The largest working water wheel in the world is located in a village named Laxey on The Isle of Man; hence the name: Laxey Wheel. Built in 1854, it’s still operational till this day, featuring a 72-foot-6-inch (22.1 m) diameter and the delivery capacity of 250 imperial gallons (in approximately three revolutions) per minute. More technical details can be found here on Wikipedia. If you happen to be a “pan-wheel aficionado” like me, this is a great YouTube video that brilliantly explains how water wheels work, using the example of this Laxey Wheel, narrated by a lovely lady.
I am bringing up this engineering wonder as its underlying wheel mechanism is indeed the inspiration behind Cartwheel, the latest program that’s launched in MOFFAS to manage native content resources (and, hopefully, other types soon), in place of a platform-oriented counterpart; it is also what (the rest of) this post is going to be mainly about. Before I get into the specifics of the Wheel Model, which Cartwheel is built on and around, there’s something about the Laxey Wheel (also known as Lady Isabella) I’d like to discuss a bit further on. It is the original purpose of building this giant thing in the first place — to pump the water out of the nearby mines on the island when coal wasn’t available (for a steam engine). In other words, in order to solve the problem of having too much water, Robert Casement, a self-taught engineer, came up with this marvelous idea that was basically to use even more water, something obviously in no shortage there. I find it extraordinarily fascinating, not only because I have always been advocating for heuristic “on-site” and “local” solutions, reflected in the entire Organic Social Networking module as well as the human-centric technology ideology, but also because it somehow echoes with an ideal/model I consider as the ultimate system that can achieve high performance in (relative) harmony with minimal supervision. I previously mentioned it in the Mindset IV, a piece I horribly wrote last year but still could not meaningfully improve in any way. The Wuxing Model, shown below, was referenced there as a generic archetype to illustrate such desirable dynamics and how internal regulation could ideally run by itself.
Even if we try to apply this raw Wuxing model to Isabella, it seems to fit quite comfortably. The mine is the “Metal” from the “Earth” and the “Metal” makes the “Water,” which, in turn, helps the “Wood” grow. In one of the many hypothetical scenarios, if we could wait, say, a million years, because of the abundance of wood, there will be enough coal to burn (the “Fire”) to power the engine and draw the water in the mine away. Obviously, Casement couldn’t wait, so he turned the “Wood” into a gigantic wheel to generate the energy needed and the “Earth” into channels to direct the stream. All pieced together, a lean, clean and powerful system was formed. As long as there’s water, there would be power to pump the water out of the mine. What would happen when there’s no water?
Well, there would be no problem to take care of then.
We will come back to Isabella and Wuxing again when we discuss another wheel, Cartpool Wheel (dubbed “Cartwheel”), later. Cartwheel is a program that intends to approach the problem of dynamic resource distribution by incorporating the essence of a wheel mechanism at its core. Although it is expected to expand to other categories as well, at the moment it specifically focuses on creative digital content.
What we talk about when we talk about content (thank you Carver)
Up until now, MOFFAS Dawn (the resource side of the system) mainly works on e-commerce sites and their physical merchandise, through reading, mapping and minimal GEN ai profiling (I’m shamefully behind the schedule and, if I have to be honest, a tad lost on that). However, this is only a portion of the consumable resources that are available on the Internet. Digital content, especially the creative kind, such as blogs, podcasts and graphic novels, is another major category that’s seeing an exponential growth. Clearly, these content consumables are different than their tangible siblings, but those pretty unique properties they possess innately are yet to be explored fully. Consequently, although monetizing content has become an accepted norm (imagine ten years ago asking people to pay to read an online article), it’s still largely done in a fashion that is similar to that of physical products. The non-physical digital objects end up being treated as physical products in a transaction-oriented platform-based environment, such as Netflix, OnlyFans and Medium. In general, the standard operation involves having retail users pay the platform for access to gated content and the platform then taking a cut. Of course, there are differences between one platform and the next regarding actual arrangements (between platform and creators as well as platform customers); for instance, with Substack you subscribe to a certain account (newsletter) while with Medium the paywall is site-wide.
