Michael Gingras

Interested in lots of things, but mainly -- crypto, browsertech, and interfaces.

What People Get Wrong About Crypto

December 16, 2023 crypto

currently a work in progress

It’s currently in vogue to shit on crypto. Some quotes I’ve heard lately…

I always knew crypto was a scam.

I know a lot of kids your age were into that crypto thing — I stayed away.

At least ML is useful, unlike web3!

There’s quite a bit of misunderstanding about why crypto is, at the very least, something interesting to spend time on. Not everyone who works in the crypto space is motivated by get rich quick schemes or scamming others with rug-pull NFT collections. Further, it’s possible that the most interesting pieces of crypto are actually not the ones people traditionally think of. Crypto might provide the rails for a new way of building software, which is cool and a win in my book. It’s myopic to look at the (many!) public negatives of crypto and use that to dismiss the entire industry.

Open Source 2.0

If you spend any amount of time developing software, especially web software, you know the value of open source. In the React community, any sort of problem you could possibly run into already has a solution freely available online via an open source implementation. Authentication, styled components, data stores, you name it, it’s been solved. Through open source, common needs are abstracted into freely available solutions that anyone can use, improve on, or fork. This has greatly improved the developer experience of creating web apps, and the space continues to innovate upon itself.

However, there is a limit to how far open source can go. Open source can offer the abstract functionality, but it can’t offer the business logic. I’m having a hard time coming up with a great analogy, but it doesn’t provide the API.

Smart contracts are like open source APIs. You write up a smart contract, define some sort of interface with functions that implement some business logic, and anyone can call it permissionlessly. Additionally, since the smart contract is publically available, others can “fork” it and create their own twist on whatever is published.

There are many inspiring examples of why this is useful. Twitter rose to popularity in part because developers were able to create interesting and novel experiences using the twitter API. However, once twitter became sufficiently popular as a service, they decided to shut developers off from the API, effectively killing the businesses that helped bring twitter to popularity. In a similar vein, reddit recently increased the cost of calling it’s API so much that popular third party clients were forced to shut down since they could no longer afford to pay the new prices. Imagine if instead that these social platforms were permissionless.

Additionally, since the interfaces for these contracts are open, anyone can write software that builds on top of a contract and it will just work. Nouns is a perfect example of a simple idea in the form of a smart contract that has proliferated via many new contracts that supplement that core Nouns experience. Since these supplementary experiences are able to build on top of the core Nouns contract, they are able to leverage the existing community and infrastructure that has been built up around Nouns. This is a win for everyone involved.

Another way to think of the value of smart contracts is to consider what is possible if all data were available permissionlessly. As an example, a few months ago I wanted to create a dashboard comparing the completion times of my friends and I in the NYT daily mini crossword. Each day NYT publishes a leaderboard, but the stats are quite limited. I was able to figure out the API that NYT uses to publis the leaderboard, but it required an API key that was scoped to each user. For this reason, I could only get my own data, but not my friends. Despite my friends being loosely interested in seeing a more data intensive leaderboard, they did not want to go through the hoops of getting their own API keys and sharing them with me. If all of this data were available permissionlessly, I would have no problem building such a leaderboard. This data access would have been available were NYT crossword to have been built on web3 rails.

Financialization of Anything

coming soon

Hyperstructures + Funding

coming soon

Veblan Goods

Like it or not, digital items can be Veblan goods. The NFT standard is the best way to create digital Veblan goods. Whether or not you personally find digital items compelling does not make this fact untrue. Let me say that again for the Booomers in the back… Whether or not you personally find digital items compelling does not make this fact untrue.