When we design things for real people, we exponentially increase our chances of winning.
You might be reading this and saying “duh,” but having recently attended Crypto week in Miami, I saw a lot of shiny objects and technologies and products that were created for “users” — many of which failed to know their audience or the problems they were solving for them.
My top takeaway is this: if you want a stake in the future, you’ve got to secure a beachhead where you can help people address real problems. The good news is this is not a new position — winners in every phase of the internet have identified their customers’ pain points and challenges and created innovative solutions. Just because the metaverse is a new iteration of the internet doesn’t mean the fundamentals of product creation and UX/UI go out the window.
In fact, you’re smart to double down on the existing wisdom created by design — more on that in a minute.
The bad news is that this is a gold rush, so there are a lot of speculators who are racing in to stake their claim. From Bitcoin-curious traditional finance dudes lining up to be “orange pilled” at one of the countless parties in Miami to political punks looking to upend the world order, there are clearly plenty of opportunists ready and willing to jump onboard the Web3 party bus.
For example, even if you don’t know or care much about Bitcoin 22, you probably heard about venture capitalist and self-proclaimed pro-crypto, pro-Bitcoin maximalist Peter Thiel’s rant against what he calls the “gerontocracy.” That kind of distraction doesn’t help anyone. Listening to billionaires go off on what Web3 is and isn’t might make it feel elitist and out of reach.
To me, the answer is simple: bet on the builders.
Because the path to the future is always devised and constructed by people who know how to listen to people — also known as potential collaborators, customers, and clients — and can recognize the signals from the noise.
As David Bowie once said, “Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming.”
The Building Blocks
Of course, decentralized blockchains are one of the “building blocks” of Web3. But that’s just the technology. Someone has to use that tech to create accessible experiences and interfaces that reflect the lofty promises of the brave new online world, like inclusivity, democratization, and digital-first.
So far, so meh. Take, for example, the chosen chat tool of gamers and NFT projects, Discord. I’m in a ton of servers and use the app for several of my own company initiatives, and even for me, the UX is unnecessarily complicated. A colleague of mine describes it metaphorically like her family basement where her gamer brother and his friends used to hang out, having endless private joke-laden conversations while she stumbled around in the dark, tripping over wires and too intimidated to jump into any games — even easy ones like Mario Kart.
Web3 will be all about how people gather, create, trade, and connect. The way I see it, there are three specific types of builders worth watching, emulating, and joining when the opportunities arise.
- MAKERS: Students of the internet (those who learn and do)
These are people who see the internet as the great equalizer. These adept creators and contributors to open-source software, which has democratized how people design, write and build software, naturally pave the way to increasingly more accessible and enjoyable user experiences.
- CONVENERS: Community creators (those who connect and create safe spaces and belonging for others)
In Web2, the platform is the community (think Facebook Groups, Twitter Spaces, Reddit’s subreddits). In Web3, there’s a symbiotic relationship between users and builders; those who are skilled at rallying enthusiastic users and ensuring the experience is equitable and inclusive rise to the top.
- OPTIMIZERS: Value creators (those who innovate UX for optimal experiences)
Whether you’re trading in crypto or ye olde fashioned fiat cash, the most valuable currency in the world is time. Those builders who make experiences fast, seamless, and engaging at every touchpoint are invaluable.
These types of humans — engineers, coders, designers, artists, content, and community creators — are the true “building blocks” of the metaverse. It’s obvious for so many reasons, but don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Mark Zuckerberg said back in 2017 at the annual (then) Facebook Developers conference when, according to technology journalist David Kushner, he called upon programmers to create apps for Camera Effects, their then-new mixed reality platform:
“Over time, I think this will be a really important technology that changes how we use our phones.”
Yup, pretty much spot on. Today, Meta is working on a mixed reality headset and AR glasses, due in the next couple of years. It takes a builder to know that all builders need are the tools, room to experiment, and a little bit of time. And then, the sky’s the limit — and even that’s not so limited.
