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POSTED 01 Apr 2019 14:53

Ethereum community and its ecosystem: crowd psychology analysis part 2


Ethereum community and its ecosystem: crowd psychology analysis

Ethereum and “the yellow vests” the group consciousness of two extraordinary movements

Is Ethereum an organized crowd? in the previous article we saw that one particular approach related to the crowd psychology analysis teach us that a community is an organised crowd when it share 5 characteristics. To find out if the crowd aggregate around Ethereum can affirm itself as community, we will try to identify some of these 5 characteristics by compare it, with another similar (in my opinion) grassroots movements, “the yellow vests”.

"Yellow vests" the peculiarities of a novel movement

A deliberately unstructured and disorganised movement

It is a decentralised movement without leader, polymorph and very complex to analysis. The movement has no organizational structure and does not want to have one. It is experienced as a spontaneous movement by citizens. Every single group have their own claim, overall the whole political spectrum is represented but among the most activist groups, there is an over-representation of people from the extreme left, anarchists, libertarians, radical ecologists, moderate-income people, sovereignists and identity groups of the far right. The overall socio-economic characteristics of this movement are expressed by the following point:

  • Belong to the French working and lower middle class from small and mid size town located in the countryside.
  • Belong to the student, unemployed and retired people category.

These two groups share the same characteristic, they feel left alone, they think that modern society no longer working for them. Yes there is influencers born through social network (Eric Drouet, Fly Rider, Priscillia Ludosky and so on..), large hubs, packet of activist more important then others, but non of them claim they represent officially the movement and non of them have authority or can control the movement entirely and constantly. The nebulous and decentralized nature of this network of participants has created much confusion and contradiction in the treatment of information.

The role of social media

Social media have played a major role in the formation of this movement from the beginning.
The nature of theirs algorithms which are profit-oriented, are design to keep different segments of the population connected as long as possible so that, in return, they can capture theirs attentions and then provide to them the most accurate advertising package.
These algorithms will always provide information about things they think you are interested in and suggest connecting to people with whom they think you have affinity.
The secondary effect of theses algorithms is that they reinforces and reaffirms our conception of reality, of an event or of the world in general. Many voices have risen, in order to denounce the potential danger of these “private black boxes”, but nothing has been done so far to make them less opaque or less novice for society as a whole.
Indeed how can these giant platform increased their profit without allowing an algorithm who optimize the advertising budget of their clients?
How can business clients of these social media platform justify generous sales expectation if they can’t take advantage of these algorithms?
Cul-de-sac, the snake is biting his tail.

Decade of unsolved frustration represented by a meme

We can try to find someone to blame, but at the end of the day the yellow-vests movement is born out of decade of unsolved frustration.
At the origin the pretext of this protest was because of a tax increased. The goal was to spread a meme via social networks. In order to bring awareness about the subject of loss of purchasing power caused by a new tax, every participants had to wear a security vests which by law is an obligation to carry at the back of his car. Some groups of yellow-vests have decided to increased the visibility of their meme by blocking all roundabout and road toll in France (40,000 roundabout or in average 1 for every French town).
At its peak the movement managed to blocked 2000 roundabout, (5% of the entire territory), most of them located in the country side. While talking to each other and with peoples form different part of the society, lot of them rediscovered the notion of citizenship, the notion of empathy and solidarity, they have start to interact with others, created boundary and realized most of them suffered the same frustration. An awakening of consciousness was born.

At the same times, without realizing it, they have allow a vast flow of emotions and thoughts to spread across the country. At the speed of a cars, from toll to toll, roundabout to roundabout, and thanks to social media, from computer to computer, thoughts and emotions did spread out with intensity and passion. Despite theirs political or cultural differences more and more peoples realized that “in fine”, they have more or less a list of common cause to their problems, a social consensus has been established.
The loss of purchasing power, the vertical governance of an old fashion institution crystallised by Emmanuel Macron, the imposing technocratic system located in Bruxelles for some, an urgent need to experiment with a different type of society for others, are now the common ground of the movement of the yellow-vests.

However despite a fragile consensus found, everyone agree that the movement is still extremely excitable, impulsive, passionate, versatile, inconsistent and without sense of responsibility all the characteristic that all the crowd psychologist would describe as a “disorganized and raw crowd”. As the Italien philosopher Giorgio Agamben illustrated in “the spatialities of the camps”: at the beginning, a disorganized and decentralised network of crowds will always hesitate between a revolt (an individual and selfish act against the institution without the will to replace it), a revolution (political act against the institution in order to replace it by something else) or a radical evolution (political act against the institution in order to replace it by something new or better).

“Reverse panopticon”process

The addition of confusing and contrasting informations created by an important decentralised and polymorph movement in one hand, the rise of the “Sousveillance phenomenon” by general citizens on the other hand, force policy and decision maker to make hastily decision (hence the very strict and authoritarian response to the problem in the context of the yellow vests). This process can be interpreted as state paranoia or a “reverse panopticon process”: Due to an abundance of confusing and contradicting informations the governance body of a system is no longer capable to observe the participants with efficiency, thus assume they are constantly colluding to take over the power.

