If all goes well, IOTA will be erupting onto the tech scene within the next few years. It has been an experimental research project to this point in time, like all DLTs. Now, the esteemed staff of researchers seems to have the protocol on track to achieve Coordicide at some time in the medium term future - something that was never a certainty before, and remains to be seen.
However, if this works, IOTA will quickly enter the wider public stage as a legitimate 10x technology, and it's never too early to contemplate what something like that means or how it might be handled by the community.
How the community reacts to upcoming developments will play a vital role in sparking interest, luring more talented developers, and ultimately resonating with people across the globe. The stakes are high when introducing novel technology, but it’s hard to even know where to begin! This piece will be an amalgamation of thoughts on how the IOTA community might approach thinking about gaining broader traction after the technology proves itself to be functional. Most ideas herein probably won't be relevant, but the hope is that they can start a conversation now. Better to have collectively thought about these things in advance than be faced with them all at once in a moment of truth.
You can go the route of many failed endeavors - dryly explaining the name of your new thing, tossing out some buzzwords hoping one sticks, and inviting people to come learn about your thing on forums, chat rooms, or websites. But in the end, all you’ve done is made them briefly aware of yet another new distraction that they don’t have time to research, or reason to care about. And why should they? Competition for their limited time and energy is fierce, and you haven’t sparked any emotion, curiosity, or passion. You'll have a potentially revolutionary technology on your hands. It's about figuring out how to get it out into the world.
The alternative is to engage people. Start by identifying a similar thing that they already understand, we’ll call it a pre-existing conceptual framework, and teach them by superimposing your new thing onto this pre-existing conceptual framework. “Teach” is the operative word here, and doing so is easy because the work has already been started for you. You can just piggy back on an extant neural structure that was established by technologies of old. And now the most important part of the process: By dictating exactly how and where we decide to teach, we can promote emotional engagement, intellectual curiosity, and passion that spurs spontaneous action. This is the quintessence of evangelism.
If someone were to invent the greatest technology in human history, it would still fail to achieve its potential if the inventor and their community wasn’t able to engage people enough to care about it. Whether that be by touting its attributes or connecting with individual emotions, spreading the word is essential for the success of any undertaking. Until people feel visceral engagement, curiosity, and passion for IOTA, it remains “just another thing”.
Living in the digital age means that the tools at your disposal to lead an extremely inexpensive, authentic, engaging campaign that showcases this project to the world. Such a grass roots campaign can be totally decentralized among ourselves. We must be meticulous in our path to clear messaging. After all, the brand is the interface between IOTA and the world. IOTA has ostensibly done a wonderful job with B2B interactions and corporate collaborations, and it'll soon be up to the community to take interactions to the wider public.
Laying the Groundwork
A well-defined brand strategy is easier to execute and affects all aspects of a business. It's directly connected to consumer needs, emotions, and competitive environments. This goes much deeper than a simple name or logo – although it should be noted that IOTA is already elite in both of these categories. Avoiding the “short term trap” is also crucial when building a brand strategy.
First Impression - Minimize Buzzwords
As if new technology wasn’t confusing enough, describing it with a gaggle of completely new and unfamiliar buzzwords, seemingly arranged in no particular order, only makes matters worse. “IOTA”, “Tangle”, “DAG”, “not a block chain”, “distributed ledger”, “Internet of Things”, “IoT backbone”. Almost everyone will have already bowed out after hearing the first 3 words of this foreign language. Let's focus on perfecting the first impression by minimizing buzzwords.
How do you convey the crux of IOTA without using a slew of buzzwords? Don’t describe it. Illustrate it. Explore its relevant and easy-to-understand features, highlight the protocol dichotomy, and stress that a fundamental paradigm shift is the product.
By introducing IOTA in this way, “buzzword confusion” is minimized. The first impression is now more authentic, positive, and engaging, creating a teaching opportunity that wouldn’t have otherwise been available following a poor first impression. Plus, now we’re letting the audience assign buzzwords that they feel are appropriate based on their understanding of what IOTA actually does.
