Advice: You’re On The Moon, You Just Don’t Know It.



Dur­ing this tran­si­tion to Light Hotspots, which has been pre­dictably uncer­tain, it hit me that many, if not most of the peo­ple who have been buy­ing Heli­um Hotspots and deploy­ing them don’t have a strong under­stand­ing of the system.

It’s as if you’re on the moon and you’re con­stant­ly won­der­ing why there’s no air, or why it gets so hot or cold, or why you bounce 20 feet when you walk. I’m not talk­ing about how you earn HNT; any fool can do that. I’m not talk­ing about the inter­ac­tions between Hotspots, or how your rewards are affect­ed by how dense­ly packed local Hot­posts are. I’m not even talk­ing about the prob­lem (and yes, there’s def­i­nite­ly a prob­lem) of gam­ing syn­di­cates earn­ing HNT for pro­vid­ing no real-world value.

I’m talk­ing about the impli­ca­tions of what it means to par­tic­i­pate in a decen­tral­ized sys­tem. On the sur­face lev­el, decen­tral­iza­tion is an easy con­cept. There is no cen­tral­ized point of pow­er, there is no one group that can manip­u­late the sys­tem. Any per­son or enti­ty can come in to con­tribute and receive a fair share of the val­ue they pro­vide. That’s the dream. So far, it’s still a fantasy.

It’s a fan­ta­sy in Heli­um for two main rea­sons. First and obvi­ous­ly, there is a fair amount of cen­tral­iza­tion in the system. 

Centralization: The Current Reality

There had to be cen­tral­iza­tion in order to bring the thing into exis­tence. Heli­um is still a young enter­prise, and a cen­tral enti­ty is the most effi­cient form of man­age­ment to get the sys­tem strong enough to stand on its own.

Now, that does­n’t mean it’s com­plete­ly cen­tral­ized, or that the pow­ers that brought it into exis­tence aren’t work­ing very hard to make it decentralized. 

We’ve got four main “play­ers” in the space. Two of them are cen­tral­ized and essen­tial pow­er play­ers, and two of them are decen­tral­ized, though still essential.

First, the Nova team. Nova, for­mer­ly Heli­um Inc, is the group who cre­at­ed the idea of Heli­um. They wrote the code, did the mar­ket­ing, man­u­fac­tured (or more cor­rect­ly, caused the man­u­fac­ture of) the first few thou­sand Hotspots, and built out the ini­tial plat­forms (first Slack and now a Dis­cord serv­er) for a grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty of Heli­um Hotspot deploy­ers to build the wire­less net­work. While they remain core con­trib­u­tors, they are try­ing to decen­tral­ize the sys­tem as rapid­ly as they can.

Sec­ond is the Heli­um Foun­da­tion. The Heli­um Foun­da­tion has three main roles: First, to be a stew­ard of the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty and brand assets of Heli­um. Sec­ond, to main­tain the core tech­nol­o­gy and its repos­i­to­ries, includ­ing the Heli­um blockchain, min­er, and Hotspot app source code. Third, to respon­si­bly dis­trib­ute and man­age sign­ing author­i­ty for changes to the system.

Nova & the Heli­um Foun­da­tion are the cen­tral­ized pow­er play­ers. They main­tain and con­trol the sys­tem for now, guid­ed by the com­mu­ni­ty but with the ulti­mate author­i­ty to exe­cute decisions.

The third play­er is you, the Hotspot deploy­er. Whether you’ve got one, ten, or ten thou­sand Hotspots, you are part of a core ele­ment of this sys­tem, and the most decen­tral­ized part of it. Indi­vid­u­al­ly, you have as much pow­er as you care to be respon­si­ble for. Most of us, frankly, don’t care to be respon­si­ble at all. More on that in a minute.

Final­ly, we have the users of the Heli­um Net­work. Users can range from one-sen­sor deploy­ments by a Hotspot own­er to mon­i­tor soil tem­per­a­ture in their gar­den out to 100,000 sen­sor deploy­ments by large com­mer­cial enti­ties. The larg­er those enti­ties are, the more pow­er they have to make changes to the sys­tem. Still, they don’t have the same sign­ing & execu­to­ry author­i­ty of Nova and the Heli­um Foundation.

Those four play­ers rep­re­sent the cur­rent state of the net­work; not yet ful­ly decen­tral­ized, though def­i­nite­ly mov­ing in that direc­tion. Before we get to the impli­ca­tions of a decen­tral­ized net­work (which every Hotspot own­er should know), let’s talk about one more thing. This “thing” that is either unknown, or mis­un­der­stood, or just so new to most peo­ple, is at the crux of dis­con­tent with­in the Heli­um ecosys­tem. The “thing”, of course, is decentralization.

The respon­si­bil­i­ty to change, improve, strength­en, or destroy the Net­work is rapid­ly becom­ing more decen­tral­ized. No one enti­ty total­ly owns it. All enti­ties, includ­ing you, are respon­si­ble for all of those things.

The health of the Network is on you.

We don’t, as Hotspot own­ers, tend to believe that. As (most­ly) reg­u­lar peo­ple, we’re used to inter­act­ing with enti­ties that are respon­si­ble for a net­work we are vis­i­tors in. Exam­ples of this come in two gen­er­al fla­vors: First, gov­ern­ments that set and enforce rules, main­tain­ing order and infra­struc­ture like the tax code, or our roads, or street lights, or air­ports. Sec­ond is busi­ness­es, like Ama­zon, or Apple, or even the local piz­za shop.

