It’s the end of Paris Blockchain Week. A few thousand founders, builders, investors, degens, devs, artists, gamers, and everything in between gathered in Palais Brongniart from April the 12th to the 14th to attend the many panels and side events of the week. It was heartwarming to witness the palpable momentum and excitement.
For someone like me who is quickly overloaded with sensory information, these conferences can be tiring. I’m tired as hell. But I learned from a ton of useful insights that I will outline here, and also found myself with lots of questions on the future of the Web3 space. All in all, I remain optimistic and this gave me an extra boost to continue my involvement in the space.
So if you weren’t able to make it to Paris or follow the livestream, I am happy to share the roundup of my Paris NFT day & Paris Blockchain Week experience, panel by panel. I tried to target as many subjects as possible, from NFTs to gaming, from Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) to interoperability.
1 - “Exploring collective ownership through art”
with Sarah Endline (Harvard Innovation Labs), Beatriz Ordovás (Christie’s), Andréa Bonaceto (Artist), Ana Sokoloff (ORIGYN Art)
This was the first panel I attended at the Junior Stage. Although I was first drawn in by the “collective ownership” part of the panel title, the agenda was more geared towards talking about the NFT space through the lens of fine art. Overall, it was an enthusiastic take on the future of NFTs. The perspectives of these diverse actors of the art ecosystem was a good way to start the Paris NFT Day for me.
From Digital Art to NFTs
Digital art as a medium has been around since the 60s, as artistic experimentation but also as a way to subverse censorship and oppressive regimes in certain parts of the world. It is therefore not a new idea, but the introduction of blockchain technology sparked a paradigm shift regarding ownership and formats. It is a world yet to be crafted, and creativity is the only constraint in this new space. Also, NFT Art is accessible and can be enjoyed by everyone. This generation is much more generous than old school art collectors that had a habit of locking away their paintings and sculptures in a cellar somewhere only for them to see.
The Beeple Christie’s Sale - March 11, 2021
This particular part of the panel had me puzzled the whole time. Yes, the Beeple Sale did turn a lot of heads. It started at a 100 dollar bid and ended up at 69 million dollars, making a huge statement about NFTs in the traditional art world.
But continuing to talk about this as if it was the big bang of Crypto Art, and as if there was virtually nothing before and everything after feels wrong to me. All in all, it was a pecuniary event. A whole lotta money was involved, cool. We’ve seen those before and they will keep happening. Nonetheless, telling this tale of financial success just comes back to the habit we have as a society to only pay attention when huge sums of money are involved. Although it can be useful for storytelling, we should now focus on onboarding the next generations of artists by explaining how this is an innovative technology that creates new possibilities in Art.
Crypto art and Web3 won’t become mainstream because of some hyped NFT project. Adoption will come from making the space more user friendly, documented & secure, and from the efforts of founders, strategists, marketers, lawyers, economists and others truly set on opening up this space to everyone everywhere. As individuals navigating this space, we always need to listen to and welcome different perspectives, but it is crucial to keep in mind what interests the person talking serves.
How do you pick a Fine Art NFT ?
The answer was basically, the same as you would pick any fine art object. Some points that were mentioned :
- Aesthetical value, quality of idea and execution
- Artist’s process and track record
- Interaction with the NFT technology, programmability
- Opportunity for the audience to interact with the piece or possibly shape it
We won’t use the term “NFT” as much to talk about crypto art. The tech component will become so mainstream that we won’t need to refer to it anymore. Crypto art is a format and not an end in itself. It will see a boom of uses in open metaverses, with improved graphics. We will also see the rise of new ways of enjoying digital art in our homes, for example.
Artists have always been breakers of social norms and conditions. NFTs are here to stay, as the natural evolution of Digital Art. They are a new format for artistic expression and we won’t be talking about the backend side as much as this format goes into the mainstream.
