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“Web3 is a fresh new start for brands”

Web3 is beginning to change the way we use and think about the internet, but understanding its potential for brands requires some straight-talking advice. So we asked digital expert, strategist and Base family member Liya Safina to provide some clarity, explain the jargon, and offer helpful tips for those starting to explore this rapidly proliferating technology.

Hey Liya, thanks for chatting to us! Tell us about background and expertise related to Web3 and NFTs?

Absolutely! I’m a digital product designer and strategist from Europe currently based in Hawaii. Having designed products for a variety of clients from Alibaba and Nike to Coinbase and Toyota, my vision is to build a future where technology serves human needs, instead of humans serving revenue models.

I’m a long-time Base friend and collaborator — I see Base as my family! We worked on a number of projects together throughout the years: redesigning, creating UX concepts for The Goodtime Hotel with the NYC team and some more recent Web3 projects with BaseBRU.

Last year I found myself in an interesting position. I just finished designing the UX of a Web3 marketplace Carbon and decided I needed to do something about all these insights I gained while working on it. It started with a study of over 100 NFT platforms from a usability standpoint and eventually crystallized into a series of workshops for creatives I conduct today.

What makes you so excited about the Web3 movement?

The possibilities that the technology itself can open for society. For example, one of the powerful properties of blockchains is that they create common knowledge. That means that if I publish something on-chain, then you can see it, and you can see that the reader can see it, and so on.

I can imagine how this could be used to improve, say, voting. Much needed in light of the recent US Supreme Court decisions. One possible way to do something like this, as noted by Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, is to initiate a "commitment pool" around a particular issue, and invite others to publish hashes indicating their position. Only if enough people participate within a specific timeframe, then and only then, all participants would be required to have their next on-chain message publicly reveal their position.

In the nonpolitical voting zone, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame used Votem’s blockchain voting system to register 1.8 million votes. On the heels of the hacking-related issues with their previous vote, the organization leveraged innovative technology to secure the process and eliminate spam and bots.

Blockchain provides a platform for creating a highly secure, decentralized, anonymized, yet auditable chain of record. Thanks to encryption and decentralization, blockchain’s database is incorruptible, and each record is easily verifiable. And I think blockchain’s primary value lies in its ability to improve old systems. Web3 will be a facilitator of this.

You recently gave a presentation to BaseBRU about these topics. Can you tell us more about that?

I’ve been chatting to Base partners Jacques and Mirek about Web3 for a while — it’s an incredibly complex, polarizing and speculative field. The internet is being reshaped by crypto before our eyes and the nature of communication, commerce, and community is changing in profound ways. This shift offers creative opportunities that did not exist before, but to identify and take these opportunities a fundamental knowledge of this new world is necessary. Even though there are no real experts in Web3 quite yet, the baseline has been crystallized and I was honored to design this educational experience for the larger BaseBRU team.

The workshop covered everything blockchain, from smart contracts and interoperability to tokenomics and decentralized organizations, as well as facilitated a conversation on Web3 trends and trajectories.

This is a conversation that goes way beyond Ethereum, stablecoins or NFTs. Are we mistaking problems of power for problems of technology?

What might happen if we fix the technologies without changing the power structures? Is it possible to have truly digital economies, with digital money, digital goods, and digital ownership? Both skeptics and enthusiasts are looking to understand what will happen when the foundation for this new internet is finally built.

It’s about technologies that could unlock a renaissance of creativity or a cacophony of commercialization. Or both. We made a lot of mistakes with the internet we have. Web3 is a fresh new start to come together as a community that learns from the past.

How did the team react to the workshop? What responses and questions did you get?

It's clear the BaseBRU team has a lot to say on the subject! The discussion was so rich, ranging from the controversial reputation NFTs earned last year (as opposed to the term “tokens” being perceived more neutrally) to complexities of different layers in blockchain as a decentralized ecosystem and much more.

Some of the team members were really well versed in the subject, some had a narrow and mainly negative understanding of Web3, and in all fairness didn't want to spend time digging into a tech which they didn’t believe in. By the end of the workshop they admitted this newly found understanding transformed the way they perceived Web3 — with enough awareness and knowledge to understand what doors to open and in which order.

What seemed to work very well was the metaphors that helped link with systems we knew from the real world. E.g, a regular edition of the “Harry Potter” book may stand in for an example of a fungible “token”, while one signed by the author who addressed it to you – a “non-fungible”. So there were a lot of ahas there that led the team to think about Web3 concepts in a more tangible, less abstract/emotional way.

What are some of the biggest challenges, in your opinion, that creatives will be facing as we transition to Web3?

