Crowdmatching vs democracy

Today I was complaining about a proposed feature in Mastodon that’ll boost popular posts and I wrote:

But imagine a democracy where every vote for the popular party was counted double and every vote for the smaller parties were counted half.

That made me think about crowdmatching, which has always felt similarly backwards to me.

I almost linked to you, too, but then I remembered about the Paley stuff (some of the people I was talking to are queer and I’m trying to become a better ally to them).

I want to see boosting of posts not based on popularity but based on human beings deciding that they should be boosted. In other words, liking a post or reading or reacting to it is not the same as me thinking that I want others to see it.

I don’t want to get into rehashing debate on this, but crowdmatching is not built to be a zero-sum game like a vote in an election. In fact, that direction is a critique I have about FundOSS and their “quadratic funding” (I wrote about that at GitCoin, "Quadratic Funding", crypto-Web3-DAO etc vs Snowdrift and crowdmatching ). In their approach, they boost and match funding for popular projects. And I don’t think that’s bad in itself. But the matching is taken away from other projects because their system starts with a big matching pool as the bulk of the funding, and the rest of the donations are “votes” essentially about which projects should get what portion of the pool.

We want crowdmatching to encourage positive-sum donations, people increasing their funding of FLO projects because they are encouraged by everyone coordinating. We don’t merely want to take funding from unpopular projects and give them to popular ones. But even in that case, it’s not obviously bad. I’d rather see one truly FLO mobile phone system able to compete with Apple and Google than to see 10 struggling ones that all fail to compete. Similarly, I don’t want to see workers at a business have 8 uncoordinated labor representation orgs that are all divided and ineffective. Coordination brings power. If a labor union is to effectively oppose exploitive corporations, it has to be one coordinated effort ­— a union in the very name of it. And in the world of politics, the infighting and failure to build coalitions and unity has been one of the most profound obstacles to progress. Of course, we don’t get effective solidarity by trying to force it in ways that leave people resentful, but neither will get solidarity by disregarding its importance. But this tension between diversity and solidarity is not one we can solve in this discussion here.

On the Paley stuff, there’s nothing we have directly that would be an issue, though I understand some people don’t want to see anything from a source once that source is associated with something else that they find offensive. But to tie this in: there’s a degree degree of purism that is itself divisive and undermines efforts at coordination. Anyway, I certainly wish this particular tension didn’t exist, and we’re working to get away from it, but that’s a whole other topic.

But Mastodon does have boosting, a “hey look at this” button that’s distinct from “this was neat, I liked it” button. And that’s fine.

Zero-sum games: the amount of time I have for reading posts is fixed as is the amount of money I have to donate to free projects. So if matching causes the amount I give to project A to rise, I have to cut funding to project B.

Paley: She’s right there on your front page. It’s sort of like Pepe images: after a while, people started going “oh what the heck is this” and nope out when they saw them. Although, unlike Paley, the Pepe guy wasn’t personally involved in his character’s association with the politics. Don’t shoot the messenger on this stuff; I’m the one who is here instead of noping out at the door.

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Yup! I’d stick with that instead of some algorithmic boosting.

This presumes a fixed budget for FLO. Our goal is to increase the total FLO budget. Ideally, the zero-sumness is the removal of funds for proprietary stuff as the world chooses to fund FLO instead. That’s the real competition rather than just between FLO projects.

Paley tangent

Yes indeed, no offense to you. I have the same misgivings and hesitations myself now, which really stinks. We’re slowly removing the front-and-center branding etc. not sure where it will all end up. Our actual direct work on the site is stalled right now, working to get a better workflow on the tech stack etc., and all of us juggling volunteer time etc. I’ll just say this for now: I am still after all this time not anywhere near some state of equanimity on this topic. I’m not okay with how things are, but I don’t see any path toward what I wish to have (which would be to have everything I love about Mimi & Eunice but without the contentious political connections). I should really just not try to talk about it since I’m not able to do it from a non-reactive place yet. We did make the decision to move branding away (doing so is incomplete) and we have our statement, and there’s a decent whole FLO-related tension around the ideas of free culture and political associations… and anyway, I don’t feel any tension with you, I just feel sad and anxious about the broader context and sympathies with your feelings about it.

I didn’t mean for it to be the tangent, I guess I buried the lede there.
Yeah, last year has been a horrible year of Milkshake Ducks in FOSS. Great apps but made by jerks. And it does matter (for sending patches and issues etc).

Nitpick, but I think an important one: Even if we presume a fixed budget for FLO, I’d say instead it forces you to choose whether to cut funding to project B or A.

The crowdmatching variant I'm talking about is goal-based where matching turns off when the goal is reached.

For each project:

  • Project X sets a single goal of $Y
  • Patrons pledge $Z towards that goal
    • Can be different for each patron
  • Each month, patrons give $Z * (X’s current support / Y)
    • Capped at Z, if X’s current support >= Y

No algorithmic dropping: Patrons enforce their own budget limits and choose which project to drop. We assume they always remember to do this.

When all projects are small, you can pledge to them all, essentially saying, “I’m willing to back any of these if they get enough support.” When one/some of them actually do take off, you may run into budget limits and need to prioritize which pledges to keep and which to drop.

If you had to give your full pledge amount up front (unilateral monthly donation), then you’d just have to make this choice earlier, and not donate to some projects in the first place. Crowdmatching allows you to overcommit (pledge potentially more than your actual budget), delaying the choice of which to drop until projects start to get funded.[1] That’s a (key) feature, not a bug. It enables discovering which projects have the most potential, by loosening the restriction on how many projects you can afford to support.

There’s a similar effect in elections when you go from plurality (vote for one, highest count wins) to approval voting (vote for any number, highest count wins). When you’re limited to just one candidate, you need to pick based on other factors than who you like the most (in this case, the most popular good-enough candidate). Removing the restriction allows people to express their preferences more fully, regardless of whether the restriction is artificial (votes) or real (budget constraints). Stretching the analogy a bit: Yes, if there’s a close vote between two good-enough candidates, you might have to drop the one you like less, but at least that only happens some of the time.

  1. Side note: all mechanisms that allow you to overcommit will, by definition, force you to drop or scale back pledges (until you’re no longer overcommitted) under some circumstances. ↩︎

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