Over the last few months the MakerX team has performed an extensive exploration of the web3 ecosystem with a view to understanding how to participate in this space in an ethical, pragmatic way.
I'm (Rob Moore, CTO) writing this post on behalf of the entire team at MakerX, who have all provided feedback as part of the writing process. This post represents our official stance on web3.
Rather than saying something like "web3 et. al." throughout this article we'll just say web3 as the overarching term to describe this ecosystem (e.g. web3, crypto, NFTs, DAOs, DeFi, etc.)
too long; didn't read (tl;dr)
- We wanted to peek under the covers of the web3 culture war that is unfolding around us, understand how we wanted to respond as a company when clients came to us with web3 work and explore our own venture that required a public blockchain
- We wanted to stay true to our values and principles that are firmly against environmental destruction, crime, discrimination, etc.
- We needed to make up our mind about what stance we wanted to take on web3 as a company and what we were and weren't comfortable participating in using an eyes-wide-open, fact-based approach
- There is some awful stuff in this ecosystem that we dislike, but it's not all awful – there is some real potential to do some real good in the world using this technology if it's harnessed in the right way
- We've made a commitment to be an active part of shaping this ecosystem so it can be used for good and live up to its potential
- We've published a set of links we came across in our research, a terminology guide and, most importantly, an ethical pragmatic decision framework that has guided our confidence of how to engage ethically and pragmatically in the web3 space
- We have also included a few examples of good things we've found in the ecosystem
Why are we writing this?
So, let’s start with the obvious question: why are we writing this? It’s a three-fold answer really.
Firstly, over the last 6 months we’ve been observing our social feeds steadily shifting to higher and higher proportions of discussion about this ecosystem from all perspectives – as technologists we are naturally curious about what all the fuss is about so we can have an informed opinion!
Quoted from an article published by Kylie Robison
Kevin Roose, The Latecomer’s Guide to Crypto, New York Times
Secondly, we’ve started to work on an incredible venture with a bold vision that we really believe in that happens to require use of a public blockchain (more on that at the end of the post) so we’ve started cautiously learning about and developing software in this space.
Lastly, as a company that specialises in the ventures space, it's undeniable that there is a huge amount of focus, thinking and activity on web3 in the circles within which we operate. Regardless of what you think about web3, when we start seeing a big 4 (Australian) bank do a $30m stable coin transaction and the biggest national airline carrier dive into the NFT space within a week of each other and Gartner saying that in 2 years 25% of enterprises will integrate to web3 technology it's clear there is something happening. Given we know people will come to us wanting to build web3 projects (they already have!), we needed to make up our mind about what stance we wanted to take as a company and what we were and weren't comfortable participating in.
In order to guide our exploration, we looked to the 4 key principles that we already apply to our company culture:
- Inclusive growth environment. We deliberately create an inclusive environment that fosters diverse, highly-collaborative, cross-functional teams that drive growth through continuous learning, feedback, and knowledge sharing.
- Makers make (#makersmake). We cultivate a culture that supports creativity (high trust, blameless, experimentation, fun) with a focus on continually delivering valuable, innovative outcomes in our clients' best interests.
- Human-led science. We always consider the human impact and then judiciously use automation, data and experimentation to get the best possible outcomes.
- Small, smart, simple and speedy. We deliver amazing outcomes quickly with small, capable teams working smarter rather than harder and we always punch above our weight with a lean company that brings pragmatic simplicity.
We deeply care about inclusivity and diversity and the human impact of our work. We care about being ethical. We care about energy use and the environment (personally, I'm terrified about the future my young kids have in store for them :/!).
We care about underrepresented minorities and the vulnerable and where we can we try to cultivate inclusive environments that support and enable them – both within our company and the communities we participate in. For example, two of our executives founded the DDD Perth conference (and many of our Makers have volunteered and been committee members over the years) which has significantly contributed to improving diversity and inclusion in the Perth software industry.
We also strongly disagree with supporting crime, be it pyramid schemes, theft, rug pulls, financial fraud or anything else.
We are pragmatists: we don't implement technology for the sake of it and we don't think everything should be "web3" or "decentralised". Our usual approach is to use the right tool for the job. There are classes of problems where Blockchain architectures are a really useful technology – for instance in situations where an inspectible, immutable ledger is a desirable architectural component.
This entire space is so confusing and overwhelming. There are lots of confusing terminology and technical concepts and it’s a space that’s evolving rapidly and hard to keep up with. The fact that there are such extremes on social media only adds to the confusion. A lot of what is being said is driven by emotion rather than facts. All of this combines to make it hard to form a clear understanding. Frankly, we are still growing our understanding every day!
