Decentralization is a dirty word

The debate over the virtues-and hindrances-of decentralization rages on at Crypto Springs

Decentralization, the long-held dream of cypherpunks and the long-term promise of blockchain has become a dirty word, according to a slew of panelists at the Crypto Springs conference, taking place in Palm Springs, California this week.

“It’s a word that’s been weaponized,” said conference co-founder and CEO of Coinshares, Meltem Demirors. Her panel had originally been slated to discuss the “fundamentals of crypto,” but it soon veered into the crypto topic du jour.

Jackson Palmer, the inventor of Dogecoin, and one of the more interesting thinkers in the crypto world, seemed to agree. “There’s a strong marketing drive to prove things are decentralized,”he said.

“One of the challenges of quantifying decentralization is that any softness gives a lot of wriggle room for facts to be misrepresented. What doesn’t get talked about is the politics centralization brings up. 

Jackson Palmer, inventor of Dogecoin 

The panel discussion comes during a particularly pertinent period for the decentralized/centralized debate. This week, the Ethereum and Monero communities discussed at length how to combat the disproportionate sway miners have over the direction of networks. And just today, a Coindesk story alleged that coin-exchange Huobi has been quietly buying votes on EOS, undermining its–and some peer-reviewed studies–claim to be more decentralized than its rivals.

Demirors turned to biology to explain why this state of affairs is somewhat unsurprising: “The reason we see centralization in many services is that there are fundamental tradeoffs between usability, scalability and the level of centralization,” she said.

“In biology, we see hierarchies exist because messaging between 10 trillion individual cells is really costly and very energy intensive. That’s why, in biology, organisms are organized in structures, so that communication occurs between root entities, there is a pecking order. I don’t think that decentralization is a goal in itself. The question is: the features that we find valuable, can we provide those while still having organized entities?”

Palmer seemed to concur with Demirors’ nature-inspired summary. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a perfect decentralized system but we can do a better job.” Decentralization is the pipe dream no one really wants to wake up to.

Read Next: The blockchain state