Lines in the Snow

In our September piece titled Erupting onto the Scene, the subject was broached: how should we, as a community, be thinking about IOTA. How should we present it to newcomers and potential interested parties?

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.

The piece was meant to be a starting point for the community. It was suggested that it might be prudent to begin thinking about the terminology and concepts that IOTA might need to use after Coordicide has been completed, and a new influx of IOTA-interested participants arrives. It's a conversation starter, and the first attempt at drawing some lines in the snow, if you will. We're only here to get the lines started, though, and the hope was that the community would engage to create some dialogue around the ideas therein.

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”.

The importance of the community and its ability to engage with newcomers took center stage. The idea of reducing buzzwords (DAG, Tangle, Coo) to improve first impression was floated. A two-tier curation model was discussed to ponder how (or if) we should be engaging the two large user bases differently: technically proficient users vs general enthusiasts. We leapt into brand continuity before heading into an interesting discussion about how to establish a conceptual framework that newcomers might use to more quickly understand the project. A tree analogy was used here, but any similar branched idea would work as well. The piece concluded by touching on the questions of whether the community should be dichotomizing the terms "tangle" and "blockchain" and to what degree the underlying "paradigm shift" should be emphasized.

To HelloIOTA's delight, that article worked beautifully. It caused conversation, as planned. It's never too early to begin thinking about communication frameworks for optimal engagement. With that in mind, we were lucky to take this conversation to another level by hearing a professional's thoughts on how we should all be approaching the next phase of IOTA development. It's time to put some more lines in the snow.

Bas van Sambeek is a communication strategist who runs Perspective Consulting. Bas is also co-founder of and a distinguished member of the IEN. Bas has twenty years of professional expertise in communication strategy, so this is just the person we needed to chat with in order to continue the dialogue from our previous piece.

Bas' immediate reaction to our thought piece was that it might have been a bit cerebral. He says, "you understand quite rightly that in order to engage [newcomers to IOTA], you need to go beyond the technicalities, but don’t really elevate it to a meaningful level yet." The positive takeaway is that he says the piece has picked things up well, and is at least asking the right questions.

Regarding terminology, he likes to use KISS principles to avoid jargon (and do so at all costs!). Jargon should only be used when explaining the full concept behind the confusing terminology. Exceptions apply, of course, but that is his basic rule.

He used a brilliant quote to illustrate what true vision looks like:

“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Bas says that IOTA has a chance to achieve exactly that sort of vision. The disclaimer that he inserts is that IOTA still needs to build out its basic infrastructure before the vision can be realized, as one might expect. "[IOTA] needs Chrysalis at the very least, perhaps solid test nets for Coordicide, and a host of libraries and tooling for devs."

He suggests that some use cases will need to be shown as MVPs, and until then, the protocol hasn't reached a point that might put it onto its final step toward achieving the vision. It's mostly a question of timing, and "when those preconditions are met, you can start attracting all sorts of developers (software, hardware, business) with a vision, preferably built together with them."

Early credit is given to Carpincho, who is already making a project on top of IOTA with IOT2TANGLE, and Bas notes that other layers like Access, decentralised identity, Stronghold, and IOTA Smart Contracts (ISC) are currently in the works too. However, he remains steadfast in his belief that IOTA is only for the hardcore curious at the moment. It's impossible to argue with that stance. Only after the aforementioned preconditions are met does he think that IOTA will represent a path that's intuitive and attractive to walk. "IOTA has this potential, but it’s not there yet."

Bas compares the marketing of innovative technology to surfing. "You have to time it. Pedal too early and you’re tired when the wave comes, pedal too late and you miss the wave. In reality you run out of patience and money if you start too soon. The right timing depends on the situation and how deep your pockets are, but most people start too early and with not enough money. That makes it hard to succeed."

Bas thinks that the IOTA Foundation has probably already started to think about communication approaches of the type that our piece examined. The reason there hasn't been much official chatter from the Foundation along these lines might be because "there is a difference between starting [to plan a communication strategy] and publishing [the communication strategy]." What many observers don't realize is that when you see success, many of those instances are perceived as being "overnight successes" despite having been years in the making.

