Writing Appreciation: Respectful Skepticism
Expressing doubt or skepticism about a new technology without putting anyone down is a difficult tightrope to walk.
Walking a tightrope
This week’s piece of writing comes from Moxie Marlinspike’s blog. Moxie is a well-known commentator on technical subjects and has deep expertise in digital security: he co-founded the popular encrypted messaging app Signal. In this blog post—written for a technical audience— he explores the new technologies available as a part of Web3 and explains what he enjoyed and where he remains skeptical.
Our excerpt comes from midway through the blog, as he details his initial reactions to creating a test project in web3.
Welcome to our Writing Appreciation series, where we highlight great pieces of technology writing around the web!
With these posts, we want to showcase "good" writing, explore what makes a piece of writing "good," and break down everyday "good" writing techniques for all of us.
Want to level up your writing skills? Check out our Writer Enablement workshops!
“One thing that has always felt strange to me about the cryptocurrency world is the lack of attention to the client/server interface. When people talk about blockchains, they talk about distributed trust, leaderless consensus, and all the mechanics of how that works, but often gloss over the reality that clients ultimately can’t participate in those mechanics. All the network diagrams are of servers, the trust model is between servers, everything is about servers. Blockchains are designed to be a network of peers, but not designed such that it’s really possible for your mobile device or your browser to be one of those peers.”
What makes this writing "good"?
Translating between complexity and value is a fundamental part of how we think and work at Open Strategy Partners. Effective strategic and product communication, in our view, is specific, clear, and approachable. Using the OSP Editing Codes, here’s what we think makes this paragraph so sweet:
TRUST: “Where possible, mention or highlight signals of trust.”
Admitting what you don’t know can generate as much trust as expounding upon your knowledge. The phrase “felt strange to me” exhibits humility and highlights that he’s stating an impression, not fact. He’s open to being proven wrong. Even though readers trust that Moxie has deep expertise in the software world, he concedes that he might not know everything about cryptocurrency.
SPOCK: “Use clear, logical thinking. Check that all evidence is directly connected with a cause/effect relationship to the claim.”
The paragraph follows a clear, logical structure in which each point builds on the next to point out a flaw in blockchain’s promises of leaderless consensus. If you were to paraphrase each point, it would track with the following logical flow:
- Blockchain is touted as a model of distributed trust and network of peers >>
- Clients can’t participate in blockchain >>
- Only servers participate in blockchains >>
- Therefore the network of peers is far more limited than it seems.
EXMPL: “Use examples to enhance the thesis or claim by creating a picture in the reader’s mind.”
Moxie points to network diagrams of blockchains to show how the “server-to-server” dynamic undermines the democratic language often used around blockchains and cryptocurrency. Rather than simply state a gut feeling, he provides a clear example of the ways in which server dynamics alienate typical clients like mobile devices or web browsers and create a very limited “network of peers”.
Sidenote: Our Writing Appreciation Corner is about celebrating the writing, but we wanted to acknowledge that moxie’s post invited quite a few responses—ranging from disagreement to appreciation. The ensuing healthy and respectful discussion (not always a given on the internet!) is in large part due to the trust he established with his readers.
More OSP Editing Code Resources
- OSP editorial code Quick Start Guide
- Base documentation and full list of codes on GitHub
- Writing and editing are a big part of our podcast, too!
What to appreciate next?
Do you have an example of good, clear writing about technology that you’d like to share? Get in touch! Look ahead to more posts and, in the meantime, listen to our Communicate, Connect, Grow podcast to learn more about OSP’s editing codes.
Want to learn tools and techniques to consistently create authentic, compelling content? Check out our Writer Enablement workshops.
Follow us on Twitter — @open_strategy — and here on our blog.
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