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Urbit (urbit.org)
313 points by tomrod on Nov 30, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 288 comments

I have seen Urbit a couple times but never really understood it. From the "Understanding Urbit" page -

>Imagine that you can login from anywhere with one name and password.

>And when you do, your entire OS appears.

>Inside is your whole digital life. All of your communities, conversations, and connections. All of your biometric data and devices. Your entire personal archive in one place that’s secure, private, and designed to last forever.

What does this mean? My whole digital life? It sounds like I'm signing in to a VPS from which I access all of my digital life. Is that it? Do I get a VPS?

That seems kind of like what I'm getting. The first line on urbit.org is "Urbit is your last computer" - but I don't see how I'm buying a computer, for a one time fee, for life, without paying a ton of money.

I see this website [1] has an Urbit "Planet" available for .04 ETH, or about 6 USD. Could I get a life long VPS for 6 dollars? If so, I'd definitely be up for it. If not, what, exactly am I getting for 6 dollars?

The page "Understanding Urbit" also says that Urbit OS "can never show you ads". What does that even mean? It can't run Chrome? The OS can't show ads? Any image or text can be an ad. I don't get it.

What I would like to see is a simple explanation of what Urbit is. Maybe a video, where someone logs in to Urbit, and interacts with it in someway, doing something that can't easily be done in some other way. I'd like to know the difference between planets, stars, and galaxies.

There has to be a better way to explain this.

1 - https://opensea.io/assets/0x6ac07b7c4601b5ce11de8dfe6335b871...

The part you buy is dns that runs on ethereum (iirc), but with artificial scarcity because they want to make money. This part is completely pointless, because the actual system could work as well on ens directly, or even dns.

The actual urbit is like docker with standard API for communication between all apps on different containers, but it runs on a lisp-machine like architecture, except instead of lisp there's a new esoteric language called Hoon.

If not for the scammy wealth extraction attempt with the name system, I would consider it to be in the same general category as TempleOS - a form of art.

That's a bit cynical, I think. The address space has had a few "official" rationales because it serves a handful of duties at the same time; again, explaining a system is different than explaining a product, but pitching a system as a product is difficult. You often end up framing the system-as-product a specific way each time.

> Urbit is a friendly network: a network on which you can assume that a stranger is nice until proven nasty. Friendliness is a direct consequence of scarce, individually owned identities. We're not changing human nature, just creating the right economic incentives.

> Most forms of network abuse are "Sybil attacks": they rely on an infinite supply of fresh identities. Scarcity makes reputation work. Spam is a business; if the cost of a new planet exceeds the amount of money you can make by spamming from that planet until its reputation is trashed, there will be no spam. [1]

While it's true an intent was selling the parts of the address space Tlon has to fund its development, its business model for consumers going forward isn't really to sell you planets; it's more about bootstrapping the project and offering hosting and support.

For investors, purchasing address space (i.e. a galaxy or star within Tlon's ownership) is a way of investing in an asset that could be a source of income while also having some influence over how the network changes in the future, in the way a stockholder would a company.

Essentially the address space is an attempt to create and maintain ideal incentives for the ICANN-esque players (galaxies), down to the ISP-esque players (stars) and the everyday user (planets), and their devices or additional users (moons) in a way that sustains the entire network.

[1] https://urbit.org/blog/the-urbit-address-space/

These sorts of optimistic beliefs that all people have some inherent good inside them, and that good-faith attempts will rule the day, never seem to survive any actual economic incentives.

Some lessons from neoliberalism are worth considering here. Sometimes people want to be fed trashy content. In those situations, planets offering trash will be popular enough to pay for the cost of (renting) the planet. (And make no mistake, rent and landlords are an inherent part of any real-estate offering!) So there will be spam, but it will look and taste like the offerings of Disney and Vicom, of Hasbro and Mattel, of Unilever and GSK.

Some lessons from other distributed systems are also worth considering. Technically, messages are always delivered by peers, despite the fact that the messages may have been composed by faraway unknown senders. This leads to local topological reasoning, and webs of trust based on peer-to-peer acquaintance. This can offer better performance and resiliency against attacks than Urbit's top-down neofeudal hierarchy of reputations.

I don't really want to support Tlon. If this is truly federated, then there ought not need be any corporate control over the system. History has shown that a few extremely ethical and competent hackers are more valuable in terms of software quality and usability than any sort of corporate planning.

I do appreciate that, by explicitly embracing blockchains, Urbit has demystified one part of its design: What makes Urbit property valuable? Only the hidden cryptographic keys at the base of Urbit's own signing system give any scarcity, and thus any value, to otherwise-uninteresting bitstrings. In other words, it's as valuable as ZCash or Bitcoin or any other digital gold; it's a Satoshi scheme.

u'i n'ae lojbo .i ku'i ka'eku https://zod.that.world/giveaway/

Funny, because Urbit’s address space has been around for longer than ENS, and makes different design tradeoffs than DNS. https://urbit.org/blog/pki-maze/

The place where a company puts a paywall is always arbitrary. Google puts it at the ad auction, and tries to give away devices and services for (close to) free. Apple puts it at the device purchase and tries to give away the software for (close to) free.

These decisions are arbitrary. You just make a bet that you can be attractive in a certain light, and you charge money in that light, and try to make every adjacent activity free.

I just read urbit.org's introduction that sounds like a FSF or EFF release on how we are going to take back computers. You seem to be saying this is sleazy Astroturfing (a .org manifesto) by a company that wants to compete in the system it just condemned.

I think I am restating the point you are making, and I agree. If this project finds a way to charge me a fair price and provides me with the services now only available under a surveillance capitalist model, then I'm fine with it. As Tim O'Reilly says: "Money is like gas in the car — you need to pay attention or you’ll end up on the side of the road — but a well-lived life is not a tour of gas stations!" This project shouldn't be left by the side of the road

Urbit “planet” is like a VM, but running an OS developed completely independently from existing computing words. There is a custom language, a custom network layer, a custom cryptography and custom identity system. There are even custom words for common terms. This has no GUI, but it does has a web interface that you can connect to.

From the practical standpoint, you have a linux process running from a data directory. You run it, and the you can access it via CLI and via web interface (which also has a terminal-like webapp). It then uses regular IP to talk to other urbits in P2P fashion.

From what I could find, the whole thing is full of magic and pretty opaque - you are only supposed to interact with it by running it and typing commands there. In particular, you’d probably want to back it up. The only instructions I could find is to stop it and tar it up, and back up manually. Better do it often if you want your “digital life” to be safe.

> custom cryptography

Just lost me.

> you are only supposed to interact with it by running it and typing commands

So, "the last computer you'll ever need" ... other than my phone, because the last time I wanted to type commands on a phone-sized device, was back when I was wet-dreaming over the Sharp Zaurus.

Given the artificial scarcity of the IDs and the semi-mystical woo describing the proposition, my spidey-sense is telling me some smart people have been busy devising an naivety-magnet, all the better to part people from their money ("buy a planet"...um, ok).

Oh man I remember the first time my buddy showed me his Zaurus out front of a bar in NYC - he had some kind of Remote Desktop with a Linux shell in that tiny screen. He had to scroll around to see stuff with the stylus in a not-so-user-friendly a manner and the input was slow as balls but I was absolutely enamored. I at the time was very proud of my newly released Motorola Razr in my pocket yet here was my buddy with this magic device showing me up. Thanks for the trip :)

Each planet can generate 2^32 moons, which are subsidiary processes. Your phone could run one of those.

You can also generate a comet, which is effectively identified by the hash of its public key. Those are free; while eventually planets have some notional advantages, notably a default positive reputation, at the moment there are no downsides.

As far as I’m aware, there is no custom cryptography, and you can interact with it through a web UI now, not just through commands. Not sure where they got that idea.

Re custom crypto: random searches in github show plenty of it. I have no idea if this is an experiment or used in main code, but it is certainly present. Here is one example: [0]

> This raw interface is vaguely modeled on the haskell aos-signature package, but is written in terms of ed25519 primitives instead of general ECC and changes how linkage tags are computed...

Re command line: I was based it off the public docs. Go to "https://urbit.org", click on "install". The very end of the instructions say:

> Type (add 2 2) into the Dojo.

Maybe "install" is wrong section? I went to "docs" instead, from that "operators manual" seems most user-friendly. But it is text only as well:

> Let's join the ~dopzod/urbit-help channel. Use ctrl-x to switch from the Dojo prompt to the Chat prompt. Then:

> ~sampel-palnet:chat-cli/ ;join ~dopzod/urbit-help

The only reference to web UI I found was in "Using Bridge" section, but that seems a pre-requisite to set up the system, not part of the system itself.

If there are web UIs, you really need to document them better. Some screenshots would be great, for example.

[0] https://github.com/urbit/urbit/blob/7ce50ad75e23fcec0c8cb6ad...

>There are even custom words for common terms.

I think this is like half the problem

Urbit is an overlay OS, a functional VM you can run that does strictly typed p2p networking with other urbits. So, it’s software you run on your computer or on a VPS. The thing you’re looking at buying is the Urbit equivalent of a domain name. You can read more about the design decisions in their PKI blog post. (Most recent one, I think)

Is an overlay OS a program that runs on another OS?

Yes. Not exactly a standard term, but there is no standard term for what Urbit is. It's VM, personal server, yes -- but those don't clearly convey the scope of the project.

How is it a personal server if I need a personal server to run it? Am I buying compute power on other people's computers? Also, why call it an OS if it doesn't replace existing ones?

It’s a personal server OS. MS-DOS was emulated on mainframes before it was run directly on hardware. Urbit wants to do the same, starting by being emulated on traditional computer OSes, and eventually moving to bare metal.

What's a personal server OS? Will I use it to write text documents and browse the web? Can I run the X Windowing system on it? It appears to me it's currently accessed through a browser. Is that temporary?

The primary way you access any web server is through a browser.

You can access your Urbit server by command line, or by web interface.

Ah. I assumed a Server OS was an OS to run servers, not a server that exposes an OS. Thanks for the clarification!

As with basically every distributed or 'cloud' system that claims to provide a solution to storing peoples data, my first question is always "What if my data is in excess of 100TB?" Someone has to have some hardware somewhere that's storing that much data, and it's not cheap to acquire, maintain, or operate that hardware. So if they're claiming I just don't need to worry about data storage any more... I'm going to worry.

> The page "Understanding Urbit" also says that Urbit OS "can never show you ads".

I don't understand this dogma that "ads = bad". At most, they're an annoyance. Not evil. They can influence purchases, but the final act of consumption is solely the individual's.

They're an easy target, but attacking them distracts from the much larger problem of government data collection and censorship.

Urbit is a front for a nascent cult, kind of like Shen Yun is a front for the Falun Gong [1], or "What the bleep do we know?" was a front for Ramtha's School of Enlightenment [2].

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/dec/12/shen-yun-falun-...

[2] https://whatthebleep.com/portfolio-item/ramtha/

This is a pretty strong statement. Can you provide details to back it up? I’m interested because Urbit seems at the edge of genius that is ahead of its time and obscure and inaccessible. The hoon programming language seem quite ambitious.

> genius that is ahead of its time

...for anyone who hasn't seen the hoon programming language, take a look (the top is all comments, scroll down a bit); I'll wait: https://github.com/cgyarvin/urbit/blob/master/aug/les/arvo/h...

I submit that the line between genius and insanity is sometimes so fine as to be invisible.

The obscurity and inaccessibility are classic cult tactics. The obscurity and inaccessibility and weird terminology is not there to provide functionality, it's there solely to mislead, to make it appear that there's something deep and mysterious going on that only the elect and enlightened can access. (They even admit as much: "Hoon, for the most part, is weird by design...") If you actually dig into the technical details (and yes, I did) you will find that there is no there there. In point of fact, the functional parts of the system are all really written in C (pieces of code which in Urbit-speak are called Jets, again in an effort to obscure the underlying truth).

