Billionaires are a security threat

These success stories are amazing, but they all pale in comparison to Wikipedia, the greatest work of human knowledge of all time and the most important thing ever created on the web. It was often derided as silly in its early days, but now it’s ingrained in our lives—it’s always in your pocket, and you can pull it out at the bar and talk about a articles with your friends or date. We take it as an example. Its value cannot be quantified. Somehow, it’s also free.

So in medicine, finance, and the arts, we should strive to create a mental equivalent of Wikipedia to do whatever the discipline requires. Math, cooking, memories of loved ones who have passed away. Computers too, maybe? GitHub doesn’t count, but Git does. “The sharing economy”, now an entire professional existence class across every size imaginableemerged from a series of startups competing with ride-sharing companies: Uber for this, Uber for that. It became a punch. Full. Grow up. No one cares. Instead, create a Wikipedia for something.

Open source software has always been driven by the vague notion that it will improve the commons, that latent collaboration or higher order resulting from showing and sharing your work leads to projects. better, successful companies, more ambitious ideas, bigger future. If we all stood on the shoulders of giants, some of us would find things there. And sure enough – it’s a visionary utopia that we could all use a little more of, especially after recent events. by Dorsey Reflecting on Twitter’s turmoil last week concluded, “We did the right thing for the public company business at the time, but the wrong thing for the internet and society.” There’s a tension to deal with there, for sure. But I would also take it one step further: In a world filled with bored billionaires, the lack of open access becomes an existential risk that can suddenly wipe them all out.

For decades now, technology has measured performance in things like funding rounds, company valuation, potential market, active users, downloads, and yes, stock price. But these are all units of capitalism. One level deeper, if you choose to interrogate further, the foundation for the foundation is just money. Who cares? We already know how this goes.

Capital can kill code. Capital can kill anything. So, if what you’ve created is important, as long as billionaires are around, you’ll need to make it something that can’t be bought. An idea that can’t be killed is worth more than an idea that can’t be killed, and the only thing that can’t be killed by billions of dollars is something that can’t have a price in the first place, because it exists so much, does not stop multiplying as it spreads around the world.

The good news is that the better, stronger, more resilient world we need is inevitable given enough time, because the foundation has been laid. Twitter may not eventually crash, and even if it does, ActivityPub, Bluesky, Mastodon, and the good old RSS feeds are all waiting to fix the slack. The good guys make awesome stuff in JavaScript, save them to the GitLab remote, and publish them to npm. Some of them have already started. These are the reasons why even the worst-case scenario for Twitter under Musk wouldn’t be a total disaster for the world’s communications. We will be fine because all these pieces are already available. We’ll be fine because of the mistakes we made in treating Twitter as a platform that wasn’t created last with the previous generation of technologies, the technologies that Twitter was built on, the technologies that we should try to simulate again. We’ll be fine specifically since we still have the web. ❤️


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