I arrived on Steem shortly after hardfork 19. In Steem’s short life there had been many changes and not all were deemed good. However, this was a social experiment to see if decentralisation could work in a social setting. I was still learning about witnesses and choosing them at the time, but it was hardfork 20 that gave me the most insight on why it was important to vote for witnesses and how to figure out who I wanted representing the blockchain.
You see HF20 was something of a fiasco. Things weren't tested properly, some bad moves were made and instead of the blockchain being back up and running after implementation, all bar a few large accounts were unable to do anything, because the introduction of resource credits (RCs) meant that most of us were in debt with them. Even once this was patched, it turned out I was one of the lucky few to have enough Steem Power to be able to interact again. Most of the redfish (below 500 SP) still couldn't interact for nearly a week. This was the point where we started to see which witnesses were on side of the smaller masses.
Some of the witnesses made announcements which let us know what was going on and what went wrong. They let us know that patches were being put in place to get some semblance of normality back and they let us know how we could help new accounts with low SP to interact more. Things were by no means brilliant again, but I noticed that the witness positions started to shift around more. Those that had been further down the list started to move up as the community began to speak with their votes and start putting people further up who represented what they wanted to see moving forward. More witnesses seemed to be listening to the concerns of the community.
Meanwhile, the community themselves were working on ways to encourage and support newcomers, so they didn't just give up and leave; those that hadn't themselves already given up and left. Some wonderful projects were lost due to that disappointing hardfork. Unfortunately, we were fighting a new crisis, the rise of the bots. Hardly anyone with any SP was curating any more, because it was much more lucrative to lease it as a delegation to the bidbots. Amazing content was getting a couple of dollars, if they were lucky, while the trending page was frankly an embarrassment of grossly over-rewarded junk. Steempeak was working on their trending page to try and get something people would be prouder to see, but Steemit was still the landing page for most outside visitors and even the Steem community didn't want to look at that page any more.
The communities continued to try and fight back, banding together to strengthen community accounts so that good content creators might have some support and a reason to stay. They couldn't compete with the bidbots, but they were making a dent. @curie were spreading themselves thin trying their best and @ocd struggled along with them as best they could, but as the saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them. So in a last ditch effort to at least get some SP going to reward decent content, @acidyo and the @ocd team started up the @ocdb bidbot for users on their whitelist who had already been pre-approved by proving their content quality.
Just as common were the self voting farmers and circle jerks which led to flag wars as community members tried to pull some of the excessive rewards back to the reward pool, but barely managed to make a dent and often got wiped out for their troubles. It was this behaviour that made us question whether the plan to make a flag pool, giving users 3 full power flags without it hurting their upvote percentage, was really such a good idea. The next hardfork was also to give 50% of content rewards to the curators, which many didn't like, but there was no arguing that something needed to be done as we couldn't keep going the way we were.
In the lead up to the hardfork, the witnesses communicated more this time and tried to let the community know how these changes could improve things. Many of us were better prepared and once the code changes were made it wasn't so much those changes that made the difference, so much as the community pulling together to make those changes work for the good of the community.
It was painful at first, but gradually the bots turned to curation. A new community curator arose in the form a of @pharesim's @curangel project, and finally the trending page started to become a bit more organic again. Something happened that I have never seen in my time here on Steem and that was newcomers getting regularly rewarded for good content. As long as a curator found it, it would gain more than the few cents that many earlier creators saw, until they'd gotten themselves known. And there were curators everywhere with the options to send to @c-squared/@c-cubed, @curangel and even the former bidbot @tipu turned to the general populous to hand out @tipu votes.
Now it was a better place to be, efforts turned towards getting the Steem name better known, with campaigns from the @ocd team and @theycallmedan, among others, as we started making use of other social media platforms to share our work and talk about Steem. Projects like @sbdpotato and @burnpost worked on improving the value of Steem and getting the Steem Based Dollar (SBD) back to its US dollar peg, and it got there along with a steadily rising Steem price. However, the Steemit trending page, while organic, was experiencing a different problem. If we were going to have people flooding in from outside, then it might be a good idea to showcase the fact that it's not just posts about Steem that get rewarded. Enter @joshman who was rallying the big guns to vote on high quality, non-Steem related content to get it onto the trending page.
It was amazing and all driven by the decentralised community, not a centralised control enforcing rules.
Then the bomb dropped...
Ned sold Steemit and Steemit Inc!
For four years the decentralised experiment has endured and there have been many tests of its ability to stay decentralised, because for some reason humans will always be drawn towards power and gains at the expense of others and then the others will call for rules and leadership to control abuse. Every time I've thought we were near that point of having to centralise or see the few take control, the community has stood up and said, “enough!” Every time they have surprised me by overcoming what seemed to be the inevitable. Even haejin hasn't been actively farming rewards for a few months!
The biggest test by far, to the resolve and strength of the community, has been in the last 3 days. When our top 20 witnesses were replaced with Tron ones in a hostile takeover of our beloved blockchain, the sheer amount of SP needed to even get near to putting our own witnesses back seemed insurmountable. We were looking at tens of millions! Calls were coming for everyone to move all their votes to the top 30 community selected witnesses in an effort to try and push them back into the top 20 and stop a fork that might take the chain completely. People hit social media to out the exchanges that had used their customer's Steem to help enact this takeover. As a community, we had way more people behind us, but not necessarily the Steem Power. It felt like “bows and arrows against the lightening,” to quote War of the worlds. I must admit I was despairing, yet the community have surprised me again!
At the time of writing we have 7 of our witnesses sitting in the top 7 spots and they've stayed steady for the whole of the day.
Admittedly, the majority of the users here on Steem are already believers of freedom and decentralisation, so we have an advantage that there is probably more of a determination to keep fighting for that freedom than the average person in the street. However, we are proving that not only is self governance possible, when enough people have enough determination, it's possible to overcome much bigger obstacles than we might think.
There have been amazing displays of integrity, particularly from @andrarchy, @vandenberg, @gerbino and @roadscape, who proved that there are still those who can't be bought by resigning from Steemit Inc, something I thought was only found in movies in our modern world.
For all the arguments and disagreements on Steem, when the chips were down there was one thing we all agreed on and that was the importance of the blockchain. Whatever happens from here on in, I look forward to moving forwards in the years to come with this community, whether it's with Steem (fingers crossed) or...Steem Classic?