2 - “How NFTs are transforming the Artworld”
with Inna Modja (World of Women), Giulia Archetti (Sotheby’s), Agoria (Artist), Eunika Sot (Yuser)
This panel really stood out to me because the interventions by Inna, Agoria and Eunika were grounded, committed and forward thinking. It was a great opportunity to learn about the amazing strides these artists are making in transforming the art world, and beyond.
On the other hand, Sotheby’s position in this panel in particular felt like they were being dragged into this by force. It is clear that having a decentralized space means that every actor of the art world is welcome and has its place. Diversity and freedom of access is important. Galleries, auction houses, museums and other institutions should all be involved. However, some attempts of the art establishment to participate in the Crypto Art world can be tone deaf, borderline cringy.
Inna talked about World of Women’s (WoW) approach to activism and philanthropy. Crypto is a wonderful tool for fundraising and channeling the funds to the right organizations. World of Women supports a number of charitable organizations that were previously vetted by the WoW team.
Education and sustainability are at the core of WoW’s activities. Although the crypto world still has a long way to go towards being environmentally friendly, it is a fairly new space where activists are working hard towards sustainability and fairness. As a comparison, some industries have been around for way longer and still don’t make any efforts in that sense. So let’s stay optimistic and continue supporting emergent solutions towards climate justice.
Music, Art & Tech
Both Inna and Agoria are music artists. For them, NFTs and smart contracts changed the game altogether and allowed them to go forward in a virtuous cycle, using technology not only as a way to question creativity but also to show the invisible. For example, Agoria’s biological generative art pieces are inspired by the decision-making processes in the brain.
Long term and meaningful relationships with collectors and listeners are now possible. NFTs have opened up win-win opportunities for both artists and their audiences.
Auction houses adapting
When asked if their business models had changed when dealing with NFTs, the representative from Sotheby’s answered that for them, nothing really changed per se. Rather, they adapted. She went on explaining that the emergence of NFTs tested their ability to be agile, and that their vision is to help NFT artists tap into networks of collectors that are not educated about crypto.
Their long term vision is important but in order to uphold it, traditional art organizations should make a move from « well, this is happening so might as well adapt » to « how can we better understand this space to proactively contribute to it in a meaningful way». Just my two cents. Collaboration with Web3 native endeavours is key. Based on this recent article by the New York Times it might seem that way, but we’ll see.
The Web3 space is filled with communities that are conscious about what they don’t like in the traditional world and all agree they want something else. They are set on creating a world that did not exist before. The art establishment’s attempts to jump into the NFT space are often tone deaf and this panel was no exception.
3 - “How to launch and manage NFT communities”
with Justin Aversano (Quantum), Penryn (Windranger Labs), Drew Austin (Red Bear Ventures & Knights of Degen), Nelson Merchan Jr. (Light Node Media), Marc Farrington (Illustrated World Series)
This lively conversation around NFT communities was a delight. Most of the panellists were not here to plug their projects but rather inform the attendees on the different facets of successful NFT projects based on their own experience. I would say that the steps outlined below apply to all projects. An engaged community is as crucial for PFP projects as they are for artistic projects. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that for 1/1 artists, the utility can definitely be the art itself.
NFT communities step by step
- Always start with your community : you don’t create a community, the community gathers around shared values and visions
- Now, work towards a milestone moment : most typically your NFT drop
- When the drop is done, that is when the real community work begins : communities expect to be guided, as well as have plenty of opportunities to engage. They want to know that their actions matter and they are listened to. Remain as transparent as possible.
- From then on, keep the discussions flowing and provide the utility you promised. Discord still sucks for most of us so mixing in IRL meetings and Twitter space is still very valuable.
Don’t be shortsighted. Community is important before your NFT drop but it is also pivotal after.
4 - “How NFTs are shifting the power within the gaming ecosystem”
with Amit Peled (Kryptomon), Erik Lapaglia (Miami NFT), Nuno Pereira (Cudos), Ville Wendelin (AnalVerse)
I made sure to attend at least one panel on gaming, because it is not a subject I know a lot about. I don’t come from the gaming world at all, but I can say that from an academic standpoint, gaming communities are really fascinating and I am always curious to learn more.
