Consensus – Coindesk’s annual blockchain conference – completed late last week, after what was a three day series of discussions at New York’s Midtown Hilton Hotel.
It was the fourth such event organised by Coindesk in as many years, and a reported 4000+ participants showed up to watch over 250 speakers, drawn largely from the world of blockchain start-ups, to attend talks on subjects ranging from scalability through to privacy and net neutrality.
Content Monetisation and Mass Adoption
It was the last of these topics which arguably developed into the major theme of the conference, with one talk in particular – Net Neutrality & Content Monetisation – emerging as one of the highlights of the event.
Amongst the speakers on the platform were representatives of three startups that, together, embody the brave new world offered up by blockchain technology and its ability to democratise the internet and its content.
Firstly, Ryan Shea, founder of Blockstack, a blockchain startup which ICO’ed back in early December, raising $50m in the process thanks in part to financial backing from the Winklevoss brothers, and which is bidding to create a “parallel internet” that puts users firmly in control of their online identity.
Next sat Ned Scott, CEO of the Steemit website founded in 2016, a blogging-type platform which is similar in concept to Reddit but one in which its reputation system manifests itself as rewards for contributors paid in cryptocurrency, served up by the Steem blockchain in return for what is judged to be good content and good content curation.
Finally, Adi Sideman, CEO of Younow, a Youtube-type platform which has been seeking to displace its more widely known competitor with a platform whereby consumers pay voluntary micro-rewards to creators of engaging video content.
Whilst the talk was formally focused on the ability of the blockchain to create new platforms that reward participants more fairly for their contributions than content mastodons such as Youtube and Facebook, the discussion quickly widened to the problem of mass adoption.
Cryptocurrency platforms “offer instantaneous transfers and autonomous and controls” that “have become a new commodity in themselves,” Scott stated, and the effect is a kind of “particle accelerator” which has resulted in the exponential growth of interest in crypto technologies. He acknowledged, however, that one barrier to wider adoption was the sheer confusion thrown up by the nature of blockchain technology which can run counter to people’s intuition as derived from their experience in the real world.
Another problem, underlined by Shea, is that the blockchain industry is currently“dominated by hype and speculation,” highlighting the need to keep focus on real applications with real use cases. His solution for doing so lies in creating an ecosystem where applications see their creators being rewarded by the Blockstack blockchain in direct correlation to their use.
In other words, Shea’s idea is to organise incentive mechanisms around applications – as containers of content – as opposed to the content itself. It’s an intriguing insight and one that could, according to the theory, go a long way to incentivising the creation of engaging applications which, in turn, solve the mass adoption conundrum.
The Blockchain’s Emerging Content Models
“We essentially agree with Shea’s analysis here,” states James Tabor, CEO of MEDIA Protocol, outlining his own vision of a media world in which journalists and other content creators can democratise the creation and monetisation of content. “It is not just the content but the environment in which that content lives which needs to form the object of the incentive mechanisms put in place.”
The issues currently surrounding the media are perhaps most emblematic of the problems associated with content and control. A small number of media outlets dominate the vast majority of output, and even they are largely subject to the whims of the advertising industry. There is, then, a serious democratic deficit, particularly in relation to news content.
Since the emergence of blockchain technology, however, a host of propositions have emerged for dealing with content monetisation. However, these have largely focused on incentivising content itself – such as Scott’s Steemit website. And whilst there has been success – Steemit recently announced its one millionth registered user – there has still been nothing that qualifies as a general mass adoption breakthrough.
It may be, then, time for a new approach – and this is where Shea’s observation may come into play with his focus on the container. MEDIA Protocol may be the first example of such an approach in action. “One part of our strategy is to incentivise the URLs on which the content lives as opposed to just the content itself,” Tabor adds.
If Shea’s insight is correct, then we may just be on the verge of witnessing the emergence of an entirely new economic model for content creation which sees consumer, creator and promotor engaged in an entirely different dynamic, and one which bypasses the traditional middlemen. It is, in other words, yet another potential fallout of blockchain technology that we need to watch.