This post is a reply to an invitation to share what I imagine to be a “chat application” that may be developed as a prototype Holochain application.
The Holochain team conversation is taking place on Mattermost (an open-source Slack look-alike). I believe that there is a good chance that default the conversation will converge on something similar to that. I do not believe that is a good outcome and though what I am about to describe seems to be something very different, it does include in its potential field a Slack-like modality.
Though we use different tools for messaging, they all seem to be able to morph into similar outcome when to put to real world use. Consider these examples:
- There are Holochain team members with whom I’ve only communicated on Mattermost and never with email and so when I want to reach them I got to Mattermost and use its private messaging as if it was an extension of email.
- I have seen Gmail used in such a way that it looks (from the perspective of a single user) like a slack/mattermost … where emails are directed into folders based on people/context, etc.
- There have been a few people with whom I’ve communicated on Twitter using direct messages – again as if it was an extension of email. This was not a preferred solution on my part, but rather an undesirable outcome because we initially connected on Twitter and I did not have their email addresses. I am uncomfortable with my communications being held and trapped on a corporate platform.
- Facebook itself is essentially a kind of chat application … and its chat application is explicitly that.
- Whenever other apps or platforms (including the above mentioned examples) want to guarantee they can reach us they revert to a guaranteed medium: email to do so.
The result is:
- A fragmentation (we need to look at messages in many places) which gives birth to what capitalists like to call “the attention economy” where our attention is being pulled in many directions for a very similar kind of communication simply because these communications are controlled by different corporates.
- A flooding of email which is increasingly difficult to manage.
Some Agent-Centric Implications
When I reflected on the idea of a “Chat Application” I found myself mainly focused on the implications of a transition from a centralized world view to an agent centric one. I had two primary examples on my mind to challenge my framing:
- The questions that came up when the Mattemost was setup about what/how channels should be named. That is a centralized question. In an agent-centric view it is plausible that I join a channel and then rename it to make sense within my own context. It would still be the “same channel”, but I would know it by a different name.
- In a centralized view a channel is directly correlated to a list of its members. I had a wish to join a channel but to silence some people in it (but not in other channels).
The point I want to make with these examples is not as features but as teasers of what an agent-centric chat may become. Because we are so used to chat in a centralized architecture, we are pre-empted with many assumptions about what is possible and what is good.
To meet that challenge I believe we need to start not with chat but with agent-centric messaging as a fundamental capability.
The Email of a Distributed Interet
Some years ago Mozilla Labs Launched (and ultimately cancelled) a project called Raindrop which was given a mandate to re-imagine messaging. This is the scope that I am imagining.
Just as we are creating DPKI as an identity infrastructure, I am suggesting that (before we commit to specific forms of messaging) we create messaging as an infrastructure.
I do not mean this just a technicality but also as a foundation for creating a re-imagined individual-oriented experience of messaging. An experience that each individual will be able to shape and tailor to their own needs and preferences.
For example: I use Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client. I also use it as my RSS aggregator. Ideally, I would have also liked to use it to “channel-chat” with the Holochain team without having to use another app (or browser tab) to do so. Let us start by creating the “Thunderbird hApp” without being bound to the concept of email or chat message as being separate things.
If such an infrastructure is established it may be a useful service to other hApps and developers. Instead of recreating fragmented messaging across applications, all applications will be able to “reach users” through this core messaging service.
I once browsed a book on Tai-Chi. In it I found an explanation about Yin and Yang in the context of Tai-Chi. The Yin quality represents listening/attention. The Yang quality represents action. Though Tai-Chi, in the west, is mostly known in its slow-moving form, it is in fact a martial art. In combat Yin represents a stance of readiness where one is very attentive, waiting for the opponent to make a first move. Then, when one has “read the opponent” one can respond correctly and quickly – which represents the Yang quality. A good warrior will begin moving after her opponent and reach her target first.
Yin represents the quality of attentiveness – the readiness and ability to receive. The core messaging capability I am imagining manifests this quality. As a core service it creates one channel (an integrated sensing organ) where all messages (signals from the environment) arrive (are received), making it possible to be shape an integrated awareness/attentiveness that receives and responds well to messages from many sources.
Today, our communication tools pull at our attention in different directions and distract us. What if they could be remade (the opportunity we have at this time of birth of a new internet) to be coherently well-integrated? This basic sense-ability seems like a good step towards allowing us, as individuals, to coalesce into social-beings.