as a video game, who need only a fair return for their work not all the money there is, are consciously upending the old monopolies by not selling out to Big Tech. Minds.com is part of that ecosystem of Gen-X, Millennial and even younger inventors and business people across the world, aware of each other, the successful ones linking, iworking together.
The year 2018 moreover saw people within the Big Tech corporations protest the centralized empires and their collusion with political tyrannies.
In August, 2018, young Google employees protested Google's work on a censored search engine for China, and the top Google engineer also quit in protest. The US military is in 90 countries, for global corporate interests. In October Google engineers' rose in protest forcing Google to withdraw its bid on a $10 billion US Pentagon cloud contract. Rules and laws have no meaning unless they apply to everybody equally, so they also protested a cover-up of sexual harassment allegations against a ranking executive that Google said it had "investigated thoroughly" finding "such credible evidence" that Google forced the man to quit -- with a $90 million severance package.
Facebook had meanwhile acquired Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, with part of purchase deal that the founders could remain as division heads. Major Facebook execs including those four founders, even the top Facebook lawyer, have left, saying among other things that Zuckerberg was suddenly insisting on far more deeply data-mining the people using their products, while weakening encryption.
This a multi-generational push. Minds is linked to the early countercultural free tech's roots in The Well in San Francisco, by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)'s Manila Principles, giving Minds its Digital Bill of Rights, safeguarding freedom of speech and expression for its members. The original creators of the net/web, including Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web, meanwhile are working with younger developers to redesign the web itself.
Blockchain is building on decades of work by those Cypherpunks on John Gilmore's mailing list, and is important to Minds.
Envision a set of safety deposit boxes. Each box or "block" contains records. Let's say that this box contains your 2020 vote for president. Your block links into the "chain" by also containing the encrypted online address and an encrypted copy of the record before yours. That's Bob's vote for president. The block after yours holds my vote and the encrypted address and an encrypted copy of your vote. If someone tried to change your vote that would alert an algorithm in my block, which would alert the next block. Tampering would set off alarm bells throughout the system.
Having each submitted our unique identifier, a number, we each enter our vote directly, and although the record of who our votes were for is permanent, public, information, our names are not public; we still have a secret ballot. Redundant records of these transactions moreover are distributed among randomly changing sets within millions of computers over the world.
All banking is just a ledger showing who paid who what when. In exchange, bankers take all our money, and meanwhile speculate wildly with it, sporadically bringing down the world economy. Then we bail them out, covering their losses. We do not get part of their profits.
When middle men like banks or political parties, moreover, you have to trust someone whom you don't know. Payments can be blockchained instead, eliminating that middle man. Blockchain technology is thus "trustfree" -- you deal directly with people whom you do know -- with no one looking over your shoulder or speculating with your money before it gets to the person you intend. The fact that the transaction was made, date and amount is immutable public information. Who made it to whom is private, masked by IDs.
Money printed by nations has brands (US dollars, British pounds, Chinese yen). So does crypto. Bitcoin was the first and is the most valuable -- but is not the only -- brand. As markets try to figure out what each is worth, their values vacillate wildly. You can however eat a sandwich without betting your home on the price of wheat. You can buy a refrigerator with US dollars without worrying about how much it would cost in Indian rupees. You can pay someone in crypto without betting on its future worth in USD.
Payments made in crypto go from your electronic "wallet" to the "wallet" of the person whom you're paying, on the other side of the world in seconds, privately. Pundits predictably have blockchain and Bitcoin confused (hey, each begins with a "b", right?) and many take a dim view of both. Gilder however quotes Marc Andreessen, crusty developer of Mosaic, co-founder of Netscape, bellweather venture capitalist, as saying of other men his age, "Rich old...men crapping on a technology they don't understand can be counted on to be wrong roughly 100% of the time..."
MOVING THE FUTURE
Minds.com, having long since outgrown the servers in the Ottman family basement, currently resides in part on the Amazon cloud, but is methodically shifting onto technologies of decentralization. Minds also contains a village economy. Until summer 2018, Minds paid only in "points", which are now called "offchain tokens". Minds however had promised users the additional option of being paid in "crypto" and on August 13, 2018, Minds delivered. It chose Ethereum....
