11 March 2022


What the hash, dipping the toes into Web3 and evolving social networks

This is a continuation of my personal adventures into the frontier of crypto, picking up from the last exploration into the question of  ‘What is Money?’.

I had written that blog back in December 2021, which was a reflection about prior adventures into trying to grasp the underlying mechanics of blockchain by studying the ‘literature’ that, as it turned out, is wonderfully open sourced and widely available. This was born out of a frustration of hearing a lot about the ‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ but not having any clue about what people were actually referring to.

In the beginning, ‘blockchain’ was an intimidating black box and the source whitepapers only served to reinforce this point (reference: Bitcoin white paper).

Cryptography, double-spend, peer-to-peer, keys, verification, proof-of-work, blocks, nodes, incentive mechanisms, Merkle Tree, public ledger, 51% attack. What the hash?

There was, however, a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. At around the same time as writing the blog, I was able to attend some in-person meetups held by the Perth tech community that was specifically around blockchain technology. There was one specific instance that sparked an insight: one of the expert panellists at one of the events, who had been actively building on blockchain solutions for the past 4–5 years, shared about one of her side projects. She spoke candidly of the many convoluted trials and tribulations that was involved with transferring a non-fungible token (NFT) between blockchains. While I am not able to recall more of the specific details, what remains is a reminder of how tricky these spaces can be, given the rapid pace of change, even for a well-versed domain expert.

So I asked myself this, ‘if they are still trying to figure it out, why shouldn’t I?’

As shared in the previous blog, these were some of the resources that were far more accessible for understanding blockchain compared to going straight to the whitepapers — a step which demands a certain level of pre-requisite knowledge.

  • Nakamoto.com — the ‘Introduction to Cryptocurrency’ by Haseeb Qureshi
  • a16z Crypto Startup School — a 14-video series by a panel of giants, my favourite was the ‘Blockchain Primitives: Cryptography and Consensus’ by Stanford professor, Dan Boneh. I continue to admire people who are capable of condensing extremely complex subject matters into conversational bites that are accessible, and Boneh is no exception.

Since then, with a reasonable amount of the fundamentals acquired, my attention has shifted to the wild arena of blockchain related ‘applications’ primarily around the following areas:

  • Curating a daily crypto news feed via Twitter
  • NFT projects and the communities that surround them
  • Cryptocurrency wallet security
  • And as part of all of the above, monitoring the price actions in Bitcoin (BTC) / Ethereum (ETH)

Taking the first step

Despite the abundant access to open source literature and to the minds of the greatest builders, creators and thinkers in the space, it can still feel a little bit… too scary?

But, what is there to lose?

There seems to be an adage within the ‘web3’ virtual communities that goes along the lines of: ‘to best learn about the space, dive right in and get started.’

This turned out to be very much aligned to my own experiences in trying to educate myself in the space so far. From standing as an outsider initially, everything looked like a mess (because it is) and felt intimidating from the sheer amount of stuff there is to know about, but this hurdle is the most important one to overcome.

An analogy I can see that might clarify this further would be like this:

Imagine standing on the edge of a wide open, blue ocean. The sun is shining, and you can see a whole bunch of other people already swimming along in the water, some doing their own thing, but many interacting with one another and having even more fun. After some time, you also notice that the water is actually not all that gentle or welcoming. The waves are getting pretty high and choppy, but yet everyone in the water is managing well and doing what they need to do to stay afloat. In this moment, you have two options: to continue to be an outside observer or to jump in along with everyone else and try to ride the waves.

There is a tremendous experiential difference between the two choices. After all, there is only so much one can learn through observation and through asking people of their experiences in the water.

My personal journey so far has turned out something like this:

  1. Started paying attention and hearing people talk about the price actions of Bitcoin and Ethereum — late 2020 to March 2021

It felt like I was very, very late to the game. BTC was released in 2009, ETH in 2015. Better late than never, I reassured myself…

In his talk on ‘Crypto networks and why they matter’, Chris Dixon had a simple but effective analogy for the development cycle of crypto — one that suggests that price actions are at the root of sparking the interest of outsiders in the technology, who then go on to build startups and projects in the space.

Chris Dixon (2020)

2. Started dabbling on custodian exchanges, trading cash for nominal amounts of BTC and ETH — April 2021 onwards

Yes, looking back at the price history, I started buying way after the initial surge. In December 2020, BTC was at ~AUD $26–32K and ETH was at ~ AUD $ 1.1K. By April, it was around 2x these. Nevertheless…

3. Started becoming more active on Twitter by following interesting people and staying updated on a daily basis, eventually stumbling into the ‘Crypto Twitter’ universe — Dec 2021

4. Started digging below the surface of the NFT hype in search of interesting projects and communities — Feb 2022

5. Created a MetaMask hot wallet, experienced the magical process of trading digital currency for my first NFT — Feb 2022

6. Join NFT communities via Discord channels and passively attending Web3 / NFT specific fireside conversations — current

Enter Superlocal — it is less about the underlying tech and more about what you can do with it

Have you ever used Google Maps before? If not, you probably have used some form of Maps-like application to figure out a few things.

a) Where you are going to + navigation to the destination

b) If the location is unfamiliar (quite likely), to assess whether the place you are going to is worth your time as determined by the reviews left by others

c) Successfully arriving at the final destination

Reviews are a critical component of the Maps ecosystem, as it directly serves the ‘discovery’ function of allowing users to explore visible landmarks and to determine for themselves as to whether to visit those locations or not.