Blind spots to mainstream adoption
- There should be more education and on-boarding to lower the barriers to entry. The panellists gave the example of using Simplex, which allows to bypass the interaction with a blockchain if that’s your choice, but still buy tokens with fiat and play the games
- There is still no possibility to own gaming assets on custodial wallets
- The community needs to look at building processes differently, weaving web2 front end with Web3 back end
- The infrastructure supporting Web3 gaming is still fragile
- There is a need for decentralized game hosting. Cross-chain metaverses and true interoperability are what the future holds.
- The overall gaming space needs to work towards more eco-friendliness, and strive to do more with less.
The Web3 gaming space is no exception : interoperability, user-friendliness, eco-friendliness and quality onboarding are some of the challenges that need to be overcome to bring it to the mainstream.
5 - “Interoperability : challenges and opportunities”
with Daniel Kmak (Nervos), Ruben Merre (Ngrave), James Friel (Axelar), Itai Elizur (Market Across)
This panel was well moderated, with clear questions guiding the discussion. It was a good mix of technical insights and big picture subjects. Interoperability is a hot topic and this panel helped me understand its intricacies.
As an FYI, interoperability refers to the process of operations between two or more blockchains. In other words, you can see, access and share data across different blockchains, as well as build upon their respective features. This exchange and leveraging of data can look like moving digital assets from one blockchain to another, for example allowing a game user to buy an NFT in one game and then go use it in another one.
What’s stopping widespread interoperability from happening?
First, it is a technical challenge. Infrastructure bridges have only emerged in the past few months. When building interoperability protocols or bridges, there is always a tradeoff between :
- Trustlesness : equivalent security
- Extensibility : ability to be supported on any domain
- Generalizability : ability to transfer any type of data supported by the chains
This is the interoperability trilemma, and protocols involve different levels of compromise between these.
Second, there is a growth bias in crypto that results in solutions and projects wanting to come out fast because of heightened demand. However, builders should be cautious of this and remain focused on the processes without wanting to move too quickly.
Interoperability for users
The ideal scenario is that interoperability becomes seamless for users. It is not the case right now since these are recent developments in the blockchain space and user friendliness remains a challenge. The security layer needs to be dealt with so these protocols are easy enough to use, like you would use any website or social media. There are challenges on the hardware level as well, and according to the panellists, decentralized identity systems might be important for cross chain cooperation.
The EVM ecosystem
I’ll start here with a few words on what Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) is for those who don’t know. The EVM is the foundation of Ethereum’s operating structure. It is the software platform that developers can use to create decentralized applications (dApps) on Ethereum. Instead of developers building solutions and protocols from scratch, they can save time and deploy them to the blockchain quicker. It is also where all Ethereum accounts and smart contracts live and can be accessed from anywhere in the world through participating Ethereum nodes. It supports only one coding language : Solidity.
The panellists started by stating that right now, there are a lot of new EVM based projects because it is where the best tools are. The EVM ecosystem boasts a large amount of developer adoption. Naturally, developers will congregate around the chains that are the most useful. However, having more choices for the developers is a net advantage for the future because scalability remains a challenge in the EVM case.
Layer 0 concepts are trying to solve this, like Polkadot and Cosmos, by facilitating the creation of an ecosystem of interoperable blockchains as opposed to dApps.
The Bitcoin ecosystem
What about interoperability that includes Bitcoin? Can we build apps or smart contracts on Bitcoin? According to the panellists, getting more utility out of Bitcoin could be happening in the near future. It wasn’t the solution at first and Ethereum prevailed, but we could see more interaction and forks adding programming abilities to Bitcoin.
Based on the very ethos of what blockchain is, there is an inherent need for multiple blockchains to exist to promote decentralization, diversity of access as well as diversity of innovation. Freedom of choice for developers and users is very important, as interoperability prevents silos and monopolies. There are still challenges summed up in the Interoperability Trilemma, as well as security conundrums. Layer 0 projects like Cosmos and Polkadot are examples of emerging solutions for interoperability.