I’ve written many times about my concerns with platform-based models for I just don’t see how a centralized system can balance between its own self-preservation and the free will/interest of its users. Platforms are efficient and convenient, but the advantages come at a (huge) cost that a pessimist like me cannot bear to think about the consequences down the road (further polarization, wider digital divide, information inequality, etc.).
That’s why I put together a different synthetic Wheel model as an attempt at the resource distribution and delivery challenge. Unlike the platform model, it is frugal, “laid-back” and designed for a more decentralized and human-centric Internet because I firmly believe that it is going to and must be the future. This Wheel model, though far from mature and, not to even mention, perfect, is designed to address a number of issues arising from the platform model:
Creator’s individuality and independence
When we buy a physical product, the product has a brand regardless where we get it. A CatLotto shirt from Amazon is a CatLotto shirt. When we wear the shirt to a Post Malone concert and some dude spills a full bottle of beer on it, it is still a CatLotto shirt. The situation is subtly different with (creative) content. When we read an article on a platform site, its brand (sense of identity) often depends on whether the creator is an already famous person. Barack Obama’s “congratulations, Warriors” tweet can still be read in his signature voice while mine is counted as one of the Twitter responses under the trending hashtag. It’s debatable whether heart emojis plus a crown can be classified as creative content, but my point still stands: multi-tenant platforms inevitably diminish and weaken an individual’s identity, and such effects tend to be stronger on intangible assets.
The same goes for seller independence. Platform sites, in spite of all the flaws, make content more visible and accessible on the Internet because of the embedded marketplace mechanism and the routine marketing programs (to drive web traffic) that most individual creators cannot afford. Under the current system, it’s unrealistic for a seller to put out content on his or her own domain and expect the world to discover that just because of what it is. It has to go through the “market” medium. Of course, it is exactly what Dawn is learning to tackle once GEN takes the next step; however, to make a different type of market medium will also require a more decentralized infrastructure that leans towards the public. We will circle back to this in a little.
Elon Musk has been in the headlines a lot lately for various reasons. A regular theme, though, is his tireless “fight” for freedom of speech. I have many disagreements with Mr. Musk and sometimes it’s sad to feel like if one is any more “normal” he or she cannot be this successful, but this is not about him. I am also not going to make it about freedom of speech as the whole subject is unnecessarily politicized and weaponized. The bottomline is: one shall be allowed to say whatever he or she wants as long as such actions do not inflict harm on another party, directly or indirectly, because everyone is equally entitled and freedom is more than true or false. What I am actually more interested in, as far as the Wheel model is concerned, is whether freedom is possible and favored within a platform model, at all. In the end, there’s only one set of rules for an entire user group, suppliers or consumers, and one single source of discretion; it’s hard to imagine that everyone’s freedom, to each their own understanding, can be respected and protected. To take a step back, if we do have to compromise for the sake of the community, where do we draw the line and how do we come to agree on such a line?
The two points above are recurring topics that both have been discussed quite regularly (to the point that I’ve started to have deja vu), but digital content does bring in something new to discuss.
Creative content is to be shared.
By nature, digital content is easy to share. No matter how glorious a video is, under the hood, it is just a chunk of 1s and 0s that can be easily manipulated (compared to tangible goods). I can even argue that it’s made to be shared. My best friend and I might not share a closet, but we sure share many airdropped selfies on our phones. When such sharable digital content is put on a server and made accessible on the Internet, technically, it is set up for sharing on a large scale. Note that the word “sharing” here does not mean daily social actions such as sending a link to friends or posting it to Facebook; it refers to the behavior of consuming the same target content with others, although in the digital world “the same” usually means a copy of the original file. In reality, however, not only is such sharing (understandably) restricted, it is what most platforms and software companies actively and proactively prevent the users from doing. Recently, Netflix announced that they would start cracking down on password sharing because this common practice had cost the company significantly in profits. I imagine it to be quite a difficult task to execute, but even from a privacy point of view, that’s already questionable — a primary owner’s identity has to be verified through household IP address and device ID data. While I unconditionally support intellectual property rights and believe that we still don’t pay talents enough for their quality content, there are better ways to achieve fairness on both sides. If we are to take full advantage of the digital nature, we can make information unprecedentedly affordable and accessible for all while supporting and liberating the creative communities.