“Two Tier” Curation Model
Curation is the act of packaging only certain information for a target audience and displaying it in a way that’s most relevant to that audience’s habits and lifestyle. Let's consider beginning with a focus on two disparate target audiences over the medium term – Tier 1 for experts and developers, and Tier 2 for the general populace. The former will be searching for the gritty technical details and specific tutorials on the IOTA code itself. The latter will require all of this information be distilled down to its fundamental concepts and presented in a more general, relatable way.
“Tier 1” (“Specific” Tier) = Aimed at developers and the technologically inclined users. This tier consists of an audience that'll be guided to the IOTA github and iota.org roadmap. The purpose of Tier 1 is to get developers up to speed and working on IOTA use cases. This is the engine that will drive growth of the IOTA ecosystem.
“Tier 2” (“General” Tier) = Aimed at the general public. This tier consists of the peripheral information dissemination, and is meant to be presented in such a way that the average person is captivated by IOTA. Examples include YouTube informational videos, non-insane twitter posts, and media outlets (articles/television reports). This tier must be as easily approachable as possible. The goal is to engage everyone with IOTA, and then allow for more the more advanced (programmers) to self-select into the technically oriented Tier 1. This is an adaptation of the funnel concept in marketing, and is a variation of customer acquisition in IOTA’s case.
After deciding on a brand approach, it’s imperative that informational continuity is maintained. This means that information presented across different media platforms must be consistent with the image chosen to portray, and knowledge chosen to be bestowed. Failure to maintain continuity undermines the consistent brand, confuses the audience, and creates superfluous work for others in the community in answering the public’s questions.
Establishing a Conceptual Framework
The easiest way to teach a new concept is by tapping into a previously established neural structure. This is particularly true in the case of novel technology, because the new technology can be contrasted to old technology using a conceptual framework that’s already been instilled into public knowledge.
This conceptual framework is one that’s already in place after years of public exposure to block chain and its related buzzwords. People seem to be able to grasp the fact that some special features arise from the “block chain” protocol. Features like low cost transactions, relatively quick settlement, and an immutable distributed public ledger (and benefits thereof) are easy to experience and understand. Now that they have the idea that an underlying protocol is able to afford unique, tangible features, the final piece to the puzzle is the recognizing the use cases that arise from block chains. Macro-payments, store of value, and information posterity are some of the most widely disseminated use cases today. In this way, people are familiar with associations between the base-layer protocol, the features that arise from it, and finally the use cases that sprout from the unique features.
This gives us a hierarchy of “Protocol” -> “Features” -> “Use Cases” as a conceptual framework. Over time, “cryptocurrency” has become a buzzword to describe the use cases of block chain technology. Applying a buzzword to a technology that fulfills these common use cases makes sense for ease of use in daily discourse. A broader and more accurate descriptor would have been “distributed ledger”.
Let’s boil this down even further by using an easy analogy. The hierarchical conceptual framework can be represented by a tree. The tree’s trunk represents the base protocol which grows very slowly over time, while always serving as the foundational structure on top of which everything else arises. Without the trunk (protocol), the tree wouldn’t be able to survive. The branches represent features that arise from the underlying protocol and rely on the trunk for support. Over time, the number and quality of tree branches can be slightly variable. Finally, the leaves represent use cases. They are always changing color, falling off, and growing back. Use cases are constantly in a state of flux depending on many variables, and are directly reliant upon the branches (features) of the tree. (e.g. without zero fee transactions [feature], machine to machine micropayments [use case] would be impossible). Leaves provide the vital photosynthetic generation of energy to sustain the tree, so without leaves (use cases), the entire tree ceases to exist.
We’ve just explained distributed ledger technology without any buzzwords, and done so by using a common everyday object that people can understand. This is the beauty of conceptual frameworks.
