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Is Web3’s Culture and Technology Enough to Expand the Blockchain Market on Their Own?

The core blockchain sector should reevaluate whether they believe they can independently onboard the next millions or billions of consumers. 

I relate to a section from Gavin Wood’s Polkadot 2023 Roundup.

“…the failings of certain individuals who seem to think the messaging and marketability of Web3 can be successfully divorced from its technology and culture,” was Gavin’s explanation for the crypto winter.

Although I agree with the first paragraph about the “failings of certain individuals,” I don’t think the mismatch between Web3 culture and marketing messaging is to blame. 

Rather, there’s a mismatch between the go-to-market strategy of the Web3 culture and the realities of customer adoption. 

Web3’s technology and culture have been challenged in their own ways pertaining to their messaging and marketability. More than ten years into the birth of this industry, we still can’t point to a mainstream-class application with millions of daily or even weekly active users (not counting exchanges or wallets).

Web3 is reaching a wall in terms of user expansion because of subpar user experiences, as I’ve previously written, We Need Web2 User Experience To Get Us to Web3, Not Blockchain Protocols

There is too much attention on the infrastructure players, yet they aren’t the ones that will ultimately own the consumer experiences.  

Most L1 blockchain infrastructure teams are relatively small businesses (at the most, less than 250 in headcount). It is very difficult for them to wage multiple battles at once. First, they are fighting each other for mindshare and marketing messages to get attention. Second, they are continuously focused on herding people to develop and evolve their technologies. Thirdly, they must work very hard to draw in developers and users to reach significant adoption.

It’s difficult to execute all three parts well unless the surrounding ecosystem has expanded significantly to the point that, in the event of the central entity’s disappearance, the ecosystem as a whole would continue to advance with little to no harm. 

Few infrastructure protocols are as (organizationally) decentralized as the ethos they evangelize to be enabling. Except for Bitcoin, most Foundations (or Labs) organizations continue to act as the main locomotive that pulls the whole train forward. Perhaps Ethereum comes in a close second due to the ongoing self-effacing nature of the Ethereum Foundation, whose role has shrunk considerably in relative terms compared to what the ecosystem is delivering.

Since adoption is the one factor that matters in terms of success, let’s return to it.

So, how will the remaining millions (and billions) of users be drawn to crypto and the blockchain? 

Within the current landscape of Web3 apps, the mainstream user will be hard-pressed to get excited and take on current Web3 apps like duck to water because there is too much of a jump to get into crypto with both feet and expect to figure things out. 

Consequently, we shouldn’t be disparaging app efforts posing as Web2-first. When paired with a Web3 aftertaste, Web2 apps make a delicious appetizer. 

I’m excluding “users” that speculate on cryptocurrency prices because, for many of them, central exchanges will give them user-friendly capabilities.

Infrastructure developers currently dominate the blockchain industry, but to attract application-first developers, we need to increase the number of developer-friendly services available.

Web3 and Web2 need each other. Let’s admit it.

The Web3 culture and technology have given us an incredible vision. But they need help in realizing it. 

Formal Disclosures Are Coming to Token-based Projects and Protocols

Disclosures not only serve to protect consumers, but they also help institutional investors feel more comfortable with digital assets.

I’ve just written an Opinion piece published in Fortune yesterday, entitled Public companies obey strict disclosure rules—it’s time for crypto projects to do the same

In this piece, I argue the crypto industry currently lacks proper disclosure practices at the level that regulators (and serious investors) will expect in the future.

“No proper disclosures” has been a refrain used by the SEC in their attempt to paint the industry’s non-compliance. 

You can read it on the above link (no paywall) as a preamble to my additional commentary on this topic.

I’ve poured over 3 recent significant legislations pertaining to digital assets: 

Each one of these recently published regulatory actions mentions the disclosure aspect several times and offers some guidelines for meeting them. However, none of them were detailed enough, nor specific enough about the peculiarities of digital assets and emerging (or established) projects that depend on the token’s utility. 

Last month, Paradigm published an excellent essay, The Current SEC Disclosure Framework Is Unfit for Crypto. Although it is clear the current framework and practices do not squarely apply, what would proper disclosures entail? That is where we should be focused, going forward.

Of course, several cryptocurrency projects claim to be sufficiently decentralized, and beg the question: are disclosures necessary? However, being decentralized is not a cop-out for the avoidance of responsibility to disclose comprehensive information about the performance and evolution of a given project. 

