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MetaCurrency and Cyclos - Clarifications on Open

It has been requested that we try to describe the nuances of “open” and how the MetaCurrency Project compares with Cyclos in this department. I am not sure I am the best person to do this (Arthur and Eric are definitely more qualified), but here is my best attempt to describe the various types of openness we are talking about.

Open source is great. This means being able to openly access source code, change it, and share changes with a community of developers. Very awesome. And for Cyclos’ open sourceness I heartily applaud it.

However, when people set up an instance of Cyclos, they are establishing a place where users have to set up an online identity (or account), and that ID is only relevant to that currency. I can’t use my ID to participate in other currencies or access other currency platforms (like GETS), so it is a closed network. I also can’t use my ID to set up a new currency with access to the same user base. This means that if the governance (no matter how inclusive) screws up, the users become scattered. People wanting to trade become dependent on a structure that may not serve them, because the currency is operating in a informational silo.

In contrast, if I could use my ID (or account) to establish new currencies or participate in any existing ones, the ecosystem of currencies could freely evolve. It wouldn’t be a huge deal if one currency turned out to be flawed because anyone using that currency would be connected to the broader network and could simply play a new game.

Before SMTP, email was similarly challenged. I could email others using the same service provider, but I couldn’t email people outside the service. So, open standards are the key. When SMTP was invented, email took off. When HTTP and HTML were invented, users could suddenly get ANY information resource from ANY server, and the world-wide-web was born. Closed networks (like Prodigy) didn’t provide that kind of dynamism, so they quickly disappeared.

The MetaCurrency Project is doing the same thing for currency as HTTP and HTML did for the web. It is establishing a simple protocol for defining a currency game, and making a play in that game. So anyone using a currency service provider will be able to play in any game they choose or start new games of their own design. That is very different from anything that has come before in the currency world.

What really excites me about this new world is the implicit invitation to developers to make client software that serves different needs. Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Flock are all browsers that serve different needs, but they all use HTTP and HTML. Java, flash, php, etc. are all things that evolved to work along side html as the needs arose. I imagine an analogous pattern will manifest with currency. Developers will come up with new client features that we can’t even imagine yet. People will find uses for currency in places we never dreamed of. Did Tim Berners-Lee fully anticipate how much was going to come from http and html? Probably not. A tidal wave of innovation was unleashed by the openness of the web. Similar innovation will be unleashed by openness of a currency protocol.

So, Cyclos could become more open by adopting these open protocols, enabling it to communicate with ANY other client using the protocol. It would also be more open if it allowed users to create their own currencies rather than depend on administrators to do so.

I hope this clarifies.