6 - “DAOs : a new world order”
with Liat Aaronson (Horizen Labs), Benjamin Rameau (Jenny DAO), Sarah Wood (Upstream), Brian Gallagher (Partisia Blockchain)
As I am currently diving into the DAO rabbit hole head first, I immediately flocked to this panel based on its title. I was dreading another abstract discussion on what DAOs can become, but found myself learning a lot more than I expected.
Different incentive schemes are going to be relevant for different groups : exclusivity, membership to a community, play to earn, micro payments, rewards and incentive layers. I would add to that list that sharing strong values and a long term vision is also key for adoption.
For Sarah from Upstream, adoption also comes with getting rid of the jargon to make DAOs more accessible to the mainstream. For example, at Upstream they don’t call it a DAO, they call it a collective. Their “make your own DAO” tool built on Ethereum aims to be what Wix or Wordpress are for building websites. She was also keen on seeing what types of uses brands (cosmetic brands for example) will make of DAOs.
Problems of real life can be present on-chain as well, in DAOs and in metaverses. There has to be a balance between decentralization and top down efficiency. Initial momentums need to come from leadership first, followed by open discussions in the wider community. Strong execution is important to get things done. Communities have to remain careful about that and think ahead of coded dispute-resolution mechanisms.
Jenny DAO / Fractionalization
By design, NFTs are unique and have only a single owner at a time. Up until now, the NFT market has largely deterred small and medium investors from participating in often super pricey NFT auctions. That is where fractional NFTs come in. A fractional NFT is simply a whole NFT that has been divided into smaller fractions, allowing multiple people to claim ownership of the same piece. The NFT is fractionalized using a smart contract that generates a set of tokens linked to the indivisible original to create the fractionalized NFTs (F-NFTs), which can be traded or exchanged on secondary markets. Artists and NFT owners can monetize their assets through F-NFTs, and target larger audiences.
I was glad that the subject of F-NFTs was brought up, as they can provide wider access to pricey collections.
The goal of Jenny DAO is to make the ownership of an NFT possible with just 1$ based on F-NFTs. Even so, they are not quite there yet. Benjamin explained the many technical difficulties of fractionalization. One of the most prevalent problems is that fractional units are not reflecting the changes in price of the NFT they are tied to. It is tricky to correlate these underlying assets. Additionally, the people building NFT collections usually have a hard time giving up control of it.
Always remember that DAOs essentially boiled down to human organizations. Think about the balance between top-down decision-making and decentralization. Fractionalized NFTs can help in providing wider access to pricey NFT collections.
7 - DAOs and web governance
with Eowyn Chen (Trust Wallet), Clarence Liu (Tacen), Laurent Perello (Tron DAO), Bruce Pon (Ocean Protocol), Paulius Vaitkevičius (VILP Solutions)
Oh how I enjoyed this one. Not only was it very well structured, but the discussion touched upon some very pertinent issues of the DAO space pertaining to democracy, governance and regulation. I was thrilled. We know that DAOs are innovative. Now, let’s initiate discussions about optimizing these new mechanisms to move forward, face existing regulations and create new ones.
The biggest changes linked to decentralization
The first big change that DAOs are introducing is the speed at which they allow people to self-organize. For example, a few DAOs were created to support the Ukrainian people in the ongoing crisis in just a few days. DAOs can be set up very quickly and start garnering funds right away. The acceleration pace is something that traditional companies have a hard time matching.
Crypto has allowed to assign value to concepts that did not have any before, like identity or governance. DAOs have the potential to change the socio-economic structure inside and between organizations. There is unparalleled transparency in the DAO model and this change entails that communities can now decide on their own economic models and incentivized feedback loops. DAOs introduce liquid democracy between humans organizing. Members decide on governance rules and how to cooperate respecting each other. There is now a possibility to get the most out of every participant in the community, creating a context in which they can thrive autonomously.