MOFFAS started with a simple idea of Cartpool, an intuitive feature to help a group of people bundle their shopping carts into one. I wrote it during the pandemic when food delivery was limited and safety hazard for delivery workers was high. Cartpooling was not only to save money but also to save lives. However, the standard Cartpool was too generic for the special case of digital content; the Cartwheel program, an enhanced variant of Cartpool, was thus created to meet the challenge.
Please note that news sites are excluded in the discussion here as I believe access to news coverage should be considered basic human rights and made available to public for free. Such information has historically played an important role in a person’s survival and everyone has the equal right to life. The same can be extended to education, but that’s for another day. Now, let’s get back to our wheel talk.
When there’s a wheel, there’s a way.
I am definitely not the only weirdo that’s obsessed with wheels. The almighty Leonardo da Vinci, who I always see more as a scientist than an artist (purely insane to think that he’s still one of the greatest in history), designed several wheel-shaped perpetual motion machines. Just like all the other similar attempts throughout the history, those machines didn’t work and, as a matter of fact, da Vinci himself never thought they would, remarking, “you will find the impossibility of motion above believed” (Sir Issac Newton wasn’t born yet). However, the more relevant question here is:
Why the wheels?
I would never even guess what Leonardo da Vinci could be thinking, not even in my wildest dream. Honestly, boy, if only I could have his head for one day! But just like him seeing potential perpetual motion in a wheel structure, I saw something similar when I was trying to devise an alternative way to manage and distribute digital content — self-sustainability and autonomy.
What does it mean? It’s time to have a good look at the Wheel model.
Unlike the platform structure, the Wheel model does not have a strong centralized body to, on top of everything else, manage relationships between consumers and resources. In fact, the Wheel model itself is supposed to be arranged in a distributed format. With different sets of demands and supplies, different Wheels can be created and destroyed accordingly, just like Lady Isabella was built because there was water as both demands and supplies on location. If we think of the traditional platform model as a state government, then the Wheel model is more analogous to self-forming spontaneous communities that are managed by members directly. You may only have one president at a time in most cases, but you can always be a member of different communities.
But, exactly how does a Wheel model work and how does it handle the three issues we raised earlier?
(Let’s limit our discussion to only digital content for now.)
In a Wheel model, resources are streams that all come from their own origins. When the streams are strong enough, the Wheel is powered into action and delivers more streams to destinations. Like water, streams are divisible and indivisible at the same time. They are divisible as you can infinitely break them apart and merge them with each other; they are indivisible because after splitting or joining the nature of the resulting streams remain the same as the original. It is a romantic way to explain the properties of digital content: fluid, flexible and made to be shared.
However, resources alone won’t make a full wheel and that’s where the model gets really charming. To be able to put a functional Wheel in place, the demand side has to exist at the same time, just like for Lady Isabella there’s water as well as carefully engineered channels to direct the water. Consumers therefore have the power and freedom to build their own Wheels for the type of resources they desire, as long as they can find enough fellow Wheel buddies to “pool” with and make the Wheel affordable and resourceful. Yes, it works just like a free market, but on a small-scale and is highly flexible.
From a macro perspective, instead of relying on a central system to apply algorithms, which often involves practices that put user privacy at risk (trading personal privacy for accuracy seems like the only effective strategy), the Wheel model operates on the kinetic energy of a pair of robust demand and supply groups.
Another insightful analogy that we can borrow will be a winding stream party, an ancient Chinese custom that can be dated all the way back to 1000 b.c. In a winding stream party, guests wait by a winding stream for their wine to float down to them, while writing poems and doing all the other fun stuff. If the wine is resource (who doesn’t like wine?) and the guests are consumers (again, who doesn’t like wine!), then what is the stream that carries the wine to the guests?