We've spent enough time paying attention now to be sure of two things:
- There is some awful stuff in this ecosystem that we dislike
- It's not all awful – there is some real potential to do some real good in the world using this technology if it's harnessed in the right way
In summary, we are not naïve about the challenges in this space and we needed to be sure for ourselves that we didn't start potentially engaging in activities that go against everything we believe in! We wanted to create this post to allow us to summarise and share our thinking in case it's useful to others.
In a lot of ways, we didn’t want to write this post, let alone publish it, because we know the firestorm that talking about this ecosystem can spur!
We’ve been diligently observing the sometimes extreme, often emotionally driven, reactions on both sides of the debate over the last few months and it’s intense. On one hand, there are people who think the space is entirely devoid of ethics/morals and anyone that has anything do with it are naïve, unethical, uncaring, endorsing criminals and/or just in it for unnatural monetary gain.
On the other end of the spectrum there is a combination of hope, excitement and aspiration of a new age of decentralised empowerment where people believe we can find new ways to define, create, share, represent and transact value and wrestle back control of our lives from massive corporations who own all of our data.
The more polarized the discussion becomes, and the more people who identify strongly with the pro- or anti-crypto camps, the harder it is to have an honest dialogue in the industry about the promise of the technology — and to reckon with the harms of the rising tide of crypto scams and other bad behavior on the blockchain.
Some worry that this divide could be disastrous for tech in the long haul. If the Web3 movement shuns even mild or well-reasoned skepticism, insiders say, the dangers will only get bigger, scaling with its growth. And they say that, conversely, if Web3 skeptics aren't willing to assess the technology on its own merits in good faith, the industry could risk throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
Like many situations where there are two extremes, the reality is probably somewhere in the middle and it’s a classic case of technology isn’t evil, but what humans do with it absolutely can be.
Our commitment in this space
The challenge we've given ourselves is this:
How can we be an active part of shaping this ecosystem so it can be used for good and live up to its potential?
Regardless of whether you want to ignore this space (which is fine – it's a personal choice), we believe it’s here to stay – the traction behind it is enormous and it’s not slowing. We can either ignore it and get left behind or we can participate fully and do our part to drive ethical behaviour.
So, that’s our goal: for the things we decide to do in this ecosystem we will pay particular attention to act ethically and encourage others to do the same. Is this naïve? Possibly. Is it worth a shot? Definitely (in our opinion). Not everyone will agree with this stance, and we’re OK with that, but we ask that at least people respect the fact we’re making a considered decision and driving the work we do by ethics.
We aren’t diving in with our eyes shut and sweeping the bad stuff under the carpet. We’ve spent months observing and researching this space and venture (pun intended) into it carefully with a mix of curiosity, empathy, consideration, passion and pragmatism.
As a reflection of this investment we’ve made to be informed we’ve collated and curated many of the tweets, posts and other interesting things we came across over the last 4 months into an AirTable. We've since found a whole lot more links too.
We’ve tried to keep this fairly neutral and capture the variety of perspectives faithfully, but naturally we are humans with biases ourselves. Equally, we've tried to add useful tagging, including the tone of the referenced tweet/article in relation to web3, and we're confident the tagging won't be perfect either. Furthermore, we’re not sharing this to try and name and shame people – in our view everyone is entitled to their opinion. (If anyone referenced feels uncomfortable having their tweet/article listed please reach out and we'll remove it).
Lastly, we don't want to force a viewpoint on anyone – we believe you should all form your own opinions based on your values, conscience, research and/or experience. Our hope is this article, and the decision framework we published, can be a useful additional resource for you to do so!
One of the things that adds to the confusion in this space is all of the terminology. As part of understanding this space, we've been wrapping our heads around the terminology and culture.
To that end, we're created a non-exhaustive list of some of the key terms we have been coming across with our understanding of them as a resource for people.
A framework for acting ethically and pragmatically with web3
We've established above that there are many concerns and problems with the web3 ecosystem. This spurred a series of questions we wanted to answer: What are all of the problems? What is fact vs emotion vs opinion? How can we properly understand and consider these issues to make informed decisions about what we are and aren't comfortable engaging in? How can we act ethically and pragmatically in the face of these challenges?
The end result of asking ourselves these questions and answering them is a comprehensive, ethical, pragmatic decision framework for web3 that looks at the good, bad and ugly to help us drive fact-based engagement and decisions so we can engage ethically and pragmatically in this space.
The potential of web3
While there are a lot of problems with the web3 space, and certainly a lot of criticism that there is a lack of value and/or solutions, there are plenty of examples that emerge of really interesting, impactful and/or innovative solutions using web3 technology.
As developers, engineers, designers, product managers, data analysts and security engineers it’s our responsibility to translate ideas and visions into digital reality in whatever way makes sense. That doesn’t obviate our ethical and professional responsibility.