Other items of evidence:

1. Urbit was founded by Curtis Yarvin, who writes a blog under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug. He espouses an extreme right-wing Ayn-Randian political philosophy. Go look him up and read some of his writing (he's quite prolific) and see for yourself. I suggest starting with [1].

2. Urbit makes extreme and unjustified claims about itself. The very first sentence on the web site is (as I write this) "Urbit is your last computer." Well, no, it's not. It's not even a computer at all. It's software. It's a badly designed, badly written, badly documented federated social network. And that's pretty much all it is.

3. Buried deep inside Urbit is a scam to take your money. The scam is quite well hidden, but it's pretty obvious once your attention is drawn to it. Part of the Urbit design is an address space analogous to IP addresses. The Urbit people call this address space "real estate" and they call Urbit "the biggest real estate platform in the world" [2]. They claim that these addresses have value because they are scarce [3]. Except that they aren't. The Urbit address space is 128 bits wide, meaning that there are vastly more Urbit addresses than there are elementary particles in the universe. But this fact is conveniently obscured in their documentation.

If you want what Urbit claims to provide, a computer that you control, just get a Linux machine. Gnu/Linux has its own political baggage attached to it, but it's not a scam. It has its obscure bits, but that obscurity is rooted in history rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead.


[1] https://www.unqualified-reservations.org/2008/11/patchwork-p...

[2] https://coinidol.com/urbit-data-the-next-real-estate-revolut...

[3] https://urbit.org/understanding-urbit/urbit-id/

Thanks. I did a deep dive. Fascinating how brilliant people like Yarvin can miss the boat on basics like compassion and empathy for other beings.

> Thanks.

You bet.

> I did a deep dive.

That was fast.

> brilliant people like Yarvin

I don't think he's all that brilliant. He does have one extraordinary skill, and that is to make himself appear brilliant by being prolific and obscure and using other psychological tactics. This is a very useful skill (Donald Trump used it to become president) but I think it is very important to distinguish it from actual brilliance. To my knowledge, Curtis has never done anything that is actually brilliant.

your link [2] is totally unrelated to urbit

Heh, you're right. Interesting that there are two things out there both using the label "Urbit" and both with very similar rhetoric, but not at all the same thing.

Here's a better link:


and another straight from the horse's mouth:


looks contradictory: "The obscurity and inaccessibility are classic cult tactics" with "If you actually dig into the technical details (and yes, I did) you will find that there is no there there"

Is inaccessible but you dig into it, is obscure but are pieces of code written in C.

For all the other commenters who couldn't understand what the heck this is (like myself)... Wikipedia at least gives a fairly straightforward explanation [1]:

> Urbit is a decentralized personal server platform. The platform seeks to deconstruct the client-server model in favour of a federated network of personal servers in a peer-to-peer network with a consistent digital identity.

> The Urbit software stack consists of a set of programming languages ("Hoon," a high-level functional programming language, and "Nock," its low-level compiled language); a single-function operating system built on those languages ("Arvo"); a personal address space, built on the Ethereum blockchain, for each instance of the operating system to participate in a decentralized network ("Azimuth"); and the decentralized network itself, an encrypted, peer-to-peer protocol running on top of the User Datagram Protocol.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urbit

Worst naming convention I've ever seen. Did they just draw from a hat of cooky names? What ever happened to the concept of choosing names relevant to the thing you're describing? I start to understand what's going on, then they throw words like "Hoon" and "Arvo" at me, and now I'm confused again. I still don't understand what it does, but now I don't care.

From https://urbit.org/blog/a-founders-farewell/ :

"Urbit's internal opacity persists for two reasons, one good and one bad. The bad reason is just laziness. The good reason is justified fear of premature explanation, which like premature optimization ruins the annealing process.

When you don't know exactly what you're doing, preserve as much ambiguity as possible. For example, a name that means something is a commitment to one specific explanation; a name that means nothing is no commitment at all. A cryptic name is productive procrastination; it lets the hard problem of naming get solved later, and hence better."

Anyone else ever work on a project without a firm definition?

Anyone ever finish those projects?

The (now deleted!) "Urbit overview" page on urbit.org [1] is probably clearer, but still doesn't really make sense to me.

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20190114175600/https://urbit.org...

So if I buy my "last computer" from Urbit a "senate" made up of people who paid them money early on can do whatever they want to my data --- ahem "upgrade the logic" --- without my having any say? I'm not sure if I want some ChromeOS-analogue with automatic updates from the Reddit/4Chan --- ahem early cryptocurrency adopter --- hive mind.

> We want everyone to own their own identity and wallet. One way to do this would be to build a MEGACORP or a Centralized Naming Authority of Urbit. But we prefer decentralized, collectively owned systems. So that’s what we built. Let’s look briefly at the basic mechanics of Urbit ID.

> Urbit IDs are distributed by a sponsorship tree. At the top of the tree are 2^8 (256) galaxies. Each galaxy issues 2^8 stars, making a total of 2^16 (65K). Stars then each can issue 2^16 planets, making for 2^32 (~4B). As you might expect, each planet issues 2^32 moons.

> Second, Urbit IDs are distributed by a sponsorship tree. Each sponsor issues a fixed number of addresses. Since there are lots of sponsors, there are lots of ways to get an Urbit ID — not just one central authority.

> Urbit IDs need a sponsor even after they’re issued, but you can always change sponsors and sponsors can always reject children. This means bad actors can be banned and abusive sponsors can be ignored. We think this strikes a nice balance between accountability and freedom.

> Finally, galaxies (the top of the sponsorship tree) form a senate that can upgrade the logic of the Urbit ID system by majority vote. We think Urbit ID should last for quite a long time, but if it ever needs to be changed, the galaxies can facilitate upgrades. Code may be law, but ultimately we acknowledge that human judgment can’t be factored out.

I'm not sure how you got your first assumption from the rest of your quotations.

"[the Urbit] "senate" can do whatever they want to my data"

No. The urbit senate can do nothing with your data.

Your server holds your data. It is not distributed on the block chain. It is not mirrored by your peers. No one has any access to your data, except where you give them permission.

Your final quote refers to the power the senate of galaxies has to manage the address space. (currently limited to 4b personal nodes. If scarcity becomes problem, galaxies can vote to increase availability.)

My rough reading of an Urbit document describing the senate [senate] is that the senate has more power than that. For example, the senate can vote on textual proposals and code-based proposes. However, I'm not well-versed enough in Urbitspeak to conclusively state what this document actually says. Can you help me understand it?

[senate]: https://urbit.org/community/governance/

You're right. I misinterpreted. People can buy power, but not of the more serious kind I thought initially. Thanks for the correction.

My pleasure.

fwiw, I don't blame you for your misunderstanding.

The project is quite young and not quite stable/mature enough for the faint of heart.

Having said that, the water's fine for swimming. :)

Wait, so how is it better than a trusty OpenBSD box?

Perhaps the idea is that updates provided by OpenBSD or another OS for example could be compromised or simply directed to an unpopular path, but in this way a "senate" of code reviewers with known biases provides a more democratic way of reviewing updates before publish.

This is incorrect. Urbit has two paths for changes, a vote by the senate or a decision by the developers on the git repo. It only adds more ways of making updates, it doesn't fix the the devs can do anything "problem"


I think this is by design.

Prior to the current stellar analogy the founder described this using terms from feudalism.

> In one design sketch for Urbit, Yarvin made the link between monarchies and the platform more explicit, classifying users as “Lords,” “Dukes,” and “Earls.” The design behind the titles, he writes, “is standard Lockean libertarian homesteading theory.” At the end of the sketch, Yarvin indicates that he’s reserved a special title for himself: “The prince (because he spent 8 years working on this project, without being paid), has reserved 32 duchies for his exclusive personal benefit."The founder is an alt-right philosopher that believes we should replace democracy with a corporate structure in which some residents in a country are shareholders and have voting rights.


I can't find that quote by searching the text of the linked article. I was looking for it because I'm skeptical of the claim that Yarvin supports a society with multiple shareholders of political power. I read the archives of Unqualified Reservations when Urbit was first released, and I was left with the impression that Yarvin supported the rule of literally one person. This is the closest quote I've found so far, but I bet there are more specific ones (lacking the however-selected clause which invites without requiring the possibility of multiple stakeholders) in the archive:

> And all organizations, big or small, public or private, military or civilian, are managed best when managed by a single executive. Hence: royalism. However he or she is selected, the title of such an executive, in a sovereign capacity, is King or Queen—or, at least, anything else is a euphemism.

Emphasis his: https://www.unqualified-reservations.org/2010/02/from-mises-...

Moldbug (whom I would distinguish from Yarvin as you would a comedian's stage persona) in advocating for neocameralism proposed rule by a CEO-king. This person like a conventional CEO would hold great personal power in their organization. Unlike a king the CEO would be elected by the board and responsible to the shareholders. You can read more in the posts about Patchwork.

>Emphasis his

If you mean to emphasize the ruler's gender, I don't think that is right. Moldbug is rather fond of Queen Victoria.

As in, emphasis original; the words italicized in the preceding block quote ("royalism", "King", and "Queen") were italicized by Yarvin/Moldbug, not myself.

I accidentally omitted a newline between the quote and my commentary, and it's too late to edit now.

The Verge: "In one design sketch for Urbit ... has reserved 32 duchies for his exclusive personal benefit."

Me: "The founder is an alt-right philosopher... are shareholders and have voting rights."

If you search for the first sentence of the quote you'll find it.

Aah, thanks for the clarification.

Why exactly would one need to subordinate one's self to such bizarre ideologically machinery just to run a device-independent OS? I could run space on the cloud somewhere and log into my server from whatever local system? It's kind of a 1990s model but still.

You don’t, and the article is outdated and “titles” no longer exist.

The words changed from feudal to stellar. The concept is the same.

One of the core concepts of Urbit's naming schemes' origin and systemic ethos is that by naming a thing (or by reusing an existing name for a perhaps closely related thing) you confine and constrain the newly created thing in ways you may not have anticipated.

Why for example in Urbit terms you may have "gates" and not functions, "battery" and "payload" instead of methods and objects, or functions and parameters, because these things do not work exactly like the familiar constructs from your well-known languages that you're perhaps already familiar with.

It would then also be tempting to make them work more like the things they are being called like, or "anthropomorphize" them into those things, for lack of a better word, giving them traits which they don't innately have in spite of being part of a perfectly workable functional system.

There is also certainly a difference in concept between an aircraft carrier and a galaxy (although both may invoke imagery of energetic nuclear processes powering them, it's hard to argue they are the same or even similar), or differences between a destroyer and a planet, submarine and comet, although it's true that the addressing math hasn't changed, ...

I think you'd be hard-pressed to make an argument that IPv4 and IPv6 are feudally inspired, and they both use very similar maths to pieces of Urbit that we're talking about.

I'm not making an argument from math. I'm not making an argument from first principles.

First the names were feudal. Then the names were changed to not be feudal. This strongly suggests the design was feudal. Yarvin's other writing make it clear it's plausible he'd design a feudally inspired system, as he writes they are superior to democracy.

I'm arguing based on Yarvin's demonstrated intent.

(Citations not repeated because they're exactly the same as my original comment earlier in the tree)

The original Urbit system also included a scheme of political "banners" so that you could avoid speech which was unpalatable to you, in order to allow conscious self-organizing into groups of like-mindedness, and as I recall also wrote about the idea that political speech being shared across these boundaries was necessarily violent (and as such clearly undesirable, as all violence.) edit: this system was removed, I should have mentioned, although I'm not sure it substantially changes the design of the overall system at all.

Some of Yarvin's writings are at best eccentric, but as he has not been a part of the project for some time already, I think it's fair for today's contributors to the project to ask you to set aside his intent, or your impressions of it.

I don't want to make any enemies here, but I'm not sure how one can objectively establish that a design is feudal, or what that would mean. I'm going to take a stab at it, as I don't want to simply dismiss your argument out of hand.

