I first grabbed Read Write Own from my local library because the subtitle sounded interesting. I’m ready for a new era on the internet, the current one of companies controlling everything and extracting the maximum they can from people sucks and I’m tired of it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of who Chris Dixon was so I didn’t realise that he’s one of the causes for the enshittified internet that we have today via the investments a16z makes in companies that are around purely to transfer money from regular people to already wealthy people. Come on, wealthy people need more money..right.

What has a16z Invested in?

A short list of companies that a16z has invested in includes many extractive companies that are making our world worse. Facebook, which lied to news sites about video and then pulled the rug out from under them once Facebook was big enough and didn’t need the news content.

Airbnb is another company that has benefited from investment with a16z. Yup the same Airbnb that is contributing to a housing/rental crisis for communities so that many people can’t get affordable housing.

Probably the worst one considering the content of the book is Coinbase. Dixon spends a entire chapter railing against casino crypto industry scams, but fails to mention the losses Coinbase has taken which users have ended up paying for while Coinbase earned money processing the transactions that stole from customers.

There are more investments made by a16z, many of which are touted as excellent companies doing blockchain right, though Dixon never has the self-awareness to cite his conflicts of interest…actually scratch that, he’s likely entirely aware of those conflicts and doesn’t care because if you believe his words and transact with the companies he’s invested in he makes more money.

Shit, YouTube personalities have a higher disclosure bar in the US via the FTC than Dixon does as an author.

So Blockchain

In Dixon’s mind the current era of the internet is in the “attract extract” cycle1. I agree with this assessment and Cory Doctorow has done a better job explaining it as the enshitification cycle. Both would agree that companies attract a bunch of users by catering to them and foregoing profit to get users.

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A good example of this would be Amazon’s continued increase in charges that sellers pay back to Amazon, about half of each sale heads back to Amazon in fact. Plus Amazon has a most favoured nation clause which says you can’t sell your goods for cheaper elsewhere. So that means if you have to pay Amazon 50% of your sale, and you mark up your goods to pay for that lost margin, your goods are 50% more expensive everywhere to keep up with the contract you have with Amazon. He calls this money going to Amazon the “take rate”.

Dixon does hit the nail on the head as he looks at how companies are making their products and services worse by extracting more and more value out of every transaction. In the ideal world of his book the blockchain will solve this…somehow.

By Dixon’s theory a blockchain is a contract that can’t be changed and if you code in terms that are favourable to consumers then those rules will stay in place forever2. Here Dixon claims that if you encode low take rates then they stay that way, and lower take rates are better for consumers and sellers because goods can be cheaper and more money can stay in users pockets. All we need is people to build good stuff on the blockchain.

Dixon’s Good Blockchain Projects

One of the good blockchain projects that Dixon cites is Helium, a crypto-powered mobile network. Helium comes with the same story of every blockchain project I’ve seen. It’s really crypto-currency under the hood. It lives on huge hype from the people at the top of the chain. It turns out to cost people lots of money and offer little in the way of returns.

With Helium, the C-Suite and board made lots of money while regular people shelled out $500 per device (around $500 million spent in total) to get a “next generation internet device” where connectivity would be owned by the people and they’d earn money back in the form of the crypto-token that Helium would mine on the routers provided. In the end, people spent $500 and the device still costs them money daily in electricity bills, while providing almost nothing in the form of a crypto-currency return.

So where did all the tokens go? According to Forbes, like most crypto scams, the tokens were hoarded by the founders and all the money stayed at the top.

A review of hundreds of leaked internal documents, transaction data and interviews with five former Helium employees suggest that as Helium insiders touted the democratized spirit of their “People’s Network,” they quietly amassed a majority of the tokens earned at the project’s start, hoarding much of the wealth generated in its earliest and most lucrative days.

So Helium isn’t such a hot project, oh and Dixon fails to mention that this good project he’s citing is one that he invested in. So he has a big interest in making you believe that it’s a good project and you should invest in it and believe in it.

There are other “good” project that Dixon cites, but they amount to the same thing. Stuff he’s invested in, that isn’t nearly as good as he says, that mostly further enriched people that have more money then they could ever reasonably spend.

Should You Read Read Write Own?

Nope, you shouldn’t waste your time on this book.

Read Write Own is around so that Dixon can get a book out instead of a blog post. It’s little more than an affirmation of what crypto enthusiasts already believe. He never really engages with criticisms of the blockchain world and simply dismisses any critical view as people that are being dishonest and don’t get it.

If you’re on board with blockchain, this will affirm your ideas. If you’re not a believer, your mind won’t be changed by this, and you will not be given anything deeper to think about. I’d love a book that took a good look at blockchain technology and engaged with all the issues in a thoughtful way, this book isn’t it.

I’m very glad I borrowed this book from the library and didn’t invest my personal cash in a purchase.

Don’t Purchase Read Write Own on Amazon

  1. Page 40 ↩︎
  2. Pg 63 ↩︎

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