I’m already seeing an interesting pattern with creative agencies. One one end, they are seeing decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs – think Web3 co-ops) as new clients — and how do you work when a client is a decentralized anonymous group of people?

On the other hand, we have DAOs as competition: bidding for the same projects with a fraction of price (they have no office bills to pay, no operational costs etc). And their internal structure is fascinating. They make it seamless for contributors to earn equity and tokens for their work. Being compensated in tokens can be risky so they protect their members by distributing the risks and upside of any one project by pooling these tokens into a portfolio shared by all of their members. Digital designers and developers now have a choice to go work in a traditional way (in-house or agency) or join a so-called co-op.

And of course, on top of it all we have market volatility and the cyclical nature of crypto’s ups and downs. People get scared and lose interest, we can observe it happening right now. As opposed to a few months ago, where everyone and their mother wanted to learn. But we will be there again.

How can NFTs be beneficial to brands?

First, let’s address the elephant in the room and mention the crypto bear market that’s happening right now.

I actually think this is a good time to experiment. All the scammers are no longer interested, all mercenaries leave – but those who truly believe in the mission of decentralized tech stay and build.

What’s important for brands about tokens is how they can draw people together and create communities. In a way it’s similar to the gaming world, where players are united in their participation of working together towards a singular goal of completing a level, for example. In the case of NFTs, that goal is raising the value of their token, which in return provides governance and access for the community.

We can also think of it like the frenzy created around cult fashion brands like Supreme. Owning an item from their collection allows fans to feel like they are part of an elite group. The communities created around NFT collections are very similar – one becomes inducted into an exclusive club when they purchase a particular NFT, whether it’s Deadfellaz or World of Women.

But that’s not the extent of it. Tokens need to capture more value to reach the next level. One example being co-creation: helping creators not only distribute the work, but also produce it. We can already see this with the rise of the music NFT movement.

If brands can capitalize on these ideas of community and empowerment, they could generate a sizable following that could in turn result in a cultural movement that’s too big to ignore.

Which brands are using NFTs successfully, and why?

Traditional brands, if we take examples like Adidas, Coca-Cola, Coachella etc haven’t really done anything outstanding in the field. Perhaps, on the contrary, their efforts contribute to the public perception of NFTs as a “cash grab”.

What’s interesting is that native Web3 companies, organizations and startups are the new “brands” to look out for. Take that makes it possible to invest in your favorite artist and get paid back in royalties, just like a record label would. Prices start at $99, and there will be a full return on investment over time.

Another creative startup – is essentially a film manufacturing platform that makes use of NFT to permit viewers to determine the plot. We can already trace a trend of increased ownership, agency and user-driven decision making.

DAOs are ramping up influence and power in many previously “untouchable” fields. Enter decentralized science, healthcare and insurance. VitaDAO is building a global community of longevity scientists and enthusiasts discovering and funding the most promising research via tokens. And Aimedis is a decentralized medical data platform, where patient records can't be liquidated, lost, hacked, or become of less value, as medical data is collected, curated, and structured in an encrypted form. Imagine medical data from your examinations to be minted as NFTs – not to be sold as pictures like an X-Ray, but to be tracked, owned and even monetised. You could see exactly where your data is used and decide where you want it to be used or not. That’s what I call a true utility of a token, not just an access to a whitelist to another scammy investment opportunity.

And you mentioned you worked with Base on one of these “real utility” projects?

Yes! Without naming names and industries, I can say we worked in the so-called “phygital” space, linking a real tangible object to its extended properties and usage online. Not a rendered metaverse clone, but a function that can be passed generationally from father to son, all linked to a physical heirloom.

The momentum is here, yet there’s a lot of misguided ideas about how to take advantage of blockchain, NFT and Web3 strategies. In order to succeed in the new market, we need to see NFTs as the first conceptual bridge between digital and physical, and facilitate identity, community and social experiences in the Web3 world.

Everyone is interested. Few take the time to learn. Even fewer jump in — but in the long run those will be the winners.

Where does one go to learn more and start their Web3 journey?

A lot of people in the crypto world tell you to go snoop on Twitter and buy some tokens or coins. There’s a much more productive and safe way to start in my opinion, and that’s joining a DAO.

I’m a member of three DAOs: with some I’m an active builder, with some just an observer and voter. We share learning resources quite a lot as well. I really encourage people to find a decentralized organization that they like and try supporting it. Many of them don’t require buying any tokens, for example, CityDAO.

After conducting several workshops for companies, I’m now developing a series of educational events open to the public. If you’d like to participate and learn with me — you can do so here.

Edited by Dan Howarth.