My counter-argument here is that even the most decentralized tokens such as Bitcoin and Ethereum could benefit from more cohesive disclosures about their evolution via performance metrics and indicators to prove their market status. 

Saying that a given protocol is open, therefore anyone can see their on-chain data is not enough, and certainly not a good reason for stopping to disclose a comprehensive view about the ecosystem. The problem with blockchain related data is that information is disjointed, tough to read and not cohesive enough for human comprehension or interpretation. Granted, a flury of analysts publish their own spins on given projects, but the quality of many such reports can be improved, and they don’t replace the requirement for base level data and information.

Furthermore, given the realtime nature of the blockchain, disclosures could be continuously available, and not a one-time regularly scheduled event. And the silver lining behind this approach is that decentralized protocols could disclose their performance autonomously, as I’ve explained in that previous blog post.

Disclosures don’t only protect consumers against excessive and unchecked promotion, they also allow for better correlation between success realities of projects and their market valuations. In essence, disclosures help make token holders and institutional investors better informed and more comfortable with digital assets. 

The formalization of disclosures is coming to crypto projects, whether decentralized, centralized or nascent. We should better prepare for it and embrace it. 

The Race to Change the SEC Course and Some Breakthrough Scenarios

It is unlikely the US Congress will pass significant crypto-related legislation soon in order to foil the SEC’s path of killing that industry. 

As I wrote last week, 81 crypto-related Bills have been proposed so far, but none have yet to pass. One of the most hopeful Bills pertaining to Stablecoins had to be re-written as the previous one died on the vine. Another “comprehensive” Bill is being promised by Rep. McHenry as a joint effort from the House Financial Services Committee and the Agriculture Panel.

The SEC has momentum, and they can move much faster than Congress, sadly. The only way to make headways is to throw the SEC a curveball, distract them, think out of the box, do something different, or wait for an unexpected event to change the variables.

Some candidate ideas could have a faster gestation period than passing a Bill. 

1/ Sideline Gensler’s Power

Statutorily, the SEC’s Chair reports to the US Congress. Rep. Warren Davidson is preparing a Bill he will introduce in May that might limit the powers of the Chair, and give the Commissioners more voice.

2/ The Coinbase Legal Battle

There are two interrelated parts to Coinbase’s situation. First, the much-publicized Wells Notice and their response to it. Second, is their filing of a “narrow action” asking the SEC to answer their 2022 petition. The silver lining in this situation is something called “The Major Questions Doctrine” as it might be used to argue that digital assets are not within the SEC scope, and that Congress should give that mandate.

3/ XRP (Ripple) Lawsuit

It can go either way, and the type of outcome will determine how significant this might be for the industry. 

4/ State Legislation Mess

In the absence of federal agencies’ leadership, several states are enacting legislation touching pieces of the blockchain industry. Although this patchwork of local regulation may or may not be congruent with the national strategy, it’s possible that one such Law might tip the attention and create a new sense of urgency. Notable mentions are California’s DAO Bill, Texas’ Mining Bill,  Florida’s proposal to ban CBDCs, Wyoming’s Bill on private crypto keys, etc. Regardless, this underscores the mess this is creating.

5/ Self-inflicted Event 

The SEC’s arrogance was asserted when they either sued or fined the top four US actors, Ripple (XRP), Coinbase, Kraken, and Gemini. It’s possible that something starts to crumble under Gensler’s dictatorial and domineering style of leadership. 

6/ A Major US Bank Endorsement

Although major US banks have been absent from any crypto cheerleading, that can change on a dime. These banks are under pressure to become more open-minded about the inevitability of the blockchain and cryptocurrencies. If one of them makes a bold move, others will be fast followers.

7/ Unexpected Turn in the FTX Trial

The trial is set for October, but it could get delayed, or we might see a speedy outcome. There hasn’t been a shortage of unexpected twists and turns, and that will probably continue as more layers of the onion get peeled.

8/ The US Dollar Tumbles

Many are sounding the alarm bell on the continuing weakness of the US dollar versus other world currencies, some of which are competing to replace its supremacy. Then you need to compound the US Fed’s insatiable appetite to print more USD, and the theory that cryptocurrency is a good alternative hedge against the devaluation of the dollar. The chart to keep an eye on is the US Dollar Index (DXY), which has been on the decline, dropping from 110.88 in November 2022 to 101.61 in early May 2023. 