Being an open source project, the community will soon need to take the lead in these sorts of discussions rather than relying on a few people chatting behind closed doors at the Foundation.

Bas is approaching IOTA from the perspective of looking at what it really solves, and for who.

Decentralisation to me means bringing back resilience and control. A lot of automation has made things easier, but it has also delegated control to centralised entities that might or might not have your best interest in mind. With convenience we've lost control.

He contends that part of the explanation for the current state of the world is the centralisation we've seen over recent years, but that's an entirely different discussion. In the here and now, Bas is of the opinion that the IOTA Foundation has a "reasonable grip on promoting the systemic utility of the Tangle, the IOTA token, and supporting software with respect to decentralisation."

HelloIOTA has long been a proponent of stirring up a grassroots movement within the community, which is something that Bas agrees is currently missing.

Regardless of how well you know IOTA, you do know the things in your life better than most. Everyone is an expert at something. A possible angle at activating the broader community is having people think of what decentralisation could do to improve their lives.

The personal usefulness of IOTA is important to stress, because it means that individuals will be looking for problems to fix in their lives that currently have a poor solution. The goal is to connect those problems with a solution that's built on IOTA. If an entire community is built around doing this, it'll be much easier for everyone to understand the variety of use cases for the token. He provides an example: 

"You have a coffee shop, and the Wifi is an important part of your attraction. You want it to be free, but only for customers. Commercial solutions from telco operators costs tons of money, but an open wifi is also not attractive because of abuse. IOTA Access could solve this."

The point is further illustrated when he brings up the fact that peoples' Ring doorbells and smart vacuum cleaners failed last month when the US-East-1 Amazon server went down. We're hyper-reliant on centralised systems. It's up to everyone to carve out better solutions with decentralised technology. Bas says that he's toying around with this saying for his website: "to make futuristic ideas possible today," because there's so much that's already possible today, but the ideas just haven't been connected yet. He says that the saying would be a slightly different approach than "everyone is an expert", but it's more inspirational for developers who like to execute. He hopes that a decentralised (preferably sharded) Tangle in the near future will be a solution to this problem of centralisation.

There is much more possible than what we have today, and by connecting the dots, we shape the future.

However, he reiterates that it's not yet possible to use IOTA as a solution for dot-connecting just yet since it's not quite mature enough. "If you [try to start connecting the dots with IOTA right now], you end up with pie-in-the-sky dreams that might or might not come true." Returning to his surfing analogy from earlier, it's safe to say that starting to paddle now would be premature and would probably miss the wave.

When it comes to DLT ideology, Bas is incisive:

I see pure decentralization as a sort of attempt at dogmatic purity. To me decentralization and centralization is a false dichotomy; in reality it's a scale, and both extremes are equally undesirable. Instead I suggest looking at their functions, and choosing a balance that is most appropriate given the context. In my opinion, we are now too heavily favoring centralisation in a few areas, but decentralizing everything is the opposite of a solution. Just like hammers can be very useful tools, in some situations they’re merely destructive.

The problem with centralisation, as we saw with the Amazon server outage, is that while it brings efficiency, it comes at the cost of resilience. "Another factor is that it promotes inequality, but that's a complex discussion, because it has also elevated the standard of living." Centralisation has led to the consolidation of great power and wealth, but Bas is right in saying that it has also elevated the standard of living for everyone. It's now dirt cheap to spin up an AWS server whereas it was expensive and difficult twenty years ago. Google has made accurate, lightning fast search accessible to the planet, but has also turned into a data hoarding giant.

Assuming more decentralisation is a desired outcome, even regardless of the use case, innovation never happens in a straight line. In a meta-moment while discussing centralisation vs decentralisation, Bas points out that it's actually risky to have IOTA development depend on IF as an entity, but he delves into a few considerations therein: 1) It's a heterogenous organization of more than 100 people, and 2) choosing an efficient process in the form of a formal organization could be seen as preferable when trying to solve a very complex problem in a competitive market.