Because the DAO space is fairly new, the important thing is to not chase the hype but consciously strive for more experimentations that could potentially trickle down to improve our democracies.
Threats and challenges in adopting DAO models
The panellists agreed to think that Web3 native organizations have a higher chance to succeed vs. traditional organizations adapting to the DAO model. Some challenges evoked :
- Anonymity : how do you sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with an anonymous third party? The anonymity that is valued in Web3 for privacy concerns can be challenging for trust for the collaboration between more traditional organizations and Web3 native organizations
- At what point does democracy fail? Where does crowd wisdom fail? For which decisions should the community chime in, and for which ones should the core team decide? How can we make community contribution more efficient?
- Community proposals within DAOs tend to be peripheral and don’t impact the essence of the organization
- Scalability, when does growing become a hindrance?
The regulatory side
I don’t believe I’ve stumbled onto many regulatory related talks in the DAO space, so it was refreshing to hear about DAO founders who are directly impacted by their respective jurisdictions’ regulations. The general word was, you can move fast in the DAO space but need to do it carefully and knowing what regulators are doing.
A great majority of states in the US do not recognize DAOs as legal entities. The exception is the state of Wyoming, which recognizes DAOs as a type of limited liability company (LLC). The regulations are biased toward non profit DAOs, and Clarence pointed out the significant difference between setting up a non profit DAO vs. a for profit one in handing dividends out to the community, and in tax exemptions. Moreover, it is stipulated in the Wyoming legislation that at least 51% of votes must come from the whole community and this can be hard to implement for newly incorporated DAOs. One of the most noteworthy reasons to incorporate a DAO is to get limited liability, protecting the core team from personal responsibility for debts or liabilities (for example, any criminal activities from other community members).
A lot of Web3 native organizations are looking to the MENA region, and Dubai especially. According to Bruce, Dubai regulators tend to be more flexible and listen to Web3 founders when setting up their DAOs to thrive. Dubai is a crypto friendly jurisdiction and doesn’t have capital gain stacks. The most famous recent move is Binance. His word of advice when incorporating a DAO : pick a jurisdiction that minimizes liability. There is also a recent project worth noting, a blockchain incubator created in Ethiopia in partnership with Input Output, the organization behind Cardano.
On the relationship between Web3 native organizations and governments, panellists agreed that traditional regulations have a lot to catch up on, might that be in the US or EU (these are the jurisdictions in which the panellists are acting).
Regulators can be afraid of these new types of organizations, stemming from a lack of education or simply resistance to change. What should guide the DAO space is therefore transparency in values and goals that can be defensible, and continuing to show that the DAO model has the potential to solve crucial problems citizens are currently facing. Open mindedness and remaining humble can help build trust with willing governments and demonstrate how they can benefit from having a more Web3 approach without sacrificing privacy and efficiency. Some panellists shared this vision, and some were more pessimistic about dealing with governments, seeing them as being in the way of innovation.
Panellists’ final thoughts
Because we come from a world that is not very transparent, Bruce’s ideal is that DAOs give 100% transparency on their values and long term goals, outperform traditional organizations and establish themselves as viable solutions so that regulators have to follow along. The goal is to have people more involved.
Laurent believes that we are in a crucial chapter of human history with potential to radically change the world. He is urging the space to never stop improving the long term vision. It’s not about profit, it’s about the ability humans now have to never be involved in the same models again.
Eowyn would like to see more experiments in the DAO space. Leadership also has to think about what their exit strategy is for the sake of decentralization and to resist becoming a kingship. She cites MakerDAO leaders as an example, who exited after 4 years.
DAOs can happen fast and represent the ideal context to experiment with liquid democracy. A healthy dialogue with willing governments can result in win win situations as DAOs gain legal statuses. When incorporating a DAO, make sure to do it in the right jurisdiction and think about limited liability. The MENA Region and Dubai seem like good options right now.
If you have any feedback, comments or questions, feel free to write me anytime.