Three paths forward for Steem.

in steem •  10 months ago  (edited)

Several people have wondered why I'm not spending my time opposing the so-called "Econonic Improvement Proposal" this time around. As a term it's one-third true: it's mostly about fighting spam, and it's very much not an improvement, but I can't really argue with it being a proposal. However, while I still think it's a bad idea, I no longer think that it matters all that much, because over the six months since the last time we fought about it I've become convinced that Steem has such large-scale issues that any tinkering with the rewards curve is essentially irrelevant. Even if the proposed changes really did move the rewards curve further toward optimal - which they don't - optimizing the rewards curve isn't merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, it's more like tightening the screws on the deck chairs on the Titanic. So I haven't really seen addressing it as worth my time.

Instead, though, I'd like to put forward some potential paths for making Steem viable in the long term. These are meant to address three large-scale issues with the current design of the blockchain:

  1. Steem has fallen far behind industry standards for Proof-of-Stake blockchains.
  2. Powering up is a terrible idea on a purely mathematical basis.
  3. The breadth of distribution of stake is insufficient to support the aspired breadth of content.

Here I'm going to present three possible futures where Steem could become more viable. They aren't the only ones, and I'm sure I could come up with some others, but I think they're essentially representative of the variety of available approaches. All three start with the same initial rehabilitation step before processing to larger-scale changes.

Core: Bring Steem closer to modern PoS standards

1. Reduce the power-down time to one week.

A huge part of what makes Steem Power a mathematical nightmare to hold is what has become a ludicrous unstaking time. Eos and Tron have established three days as the industry standard, and in the long term Steem should seek to emulate or exceed them. However, current limitations of the Steem economic system mean that the power-down time can't reasonably be shorter than the post payout time. So in terms of immediate changes with minimal technical effort, one week is the best we can do at this time.

2. Professionalize the block producers.

If you compare the top block producers on Eos or Tron with Steem's top witnesses, the differences are stark. The more successful chains are operated by BPs who are formed into legally existing entities, have websites, mission statements, official representatives, and just by and large treat the job like something they're pursuing seriously. Steem has a guy who likes to cosplay a space cowboy from a terrible TV show. There's no witness on Steem who would be considered for a minute as a BP on any top chain, and that's a problem. People considering committing their time and money to Steem are going to notice that.

Fixing this is ultimately on the existing top witnesses or on the witness voters, which generally translates into being on @freedom. A healthy stake distribution might let us get there via new, more capable witnesses, but it's clear at this point that a healthy stake distribution isn't coming anytime soon.

Possible Future 1: SMT Dependence

This proposal addresses Steem's issues through moving most blockchain activity to Smart Media Tokens rather than the core Steem coin.

1. Develop SMTs in such a way that they can take over the content voting system. Remove content and voting from the base layer.

This isn't quite what SCOT is doing, but it's not too far off from it. By moving all voting from the Steem coin itself to Steem-based tokens, we have the opportunity to obviate Steem's distribution issues, solve the too-long power-down issue, and allow for diverse development all at the same time. SMTs could operate on varied economic systems, allowing for optimization through rapid trial and selection, rather than guessing and hardforking.

2. Convert Steem rewards to more-standard Proof of Stake payouts, and reduce the power-down time to industry standards

Steem inflation under this system (probably drastically reduced) would either be paid out on a purely stake-weighted basis, or use the Tron system of paying all the inflation to the top block producers and allowing them to reward their voters. The latter, while considerably out of the line of current Steem culture, seems to work pretty well.

Content rewards would be paid entirely in SMTs.

Possible Future 2: Zero Power-Down.

This proposal maintains content voting on the base layer while allowing much more flexibility to users.

1. Convert the voting system to fully atomic voting.

We took a big step in this direction with Voting Mana in Hardfork 20, but there's still a significant amount of work to do to get to the ideal. The concept here is to make each staked Steem vote and recharge independently - actions would still take voting power, but that voting power would move smoothly between actions. Rather than delegating the vests that create voting power, you'd delegate voting power itself. The key benefit here is that a fully-charged unit of Steem Power could be powered down without any penalty at all.

2. Remove the power-down time.

Simply: If you have 40% Voting Power, you can power down 40% of your SP immediately.

This proposal is technically difficult but would remove all barriers to holding and using Steem Power. If you power up and vote, you just need to wait for the vote to recharge before you can withdraw. If you hold a steady amount of SP, you can withdraw a chunk of it at any time. Voting Power would work somewhat differently than it does now, but could be made essentially consistent with current usage.

Possible Future 3: Reduce the Scope

This proposal relies on two observations that I believe are quite solid:

  1. Current high-level stakeholders are unable or unwilling to support a broad range of content.
  2. There's zero appetite for broadening stake distribution.

Thus we can maintain Steem more-or-less in its current technical form only by reducing the aspirations for how much content it should be supporting, and moving Steem from a generalist social media presence to a subject-specific one.

1. Rebrand Steem as a Libertarian/Crypto-Anarchist think tank.

This is clearly the subject matter which holds the most interest among top stakeholders, and would retain most of Steem's core communities. This can be stretched to include open-source activism, drug freedom, metal investment, and all sorts of cryptocurrency crosstalk. It would suck for the artists, and would make me considerably less interested, but it would make Steem more functional.

2. Rebrand curation from "quality content" to "idea quality discovery."

That's a terrible phrase for it, and someone should come up with a better one. But what I'm talking about here is essentially what a think tank does: push forward the discussion of ideas related to its philosophy through rewarding and organizing the producers of those ideas. This is something Steem's existing curation/trending algorithm would do quite well, especially in a Libertarian context, as opposed to content discovery which it's quite terrible at.