Oxford defines feudalism as:

> The dominant social system in medieval Europe, in which the nobility held lands from the Crown in exchange for military service, and vassals were in turn tenants of the nobles, while the peasants (villeins or serfs) were obliged to live on their lord's land and give him homage, labour, and a share of the produce, notionally in exchange for military protection.

If that means: a system where we carve all the land up into /8 and dole them out, then divide those tracts into /16, and further into /24 and /32, and so on, then sure, Urbit is feudal. I think that's as far as the point can stretch, though. Planets are not "beholden" to their stars, as far as I understand it, they are mostly independent entities after the initial bootstrapping process is over. There's no planet tax or military organization, protection, etc.

Did you have a somehow different interpretation that you were trying for?

> Some of Yarvin's writings are at best eccentric, but as he has not been a part of the project for some time already, I think it's fair for today's contributors to the project to ask you to set aside his intent, or your impressions of it.

"Some time" is pretty vague. He left the project earlier this year, and the project is still named after his fascist blog. I asked one of the Tlon employees in this comment section why the project is still named after Unqualified Reservations (UR), and so far haven't gotten a response. I think it's fair to expect a project with this history to address it head on and actually denounce the views of Yarvin/Moldbug if they are trying to be viewed as non-fascist. A project can be apolitical, but a project with a political past doesn't get to act like it's apolitical just because the founder steps away on good terms and nobody else is blogging a racist and anti-democratic ideology. If the current contributors don't agree with Yarvin/Moldbug's intent, it seems fair to expect them to actually make that clear.

When I was made aware of Urbit, there was someone prominent related person, a friend project of Nock or something, who had developed another competitive functional OS of his own, some kind or other, if memory serves, who had also parted ways with the community over some controversy which nobody wanted to talk about, and at the same time nobody else on the outside of it evidently wanted to ask about.

I don't want to mis-attribute anything, because I am light on details, I won't try to recall his name, or what it was over, being from the outside myself, but I distinctly remember some part of the controversy being about someone or other "refusing to put up [some kind or other] sign in their window," (I inferred that it was metaphorically speaking.)

It was a metaphor for something I didn't know, but I distinctly remember coming away with the feeling that I also didn't want to end up displaying that sign in my own window.

To restate what I'm dancing around, in no uncertain terms, it seems to me that you're asking for a sign in the window. "No Moldbugs Allowed."

I see how I could come off that way. FWIW I don't personally wish to exclude people from contributing to projects based on their views and conduct outside of the project; I would accept pull requests from Jeffrey Dahmer. But if Jeffrey Dahmer started a decentralised social network with dog whistles towards cannibalism, I would wonder whether other contributors to the project supported cannibalism. If the project removed some but not all of the cannibal dog whistles, Dahmer stepped away on good terms, and the current project maintainers didn't make any statements for or against cannibalism, I would still wonder. It's not that Yarvin/Moldbug contributed to Urbit, it's that he purposefully associated it with his ideology from the beginning. That seems different to me, and without explicit clarification to the contrary I think it's fair to associate this project with that ideology.

Why do you have such a bone to pick on this? So one eccentric political commentator has a pet project - do you need to go piss in his cornflakes?

Moldbug is not a fascist (and he'd make the claim that most folks like yourself have no idea what that even means). He's a neoreactionary, which seems to be a mostly dead movement usurped by traditional Catholics of all things these days. Moldbug himself moved on from Urbit a year ago.

It's time to stop evaluating the software (well, _all_ software) based on whether you're in some kind of complete ideological harmony with its authors. It's not like you apply that same rubric to the food you eat or the clothes you wear, at least some of which came from totalitarian regimes implemented in modern reality that are far harsher than anything Moldbug's internet commentary seems to be after.

The "denouncement" crap you're after never appeases people like yourself, anyway, so how about you move along with your life and stop preventing someone interested in the actual technology from potentially joining up based on your witch hunt?

There's also the voting power for sale. It's not completely clear to me what the power of the senate is, but it seems more than deciding the size of the namespace from the voting info on Github

Sale is one way the power gets more concentrated or distributed, perhaps unfortunately universal truth in today's world, not only for Urbit galaxies.

I am a galaxy holder and, as the record may show if the record remains intact, all I did was show up and keep coming back, at a time when lots of people were not coming back due to technical issues or whatever other issues.

I'm also not sure what actual power I have as one of these senators, for whatever that's worth (it's not clear to you, it's not clear to us!) although I have heard these galaxies keep going up in value, I will note second that at least as of today, I have not benefited in any way financially from this notion of value that I received.

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think we can all agree it would be great if the internet became more private, secure, accessible, and decentralized. I hope Urbit provides that because I hope anything provides that. Whether it lives up to its promises will depend on so many factors I'm not interested in getting involved, but I wish you the best of luck. I'll be cheering if you succeed, for what that's worth.

Likewise! And thanks to you too!

Idle question for whatever tlon'ers are reading this: have you considered putting a bitcoin in an urbit and challenging the world to get it out, as a publicity stunt slash bug bounty?

To me, the most interesting thing about Urbit is the explicit design goal of (eventually) becoming so simple and straightforward that it needs no further updates, as described in Toward a Frozen Operating System[0].

So, urbit is supposed to be a safe place to store my precious files, right? I'm supposed to be able to put my blogs and my bitcoins in there, leave it running, and come back in five years or fifty, and they'll still be there, right? So, why not put that to a real test - publish the identity of a running urbit with a prize on its filesystem, and see what happens? If it gets cracked, you get valuable feedback about your product for a bargain price (albeit with egg on your face). If not, you get some hard evidence that urbit does what it claims to on the side of the tin.

0: https://urbit.org/blog/toward-a-frozen-operating-system/

Love this idea, but as things stand, it very well might turn out to be trivial. Urbit is theoretically much more easily secured than today's popular systems, but not yet hardened.

All I see is ocean and stone images. Please if you are reading this, hire a marketing firm. I am sure you have worked hard on this but I can't understand what your product is. How can that be that you want to be the last computer but most can't even understand first thing about it.

Agreed (though there are some trees and abstract art too). It seems like a parody or a scam, but some people here are talking about it as if it's real? What is real? It certainly doesn't seem to be a computer like it claims to be. There is no hardware (right?).

"No one else can look at it without your permission, it can never show you ads.": These are only possible if it has no visual display or interface at all, or if it's so limited as to be useless.

"Your Urbit is a simple, durable computer ... Your Urbit isn’t a physical device: it lives in the cloud or your laptop.": Contradictory claims.

"Your Urbit is a permanent, private archive.": Until your laptop or server hard disk dies.

>"No one else can look at it without your permission, it can never show you ads.": These are only possible if it has no visual display or interface at all, or if it's so limited as to be useless.

I think this is in contrast to Windows being the most popular OS in the world, an OS which does show you ads.

> most can't even understand it

That is the point, they want it like that!

The crazy idea is that only those who have devoted significant time can understand it and should use it (and I suspect that it plays into some kind of non egalitarian idea about how society should be structured with only elite brainy people on top).

It's not deliberate, just a bit of an ongoing challenge. We've historically been very engineering-focused while honing the system; poking our heads out into the world, we now have to describe it.

The problem, I think, is that there's a lot of inference gaps to clear in terms of how people understand computers and how they understand the internet that we simply dispose of. A lot of the project is an attempt to re-architect the entire stack to resist the flaws of the modern internet — everything we take for granted as 'the way it is,' from the annoyances all the way to the downright evil.

High level, start with the Wikipedia entry. [1] Then peek through some higher-level, overview docs. [2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urbit

[2] https://urbit.org/docs/tutorials/arvo/

Instead of us doing the work of going through Wikipedia links and your docs, you can explain this by one simple diagram or video. Unless your goal is to be mysterious, I cannot understand how can a company go through all this trouble of creating something, building a website and can’t get the message across even to the HN community.

I agree. I think this feedback is super valuable.

Reminds me more of the cult-like Scientology with their "thetans" and whatnot.

This post is still the best thing I read about Urbit: https://www.popehat.com/2013/12/06/nock-hoon-etc-for-non-vul...

(note: I haven't actually that much on Urbit)

I don’t know whether this matters, and I guess it probably doesn’t, but he was kicked off the Popehat blog not long after writing this, for virulent (and, since then, increasingly theatrical) racism.

> he was kicked off

At first I thought you were talking about Yarvin himself. It's a bad sign when someone left a project due to their virulent racism and you have to be like "wait, which one of the two people related to this story who did that are we talking about?".

There’s a person on HN who built an overlay network called ZeroTier and whatever else there is to say about ZeroTier I feel like you can at least say that the most persuasive pieces of advocacy for it aren’t written by neo-Nazis or their adjacencies, and that is not something every overlay network can say.

Was the racism on Popehat or elsewhere?

The departure announcement post[1] seems at least somewhat amicable, since it contains an advertisement for Clark's new website.

[1] https://www.popehat.com/2015/12/30/i-cant-see-what-my-future...

"I became increasingly unhappy that Clark was writing for the blog in 2015. That unhappiness was a result of a number of factors, including the content he wrote here, which I felt reflected badly on the blog and on me, both in terms of quality and content. I was concerned, for instance, that if my clients encountered the blog they would question whether I was hostile to them based upon their ethnicity or religion. I became embarrassed he was a co-blogger."


The links to Clark's tweets in this post don't work because he since got kicked off of Twitter too.

The relationship between Clark and Ken is decidedly not amicable.

Thanks Dang! I've become interested in alternative forms of Internet due to the recent .Org/ICANN news. Is it okay that I post these (also posted gnunet)? I'm learning a lot from people's comments.

I don't see a problem. If things get repetitive people will start complaining, but in the meantime these posts have been upvoted out of interest.


Weird post. I am running my own Urbit, happily learning FP and network concepts along the way. I’m not even a programmer or an engineer, so it can’t be that obscurantist, and it certainly isn’t vaporware.

I’m very interested to know how an operating system can be racist.

It’s a purely functional operating system, and it’s pretty neat. It’s also open-source. The author’s naughty blog posts play absolutely nothing into this.

How exactly is this racist

It's certainly hidden behind a layer of indirection where you first have to peel off 'how exactly is this anything at all' - a tricky and futile enough proposition. It's like a LaRouche movement for computer nerds, if you bend over backwards to be nice about it.

So what do you get when you peel off the layer of indirection?

I am curious about how an operating system project can be this political, but i'm reluctant to dig into it myself, because any time spent learning about Urbit is clearly absolutely wasted. But if you've already done that work, could you share your findings?

I just did!

You've given us your conclusion, but not your findings.

I'm somewhat uncertain of the precise distinction but we should focus on what we appear to agree on - any time spent learning about Urbit is absolutely wasted and thus, it does not belong on HN.

Kind of ironic to complain about indirection while not actually answering my question. Can't say this response has done much to help me understand how it's racist.

The dude who came up with it is a racist. He named bits of his proposed OS after an obscure racist. It's a level of indirection, but not a very complicated one to traverse, at least, not for the racist part.

>He named bits of his proposed OS after an obscure racist.

Who and what bits? I don't understand why you're being so stingy with information lol

Are you aware that this project is inherently political? (not just because of the founder's odious and divisive beliefs, but because the project is modeled after them).

Does this not break the guidelines?

Many HN submissions have political overlap. That doesn't make them off topic here, as long as their intellectually interesting aspect is stronger than their politically inflammatory aspect. I think that's probably fair to say about this submission.

If you want more explanation, I've written a lot about this in the past, such as at https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que....

There are users in this thread that aren't fully disclosing that they work for Urbit, despite commenting about the software from a third-party perspective.

Just a heads up.

What's the point of making an accusation like this without naming the users?

It would be a great opportunity for them to explain what it is, at least.

Software is always a third-party. The builders of the system are not the system itself. There was a great talk at RubyConf last month which touched on this, called "Collective Problem Solving in Music, Science, Art"

We interact with the software through representational interfaces, and just as we learn from it and re-program it, our interactions with the system color our experiences and may in turn also re-program us!