Don't forget that solving scalability in a feeless fashion is nothing to sneeze at. In my experience with grass roots movements, the initial enthusiasm carries a lot of energy, but soon after that progress depends on a small core team. There is something to be said for having that team's full focus by employing them, so that they don't have to worry about paying their rent.

Seeing the BTC development stalemate and the struggles ETH developers have had, using a centralised entity like the IOTA Foundation to kickstart the final implementation of IOTA's protocol isn't a bad idea. He's excited that the Foundation has a mission to achieve which gives it a directed purpose with an end goal in sight. Achieve coordicide. Furthermore, it hands over governance to organizations like Eclipse Foundation and OMG which are as big of players as you'll find in industry.

While everyone is waiting for Chrysalis, Bas thinks that "too many cooks would spoil the broth here", although he thinks that more funding would probably result in a faster delivery. More money and more developers doesn't always lead to faster results in the software world, however.

Either way, he doesn't see any grassroots popping up to finalize this protocol themselves. Why is that?

To me it suggests that there is either 1) trust in the Foundation, 2) it is too hard to achieve otherwise, 3) or a combination of both.

Some participants in crypto see an absence of a grassroots movement around a new protocol as a critical flaw. They might argue that there's no reason to wait for some hypothetical future event before kicking off a movement, and that the movement itself shouldn't be dependent upon what the Foundation decides to publish.

But if we take a step back, Bas thinks that the Foundation is timing it, "fully realizing that you and me both are part of that potential movement." The Foundation does acknowledge this, and is trying to foster it, but first things first. "And I think a secure working protocol that offers scalability without requiring transaction fees is a good first."

A good secondary goal will be to attract more developers who are eager to work on community projects with libraries and documentation. But the surfing analogy applies especially well here - having the broader community paddle too soon (before protocol finality) would frustrate them to no end. The technology needs to be ready to go before trying to catch the wave.

When it comes to the topic of IOTA being "corporate focused", the thing to remember is that corporate interest and grassroots movements are not mutually exclusive on a permission-less ledger. Looking at the work that's been done so far – "integrating novel technology into an existing society does require cooperation from existing players."

In industrial plants, people use the terms "brownfield" and "greenfield" to describe a situation. Greenfield is a fresh start: building an installation up on a completely vacant site. Brownfield means trying to fit it into an existing production process, usually with the process still running while you're upgrading it. I think brownfield describes best the situation cryptocurrencies face when trying to get adopted. Doing that without the knowledge and cooperation of the existing players – both industry and governments – is suboptimal to say the least. Even when you don't agree with how your particular part of society is run, it would be monumentally stupid to not accept a helping hand in reforming the system.

Finally, Bas thinks that one of the most important questions that we can be asking right now is "how should we be thinking about communicating the vision and execution of IOTA?"

"The vision" is a term that is used too casually for his liking. To Bas, there's not yet a formalized vision for the role of IOTA in society. He says that even though the IOTA Foundation is tasked with the mission of achieving a scalable, permission-less, fee-less distributed ledger, the "why" behind it is not clear.

Sure, machine economy and the Internet of Things/Everything are brought up a lot, but there is no formalized overall compelling Why?, along the lines of Simon Sinek's Golden Circle. We are yearning for the sea, but what we want to achieve or experience there is not clear enough.

And the interesting thing is that there doesn't have to be one, or at least not from [the Foundation]. It's up to us to form one, share it with others, find consensus, and build it. That to me is what decentralization is about: the freedom to go your own direction, and find each other again in mutual agreement.

What a perfect way to end a conversation that was started by posing the question of how we should be thinking about communicating IOTA. Everybody has their own opinions, and everybody has their own methods, but at the end of the day we're part of a community that will build the future. It's up to us to constantly evolve, constantly question, and constantly build the future that we want. A conversation was started by drawing a few lines in the snow. Bas added a few more lines. Now, it's up to the community to continue the conversation, drawing more lines in the snow. We'll get there together.

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