9/ Senate Flip 

Midterm elections could flip the Senate toward a Republican majority which might embolden the US House to act more aggressively pertaining to cryptocurrency.

Of course, the probabilities are low for some of these scenarios, but everything is possible. We need a breakthrough because the current path for change is very slow.

And breakthroughs often come as a result of unexpected surprises.

To Change the Rules or Not, That is the Question

A trillion-dollar question is at the heart of the stalemate between the SEC and the crypto industry: should the SEC rules wiggle for crypto or not? 

Yesterday, at the US House Hearing Entitled: “The Future of Digital Assets: Identifying the Regulatory Gaps in Digital Asset Market Structure”, this statement from Representative Ritchie Torres caught my attention:

It summarizes the situation well. On one side, Chairman Gensler continues asserting there is nothing new here with crypto, and the industry should line-up under the existing regulation. His latest absurdity invokes a dog-goldfish analogy to traditional-crypto financial market.

On the other hand, a conventional wisdom reasoning would tilt on acknowledging that cryptocurrencies and blockchain-based technologies usher a slew of innovative business models and capabilities that must be allowed to live and prosper, especially when conceived and deployed in the United States, the largest and most vibrant capital market and economy in the world.

We know well by now, the SEC has not been shy about updating rules: 52 proposed new rulings in the past two years, of which 46 have been already enacted. Sadly, instead of expanding the scope of these rules to give life and validation to crypto, they have been doing the opposite: tightening the noose on existing regulation in order to explicitly choke crypto innovation, and that adds insult to injury. 

A picture is worth a thousand words. So, I’ll leave you to digest this diagram that says it all.

Where we are: 
Crypto is innovating at the edges of current regulations. True, it is currently hovering outside some existing regulatory boundaries.

Where we could be:
Update / Clarify rulings to encompass crypto, while still leaving some room for innovation at the edges.

What the SEC is doing: 
Tightening rules further to increase crypto exclusion. The SEC is updating some rules in the opposite direction, making it more difficult or impossible for crypto to comply. 

Could Decentralized Protocols Disclose their Performance Autonomously?

Forget DAOs, we need autonomous, real-time reporting for decentralized blockchain networks 

Let’s humor ourselves a bit. 

In a previous blog post, an SEC conundrum was exposed about expected disclosures meant to protect the consumers: if decentralized protocols have no central teams, who would be responsible for preparing and providing disclosures to the public? 

Of course, the extreme case of centerless decentralized blockchain consensus protocol is Bitcoin, closely followed by Ethereum. 

Transparency and disclosures are important. It’s a point the SEC has been harping on, and rightfully so. It is one of the key tenets of their raison d’être, “to require public companies, fund and asset managers, investment professionals, and other market participants to regularly disclose significant financial and other information so investors have the timely, accurate, and complete information they need to make confident and informed decisions about when or where to invest.” The objective of such disclosures is to prohibit deceit, misrepresentations, and other potential fraud.

Unfortunately, for many token-based projects, even some of the popular and centrally-managed ones, there are no transparency reporting standards, let alone plain transparency, or even any formal reporting. Information opacity and dissymmetry abound. 

However, most blockchain protocols have a variety of performance & operations-related dashboards and blockchain explorers that are rich with data, analysis, historical trends, and a variety of publicly or privately assembled valuable information. 

What if there was a way to string these information sources together intelligently, pluck out the most relevant data into a meta layer of sorts, and make that available in a format that would be digestible for interested “investors” or “token holders” and would give them an informed and accurate view about the network performance in a normalized manner?

Let’s take this concept further. 

That first meta layer could be fed into an AI layer that creates the narrative around the data.

Then, one could feed that narrative in a text-to-speech conversion later, and make that available to anyone who wants to obtain a voice update on how a particular project is doing. 

And since everything is real-time, that process could run as a continuous loop, and it could even be provided on-demand, at any point in time. 

Finally, another AI-driven query layer would be able to take human prompts and generate the right responses. 

There we have it. Autonomous reporting. There is no need for end-of-quarter reporting in blockchain networks. They run non-stop, so their performance indicators should be read non-stop. 

We have been advocating DAOs for a while, with no visibly spectacular examples to point to. 

How about we start with Autonomous Reporting?

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