Prerequisites for an organized crowd to exist?

Spontaneously and organically, a mass begins to form with the intensification of emotions in certain types of individuals who share commonalities: "principle of direct induction of emotion". See first article on McDouglas. With the use of social media, the excitement of others has affected the individual and vice versa. Unwittingly, the yellow vests were able to coordinate their energy in a decentralized way. Each week, 20 weeks in a row since November 17, they created a dose of continuity in their movement: essential element for the formation of an organized crowd.

Every week the “yellow vests” meme put pressure on the government by making itself visible in the street, creating huge amount of dust, noise, false and true signal. With the influx of such intense flow of informations the algorithms of major social media have alerted their business clients.
In return, the business community, especially the advertising community pressurized journalists in order for them to cover constantly the phenomenon in the hope to benefit for this new flux of brain attention at disposal. The yellow-vests have created the condition for a popular context game.
Every week a snapshot of the public opinion is taken in order to find out how many French people support their actions. Experts compare pro and con opinion, create controversy and debate between peoples, which create other crowds with different opinion.

According to McDouglas, all the condition are meets to satisfied the basic element of a organized mass: A definite representation of the nature, the function, the performances and the demands of the mass and the relationship with other similar mass formations, and the comparative with each mass. By using this particular crowd psychology analysis one can observe that the yellow-vests movement have transform itself as an organized crowd located in one particular country (for now) because it has created a dose of continuity, has managed to define a representation of his nature, of his function of a mass and now have being capable to put in relationship other mass of people.

The comparison with Ethereum

Decentralised and polymorph

It is a difficult to identify this unconventional crowd: contrary to the yellow-vests movement, the Ethereum movement has started with a little group of people (a little crowd) mostly libertarian, crypto-anarchist, cypherpunk, liberal progressive young developer or entrepreneur.
Ethereum has now evolved and the movement is significantly bigger. It is a crowd who regroup developers, entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, security experts, researchers, computer scientists, academicians, hackers, tech and computer savy enthusiasts, speculators, investor and market maker…. It is an international crowd, present on every single continent(apart from Antartica).
Because of the pseudo anonymity nature of this mass, it is not possible to probe any particular socio-economic or political trend emerging from it. All we can tell, is it is a mass who have a small and concentrated group of influencer and decision making hubs (Vitalik,Vlad, Joe Lubin…). But despite what critic say, non of these influencer officially represent the movement and non of them have authority or can control the movement entirely and constantly.

Like for the yellow-vests, its decentralised and polymorph crowd and has generated lot of confusing and contrasting information. Contrary to the yellow-vests movement, participants are pseudonymous and want the respect of privacy in order to allow free-speech and and the prevention of any form of violent repercussion is key to this movement. These groups of individuals work together for the realization of a common project, the promotion of new modes of organization aimed at reducing inequalities, therefore violence, oppression, ignorance and injustice.
We can also noticed that Ethereum gather a mass of people spread across the globe, hence it has generated a mixed response from governments and policy maker. Some country have been very friendly and welcoming, some have taken the approach of wait and see, other country have respond with a more strict and authoritarian attitude.

The role of social media

They never played a massive role at the beginning when the movement was at the infancy but it has play a more significantly role during the ICO bubble. The huge return on investment prospect has propagated a wave of greed emotions through social network which helped the promotion of the Ethereum protocol and have attracted a new mass of people around the project.

The meme of the decentralised world computer

To some extent Ethereum is born out as a revolt against old systems that are not anymore working for everyone, and a collaborative effort to create something new and different of what bitcoin had offered. Ethereum was advertised as an open source, globally decentralised computing infrastructure that executes programs called smart contracts but in reality behind the Ethereum meme, each participants have different interpretations and representations of it.
Their is no one main ideology behind Ethereum and power relationship between participant of the crowd are not hierarchical. At the beginning knowledge have mostly spread from the positive experience accumulated by active participants and then during the ICO bubble by various social media influencer rinding on the trend wave.

If the protocol manage to maintain itself through time then the conditions for an organized crowd exist The elements of continuity of the crowd is enable by the protocol itself (sociotechnical protocol) by Manuel Rolland.
The structure of the blockchain create an economical incentives to the participation. Every 10-15 second someone is allocating time, energy and resources to the network in order to get a reward, every 10-15 second the heart of the ethereum blockchain beats and somewhere around the globe, some people are trying to coordinate to make sure that the heartbeat continue. Crypto-economics incentives have created a dose of continuity: essential element for the formation of a crowd (cf McDougall). In addition, on average every 1-2 million blocks, other groups from the Ethereum crowd coordinate in order to implement technical updates. Another dose of continuity is enable.