Vitalik Butein, the teenage-genius founder and CEO of Ethereum, has often explained that Bitcoin is a currency with unintended social consequences. Buterin's Ethereum corporation is a deliberate multi-pronged push to use blockchain technology to free world society, using its crypto currency to fund the work. As 2018 dawned, Buterin's crew had invented "smart contracts" which reside on the blockchain and execute themselves when triggered by a due date. JP Morgan Chase has just announced its adoption of an enterprise version of Ethereum.
There are technical and philosophical problems with any crypto. Energy consumed worldwide in producing all the crypto currencies could in another year rival the energy output of the entire United States. Much research is aimed at fixing that. Another pressing problem is how to handle fraud. In 2017 the first known theft from a blockchain occurred, taking $50 million from Ethereium customers. Ethereum spotted and closed the security hole. Then, after a knock-down-drag-out, worldwide, very public argument, Ethereum "hard-forked".
That is, all block-chained Ethereum transactions to the point of the theft remained as before. From that point, the Ethereum Classic people went straight forward, preferring to lose $50 million than to change anything on the blockchain. Led by Buterin, the main Ethereum group by contrast forked away, starting with the point just before the theft. It in effect erased the hacked transactions, returning the stolen money to its owners.
Minds uses Butenin's hardforked Ethereum. On Minds, Ether is a token, and is like the offchain tokens used only to buy Minds ads, to fund in-house deals, or to say, "I support your work." People can safely learn to handle cyber tokens there. Play money. Still, it's a form of Ethereum, which as currency is more valuable than dollars. As Minds entered mid-2018, it was transitioning the rewards program onto the hard-forked Ethereum main net while welcoming 250,000 Vietnamese and was by the way in the midst of a crucial negotiation with Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock, and....well, you get the idea.
Minds was a small handful of people and they were swamped. A spam war was all they needed, so of course they got one. Was Facebook behind it? Quite conceivably....
35. FACEBOOK SENDS MINIONS?
Facebook forced both the Alt-Right 2017 migration to Minds and the 2018 Vietnamese migration to Minds and therefore controlled the timing. Like the Alt migration, the Vietnamese migration seemed to contain fleets of porn-bots, which is odd because as noted the Vietnamese had not been known for that on Facebook. Especially given the AI involvement that John Ottman reports, some users have wondered if Facebook beefed up the spammers' and trolls' ranks in both big migrations
Certainly Facebook is aware of Minds and constantly striking out at any Minds users within range. Aware of who is posting things from Minds and what they post, Facebook harasses them with Captchas, blocks and suspensions. Minds graphics if posted on Facebook are cropped so that they made no sense. Below for example is a photo of a boat floating over the shadowy figure of a blue whale as posted on Minds, and in the next illustration, that same whale (well, half of it) when posted from Minds on Facebook. Facebook also flags Minds posts as "violating community standards" even when innocuous, like this magnificent whale, or as from "an insecure site", although Facebook was just hacked again and Minds has never been hacked. A bit miffed, Minds people enjoy finding ways around the Facebook blocks.
The tsunami of spam was keeping other people from moving to Minds. Although not unified, progressives are the largest political group in the US, opposed to corporate control, and constantly harassed by Facebook, which wants to control them but not lose them. They have three times started to migrate from Facebook to Minds and twice in 2017 once in 2018 stopped because something made Minds look like a racist porn site. Somebody had to stop those bots. Minds upped its attack on spam.
Minds users got angry at the spammers certainly but even more so at Minds. I'll thumbnail that anger by speaking here for myself.
To a reporter, Minds' promise of anonymity had beckoned like a cabin in the woods beside a clean river. Becoming dragon@authorpendragon in 2016 on Minds I drifted happily in my dragonimity. Curating a news stream of science, street art, dry meme wit and politics, at first I wrote only sometimes. In Beta, though, Minds provided little orientation for new people, who tended to sign up, find themselves on a blank page with a bare yellow lightbulb, and shout plaintively, "Is anybody here?" So I began writing blogposts to give newbies links and tips and to explain the Minds culture.
To really understand Minds though required seeing the remorseless, gigantic forces that it was fighting, the longstanding push for net freedom that impelled it and the worldwide fleet of tiny tech companies out redesigning everything from commerce to the web. So I opened a second channel in my own name, @GailMcGowanMellor, and started writing this series.