Just like the goldrush that happened in the 90s with the dotcom bubble, there are sadly plenty examples emerging of greed and/or unethical behaviour. Our hope (and challenge to the industry!) is that we can collectively use this technology to drive good. Our belief is that by taking a pragmatic, ethical approach to this space using the framework outlined in this post, it's possible to use web3 technology as a tool in your toolbelt to drive innovation and value.
A few examples of interesting projects we've seen include:
- The Ukraine government asked for crypto donations and received ~$100m in donations when the war with Russia started and they were able to rapidly spend this
- When Afghanistan was taken by the Taliban in 2021 and there were sanctions applied to their country it created liquidity issues with the local currency/banks which meant Afghani people were struggling to pay for basic essentials – they were able to self organise to create an economy using cryptocurrencies via mobile apps
- The Inter Planetary File System (IPFS) is a really impressive decentralised storage network with content addressable IDs which means when you reference a file you will be guaranteed the file you receive is the same file that was originally stored
- Gitcoin has funded $58m towards open source and is helping ensure that people get paid for contributing open source software
- There are a number of fascinating projects that are exploring crowdsourced, decentralised arbitration – which could potentially be a way of providing global support mechanisms for dispute resolution (e.g. Aragon, Kleros)
- Someone has created an autonomous underwater photography technology that can take half a million photos a day and they are using it to map out 3D models of the Great Barrier Reef, which they are then selling as NFTs to raise funds to help with preserving the reef (this is something I personally find fascinating as I'm really into snorkelling and the wonder if what is under the ocean!)
- There are a number of carbon accounting and offsetting projects (e.g. ClimateTrade, KlimaDAO)
- Profile picture (pfp) NFT projects are certainly not everyone's cup of tea, but we thought it was cool that Al Goanna managed to raise $200k towards planting trees
- We're biased of course, but we think the Data History Museum venture we have created is pretty cool – we are producing verifiably authentic digital historical artifacts (something that wasn't possible before public Blockchains) in an effort to transform the way we curate and preserve human, terrestrial and cosmic history and our eventual vision is to improve the way the majority of science is funded globally
Our web3 position
The work we did to create a decision framework for ethical, pragmatic web3 and the research behind it has given us confidence that we can engage ethically and pragmatically in the web3 space, while adhering to our values and principles.
This position is guided by the aforementioned challenge we set for ourselves:
How can we be an active part of shaping this ecosystem so it can be used for good and live up to its potential?
To summarise our key positioning based on the decision framework:
- Environment and energy - We are taking a stance of not engaging in any project that uses Bitcoin or Ethereum (at least while it remains Proof-of-Work) despite their popularity, given the significant environmental/energy impact they have. Instead, we are choosing to work with environmentally sustainable Blockchains like Algorand.
- Criminal activity - We welcome cross-cutting regulatory reform and support systems to make crime harder and support end users, we will incorporate mechanisms and follow best practices within our projects that make crime harder and support and educate users and we will identify ourselves publicly when we launch projects.
- Legals, regulation and support systems - Per previous point along with clear education and positioning around copyright / intellectual property and getting regulatory and legal advice for our projects.
- Diversity, inclusion and accessibility - We will deliberately consider and test inclusiveness and accessibility and take measures to create diverse, inclusive communities around our projects.
- User experience - We will deliberately research and design user experiences that guide end users into the pit of success and try and avoid the technology complexity where possible.
- Security and privacy - We will apply best practice Continuous Delivery and automation approaches, engage in shift-left security practices and professional independent security reviews and consider privacy impacts of our solutions.
- Crypto speculation and pyramid schemes - We will focus on utility over speculation in our projects and attempt to choose Blockchain networks that have more focus on utility rather than speculation.
- Value and technology complexity - We will use web3 technologies judiciously (right tool for the job) on a per-feature and per-project basis, we will make the value in our projects clear to users so they know what they are buying and we will focus on end user value over tech for the sake of tech.
- Decentralisation and trust - We will engage in projects that create demonstrable value, we will use decentralisation where and when it makes sense on a per-feature basis and we will build trust in the non-tech as well as the tech (as relevant).
- Speed and cost - We will choose architecturally appropriate Blockchains that balance any architectural constraints we have. For example, for the Data History Museum we will need to mint a large number of NFTs so low transaction fees was really important, and we chose Algorand.
- Volatility - Same per previous point around crypto speculation.
In summary, we are excited the possibilities in the web3 space, we aren't naïve about the challenges and for any projects that involve the web3 ecosystem we will follow our ethical, pragmatic decision framework to lead by example as an active part of shaping this ecosystem so it can be used for good and live up to its potential.