Builders Break Down Barriers
At this point, you might be a bit bummed or hating on me that I’m referencing Zuckerberg, as he and his Silicon Valley ilk (white, privileged, geeky) are so closely associated with so many negatives in the Web2 world from the proliferation of propaganda to the erosion of privacy. I hate to say it, but some of that ethos ain’t gonna change. The tech people with the money and power from Web2 platforms are already staking their claim in the metaverse and have been for years. (Hello, “Meta.”)
But stop and ask yourself for a moment: have you used Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp, Oculus (QuestVR), Workplace, or Portal today? If you have, then before scoffing, take a moment and consider what you would do differently. Often the things we set out to create take on a mind or way of their own.
But I still hold out hope in the same way that Packy McCormick does. As he points out, the whole Web3 world is inviting a swarm of attention right now (hello, 30,000 people descending on Miami while the pandemic still rages on… and btw, almost all the people I went down there with came back with Covid). The good news is that baked into the composable internet are game-changing, barrier-busting things like transparency, purpose-driven communities, trust, and proof. (Hell, YES, we can show the receipts on the blockchain.)
As McCormick points out:
“The big opportunity for web3 is to provide the tools and incentives to hack the swarm for good, to direct it to work on hard unsolved coordination challenges that we didn’t have the tools to address through markets previously.”
When it’s put that way, I know I’m all in. You too?
Pushing Past Just Checking the Box: A Real Push Into Verifiable Trust
In the Web2 world, we’ve got “blue checks” for verified accounts, which, if I recall, when submitting for mine on Twitter, includes uploading things like my license and maybe another form of identification.
Instagram, TikTok, and most major social platforms have followed suit with similar badging systems. Good in theory, but all it accounts for is that the account is “authentic, notable, and active.” (That’s how Twitter says it, anyway — at least until Elon changes it.) So, in my mind, these signal statuses don’t say anything about how credible or “trusted” someone is.
The beauty of the blockchain is the immutable nature of its inner workings. The blockchain doesn’t forget, and forgeries are easily spotted.
Take, for example, founding Ethereum member, software engineer, and seasoned CTO Steve Dakh. I met him during Crypto Week in Miami, and we had a fascinating conversation about his latest project, Ethereum Attestation Service (EAS). This protocol directly addresses one of the biggest issues online: trust. He and his team are working on solving “the interoperability problem for all trust and identity services being built today and in the future.”
When thinking about where to dine out tonight with your special someone, are you more likely to trust Yelp or your foodie friend that always knows just the right place to go?
Trust needs to be verifiable, and thanks to blockchain, we have the technology to make this possible now. What we lack is a universally adopted way to do this.
When chatting with Dakh, he got me thinking about the power of trust and what it could unlock for society if widely adopted. After all, his work on attestations, which can be anything from a vote to a license to drive or a ticket to an event, is all about coming up with a technical standard and a decentralized ledger for on-chain attestations to live. As he told me:
“One of the reasons blockchain technology has not been used for much more than financially related applications is there is currently no standardized way of making generalized attestations. Because of this, different projects currently bake in their own custom standards which make many assumptions on what attestations should look like and how they work.”
Dakh is a builder, and this is the perfect example of a critical problem to be solved for the public good. EAS is his solution, so he’s now working on a mobile app that can be used to make, verify, and manage on and off-chain attestations.
This should help ensure we’re not looking at a Black Mirror future. It’s critical that reputation is verifiable and ratings can be trusted.
So, breaking down barriers to participation with human-centric design is essential to a better future. That’s why I say bet on the builders — because they’re the ones using listening loops, tapping into real user sentiment, and creating authentic experiences that welcome more people into the tent.
This is also a warning shot across the bow for brands: if you’re not building your brand with an open/composable set of principles, then you’re not going to survive in the future.
If you’re a builder, I’m curious about your Web3 path — hit me up on Twitter @petesena — DMS are open.