We Minds users for three years had been paid for posting and for attracting subscriptions, likes, comments, shares ("reminds"), to say nothing of spotting bugs and coding. Getting 20 points an hour for even showing up, we got paid if we demonstrably did the work, with no personally identifying information required. Heaven, right?
Suddenly, Minds tried to stop the spambots by removing from all of us -- not just the spammers -- the key rewards that were drawing spam. Minds first stopped paying us for posting! Hey some of those blogposts took me a month or more to craft.
Defending the move, Minds pointed out that the best way for Minds to sort real posts from spam posts was to see how users reacted to them both. We "quality bloggers", Minds assured us, would get plenty of points from likes, comments reminds and subscriptions, while the bots wouldn't get any. That predictably did not work. The spambots started liking, commenting, reminding and subscribing to each other, getting thousands of hits each in one day. Minds did not restore points to us; it took away more.
SMinds had just finished telling us that the quality of each post -- and therefore the payment for it -- depended upon the quantity of responses. Minds however then quit counting or paying for more than one like, comment, remind or subscription on a given channel from any individual on a given day. That hit my news stream between the eyes.
Bottom line: we were no longer being paid for posts OR for more than a tiny fraction of the responses to them. Human psychology is a wondrous thing. I understood that having come in early Beta, I was going to be one of the ones that Minds tested ideas out on. That particular approach to the funding idea had been too open to spambots or perhaps in part simply too expensive. Having received pay that included all posts and all responses for two years, though, I was resentful as hell about suddenly being paid a fraction as much.
So were a lot of other people.
Anonymity needs careful protection moreover and, one of the few sites offering anonymity, Minds began to withdraw from it.
Minds Plus, the optional $5 a month subscription program, for example, when I signed up did not take PayPal or cybercurrency. it required a credit card number -- which is anathema to anonymous people. It moreover included a phrase that for a site touting anonymity seems strange: "To not be seen as an imposter" [what is an anonymous person if not an imposter, and Minds encourages it] we were urged to "verify" our Minds accounts.
Aware of the AI spambots, I understood why Minds had to know that we were human, and went through the short verification process.
Wow. Verification on Minds Plus requires our posting an automatically generated ad for our Minds channel to private accounts owned by us on two other social media platforms. Many people have to go back to their only social media experience, Twitter and Facebook, which they conceivably do not want to reactivate. This all moreover leaves a trail of breadcrumbs to other online names, circles of friends, postings and information. So here was the Minds crew asking us to trust them not to look into that treasure trove. With only five coders and one million users, they were too busy to do anything sketchy. More, they're straightforward people. Yet the whole idea of technologies like blockchain is to quit having to trust people whom we don't know.
Hilariously , the code team next released a Minds bot to spot unmarked porn. The bot was at first so puritanical that it refused to allow a Newsweek cover, picked up on tipis, water spouts, Greek statues even, for reasons that no one could pin, a legal document. It wasn't enough....Spam was everywhere.....
" 37. SAFOWTF???"
To protect both its in-house economy and our anonymity, Minds phased in its own form of verified anonymity, reminiscent of The Well in San Francisco, back in the eighties. Decades farther along technically than The Well of course, it was minimalist. By using phone numbers that it would not store, Minds could generate a unique identifying number for even anonymous accounts, without anyone on Minds' knowing the people's real names. I did not understand that. As was the case with many others, my head snapped up and my eyes narrowed when Minds, after three years of requiring no personal information, demanded our cell phone numbers.
Even users who wished to earn only non-crypto tokens had to provide a cell. Yet offchain tokens and points were identical in effect, had no value as trading currency, and had never required an ID before. The reporter in me thought, "Give me somebody's cell number and I can find out almost anything about them. I mean, WTF????" That phrase was used by so many people over the next months with regard to so many things that someone dubbed it "The Summer and Fall of WTF".
38. MINDS, I MEAN, ARE YOU NUTS???
COO Jack Ottman explained that Minds computers would filter each number through two layers of random numbers to "create a unique hash" that would be forever associated with that account. Minds needed a phone number to generate that unique hash because phone numbers are themselves unique.
There was and is an easy fix. Minds does not necessarily need our private number. We could either 1) remain anonymous by opting out of the Minds Rewards Program or 2) buy or borrow a throwaway phone and give Minds that number in order to join the Rewards Program. Minds however did not say that for almost a month.