This addresses the fundamental issue with existing think thanks, which is that they're extremely committed to gatekeeping. Philosophical growth, when it happens, comes from an extensive and expensive process of recruiting new intellectuals to the organization. A Steem-based think tank, operating well, would allow universal access to the arena of ideas, and rewards would flow automatically through the community's perception of idea quality.

In this situation the EIP might not actually be a bad idea.


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While you make some good suggestions, the idea that EOS & Tron are industry standards and something Steem should be copying is a fundamentally flawed premise.
These blockchains have worse problems than Steem and have far less real world functionality and usage.

The idea of more professional block producers is a terrible one, which undermines decentralisation.
The opposite is the case, it should be as easy and cheap to be a Steem witness as running a Bitcoin node. The recent HiveMind and MIRA improvements make this almost a reality.

Professional block producers are juicy targets for governments, regulators, lawyers and competitors. If you are visible, and have assets you can be shut down. If it is difficult to replace you then the whole blockchain can be shut down by a concerted legal attack.
Thousands of widely distributed individuals with commodity computers and basic IT skills can never be shut down.

EOS in particular is in real danger of being designated an illegal gambling service and having all its block producers served with legal papers to shut down lest their executives be arrested in airport transit and extradited.
Over 90% of EOS DApp transactions are gambling without a licence, which is illegal almost everywhere.
Also EOS is really expensive for developers to run DApps on with RAM prices etc

I agree with your point 2 regarding reducing powerdown time.

Point 3 is being resolved by SCOT & Nitrous.
See my post today on this topic.

This works in the opposite direction as well - if you're a legitimate, compliant business, the last thing you want is to be reliant on a bunch of darknet block producers. Maybe your vision of blockchain is as a niche anarchist system where everyone's free to do whatever they want under the guise of anonymity. A lot of people thought that about the internet at the beginning, too, and before too long they were overwhelmed by the power of compliant, public, honest businesses.

In the Western world at least, the best defense against arrest and shutdown is not anonymity, it's being a compliant corporation. Example: PokerStars, who ran a huge illegal gambling operation in the United States for years, and when they were caught their punishment was a settlement which essentially boiled down to them being allowed to buy their biggest competitor's userbase.

You are making a false dicotomy here.
The choice is not between darknet anarchist and professional corporate block producers.

There is a middle ground in which both Bitcoin and Steem sit: regular people, law abiding citizens of nations all around the world. What the US Constitution refers to as "We The People".
The fact that Bitcoin allows regular people to be block producers has not stopped legitimate businesses adopting it.

DPOS is essentially stake based representative democracy. If only big corporations can be elected to the parliament then there is a problem.

The second issue is that compliance is about what you DO not WHO you are.
Steem is compliant because the vast majority of what it is used for is legitimate activities.
EOS is not compliant because the vast majority of what it is used for is illegal gambling.

You talking about completely new, different blockchain, new system, and a new coin.
Steem will never become what you described here.

Why is powering up mathematical a terrible idea? If you compared it to intrest rates with the banks, it is quite profitable imho

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In the crypto-sphere, 40%+ arbitrage plays with liquidity are basically everywhere, on day, week, or month timescales. Comparing crypto payout to traditional investments is a bad plan.

Even if I don't want to do a lot of work, if I can earn 18% APR with a 91-day payout on Steem or 8% APR with a three-day payout on Tron, I only need one minor good event per quarter for Tron to be far superior.

Ok, well, I would say stick to Tron then, if I was you, I am quit happy with the current return of Steem...

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I need a list

Don't we all. But the Splinterlands SeedGerminator campaign was a great example.

  • very low risk, at least on the TRX mode
  • 60%+ return
  • time scale of a month or so
  • enough advance warning to unstake TRX but not Steem

How did you come to that conclusion?

What conclusion?

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  1. Eos and tron decided to make the power down time 3 days so we should try to do the same because, industry standards? Lol.

  2. Witnesses don't have the proper attire, like tron or eos, we should have our witnesses put up website, and overall increase the overhead so that we can be more like eos witnesses.

And that's how you get more people to sign up for steem. Makes sense.

Trial and error Vs Guessing and Forking

Lol I see what you did there.

Hey, I understand that the EPI is completely retarded, after all how could that help with distribution.. I mean these morons are completely retarded, they don't have a clue about industry standards and they dress like the amateurs they are.

Right ideas!


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I have a hard time to understand the purpose of this post. It is better to handle HF21, then SMT and maybe one thing of what you propose here.

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This post has received a 3.13 % upvote from @drotto thanks to: @sbi-booster.

To rebrand implies there was a brand in the first place.

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Can't really argue with anything you say here. Of course I would say the likelihood for any of these futures except #1 happening is in the slim to none category. BTW there is a sort of amusing typo I should point out, "Here I'm going to prevent three possible futures where Steem could become more viable." where "prevent" should be "present" :)


You don't think #2 is viable? I think if that could be done technically the votes for it would probably be there.

Not that I don't think it is viable or a good idea, but just I don't really see much incentive for the large stakeholders to do much of anything except the status quo. To take advantage of a shorter power down time and capitalize on arbitrage opportunities in the market they would still have to have SP not devoted to vote delegation right? The bid bot economy is already such a large and stable cash cow that I am just not convinced there is much incentive to do anything different at all. As you point out, there are already many blockchain alternatives with much shorter powerdown times for people who want to take advantage of crypto price swings, but there is some inherent risk in doing that - I see basically no risk in the bid bot economy to the large stakeholders.