I do not work for Urbit, but I will gladly disclose that I am a stakeholder (galaxy owner) and so will probably have a greater than casual interest in this type of post.

> In Urbit OS 1, a community shares a set of modules. (Think of a module like an app without the data lock-in.) One community may choose to chat and share a forum. Another may choose to chat and watch the crypto markets. And yet another may chat, share links, ebooks, and a to-do list. Anyone can develop a module, and anyone can create a community.

Sounds awesome, in theory. Website had nothing I could find describing what has been built, instead of what theoretically could be built by other people on their platform.

To paraphrase Steve Yegge's platform rant, Facebook had an awesome platform, but that wasn't worth shit without the killer app they had from day: one Facebook the website.

If I signed up for Urbit today, would I get the "ability to create" applications or would I get applications? This is supposed to replace my computer. Can it run Firefox? Microsoft Word?

Today, Urbit has chat, blogging, a basic weather app, and a lot of programming facilities. Eventually it should be able to run a document editor, and you can do things similar to internet browsing even on today's Urbit.

Urbit is a long-term project starting from the foundations and working up the stack. It'll be stable soon, but it probably won't be ready to run something as heavy as a modern web browser for a while. That being said, it does work, and it's fun to play with as-is.

Thanks for the in-depth response.

Edit: To paraphrase from Steve Yegge's platform rant. It's got a lot more than that.


Got an invite recently, got it setup, but have had endless networking issues. Can't join any of the chat groups they advertise in the documentation.

The sheer amount of jargon you have to learn to do literally anything is insane. Nothing is intuitive, especially for someone used to a unix command line. I get upset every time I try and learn about it. All the videos about in on YouTube are 3+ years old.

I found the descriptions to be far too abstract and mysterious. I guess it gives the project a sort of cool hacker vibe, but I really just want a few screenshots of the interface of the actual OS. As it stands, I have no clue whether it's an actual operating system like Windows/Linux/MacOS or if it just vaguely fits the definition of an OS.

I've seen in other comments here that it's both an "Overlay OS" and a VM that you can supposedly run in the cloud or on your laptop. First, what exactly is an "overlay OS"? Am I understanding correctly that this would be running "on top of" an existing OS? Maybe something like the "Seamless mode" in virtual box? Second, how is it being virtualized?

Ultimately though, it looks cool, but I think just putting some screenshots front and center instead of abstract graphics explaining metaphors about the design would go a long way.

The project is exclusionary by design--instead of using an existing programming language or even keywords/terminology from an existing human language, the creator decided to make everything up, right down to new names for existing symbols. F'r example:

gar >

hax #

hep -

kel {

sel [

ser ]

sig ~

soq '

Have to agree about the screenshots--if there's something useful here, why not show it off?

It may be marketing genius if the goal is to appeal to the type of nerd who loves obscure systems and occult jargon... the kind that geeks out on the complexities of D&D while chatting you up about the rococo details of Eastern Orthodox dietary restrictions and how they may have impacted renaissance fashion. Everything about Urbit seems designed to be candy to these types.

I'll admit, it did appeal to me in that way. But the other part of me just felt like it was snake oil. Being intentionally vague in order to not reveal some crucial flaw.

I've learned a bit more about it from these comments and I don't think it's snake oil, but it is 100% not what I was expecting from the language used in the copy.

So yeah, seems like a good project that foregoes familiarity in order to create something cool albeit niche. But anyone who isn't on board with the vague descriptions will definitely feel mislead.

In fact, most of the naming in Urbit is deliberately meaningless and bizarre in order to prevent the project from congealing too soon. The intention is to keep things provisional and annoying enough that future programmers won't forget to revise past temporary decisions.

D&D isn't necessarily that complex, systematically, if you really lay it out. It's about shared imagination with your friends, mutually improvising a story, and a framework for actualising personal development.

I'm not helping, am I.

Sign me up!

The cybertruck os before cybertruk existed.

Ted Blackman (one of the Urbit developers) recently posted a puzzle on Twitter, asking people to describe what a piece of code (written in this phonetic representation) does. [1]

I was delighted to find that I still remembered the phonetic names after first reading of them back in 2013, though I got the exact result wrong.

[1] https://twitter.com/rovnys/status/1199958608483684352

Canonical pronunciation for each character is a wonderful thing, and I use it all the time to discuss code. If there's one thing other projects should steal from Urbit, it's this.

Spoken programming languages FTW.

The pronunciations are no more exclusionary than learning Cyrillic, and the effort pays off.

That actually does sound really cool. I guess we get close to that with names for operators e.g. Python's walrus operator. I can definitely see it being nice to have that sort of granularity.

The pronunciations are no more exclusionary than learning Cyrillic, and the effort pays off.

Oddly, I have never been required to learn Cyrillic to use any of many, many other programming languages out there.

People who don't use Latin alphabet have been forced to learn it to use pretty much any programming language out there.

You can find the rest of the ASCII symbol names (there's 34 in total) here:


For what it's worth, some people apparently read code differently than other people -- some subvocalize these symbols -- and reprogramming your brain to use short names for symbols might be very useful. I'd guess some other people have compressed mathematical symbols to an unvocalizable mental representation.

It’s software that you run on your computer on macOS or Linux. It provides a VM that only does IO to the underlying system through a typed kernel interface. That’s it. There are blog posts showing the software running on it.

I think you’re right about making it concrete instead of metaphorical

Yeah, I’ve seen this movie before. It’s an art project.

It is a VM as in JVM, not like a VirtualBox. This is a Linux app you run and it listens on a port; you use your browser to connect to it.

It was called “overlay os” because it reimplements a bunch of things traditionally provided by OSes. There is a peer to peer network layer, and a storage layer, and a way to execute code.

I heard of Urbit a while back and still cannot for the life of me figure out what it does or what it's for.

The comments here are helping me figure out how it works, but it still leaves me with the question of what can I do with it that I can't accomplish with my good ol' OS or internet or (whatever the closest conventional analogue for Urbit is).

It's because it's a system trying to pitch itself as a product. The system being a top to bottom rewrite of the stack in such a way so as to sidestep the client/server relationship entirely. A lot of services rely upon positioning themselves as the server, as the big computer you have timeshared access to, and they monetise your usage. For things like photo storage, or basic communication, or permissioned access to your files, this is pointless. Any computer could do it, but the internet is itself based upon asking a server for something and getting it. And running a server sucks.

Any other peer to peer solution is partial, and therefore not able to compete with the internet as is. Urbit basically plans around an identity system that prevents spam and abuse; a hierarchical packet routing structure for those identities that doubles as a de facto governance model (due to having a vested interest in the network, the higher up you go); a kernel designed to freeze, and its entire OS on top a series of event logs that mark down computations and new states; a functional language for this "internet where every computer is a database", and the encrypted networking protocol that uses UDP while still ensuring packets always find you.

So if you wanted to, say, have a group of people set as a peer list that others can subscribe to or join, or build or use applications that lets that peer list join chats or see a set of files based upon some arbitrary marker (like giving you $5/mo?) ... you don't need a million services to spread the load, one task per service, each person joining each service. You can just use your own computer. It's a personal server platform for a peer to peer internet. It's an internet designed to resist bad actors, and to resist AOL, to resist Facebook and Google — an internet that facilitates and preserves a Usenet-esque model of small communities doing stuff together on their computers.

(Obvious disclosure that I work on the project, again.)

What you just wrote needs to be at the top of any marketing related to Urbit. It’s the first thing I’ve read that made me excited about the project.

It also sounds similar to PGP’s web of trust model, which failed horribly. But you mention that you can get paid for renting out your resources. If you can somehow make that dream into a reality, then yes, it could be a big deal. Right now everyone tries to solve this partially: you can get paid to rent out your GPU (vast.ai) or your disk space (filecoin) but you seem to imply a more unified model, where payments can be continuous and effortless based on arbitrary metrics.

The whole “planet” and “galaxy” stuff is just confusing. Sure, metaphors are useful, but a basic explanation of the problem statement and the proposed solution would be better. Your explanation here has been the first time that someone put Urbit into terms that I could concretely go “okay, I see the point.”

Thank you! This is probably the first clear explanation I’ve read about Urbit. I’m far more interested in the project now. Good luck on development.

It would help to have a condensed version of your comment on the website, as opposed to space metaphors and pictures of rocks ;)

legendary!! thank you Matilde.. Im a longtime urbit and dfinity bug.. but wonderful explanation

You can enjoy reality of a great land called Uqbar, from the famous world of Tlön ;) Just google it)

Didn’t the founder of Urbit (Curtis Yarvin) leave the project last year? My impression of Urbit has always been that Curtis was fundamental to the vision of the project. Does anyone know how the project has changed since then?

yes, wikipedia says he left. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urbit

seems like the whole project has been mired in controversy because of the alt-right / anti-egalitarian political views of the founder https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtis_Yarvin

if urbit got $1.2m seed from thiel in 2013 (listed on wikipedia), they should be out of that money by now even if they had stretched it.

Yarvin sounds like a loon.

Or, at least, a hoon.

Nock off the name calling!

The goal is noble, but Urbit is destined to become a case study in the dangers of isolation and obstinacy.

This project has gone so deep into its own inner sanctum that they've lost tabs on wider reality. While the result may have glimmers of technical excellence for brave souls to excavate some day, the impact of the juxtaposition between latent expertise and overwhelming derangement is enough to scare away (literally scare away) basically everyone.

This style of issuing a large corpus of dicta that comprise "the One True Way" never works, not even in actual bona fide religion. Systems and protocols that last are built iteratively by collaborators across institutions, each piece finding immediate utility as it's integrated and deployed.

The big question around Urbit is not whether it will succeed -- rather, it's whether Yarvin will appreciate that he's rapidly disproved the nascent brand of proto-monarchist philosophy Urbit was meant to realize. [0]

See also: Pontormo at San Lorenzo [1], Xanadu [2]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Enlightenment

[1] https://blog.garrytan.com/always-be-shipping-a-lesson-from-j...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Xanadu

My sense is that the project started in its inner sanctum and has been iterating gradually towards something that can be understood and used.

It actually can be explained simply:

Cross platform deployed VMs with their own primitives that also have the ability to network with each other via a custom protocol.

That's interesting and potentially very valuable.

Keep in mind this whole Hacker News and Ycombinator paradigm is effectively an outworking of the same process. Some savant Lisper with their own dialect making in a unique way that over time was re-coded and made more accessible.

> If you wake up in the desert, unsure how you got there, you’ll be fine so long as you remember your Urbit ID and passkey.


>the One True Way" never works,

It works for Apple.

Apple doesn't have a One True Way -- they have a relatively-simple and relatively-uniform product line that represents their interpretation of human-computer interaction. They focused on building systems that everyone could use and love immediately, and it turns out that a lot of people appreciate that emphatic commitment to the human over the machine.

Jobs insisted on elegance and simplicity throughout, creating products that were instantly loved and admired, products that people would be proud to own and display. Technobabble was worthless to him and he did everything possible to keep it away from his customers. He expected his engineers to deliver something decent and real and trusted them to figure out the details, focusing exclusively on the vision of shipping usable, beautiful products that provided immediate value to every user, regardless of technical background.

Steve Jobs's devotion to elegance resulted in products so appealing and downright seductive that they fundamentally changed the public's expectations from computers and consumer electronics generally -- not just once (Mac), not just twice (iPod), but at least three times (iPhone; honorable mention: NeXT/OS X).

We lost him too soon.

Meanwhile, in Yarvin via Urbit, we are offered a ground-floor rate of only $512 per placard in The One True E-fief. Urbit is here to show us that they know best. That we'd be better off if we'd just raise our eyes out of the mud long enough to recognize our obvious inferiority, take our oaths of fealty, pay our taxes, and some day, when They've decided the time is Right, They'll bestow upon us The One True Network.

There could not be a starker contrast.

We haven't lost him out of misfortune, as many other things he made horribly wrong and nobody talks about anymore, because, you know, survival bias, he also thought cancer could be cured with diets.