It’s important to note that, although IOTA does fulfill the use cases of “cryptocurrency”, describing IOTA as a “cryptocurrency” might be unnecessarily limiting in scope. It could confine IOTA to the very narrow use cases associated with traditional “cryptocurrencies”, while also associating the brand with the undesirable “crypto” stigma. The foresight and conviction displayed by the IOTA Foundation to avoid the “cryptocurrency” descriptor is to be commended, and has led the project to enjoy its current standing in the world of business.
With that said, describing IOTA as the “backbone of IoT” might be just as limiting as “cryptocurrency”. In both cases, the buzzword encompasses less than 100% of the use cases afforded by the unique features of the Tangle. It’s true that “backbone of IoT” is not yet associated with any stigma, making it a safer choice than “cryptocurrency” in that regard. But the benefits of avoiding the “crypto” stigma may be offset by the equally limiting nature of the “backbone of IoT” descriptor. Pigeon holing IOTA into a niche market at the beginning of its life span may shelter it from direct competition in other difficult areas.
Dichotomize Tangle vs. Block Chain
After hearing about the list of incredible features that IOTA is able to provide (scalability and no fees), the audience’s first question will be “how can it do all of this?” The immediate answer will be: by using something other than a block chain. This is the perfect time to introduce the Tangle to a curious and receptive audience. Sticking with the ongoing theme of using a pre-formed conceptual framework to optimize teaching, a Tangle vs. Block chain compare & contrast is the best way to approach this concept. By dichotomizing Tangle vs. Block Chain, and teaching the tree analogy, people will immediately understand that IOTA and Bitcoin (or insert legacy block chain of choice) are as different as an Oak tree and a Pine tree. Each is in the same phylum, but they are very different at the genus/species level. The nature of their trunks, branches, and leaves is fundamentally different. There are other ways of dichotomizing Tangle vs. Block chain, and those should be utilized as well. This dichotomy will be the foundation on which we can build conversations.
In the interest of information continuity and buzzword avoidance, let's consider making the “Tangle” our term exclusively used to describe the IOTA protocol on Tier 2 of the information curation model. “DAG” should only be reserved for Tier 1 information sources. Presenting two new buzzwords in Tier 2 information, “Tangle” and “DAG”, might risk information overload and confusion for no potential added benefit. The audience will be encouraged to do further research, and interested parties will find all necessary information on the inner workings of the DAG in Tier 1 information.
Now that people understand that the Tangle is the “trunk” giving rise to its features, it is important to set proper expectations. IOTA is a fundamental paradigm shift from what people are accustomed to with block chain technologies.
The general public has grown weary of hearing about bitcoin’s scalability issues, long confirmation times, and high transaction fees which all stems from a growing user base. The opposite will be true of IOTA since what it purports to do will be a brand new concept that will take some getting used to. It must be stressed that this paradigm shift flips everything that people know about block chains. It is important that the public is able to set proper expectations for IOTA going forward.
It should be made clear from the beginning that not all of the listed features will be available from day 1, but instead will be afforded as IOTA approaches critical mass adoption. If this time horizon regarding critical mass is clearly conveyed and widely understood, public expectations will be more accurately set and markets will more easily forgive the inevitable minor hang-ups over the short term. Aligning expectations in this way will aid in reducing large market fluctuation caused by panic due to improper knowledge. Additionally, IOTA will gain credibility by couching its list of features in the caveat that some of those features won’t be available until critical mass is achieved. In other words, let's consider not promising smart contracts until they're here.
“Critical mass” is the keyword that should be stressed to sum up this paradigm shift.
Presenting information in this way mitigates peripheral confusion or distractions in all three steps of the public’s initial interaction with the IOTA brand. This path is designed to first spark curiosity and imagination by presenting crazy features, than allay concern over plausibility by providing a logical protocol discussion, and finally stir passion as proper expectations are established.