A natural and powerful marketplace mechanism, maybe?
We shall see a Wheel in action to better understand its operation and workflow.
Tim is a fiction writer that loves to write about oak trees and peonies.Veronica loves to read novels with an oak tree as the lead.
Tim writes on his own website: https://timsheroes.me. He includes a paywall, a tipping jar and a link to Patreon there.Everyone needs to eat. Tim also posts his writings on Medium and Substack. In both places, he uses monetization.Veronica finds out about Tim and his interesting series of Oak Tree 1984. However, deep in student debt, she does't want to spend money on Medium just because of one series, nor does she want a newsletter subscription through Substack because she is not fond of peonies. Is Veronica being unreasonable?To the contrary, Veronica's precise demands are what the market should be about. We live in an era of information overload, but 90% of the information is noise, distraction (manipulation) and useless junk that clots the channel and makes people anxious.Veronica initiates a Wheel for oak tree fans through the Cartwheel program. Surprise, surprise! There are other oak tree fans and together they have enough to power the Wheel. Tim connects his oak tree on https://timsheroes.me to Dawn so that oak tree fans can read his creations directly on his site. As the Oak Tree Heroes Wheel runs, more oak tree fanatics find out about it and join Veronica. There are also ones that are not able to join due to financial difficulties, but there are always donated one-time passes for them to pick up. Due to the increase in traffic and backlinks, the SEO of https://timsheroes.me has also improved.
Surprise, surprise! There are other oak tree writers and they join Tim to make the Wheel more competitive against others.At some point, Veronica is tired of all the oak trees and leaves for a Pine Wheel.Later, the Wheel becomes not as lucrative for Tim, now having a cult following, so he makes an exit and founds a All About Tim Wheel.Now the Oak Tree Heroes Wheel doesn't have enough content to keep the readers satisfied. The wheel is soon demolished. R. I. P.
In the simple example above, we walked through the lifecycle of a Wheel. In our own Cartwheel program, this lifecycle can be initiated by both the demand side and the supply side; it will then be in a ready-to-run state and becomes active as soon as a balance is achieved (enough supplies gathered for the demands or vice versa).
However, many things can sound dreamy in theory, but then there’s the real world. For the Wheel model and the Cartwheel program, the rather realistic question is — without a central mechanism, how does one side find the other, let alone reaching potency as a paired system? If it’s searching again, then what’s the difference between a Wheel model and simply submitting the sitemap to Google and hoping for a good keyword ranking?
The answers may lie in Dawn (and LOVN) (edited due to systemwide renaming, originally Lova, 11/20/2023). On a side note, in any case, a good keyword ranking, if that does not cost too much, is always welcomed. Please absolutely do that. The whole philosophy of MOFFAS is to create alternative options that can co-exist and work alongside other systems. We need diversity — monopoly is never fun (or good for humanity).
Apart and Together in Dawn
While LOVN (edited due to systemwide renaming, originally Lova, 11/20/2023), the consumer-side system, is built to be proactive and aggressive (after all, I did name her after a deadly sniper), Dawn is laid-back, lazy and “mellow” by design. It doesn’t mean he’s incapable in any way; the reasoning is that since the resource side will always be more collective and accumulative (think about oligopoly, Pareto effect, etc.), which results in a natural tendency to deterministically outgrow and outpower the individualistic consumer end, a contained resource system is simply “safer” and more likely to comply with the human-centric values.
As previously mentioned, Dawn also needs to have a decentralized deployment to reach his full potential as well as to realize the meaning of his life — to help install a different market/information channel that is able to not only resist but also dilute and absorb centralized superpower. Ten years ago, it would be impossible to think; however, with the current technologies and lowered cost of basic equipments, though still extremely hard, it has become more and more realistic. Some credits have to go to the crypto mania of the past few years, which helped raise the awareness and made decentralization a familiar term in public discourse.