He was man that even his daughter despise for being inhuman with his own flesh and blood, for denying she was her child for years.

Having interacted with Apple users since 1984, the only common trait they have is exactly believing there is only one true way, not that their way is better thanks to the sum of well though technical factors, but because it's a faith, that, as any other faith, is impenetrable to critics and doubts.

The fact that the failure of Next is still told as a great success speaks volumes.

Another famous example is the Apple III, costed a fortune to build, sold poorly and the people who worked at it remember that

"The Apple III was designed by a committee headed by Steve Jobs, who would demand one thing one day then the opposite the next."

Jobs built a cult, not a technical revolution.

> The fact that the failure of Next is still told as a great success speaks volumes.

NeXT resulted in the web browser and the iPhone.

Only because they explicitly refuse to solve a large amount of problems, focusing narrowly on certain profitable ones.

I hear that their more satisfied customers cheerfully instruct the others to adjust their expectations and habits and to buy the insurance.

Really? Last time I checked Apple had folded on the whole issue of having native apps on their phones.

Adapt and embrace has worked _very_ well for Apple.

Apple has "Many little true ways" which integrate beautifully into people's existing lives. Completely opposite from what Urbit is trying to do, which is to dictate that their "one way" shall rule over humans in every aspect, and shall replace everything else that came before.

This is not only arrogant, but stupid approach to building things if you want to get adoption. To build things for the people, you should try your best to integrate into the existing world, not to replace the world itself.

Urbit is literally the opposite of Apple.

I couldn't even get through the introduction without repeatedly rolling my eyes at the narcissism scattered throughout it.

Bollocks. Yarvin left Urbit nearly a year ago. https://urbit.org/blog/a-founders-farewell/

This project is described in the most abstruse form that it can be. I, too, did not comprehend it until I went there and tried it out (and got the T shirt ;D)

It’s ultimately a hosted OS (it resides on top of Linux) with an immutable file system with the additional purpose that you build applications distributed-first in a manner where clients store their own data. There’s also other stuff in there obviously with Hoon and Nock and all that.

The Ethereum stuff came after so obviously it’s not crucial to the idea. The planets and all that are just names so you can communicate. The names are anonymous but persistent, sort of like if Neal Stephenson’s PURDAH was just a name.

Is this some kind of over-the-top joke that I'm not in on? I've browsed and read but honestly still can't understand what Urbit is. When I saw the picture of the stone with the thing on top I thought I was finally "in" on the joke, but they seem to continue on.

Yeah I'm seeing all kinds of weird analogies/ abstractions that try to explain what this thing is but not a single use-case or an example of somebody getting utility out of it. Is this a parody?

Use case: this conversation, except between our own computers.

Typically, we 'log in' to 'our accounts' on some company's server and use whatever fuctions the company grants us. They are not really our accounts in any meaningful way.

If one were to be banned by hackernew(or twitter), she would have no access to her data, social connections, et c.

In the urbit world, any data you have authored and any messages you have received are YOURS. They are forever available on your own server.

It is simply not possible for 3rd parties to ban/delete/control your conversation, when the model is peer to peer.

Ok, so what's stopping one party from changing the data? How would one party prove they have the right data? Is this like blockchain messaging?

No, this is not blockchain messaging.

"How would one party prove they have the right data?" Before two urbit servers communicate, they exchange and verify public signing keys. Then, all messages are signed with verified public key.

If you mean what's stopping one party from changing their local copy of your data.... Nothing that I know of.

But they're the only ones who will see their local data.

It's intentionally made to feel like that. It's exclusionary and puts a barrier to learning explicitly to only allow people in who have made significant mental investment.

It's not worth it to me, I'd rather do other things and this is almost absurd levels of exclusion but I like the obscurity-as-a-quality-control method approach in general for some projects.

I mean, significant mental investment sound like typing "sunk cost fallacy" to me.

The whole Urbit system could be described in terms of linked-lists and S-Expressions. Even languages as obscure as K, J or APL have better reasoning than Urbit.

Obscurity only leads to smaller number of people wanting to explore something. Only people who stays with it are "believers" and not experts.

Based on all the things the intro page says about where all my social connections are and such, I think Urbit is a web browser.

that is what I thought, looks like some kind of joke but from other comments it is not.

I also had a hard time understanding this project, but my understanding is that this is basically a binary that runs on a UNIX machine.

It transparently uses UNIX APIs and implements the stack from bottom to top: it’s an OS in the sense that the web browser is called the OS.

This ‘OS’, or binary interacts with other computers and create an decentralized web.

The developers documentation & how to run part is clearer about what this is... but urbit really should document what it ‘really’ is...

Does anyone know how Urbit's solving the problem of being incredibly slow? It's running on a naively simple virtual machine and they claim that higher level operations can be abstracted and implemented in native code (called jets last time I heard) to make the overall execution time reasonable.

Or, alternatively: Does anyone even actually use urbit? I tried once and it was so god damn slow it made me sad. It's so cool.

(Obvious disclosure that I work on the project.) Slow, like, literally the VM is slow? There's infrastructure work being done to rewrite the VM at the moment, though there's been some major work in the last six months on this front as well that personally have felt like night and day. Slow, like, the network is slow? There's an update going out shortly with a rewrite for Ames that makes it a bit easier to work on. There's a good blog post [1] our CTO put out on how the infrastructure cost this year has been predominantly on planning a very resilient stack, rewriting a lot of archaic code to be easier to modify by more than just a handful of kernel engineers, more pliant. I feel pretty confident about the performance in future.

[1]: https://urbit.org/blog/stable-arvo/

I'm curious: why reinvent the VM "wheel"? Why is LLVM inadequate? Or any other VM?

More specifically, what functionality does Urbit require that makes a bespoke VM necessary?

Many reasons. The VM is minimal, has a precise mathematical spec and is tailored to be a base for a purely-functional OS. The details of the VM are usable in the higher layer. It's more like a Lisp-machine, than LLVM.

So... WASM, then?

It’s way faster than it used to be (about 10x). I’m interested in knowing the progress of their new JIT interpreter, because they claim that’s giving them another 10x in internal tests

Actually got a invite to Urbit... but haven't got the time to understand/install it.

Is it an OS? Will it affect any dev work I'm doing now? I understand that this is a huge and large project and support the fundamental ideas behind it, but maybe a super-distilled version of what exactly it is to the layman would be a bit better (in addition to what's already there).

It’s an overlay OS, a VM made to allow anyone to run their own server easily

Well that begs the obvious question, what the hell is an "overlay OS"? It's not an industry standard term and doesn't explain anything.

Overlay OS might not be a great term.

Urbit is a program you can run on Linux or MacOS intended to provide a complete personal computing experience on its own. It runs as a virtual machine for now, although it could run as a unikernel on bare metal (good project for a contributor who's interested!).

This VM acts like an operating system, in the sense that it loads and runs other applications within itself, and in the sense that it presents an application switcher and overall system management tools to the user.

This VM is designed from scratch to be as simple as possible, based on the thesis that the reason everyone has thought of a personal server but nobody runs one is that it's too complicated to do your own sysadmin.

Why is it complicated to do your own sysadmin? Because Linux is 15 million lines of code, and then there are tons of layers on top of that. What percentage of programmers even know how the internet works? A fair number of programmers have a decent sense for some corner of the modern computing world, but even seasoned professionals don't usually know the full structure of the digital world. How does BGP interact with the IP protocol? How do you make sure fsync() actually did what you wanted it to do? How does Linux overcommit_memory work? etc.

Urbit is weird, but that's mostly because it's a parallel universe of computing, not because it's inherently crazier than the alternative. We all have Stockholm Syndrome about 'ls -alH', and don't tell me 'grep' is an intuitive name.

In fact, there are very few basic building blocks in Urbit: binary trees of integers, the idea of a persistent event-log-based computer, and cryptographic identities. Pretty much everything is constructed out of those components.

And it's designed for a modern world with billions of users who might not all be completely trustworthy, so whole categories of complexity go away -- such as NATs.

So there's no standard industry term for describing this system, because there are no direct analogs or competitors.

> Urbit is a program

So what exactly makes it an OS? JVM is a virtual machine but we don't consider it an OS. So why not just call Urbit a virtual machine?

> What percentage of programmers even know how the internet works? A fair number of programmers have a decent sense for some corner of the modern computing world, but even seasoned professionals don't usually know the full structure of the digital world. How does BGP interact with the IP protocol? How do you make sure fsync() actually did what you wanted it to do? How does Linux overcommit_memory work? etc.

Seeing how Urbit runs on OS's such as Linux, uses TCP/IP for networking over the Internet, which itself relies on all those fun WAN protocols like BGP to make it work, it's not really solving those problems, just hiding it beneath another layer of complexity and terminology.


Is it like a visual VM?

Or is it like some docker container I can open up a shell for?

For context, here is the same thread from 6 years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6438320

I've never come across this project before, but I've been playing around with a similar idea...

Essentially I want to scrape data from my own accounts and anything I'm interested in following, on a home server and push that data to a sort of "dashboard" interface. To watch either on my phone or laptop or, in theory, anywhere.

I've always hated current phone interface paradigm. I see a grid of app icons like having a wall full of TV's, one for each channel. I don't care about apps, I care about intent. If I'm hungry I want my server to tell me what places I already like are nearby, whats in my budget by pulling data from bank account, and whats within my daily macros by hooking into MyFitnessPal. Or if I want to catch up on news, have my server scrape full articles from RSS feed links... Default to an auto summary view, and highlight terms using named entity recognition to make things even more quickly skimmable. If I want to catch up on sports, pull in football scores, my fantasy points, top sports news, and my sports groupchat in a single view. If the stock market drops over 1% in an hour, take over my homescreen with data on how my current positions are doing, a muted Livestream of Bloomberg, and top financial headlines that are currently trending. Not the most flushed out examples but one gets the idea. Server side processing of all the data I generate or consume, and present it in custom views based on intent. I feel like a lot of the smartphone anxiety ppl have comes down to fear of missing out. You look at your grid off apps, each one a portal into its own separate world and you don't know what's going on in each one. What you're missing out in each world, so you go into each one trying to stay up to date with each. Vs having a system that pulls all that data in and you can trust will catch you up on anything important that happened on your own time.

Breaking the current app paradigm would also make foldable devices a much more practical class of device. Instead of Samsungs sad multitasking demo of trying to stuff 3 app ui's on a galaxy fold, one could have a much more dynamic single view if the data from the apps if the data from them could cross talk.

Right now I'm playing on an old desktop computer (hard drive died so this whole thing is on pause rn), but it would be cool to get something like this running on raspberry pis using elixir (just started learning, my current scraping experience is with Python and zmq but elixir seems like a much cleaner and resilient base to manage scraping and organizing data from various sources in a more hands off way). Power users could easily scale by adding more pis or even a specialized processor if you're doing something more unique like parsing video.

If every user could have their own cluster that pulls in their own data, it would be much easier to take control and sell that data, instead of current system where it gets gathered regardless. Or not sell it if that was their preference.

For instance, it would be cool if my "cluster" knew my route to work, and that there was a certain delay, and a more optimal route was available.... But beyond that, know what coffee places are on my way, and in an ad exchange kind of way, allow these locations to have agents that bid on my business by offering dynamic discounts. Like if my reroute traffic path brings me closer to their location, and I'm running late, maybe they offer less of a discount because they provide value thru more convenience. Maybe another location sees they're now more out of the way and decides to bid lower, or maybe they see that they're located next to my favorite donut place, and the automated agents of those two business negotiate something between each other in order to provide me with some sort of combo deal. >> All this happening behind the scenes and I see a unified view of my new map route and a pop-up pins on the map of the offers if I want to accept them.

Lots of other interesting scenarios could be thought up, especially with smart homes. But in order to make that leap, I feel like the first step is to aggregate all your data into one place in order to take back some control of it and open up new possibilities of it's use by combining it together. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what Urbit is, but it sounds like a cloud hosted version of this core first step.