In either of those net­works, gov­ern­ment or cor­po­rate, you have been par­tic­i­pat­ing in a heav­i­ly cen­tral­ized net­work. While cen­tral­iza­tion gets a bad rap, for most of us it’s A) the only way we’ve known of inter­act­ing with large enti­ties, and B) it allows us to hold some­one or some­thing respon­si­ble. In gen­er­al, cen­tral­iza­tion is a good thing. Cen­tral­ized net­works pro­vide clear avenues for both improve­ment or com­plaints. If there’s a pot­hole in the road in front of your house, you can com­plain to the city gov­ern­ment. If you want a dif­fer­ent leader (and there are laws sup­port­ing a vot­ing sys­tem) you vote the old bas­tards out and bring in new ones. 

On the com­mer­cial side, if you buy some­thing on Ama­zon and you don’t like it, or it does­n’t work, or it isn’t as described, you know exact­ly who to con­tact in order to rem­e­dy the sit­u­a­tion. Ama­zon has tak­en on as much respon­si­bil­i­ty for their prod­ucts as they can. You love that part, even if you hate Ama­zon. Even with com­pa­nies we don’t love to hate, we’re used to them tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for their prod­ucts. If you don’t like your piz­za, or you want a new fla­vor, you talk to the piz­za shop owner. 

Now, I can hear you say­ing it: “Nik, I know all this, why are you mak­ing such a big deal of it?”

I’m mak­ing a big deal about what you’re used to (cen­tral­iza­tion) vs the sys­tem you’re enter­ing (a decen­tral­ized one) because liv­ing in a decen­tral­ized world is no less dif­fer­ent from what you’re used to than liv­ing on the moon.

It’s not as if you’re mov­ing to a new coun­try with new and slight­ly dif­fer­ent laws. 

You are no longer on the same planet.

The fun­da­men­tal con­di­tions you’re used to do not exist here. It’s as if you thought you were mov­ing to a strange and excit­ing new city and end­ed up on the moon.

The laws are are writ­ten in a lan­guage that most of us don’t under­stand. A set of rules we all agree to live by are bare­ly built, and cer­tain­ly not mature enough to pro­tect against bad actors. The very atmos­phere we breathe is dif­fer­ent. The absolute crux of this is responsibility. 

The fundamental responsibility of maintaining a healthy decentralized network lays with anyone who wants to take it on.

Now, you’re used to “some­one else” tak­ing on that respon­si­bil­i­ty. You’re used to, for exam­ple, a sys­tem with police in it. Those police have a recruit­ing and train­ing sys­tem, a man­age­ment scheme, and clear rules to main­tain and enforce. They act in accor­dance with what their con­stituents want. 

There is no “Heli­um Police Force”. 

The only thing that exists to pro­tect a net­work of almost a mil­lion Hotspots is a few peo­ple, most­ly vol­un­teers, who feel they can help improve the system.

For most of you, that’s when you start howl­ing: BuT wHy dOes­N’T soMe­OnE PrO­teCt mE?

This is the world of decen­tral­iza­tion, dawg. A decen­tral­ized sys­tem has no oblig­a­tion to pro­tect you. While you can freely par­tic­i­pate in the sys­tem (noth­ing stops you from buy­ing a Hotspot, adding it to the Net­work, and receiv­ing Net­work tokens), the respon­si­bil­i­ty for under­stand­ing the risks, haz­ards, and oppor­tu­ni­ties in that Net­work are yours. Your suc­cess is on you and a bunch of com­pe­tent strangers.

Now, most of us just look for the oppor­tu­ni­ties, and real­ly, focus on just one ques­tion: How much HNT can I make?

Hey, I get it. While it’s not what got me into Heli­um, the earn­ing poten­tial of it was so stag­ger­ing that you’d have to be a fool to pre­tend it does­n’t exist. You’d have to be a greater fool to ignore the oppor­tu­ni­ties that exist in tak­ing on some of those respon­si­bil­i­ties. From anti-gam­ing to a Heli­um escrow busi­ness to Hotspot man­age­ment to deploy­ing sen­sor net­works , the oppor­tu­ni­ties to build, prof­it, and gen­er­al­ly suc­ceed with­in this ecosys­tem are staggering.

Those oppor­tu­ni­ties are what I encour­age you to explore at this point. Sure, the Net­work as of May 26th 2022 is a shit­show. That’s fine. I expect­ed it, as did any­one who real­ized the enor­mi­ty of the task Nova & the HF took on when they ini­ti­at­ed the tran­si­tion to Light Hotspots. It’s equiv­a­lent to mov­ing from clunky old vac­u­um tube com­put­ers to a mod­ern lap­top, and they’re going to do it in about 2 months. That’s remarkable.

For now, let that prob­lem belong to the cen­tral­ized pow­ers. Lean into the ben­e­fits of cen­tral­iza­tion while it lasts, and let them get this thing healthy enough to let it fly out of the nest. While the Heli­um Foun­da­tion & Nova Inc are doing that, the rest of us (well, those of us who want to win) will be focus­ing on deeply under­stand­ing and con­tribut­ing to a decen­tral­ized net­work. That is the great gift they are going to give us. Will you be ready to receive it?

Remem­ber, with great decen­tral­iza­tion comes great oppor­tu­ni­ty. The real ques­tion is: How big of an oppor­tu­ni­ty do you want?


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