The difference with the yellow-vests is that the elements of continuity is generate by people who try to coordinate around the world with the help of peer to peer networks (and not just nationally via social media). The self-management efficiency of the structure improve itself with time, the longer the mechanisms behind the protocol continue the stronger the protocol become. A heftier and stable infrastructure mean an increase of possible innovations which create in return a positive feedback loop between participants. More buzz is spreading out and with the mechanism of contagion, the ethereum meme force itself to other layers of society, reaching then other mass of people. All these mechanism in long run allow the crowd to have a better representation of its mass and the allow to put itself in relationship with others similar mass formations.

Ethereum: a crowd organized around subdivision?

An other signal that the crowd around Ethereum is organised and therefore can identify itself as a community is the fact that we can find elements of subdivision that expresses itself in the specialization and differentiation of the activity of the individual. Within his network we can identify 3 classes of participants where when aggregated form an ecosystem: the users, the builders and the holders.

  • Builders: By builder (#BUIDL) I mean all the individuals or groups of peoples who directly or indirectly help building, developing the core infrastructure of Ethereum (security, scaling, decentralization) and everything on top of it (DAPPS, tools and services). We can characterize them as active participants of the network or 1 class citizen. They are the heart and soul of this open source and decentralised movements, some people would regard them as being “the elite of the Ethereum ecosystem”. In a Nutshell they are mainly developers, entrepreneurs, engineers, designers, security experts, researchers, computer scientists, academicians, hackers, tech and computer savy enthusiasts…

  • Holders: By holders (#HODL) I mean all the individual or group of people who directly or indirectly have a stake in the ecosystem. (in the form of private equity, in a form of crypto-token or in physical form eg: mining equipment). They are for a large part the speculators, investor and market maker of the world who bring resources (financial and material). It is common to find in this ecosystem Builders who are also Holders, indeed it make sense for a developer to hold some tokens in order to test his application in a live environment.

  • Users: The third category is less important in quality but extremely important in term of quantity. They are the individuals or group of peoples who use the tools and services enable by the Ethereum platform. In the blockchain world users have a reel influence on governance as they decide what type of software implementation they want to use (full node owners).

Light-speed community vs Horse-speed Institution

To conclude this small study, I will tried to summarized and put into context an incredible visionary piece of thoughts that Vinay Gupta has produced few years agoVinay Gupta Oxford Democracy.

Technology provide us tools to shape or reshape society. It has now allow us to experiment with organizations (communities) and bureaucratic systems that are more horizontal while being able to deal with the limit of our modern communication system “by quantizing time” Vinay Gupta Oxford Democracy. Society have modernized, and transport innovation have reduced the length of time for a particular signal to travel, but the mechanism of how society make the decision has not changed.
4 to 5 years election cycle was adapted to a world where information used to travel very slowly (a Horse-speed institution system where signal use to be transported by horse). At the start of the cycle, information where spread out from the top of the society to the bottom and then again re-moved inward toward the top at the end of the cycle.
Horse-speed bureaucracy system are often extremely vertical and at the same time, not being able to cope with the rapid change created by modern technology. Horse-speed Institution living in a light-speed reality, increase the feeling of gap between those in power and the rest of the society, they also allow some people to benefit from a genuine artificial monopoly.

Despite two different groups (Ethereum and the movement of yellow vests), one of the common elements is that they both emphasize the limit of a system of vertical bureaucracy in staggering with the realities of its time.
However, the movement of yellow vests use, on a limited territory, private information systems (social network) at the speed of light, to coordinate street demonstrations with constituent assemblies. The mass movement around Ethereum consists of using a decentralized, neutral and global open registry protocol to coordinate computers to create a new socio-economic model.
Like Vinay, I have observed that over the past decade, light-speed organizations have challenged (sometimes fiercely) institutions that govern at the speed of the horse.
Because of the economic power, the social impact that a light-speed system can generated, and the natural move of innovation being globally available and free, light-speed system tend to turn any communities who use it has a political power.
We are witness a shift, a slow and gradual transfer of authority from the old system to the so-called Light-speed communities because of "the inability of horse-speed institutions to adapt to a light-speed society, because they are unable to modernize democracy with technological tools in tune with modern society ".

Towards the path of decentralized self-organization

The crowd psychology approach from McDougall is teaching us that the crowd around Ethereum has past the stage of being a raw and disorganized crowd, now brings together all the conditions to be organised and therefore can establish itself as a community. I would argue in further articles that Ethereum also brings together all the conditions to become a credible self-organised and decentralised community.

  • "Yellow vests" the peculiarities of a novel movement

  • The comparison with Ethereum

  • Light-speed community vs Horse-speed Institution

  • Towards the path of decentralized self-organization

General Comments
Very interesting analysis. But I think there's a fundamental difference between the yellow vests and the Ethereum community. The first is a contestation movement that has a powerful place/nation-based bogeyman and it's lobbying for that bogeyman to enact change, whereas the Ethereum community is is a more "positive movement (as opposed to reactive) that has the power to build and enact change itself, withni certain parameters. Maybe it would be interesting to look at what Ethereum's various bogeymen are (government, other chains, etc.), and how it's organising itself in relation to them, if at all.
2 months ago