The more I dig into this, the more I realise that as important as reviews might be, the system is completely dependent on enthusiastic users opting-in voluntarily and being open to sharing their opinions of a place (positive or negative).

This is what the process of leaving a review on Google Maps looks like.

  1. Find a landmark (could be a restaurant, café, museum etc)

2. Choose to leave a review (short text description plus photos)

3. Review gets published

4. Google sends you a ‘thank you’ email for the number of views your review has received

A thank you email in exchange for the dopamine hit of garnering ‘views’ for the platform.

Why would I bother ever doing this again?

By chance, I recently stumbled upon Superlocal, which is an upcoming social network that lets you earn digital currency when you visit and review real-world places.

There are a few reasons that this project stood out to me amongst all the noise:

  1. I personally lost interest in the existing social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat) a long time ago, sticking around purely from residual momentum
  2. In 2021, I had created Feedforward, which is a JavaScript enabled web application intended to incentivise great in-person conversations by allowing participants to accumulate the time they spent as a ‘currency’. While running these meetups and road testing the application, this experience helped me think a lot about community building, the incentive mechanisms around bringing people together at a geographical location, and how this might play out with partnerships with local businesses.
  3. The potential to evolve the one-sided Google Maps review mechanism through cryptocurrency integration

After exploring a little more by reading their whitepaper, I was completely aligned to what they were trying to do. I had found a group that were doing the things I had been thinking about for the past year.  

Here is the rundown on Superlocal based on the available information:

  • As a beginner user, you can ‘check in’ to places that you visit in the real world. A ‘check in’ can be shared for social signalling with friends, but web3 allows for a new layer of financial incentivisation by allowing users to submit their check-ins to be approved and exchanged for ‘LOCAL tokens’. These tokens are ERC20 tokens that live on the blockchain, enabling both utility within the Superlocal application but also tradability on cryptocurrency exchanges.
  • Superlocal incentivises early adopters and power users to the platform by allowing them to mint ‘Superlocal Mayorships’ which are geographical NFTs that allow these users to make a 1 of 1 ‘claim’ on real world places. Collectors of these Mayorships earn a commission of LOCAL tokens whenever other people make approved check-ins at the places they have collected, and can also sell their Mayorship NFTs in secondary markets if they choose to.
  • What’s in it for businesses like cafés and restaurants? They are empowered to join the Superlocal network to showcase their business and incentivise visitors by offering real-world discounts in exchange for LOCAL tokens as well as by potentially conduct NFT drops.
Source: Superlocal whitepaper

Early days

The most interesting thing about all of this is the fact that I have willingly spent my time writing out all of the above in support for Superlocal — despite the fact that social networks are extremely hard to get off the ground, the application is still in IOS-only Testflight beta and uncertainty around the centralised check-in approvals process.

Why is that?

It is still very early days for the platform, clearly, and it is impossible to gauge whether or not we will actually see a world where Superlocal becomes a household name. But what is key is how Web3 unlocks global, permissionless access to participation and having skin-in-the-game.

NFTs have enabled me to have the capacity to participate and have a tangible financial stake within the early and yet-to-be-proven Superlocal network. This is crazy.

Imagine if the earliest, first-believer drivers for Uber or the hosts of Airbnbs were able to have a financial stake within the networks that they had chosen to be personally invested in — with their time, attention and resources — and how much widespread prosperity that would have led to. The earliest drivers and hosts were as integral to the success of the network as the earliest customers were, why shouldn’t they have been rewarded in addition to being early in their participation?

Going back to Superlocal, having a stake in something is a two way street. I am not only incentivised to share my optimistic beliefs and to bring more people into the platform but I also exposure to the disincentive of spreading false views — real financial downsides in the event of the platform not working out in the long run.

In the past, it was a relatively safe bet to follow the adults, because they knew the world quite well, and the world changed slowly. But the 21st century is going to be different. Whatever the adults have learned about economics, politics or relationships may be outdated.

Similarly, don’t trust technology too much. You must make technology serve you, instead of you serving it. If you aren’t careful, technology will start dictating your aims and enslaving you to its agenda.

So you have no choice but to really get to know yourself better. Know who you are and what you really want from life… Once the corporations and governments know you better than you know yourself, they could control and manipulate you and you won’t even realise it.

- Yuval Noah Harari

Do you have questions? Feedback? Let’s talk.