People were angry, suspicious. (When Jack explained that we need not worry, their computers would not store our phone numbers, a user retorted, Ever heard of pencils?) With us already annoyed by previous fixes to the spam problem that had taken more out of us than out of the spammers, Minds as it went live in late 2018 was suddenly reversing a longstanding Beta policy without forthrightly saying so and without adequate explanation. Plunging forward, with the phone number hubbub still in full roar, Minds next urged users who had no experience with cryptocurrency but wanted to be paid in crypto tokens to go to Metamask.
Good advice. Part of Ethereum, Metamask is an ap that issues an ID and adapts Chrome, Brave and Firefox browsers to allow Ether in payment. Minds itself was not asking users for more personal information, but that was not made clear either. Before recommending Metamask, someone on Minds should have scouted ahead, checked to see what new users would find in there. At the end of its own quick sign up process, Metamask leads seamlessly into Coinbase, which is to anonymity what sulfuric acid is to skin. Coinbase is the identity verifier at the heart of the cryptocurrency trading markets, and requires everything from address and social security number, driver's licence and recent selfies, to -- I exaggerate only a little here -- DNA samples from your parakeet.
Thanks to Ethereum's rules, users cannot buy Minds crypto tokens without paying "gas", a small transmission fee which can be paid only in Ethereum crypto currency. Paying that tiny fee pushes the users hard into Coinbase, in case they escaped the first time.
Cryptocoins are "mined" by computers crunching math problems.doing that on Minds would not only make the miners some money, but provide transaction fees in Ether to sell to users who like the Minds Rewards program, and would like to fool with crypto tokens in the safety of Minds, but are not ready to strip themselves bare in Coinbase and plunge into the cryptocurrency markets. Minds should have covered that angle. It now had a rebellion on its hands even among some veteran users, as more than a few new people daunted by that mishmash simply turned away. Clusterfuck.
In the midst of this, Mark Harding and his small crew of four coders came through with a major upgrade. The skies cleared of spambots and the next day my Minds pay was four times greater than it had been. All of us meanwhile were doing our job as users, bombarding Help and Support, telling them exactly where the weaknesses in the new upgrade were. There were now however over a million of us and five coders.
They lacked the staff to respond to all that.
Minds had just left Beta, had just launched. So, people said, why aren't there more of them? The userbase is growing. All the problems boil down to Minds' needing more programming and admin staff, so Minds needs a loan, a grant, another crowdsource funding or something. Why doesn't Bill act?
39. VENTURE CAPITAL
Bill Ottman, as the face of Minds, was by then doing so many daily online interviews that he called them "stand-ups", and was getting married, but he was already on that funding issue. On October 23, Bill announced an investment in Minds of six million dollars from Patrick Byrne, the CEO and majority owner of Overstock.com, through his venture capital subsidiary, Medici Ventures.
Byrne is a formidable force. The son of the creator and CEO of GEICO (one of Warren Buffet's insurance subsidiaries), and himself a protegee of Buffet, Byrne learned from Wall Street's most skilled people. He fears no one on the Street, having predicted Wall Street's tanking of the world economy, accused major brokers of fraud and survived to tell the tale. Byrne's company Overstock had been in 2014 the first to accept Bitcoin as payment and later the first to release a crypto token security offering over the blockchain.
Using money from that coin offering, he was socking funding into blockchain businesses. Investing in Minds, he acquired 20% and a seat on the Minds board. The 1500 users who had saved Minds in the summer of 2017 by raising a million dollars in 19 days, setting an SEC record -- stood to gain financially. Six million dollars would transform Minds. Imagine what Mark could do with a full complement of programmers!
There were rumblings, but I'll get to them. Congratulations poured in.
COMING UP: Part VI Minds Confronts the Shadow Tyranny and Declares Independence.
This is an ongoing series, with installments published sporadically as the unfolding of Minds warrants. Parts are anywhere from a chapter to nine chapters in length. Part I is "Bill Ottman's Minds, Leading the Charge Against the Globals". Part II is "The Minds Who Power Minds". Part III-A "Minds.com, Artificial Intelligence Used On The US, Cambridge Analytica and the Alts" and Part III-B, "The Nuts and Bolts of Freedom of Speech". you just read Part IV. "Minds.com Enters The Cryptocosm in the Summer and Fall of WTF???"
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