There’s also urgency with the necessary shift to human-centric decentralization, with inequality rapidly worsening as a result of the technological advancements in the field. It’s probably easier to explain if we think about another controversial topic — guns. When the US passed the Second Amendment and granted the citizens the rights to bear arms, it was 1791. Many believe that it was created by the Founding Fathers with the intent to protect American people’s personal freedom, in the worst scenario, against the government should it turn into an authoritative state. However, over two hundred years later, while this is still the widely-held belief and pro-gun argument, military technologies have made it technically invalid — a gun, even one AK-47, cannot protect one from tyranny, and neither can a hundred of them. The most deadly weapon in the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war is a type of Turkish drone, Bayraktar, which has been successfully used to take out a large number of Russian tanks. In the meanwhile, cyberwarfare has also become an important frontline and there’s nothing a handgun can do there. It is the same situation with our case here as tech giants and corporates now have technologies and computing power lightyears ahead of the general public; the future looks even bleaker if we start factoring in the incoming revolution that quantum computing is going to bring. If we do not push for a decentralized structure to curb the superpowers and transfer some of the power to the public soon, it will be too late down the road.
Of course, changes are not going to happen overnight. With Dawn, I expect the content category to be the first one to get deployed in the new distributed structure and that’s why the Cartwheel program is especially important. From the technical perspective, text-based creative content is probably easier for GEN as my NLP program is still running on a basic level and GEN’s own knowledge base is not yet ready. From the commercial perspective, creative content assets, by themselves, may generate profits to make the hosting nodes self-sustainable. Content assets are also easier to transplant, meaning they can be treated as native material to Dawn. On the infrastructure front, the first decentralized trial node is being spawned. This type of nodes, called Lighthouse, is for storing content resource data and transacting with consumer-side nodes on a community-level interface.
The obvious challenge, then, for a decentralized/distributed storage system is data integrity. In simple words, how can we trust the information we receive from a decentralized storage facility to be the real information? In a centralized model, we trust the centralized body as the authoritative source, but how do we achieve that confidence in a decentralized model? With bots and disinformation being so rampant on the Internet, such data authenticity has become extremely important. Imagine the amount of chaos that would ensue if a network of compromised servers change the articles from “Biden won” to “Trump won”!
The blockchain-style public ledger is one solution, but it consumes too much energy and has become a toxic game of power and misguided hype. Be it proof-of-work or proof-of-stake, the reality is that any system based on exhaustive algorithms, instead of natural intrinsic values, is ultimately centralized. Further, any smaller-scale centralized system is vulnerable to pyramid/pump-and-dump schemes, among other things, and poses grave dangers for the society. So what can we do?
Well, it’s why Dawn is being developed as a to-be-is-to-be-understood system that recognizes and rewards intrinsic values. The Trinity project is also going to contribute immensely on the fundamental level. Although the ideal system is still waiting on both GEN and Trinity to make some meaningful progress (I’m looking at myself), a semi-supervised community node-like network is a decent drop-in during the transition. To speed up its progress, I started exporting some of the Trinity elements to a tool suite, which I gladly termed Renaissance, to target the systemic challenges that may arise from this deployment. What Renaissance does for now is to give the end users, through LOVN (edited due to systemwide renaming, originally Lova, 11/20/2023), the awareness as well as capability to independently verify if the data they receive is original. For example, the first batch of Renaissance stamp seals, similar to public keys, are selected poems by my favorite poet, E. E. Cummings. Each content asset is assigned a poem in Dawn based on certain computable syntactic similarities and these similarities are independently verifiable by a non-technical person. Therefore, when a user’s browser loads a “Trump won” article with an incompatible E. E. Cummings poem, he or she would know that, at the very least, it’s not what the reporter wrote originally.
I am far from satisfied with Renaissance, which is just starting up and very limited at the moment. The next batch of stamps will likely employ better algorithms. In fact, I had initially wanted to use Renaissance paintings; hence the name. Well, that failed miserably, but I might just try again. Maybe I’ll get it this time. =)
To end this long post with something short yet interesting to think about:
Sometimes, I look at the Wuxing diagram and I simply wonder — isn’t that a set of nesting wheels?