I'm willing to contribute to this. The only way forward is opensource

Sounds like you want to self-host google xD

In what sense has Google implemented the above?

Yes! You get it

A completely bizarre project. Not very far from ”TempleOS”. Urbit is the outcome when spending too much time alone.

About the author, Curtis Yarvin:

> Curtis Guy Yarvin (born June 25, 1973), also known by the pen name Mencius Moldbug, is an American far-right political theorist, blogger, and computer scientist.[1][6] He is known, along with fellow "neo-reactionary" thinker Nick Land, for developing the anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic ideas behind the Dark Enlightenment. Yarvin and his ideas are often associated with the alt-right.[7]


Thanks for the heads-up. Although I'd like to evaluate the technical merits of this project independently of the political ideology of the people behind it, knowing this I won't be sending any money their way for "planets" or such, which I might otherwise have done. Not one cent.

In this case the two are hard go separate because the originator of urbit pretty explicitly wrote his politics into the system.

I'm not going to ask you for a citation about that (as I don't know what part of Urbit you imagine embodies the political philosophy that you are in disagreement with, and I don't imagine that I want to know) but I will let you know that Curtis Yarvin has nothing to do with the Urbit project anymore, as has been pointed out elsewhere in the thread.

It's been pointed out to you elsewhere in the thread that his ideas of hierarchical, feudal society are writ large in the network organisation. Plus the comments he made about address sizes etc.

I guess it's in your interest not to see/admit this, but it's pretty fundamental to the whole thing as far as I can tell.

My understanding of the design is that scarcity and hierarchy facilitates a scalable network, with respect to reputation and spam prevention. If the cost of an identity is non-zero and non-negligible, and the supply of permanent identities is gated through individuals (who don't want to be associated with bad actors, lest their own reputation as good actors become negatively affected), then aren't the actors all incentivized to maintain a collective reputation, positively?

The definition of "feudal" that I found when I went looking for it depends on the definition of feudalism, but also on subjective measures like "outdated" or "old-fashioned."

If you want to argue that scarcity is an outdated mode of thinking, then we can have a different conversation, and I think one that is perhaps not suited for this thread. But perhaps we can agree that if a fixed supply of 4.3 billion Urbit planets ever represents a true scarcity, we should be having a different conversation altogether, as it will have become a runaway success, surpassing far above either yours or my own expectations for it?

It's less useful than it might seem to post a random Wikipedia extract when the subject is highly controversial / politically charged.


Yes, I'm sure a lot of people feel that way.

Other people would like to be able to judge for themselves.

Of course the extract is about the founder (who incidentally is not part of the project anymore), that's exactly why it's controversial and politically charged—i.e. the exact situation when Wikipedia is least reliable.

Edit: for instance, the linked article has "Semi-Protected" status because:

> "there is a significant amount of disruption or vandalism from new or unregistered users, or to prevent sockpuppets of blocked or banned users from editing, especially when it occurs on biographies of living persons who have had a recent high level of media interest."


> The software was literally modeled after monarchy and fascism.

Show me a software project modeled after liberal democracy.

I'd say unix generally. There's a slowly evolving set of laws (POSIX) made by broad consensus; people roughly follow the laws most of the time; and the whole thing just about works. Everyone agrees the whole thing is deeply flawed, but can't agree on a replacement.

Any trading system? Bittorent?

You can read his blogs yourself to find what he thinks but ultimately, as a non-white person, I did not notice any odd behavior from him. We were able to talk tech without any weirdness.

I’m not prescribing anything here, like how you should treat him etc. just describing that he’s capable of talking tech reasonably despite the political stuff he posts.

Wikipedia has an unfortunate habit of labelling anything as "far right" that is described as such by left wing or gullible journalists in left of centre mainstream publications.

Mencius Moldbug may be far right, but he may alternatively just be a thinker not afraid to challenge liberal received wisdom.

It's ok to disagree and fervently oppose but it's unfortunate when we descend into soundbite mud-slinging in service of that opposition.

Yarvin claimed himself that he is “not allergic to white nationalism”.

Patrilineally, Yarvin is Jewish.

OK. Umm? Does it matter?

I blame Oedipus.

>It's ok to disagree and fervently oppose but it's unfortunate when we descend into soundbite mud-slinging in service of that opposition.

And where does anyone do that? As far as I'm concerned your post is just concern trolling.

In the Wikipedia quote where he is described as far right, as I clearly indicated.

I'm on the left. I think Urbit is quite neat as a technology. Yarvin has very unusual political views, so I'm not sure where to put them, or if you'd consider this "sound-bite mudslinging" (if you do, please suggest a more palatable way of providing evidence:)

He seems pro-monarchy:

Was royalism a perfect system? It was not. But if we imagine a world in which the revolutions and civil wars of the last four centuries had never happened, it is hard not to imagine that world as happier, wealthier, freer, more civilized, and more pleasant.[29]

but anti-democracy:

When we look at the astounding violence of the democratic era, it strikes me as quite defensible to simply write off the whole idea as a disaster, and focus on correcting the many faults of monarchism:

He seems to regard political power as property, which makes a sort of sense with his monarchism: Political power is a property right, however you slice it. It is owned, not deserved. It is not a natural or "human" right. And it has no more to do with freedom than brake fluid with fondue.[40]

Here is yet another (idea for good government): restrict voting to homeowners. Note that this was widely practiced in Anglo-American history, and for very good reason.[41]*

(He also favors property ownership as a requirement for voting, which aligns with Urbit's governance but seems... dated, politically.)

And he seems to view slavery as a potentially healthy relationship:

Modern Americans have enormous difficulty in grasping hierarchical social structures. We grew up steeped in "applied Christianity" pretty much the way the Hitler Youth grew up steeped in Hitler. The suggesting that slavery could ever be or have been, as Aristotle suggests, natural and healthy, is like suggesting to the Hitler Youth that it might be cool to make some Jewish friends… We think of the master-slave relationship as usually sick and twisted, and invariably adversarial. Parent-child relationships can be all three. But they are not normally so. If history (not to mention evolutionary biology) proves anything, it proves that humans fit into dominance-submission structures almost as easily as they fit into the nuclear family

It's hard to classify Yarvin anywhere politically, but given some very extreme views on slavery, democracy and dictatorship, I think "far right" is as accurate a label as any. His views are expounded upon in the Dark Enlightenment article in the summary.

(Sources are all from Wikiquotes)

His views are all just hand wavey fascism. At no point does he make a tractable argument.

As a counterpoint: take all countries today that have functioning (i.e. non-figurehead) monarchies and compare them with democratic, capitalist countries. You can use prosperity, GDP per capita, average literacy - whatever as a metric and monarchies will fail.

Untrue, or at least questionable claim. Monarchies are economically better-performing.

Eg. https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/monarchies-good-...

They demonstrably do not. Look at any competitiveness index, or standard of living index, or anything measurable.

The article you’ve linked is banal. It talks about how monarchies are good at protecting established property rights. Duuuuuh. That’s their entire purpose.

Thinking that stability of property rights is equal to economic performance is moronic. So either you think that I am one or you are one.

Here’s a quick test you can do: look around you and count how many items around you are produced in the Kingdom of Lesotho? Or Kuwait? Or Madagascar? Or Bhutan?

Such post-industrial powerhouses of economy those must be.

I don't need to look around, a quick Google on monarchies and GDP before your initial post would have given you the information you needed to not post it.

Eg the first link:


Btw your jeering tone and determination to classify either of us as morons is unhelpful.

You peddling horsesh*t is unhelpful. Your fluid goal posts don’t help either.

Obviously any U.K. style “monarchies” and republics with a figurehead. Your best bet therefore would be Middle East monarchies, which are obviously a product of the extraction industry. So even that is not an argument.

Remember how China realized that the communist system isn’t sustainable and introduced elements of monarchy? No? Me neither, because they went with (very light) democratization.

If you want to talk facts, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nomi...

But my favorite part is when I suggest you to look for immediate evidence in the real world and you’re like: “No, here’s a cherry picked article”. This disregard for facts is just plain offensive.

How on earth is the first link in a Google search "cherry picked"?

At least half of those states in your own link are monarchies!

Placing quotes around the archetypal monarchy seems like an act of last resort tbh - as do the repeated insults; so I'll consider this particular micro-debate conceded to me.

Mate, what good is a monarchy if the monarch doesn't have any power? It's just a monarchy in name. Following your logic, North Korea is a democracy, because it has the word "democratic" in its official name. This is a crap level of discourse and hence you are getting all the smacktalk. Don't think that you are entitled to people letting your stupid arguments slide. This is not the USSR.

This is why you are cherry picking. The original comment that you are replying to specified "actual monarchies, not figurehead states": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21674965

What's so difficult to understand? Does UK fall under that category? No. Material power is with the parliament and PM. You are disproving your own point, when you bring them in as an argument!

I even gave you a hint. Saudi Arabia might be a stronger argument. Monarchy has power and they have economical clout. I mean, their GDP is only slightly higher than Walmart's annual revenue, but hey - at least you would've had a fighting chance.

The monarchies the articlementions are all liberal, more or less capitalist democracies.

Thank you.

I'm also on the left and found your comment very useful and informative. Again tho, my reference to mud-slinging is in the Wikipedia quote I replied to; I've no idea why you would think I might categorise your comment equally.

As for his categorisation as far right; I've already acknowledged he might be (I haven't read much by him), but being prepared to discuss right wing ideas and challenge mainstream thinking should not mean either him or his technological projects are classed as not to be dealt with.

Thanks for the heads up

I am pretty sure he left the project for this reason: people judging your political alliance instead of your output.

Somebody's gonna run the servers and it won't be paid for by funny money.

Yes, that's an important point. You'll have a service contract with the infrastructure node responsible for routing packets to you -- you'll pay them to route to you. There are two layers of infrastructure nodes to facilitate scaling and hopefully maintain a healthy competitive market for routing services.

I'm still unsure what this actually brings to the table and what necessity it actually tries to solve. Bitcoin actually tries to solve the issue of trustless, decentralized money (Whether or not it actually does that is a topic in itself, but it tries), then you've got endeavors like Ethereum but for distributed computing (In fact, as far as I can tell, some of Urbit's aspects are built on top of Ethereum), Namecoin for domain names, and so on.

It makes for interesting computing outsider art, I suppose, but being compared to TempleOS might not be too desirable.

What it brings to the table:

- peer-to-peer networking for every node on the network

- secure networking as the default

- an identity system built in to the network layer (no more usernames and passwords)

- A functional programming language that doubles as a serialization layer (no more JSON/XML impedance mismatch)

- A simplification of the local software stack OS (<1% of the LOC of the linux kernel, though there is still functionality missing)

- Deterministic computing

The urbit developers imagine that in the future, things like twitter or hacker news will be peer-to-peer apps rather than giant mainframe computers controlled by a single entity

I don't recall to have heard about it before and to be honest the far right and racists remarks posted by others about the project founder make me uncomfortable, but the last few lines where they introduce the "Dojo" with a REPL and a Lisp like syntax, that was interesting...

Check it. [1]

A lot of people work at Tlon with a lot of different perspectives on the world. It's not a vehicle for one guy. This is sadly a frequently asked question in itself. [2]

[1]: https://urbit.org/docs/tutorials/hoon/setup/

[2]: https://urbit.org/faq/#who-is-curtis

I think the novelty terminology makes this more confusing than it needs to be. If the hippy "its a movement not a trend" speak was taken out of the descriptions I'd probably be able to understand what this is supposed to be.

The first step to a decentralized network is establishment of identity and authentication protocols and network anyone can use with ease. Everything else should be built upon that foundation.

I think people would be better off tracking Solid. It's not moving super fast, but has good momentum, and is based on web and decentralized standards including Linked Data.

I find it completely interesting that I came across Urbit while doing a random search about alternative operating systems - and then I come back to HN and find a raging discussion going on. I tend to think that such 'coincidences' are not coincidence at all. I wonder what is going on in the world right now that is driving new interest in Urbit? I've also seen quite a few references to Industrial Society and its Future of late - What else is the online intelligence driving people towards?

Is this some kind of crypto cult?

It has been labeled crypto-fascism before (but not crypto as in cryptocurrency).

Bad sign if you have to claim your product is not vaporware on your promo page

question: can we have such a network with conventional internet , if we all run a number of web services on our home routers?

tl;dr for those not wanting to dissect abstract art this afternoon: peer to peer network via blockchain focused on social communication.

Urbit does not run on or via blockchain. Its PKI lives on a blockchain. Urbit itself doesn't care about how packets get from A to B. You run it on a machine you own.

Social communications yes, especially on smaller/more "local" scales.

It seems that you need to do more dissecting yourself. It would be unjust to summarize urbit like that. It really is as they say, an "Operating Function."

"Operating function" is just more abstract woo. My description says what it was made to do not how it is supposed to make you feel or the fancy terms people have come up with to describe how it goes about making you feel that way.

Is it not "peer to peer network via blockchain focused on social communication."? If so feel free to explain why and what the website means when it talked about each of those things. If it's more then please talk about how it's more but please stick to why that means it's not the above and is instead designed to do something else (and what that something else is).

Sidenote: is there an internet law coined describing the inverse relationship between the size of the main landing page image and the actual amount of content in the landing page?

Urbit only uses a blockchain as a ledger of who owns which addresses within the network and root DNS for peer discovery.

The OS itself runs as a VM on your machine (either a Linux or MacOS host, for now), and that is the only place your data lives.

Urbit does implement a peer-to-peer encrypted, authenticated network among these VMs. It's not solely socially focused, though.

It's also intended to be your personal archive for things like your personal financial data, pictures, nusic, notes, and private documents like tax records and medical histories.

And not only an archive, but also your personal "agent", in the sense that it's a program that's on all the time, on the network on your behalf, to serve your blog, for example.

You can access Urbit through the command-line or a webpage that it serves for you.

The state of an Urbit VM is a folder on the host OS. You can zip it up, move it to another computer, and restart it there seamlessly.

None of these features by themselves is particularly interesting. What's unique about Urbit is that all of this is accomplished using a very small set of primitives, making it easier to write applications that don't go through some huge company that tracks your every move and has a conflict of interest between serving you and serving advertisers.

If you're interested in learning more details of how it works, there is actually quite a bit of technical documentation at https://urbit.org/docs

We're obviously still trying to figure out how to describe this thing. It doesn't occupy a slot that people already have in their minds for a piece of software, except maybe "personal server", but even that is somewhat vague.

Because there's a different world of computing inside Urbit, with its own libraries, apps, languages, etc., it can take a while to wrap your head around.

What's funny about this is that the Urbit world is orders of magnitude simpler than a standard Unix-based stack. We've just spent so much time learning things like DNS A records vs. CNAMEs and what 'xzvf' do for tar, that a parallel universe of these constructs seems bewildering again.

The best way to describe it is to tell us why we would want to use it. Also, don't say "it's a computer". It's not. A computer is what I'm typing this on - a piece of hardware.

So - why would I want to use Urbit? Which problems does it solve? How will it make my life easier? Does it have any features that will make me say "wow, this is so cool!"

I do work for Tlon, if that wasn't obvious. I also find the "computer" terminology misleading, so I'm with you on that.

Why would you want to use Urbit? The same reasons you want to use the modern consumer internet, which Urbit intends to pave over and replace with something better.

How is Urbit better? Because you'll have all your data and programs on one machine, which you control, using an open source operating system. You can build a peer-to-peer twitter or facebook clone on Urbit in a day or two, because the OS handles more of the distributed systems and identity problems that have killed most peer-to-peer projects in the past.

It's still in alpha, so it's a bit slow and buggy, and a lot more work has been put into kernelspace than userspace so far. What will make you way "wow this is cool" varies widely, but some good candidates are: - an internet experience not predicated on surveillance capitalism - no ads - control over your UI - a minimal aesthetic - interesting people to talk to on the network - lack of the twitter "thunderdome" feel - if you like to write programs, the Urbit system is fascinating to work with; I've learned a lot more CS from working on it

The other thing that's cool is that this new world isn't yet fully settled. You can write a little talkbot or something and still have a big effect on the culture.

you'll have all your data and programs on one machine

Which machine? The laptop I'm typing this on? It's too small and too unreliable to hold all my data. Some cloud server? Who owns it? How would this be different from storing my data on Google or Apple servers? Some network of machines BitTorrent style? Something else entirely?

What do you mean "no ads"? Internet is funded by ads. Do I pay some monthly fee? How much? How reliable will it be? Why should I trust you with my data? If no fees and no ads, how will this be funded?

> I do work for Tlon, if that wasn't obvious.

This is at least your 4th, and potentially your 8th, comment on this story (at this point I can only tell what hour your posts were made in). Why did you wait so long to make this disclosure, and to the best of your knowledge who else in these comments works for this company?

Oh dear. Let me start by saying that I find Urbit interesting in it's own right. I'm generally interested in distributed systems, and Urbit's Nock and Hoon are weird languages that I'm interested in despite not coming close to groking. That said, we should also remember where it came from (without throwing the baby -- if there is a baby -- out with the bath water). Curtis Yarvin previously wrote a blog called Unqualified Reservations under the penname Mencius Moldbug. Urbit takes it's name from this blog. He voiced a number of regressive views there, including very racist and anti-democratic ones. Some choice quotes:

> No one who condones Che, Stalin, Mao, or any other leftist murderer, has any right to ask anyone else to dissociate himself from a rightist who didn't even make triple digits. Anders Behring Breivik is a terrorist. Nelson Mandela is a terrorist. Nelson Mandela is the most revered living political figure on our beautiful blue planet… If you ask me to condemn Anders Breivik, but adore Nelson Mandela, perhaps you have a mother you'd like to fuck.

> Not all humans are born the same, of course, and the innate character and intelligence of some is more suited to mastery than slavery. For others, it is more suited to slavery. And others still are badly suited to either. These characteristics can be expected to group differently in human populations of different origins. Thus, Spaniards and Englishmen in the Americas in the 17th and earlier centuries, whose sense of political correctness was negligible, found that Africans tended to make good slaves and Indians did not. This broad pattern of observation is most parsimoniously explained by genetic differences.

> Political power is a property right, however you slice it. It is owned, not deserved. It is not a natural or "human" right. And it has no more to do with freedom than brake fluid with fondue.

Curtis Yarvin is a libertarian. As an anarchistic, I consider libertarians my non-committal brethren. I don't have a̶n̶y̶t̶h̶i̶n̶g̶ much against libertarians, but the weird thing about Curtis Yarvin is that he's a monarchist libertarian. He literally wants a strong man ruler who enforces libertarian policies through an iron grip. He also believes in binary genders, which is reflected in Urbit's requirement of the user to identify as a Lord or a Lady. His personal views aren't just an aside, they're reflected in the name and workings of this system.

Some more quotes, in case you're not yet convinced of how horrible Curtis Yarvin is:

> Was royalism a perfect system? It was not. But if we imagine a world in which the revolutions and civil wars of the last four centuries had never happened, it is hard not to imagine that world as happier, wealthier, freer, more civilized, and more pleasant.

> Modern Americans have enormous difficulty in grasping hierarchical social structures. We grew up steeped in "applied Christianity" pretty much the way the Hitler Youth grew up steeped in Hitler. The suggesting that slavery could ever be or have been, as Aristotle suggests, natural and healthy, is like suggesting to the Hitler Youth that it might be cool to make some Jewish friends… We think of the master-slave relationship as usually sick and twisted, and invariably adversarial. Parent-child relationships can be all three. But they are not normally so. If history (not to mention evolutionary biology) proves anything, it proves that humans fit into dominance-submission structures almost as easily as they fit into the nuclear family.

> In my opinion just about every country on earth today would benefit from a transition to military government…

> It's a reality of modern American life that race confers privilege. As a reactionary, how can I possibly object? A society without hereditary privilege is like a cheeseburger without cheese.

Again, none of this means that Urbit doesn't have interesting ideas that could be used/forked. But this is the context that this system was created in, and it is reflected in the system.

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that HN is the HR department at your company. Pointing to someone's opinions and shrieking doesn't really fly here.

Particularly when the opinions are fairly defensible. (I.e. the only moral principle by which Breivik (whom I abhore) is worse than Che is "anything done in the service of left-wing causes is ok.")

I'm under the impression that a lot of people in these comments seem unaware of the history of this project, and how the views of the Yarvin/Moldbug shaped early decisions such as naming and user titles. I'm not under the impression that you speak for HN; I've seen the comment you're replying to fluctuate between 2 and -2... and that's with Tlon employees engaging in the comments without showing good faith (e.g. not identifying themselves). I would call the comment you're replying to controversial, but I don't think it's fair to call the comment "shrieking" or say that it "doesn't really fly here." So far it is getting both upvoted and downvoted, repeatedly.

Yes, he mentioned Che. He dwelled on Mandela. Is 1962 South Africa comparable to 2011 Norway? I feel like that excerpt has 2 purposes, arguing for political violence being equally valid no matter the circumstances of the state you're living in, and race-baiting. He didn't dwell on those examples at random. Do his lines about the natural predisposition of black people towards slavery seem "fairly defensible" to you? I tried to include enough absurd quotes that most folks could find something that would make them understand where this character is coming from, even if they agreed with some small part of his thinkings.

These guys keep coming back every few months/year and it worries me. These people are trying to build something esoteric that is trying to tap into the draw of ritualistic enigmas all with the aim of forwarding their racist views on society. I really wish they would go away.

Everyone's going off on Yarvin's vanity politics, but has anyone read the BS on this urbit site? Reads more like an advert for skin cream than the "next big thing" in computing.

A small number of contributors, re-inventing the wheel, in systems where giants have struggled, and fell short of the mark. Hard pass.


It's like a Hollywood sci-fi writer first wrote a bad script describing tech in fictioud terms, and someone though it a good idea to use the movie script as the site copy, user manual and FAQ.

How can anyone take this seriously if there's not even a half attempt to describe the product and features honestly

So this is the 3rd time these guys are coming back here and because of the tepid reception they’ve received in the past it looks like they bought shills along this time.

The concept of signing into untrusted hardware to get access to your entire digital life was interesting in around ~2004, when people had enough stuff online to be useful but laptops were heavy and didn’t have network access. With a modern phone, and an LG gram laptop for desktop tasks, there’s no reason to expose yourself to the massive security pwnage of signing in on hardware you don’t own.

The project founder’s wikipedia page:


It has leaked over to the project WP page:


I personally choose not to run this software or support this project. YMMV.

The reason I found Yarvin’s (awesome) writing in the first place was because of a post like this on Twitter.

I figured that if vinegar-drinking scolds hated him, he might have something interesting to say. Your post will probably have a similar effect for a couple lucky people.

The difference between Yarvin and vinegar-drinking scolds is that Yarvin merely repeats yesterday's vinegar-drinking scolds. If you like his writing, there's literally centuries' worth of it (in fact, it only stopped being the norm rather recently), and if you go study history at a university you'll read quite a lot of it. It does seem less fresh, though, once you read it in proper chronological order, and with appropriate context, rather than somebody posting a stuffy, safe, and dull 1897 text as a surprising, reactionary 2012 blog post. He served cold leftovers and seemed like a chef to people who'd never had a good meal.

I actually agree strongly: one of the best things in his writing is his references to primary sources, many of which I found extremely enjoyable to read. The past is a foreign country more interesting than any tourist trip you can take.

If the only thing the Moldbug posts did was link to that material, that would be a service in itself.

To give Yarvin his due though, he does a good job synthesizing it all into a general theory of power being a necessary and sufficient explanation of motivations in most cases.

Except for two problems: his understanding of the material is well below that of a first-year history student (he's a layman more than an amateur), and any decent college book or course contains far better references. Second, there is nothing new about his positions. They're a rehashing of the old mainstream, that was rejected over time because of societal and technological changes he doesn't know and certainly doesn't understand. As someone who studied both physics and history in grad school, his writing about history seems to make as much sense to someone who has actually learned that history as the multitude of texts about Reiki and channeling aliens that mention "quantum energy" make sense to someone who has actually studied physics. It only looks interesting (in a serious way) when you know virtually nothing. I read it in the same way I read about Reiki: a sort of curious anthropological entertainment from an epistemology that diverges sharply from science and scholarship. Sort of like a modern person would enjoy reading medieval texts about body humours or the four elements. So it's interesting to me to see the alternative constructions people who have no real scholarship make in order to understand the world around them.

> his understanding of the material is well below that of a first-year history student

Met plenty of history grad students in grad school. Well-read but intellectually very limited, and very herd-minded. But, then, I did not go to an Ivy with a tradition of excellence in the humanities.

> Second, there is nothing new about his positions

Of course there is, it's just the nutty cypherpunk stuff like crypto-locked nukes.

> As someone who studied both physics and history in grad school

You're a member of an extremely small class. He does not write for people like you. It makes no sense to write for people like you if power is the goal.

Marx's writing was childish beyond belief. He did not even know calculus. Yet, look at how much has been unleashed on his behalf.

Oh, I have no doubt Yarvin's writings could unleash something, if only because they already did. They're a rehashing of what became mainstream opinions following Romanticism [1]. Eugenics [2] was taught in numerous universities at the beginning of the 20th century. Clearly, some people can find Romanticism appealing today for the same reason they found it appealing in the 19th c., and they will find it appealing, yet again in the 23rd. The only defense is knowing how and why it arose the first time around, and why it was ultimately rejected.

If you want to read a book about the struggle of Romanticism and Humanism, read Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain.[3]

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magic_Mountain


For those interested in a direct response by a scholar to another, perhaps less extreme and more sophisticated, charlatan of Yarvin's general milieu, see: https://thebaffler.com/latest/peterson-ganz-klein

Eugenics emerged in modern times as a Progressive-era policy. It seems kind of vague and perhaps misleading to link it to Romanticism, when actually it follows along the exact same lines as the secular, "scientific" Humanism that you evidently find so appealing.

It emerged as a result of both. Reactionary/romantic ideals have always co-opted what they viewed as scientific knowledge or technology in the service of their imagined past. That progressive ideals may have also ultimately employed horrific tools goes without saying, and that some conservative forces have sometimes opposed them is also true. But that's my point: any presentation of history as some appealing narrative leading to a conclusion is wrong, regardless of whether it's done intentionally by a scholar wishing to push an agenda, or unintentionally by name-dropping, bloviating ignoramuses like Yarvin.

> But that's my point: any presentation of history as some appealing narrative leading to a conclusion is wrong

All simplified models are wrong. Some are useful. (And it's very hard to avoid 'appeal' being a critical factor in the popularity of any model or narrative. It acts as a single point of failure in any truth-seeking mechanism, including academia and the like. This of course explains much about the popularity of some contemporary ideas.)

Well, Yarvin's "model" is both very wrong (much more wrong than most models by actual scholars) and not useful; we know that because that "model" was once mainstream, and quite harmful.

Harmful to whom?

To a far greater portion of human society than those it was perhaps useful for, if anyone.

Yet, it was the horrible, horrible Europe that Moldbug mythologizes and romanticizes that made virtually all advances in science and technology until a few decades ago.

Ancient Greece produced mechanical computers. Only recently did the great civilizations of China and India overcome Hellenic science & technology. Having Mandarins cataloging the Emperor's property is not a great use of human capital.

What? Non-sequitur much?

While the so-called European Miracle of the past 500 years is a fascinating and complex area of research that will undoubtedly be studied for generations and centuries to come, I wasn't aware that anyone considers modern (18th c. and beyond) romanticist ideology to be the major driving force of science and technology.

"Romanticist ideology" is a remarkably vague term, but I think one could make a case that something like it ended up being very much a factor. Of course, the reverse is also true; in the absence of 18th- and 19th-century science (including advancements in the social sciences, mostly coming from the "humanist" side as Carlyle knew quite well!) no "romanticist" ideology would even exist.

That’s a... debatable assertion about the history of science in those places.

Ignorant? He probably read more old books than you -- which does not mean he understood much. He spent 7 years of early retirement burning his dot-com loot on Amazon.

That seems unlikely, since 'pron has repeatedly identified himself as a (former?) history grad student / PhD candidate, and, in various threads on the site, has gone into enough depth on the topic that I'd be disinclined to doubt them.

Moldbug allegedly acquired enough loot during the dot-com bubble to afford spending 7 years at home reading something like 1 book per day. That could be 2500 books in total.

History grad students have to TA. They have to produce research. It's hard to consume as much as Moldbug when one has such demands on one's time.

More importantly, Moldbug almost certainly has more brainpower than the vast majority of history grad students. Whether he used such brainpower wisely is highly debatable.

The "amateur scholar" is a well-established 18th- and 19th-century tradition, and Moldbug would be merely following in it. While the 20th-century model of academia has more overall throughput and perhaps even more output, it's not clear that it's anywhere near as efficient in its use of human effort or brainpower.

Once the full implications of evolutionary biology are grasped, eugenics will inevitably become part of the religion of the future, or of whatever complex of sentiments may in the future take the place of organized religion. It is not merely a sane outlet for human altruism, but is of all outlets for altruism that which is most comprehensive and of longest range.

- Julian S. Huxley (co-founder of UNESCO), 1936

It's well-known that the Nazis imported eugenics from Yale and Oxbridge. And eugenics was publicly defended by people all over the political spectrum until 1939. After 1945, it went underground. It never went away.

Moldbug can preach his Carlyleism all he wants. In the end, the unleashing of energy will be due to people researching the genetic basis of intelligence and IVF. The pathological bloviators preach, the unsung soldiers and scientists make things happen.

> In the end, the unleashing of energy will be due to people researching the genetic basis of intelligence and IVF.

I'm not so sure. There is a core problem here, and that is that intelligence is not all that it's made up to be. It takes no more than a glance at the current American president to see that. That intelligence (by which I mean relative intelligence) is some ultimate power is, itself, a myth perpetuated by people who consider themselves particularly intelligent. You'd hear similar things about beauty from beautiful people. Clearly, many great works were done by people who were not amazingly intelligent, and people who were amazingly intelligent have done some amazingly stupid things. Personally, I think charisma is far more important. I see no inherent reason why any discoveries regarding intelligence would have bigger consequences than discoveries about charisma.

You don't need to understand intelligence that well to change the world. A little predictive power can go very far.

In the end, it's a bit like playing roulette. A small edge and many bets will make you rich.

> I see no inherent reason why any discoveries regarding intelligence would have bigger consequences than discoveries about charisma.

It was not charisma that cracked Enigma and built the A-bomb. Better brains means better weapons, which means conquering and annihilating stupider tribes. It's the history of Mankind.

Charisma helps uniting tribes. But united tribes of many hunter-gatherers can be slaughtered by a handful of machine guns produced by boring industrialized societies.

> A little predictive power can go very far.

Yeah, but I don't think intelligent people are better at predicting things (weighted by impact). Again, look at the current US president; or at stock traders.

> It was not charisma that cracked Enigma and built the A-bomb.

No, but arguably neither would have been done when they were done if it weren't for a war that started largely due to charisma.

> But united tribes of many hunter-gatherers can be slaughtered by a handful of machine guns produced by boring industrialized societies.

But it's not high relative intelligence that brought us industrialization. Those same people who were later industrialized had had hundreds of thousands of years of hunting-gathering.


What's especially ironic about this is that we do a terrible job of educating even people of entirely average intelligence, never mind 'morons'. But of course this has nothing to do with purported genetic bases of intelligence, and everything with how our "budget(s) devoted to education" are used.

> A dollar wasted on trying to educate a moron could be invested in military R&D.

How would you know if that's a dollar better-spent? All humans are pretty bad at flying, yet airplanes are pretty useful. All of technology is spending on the respective meaning of "educating morons." Military R&D is a great example. A weakling with a gun can easily beat a strong sword-wielding knight. In fact, the difference between a strong fighter with a sword and a weakling with a sword is pretty much erased by guns.

> Do you mean Napoleon? Or von Bismarck?

I meant Hitler. Napoleon was a different story, but WWI was also very much a product of Romanticism.

> you outed yourself as a non-European

Well, I'm Jewish.

> You're implying that a hunter-gatherer society, an agricultural society and an industrialized society select for the same traits.

Traits? Have we already established that natural selection in the past ~10000 years since the agricultural revolution has had any significant impact in shaping human society? (To be clear, that was a rhetorical question; no, we have not established that).


Whoa, I don't know if I would start by teaching you history or the basic mathematics of natural selection. I'm always impressed by how the ability to form coherent explanatory narratives is inversely proportional to the amount of factual knowledge possessed (of course it is -- fewer points require a lower-degree polynomial -- but still, it does require some level of oblivious confidence that I've never had). I'm sorry, but I completely misjudged the nature of this conversation. Stepping away now, and I hope you get better.

By the way, my great grandparents weren't elites so much as they were poor tradesmen, except maybe in the addled minds of the followers of ignorant "great men," armed with a romantic ideology of an imagined past and pseudo-science -- and, of course, guns -- who brutally murdered them. Apparently, my great-grandparent's "superior Ashkenazi cognition" wasn't enough to ensure their survival -- maybe because of some other "weaknesses associated with their race," but I think that the more plausible explanation is that it was because of racism, a force that seems to trump intelligence time and again.

The cold leftovers can still be highly nutritious to those raised on processed, mythologized, state-endorsed pseudo-history.

I don't know what to say except that as someone who has studied history professionally for some years, Yarvin's history is far more mythologized than the "state-endorsed pseudo-history." Hell, Yarvin's writings were the state-endorsed pseudo-history from about 1820 to 1920.

They read like a text by a Reiki guru about quantum physics. It, too, can be surprising by pointing out that the Newtonian mechanics you learned in high-school is far from the whole story, except that the story they give is just... wrong. I'm not saying one couldn't come to the same position as him while actually knowing history, but he specifically certainly doesn't.

Mythmaking and mythbusting do not have to be mutually exclusive. If one can recognize the former, the whole can be edifying.

I agree that the founder has some pretty odious beliefs, chiefly racist, misogynistic, fascist, and the ilk. That said, Urbit is one of the most interesting projects I've seen.

Founder isn’t associated with project anymore. Worth taking another look

It says he quit; it does not say he doesn’t still have equity.

from the FAQ: "In early 2019, Curtis left the Urbit project and gave all of his voting interest (both as address space and voting shares in the company) back to Tlon. He retains a non-voting, minority interest in both the address space and the company — but is not involved in the day-to-day development or operations."


Can you back up this claim?

Here is the ending of the second-to-last entry in Unqualified Reservations by Curtis Yarvin (AKA Mencius Moldbug)[0]:

> Anyway. UR will reemerge, of course. But not here, and not soon—and probably not even in this form. I’ll also try to do something non-lame with the archives. Thanks for reading!

If the name alone isn't enough, I feel like this context makes it pretty obvious that he named Urbit after his racist blog.

[0]: https://www.unqualified-reservations.org/2014/08/hiatus/

No, Urbit is named after urbs, urbis, the Latin word for “city,” together with the computer term bit.


He claims to have been working on Urbit since 2002, and the first UR post was from 2007. It's entirely believable to me that the name Urbit came first (albeit not publicly), but the names are very obviously related and the quote I pulled above shows that he considers some post-2014 project a continuation of UR. I can believe the specific claims of the comment you linked, but I think it dances around the fact that these two projects are purposefully tied together by nomenclature. Whether UR or Urbit was named first in Yarvin's head isn't really the point.

It’s an open-source project. Anyone can work on it or fork it. If you’ve got technical criticism, let’s hear it.

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