Blockchain to Bring Authenticity back to Marketingby Sebastian Schuhl
The modern Internet experience is broken. Whether it be the rise of toxic exchanges on social media platforms, rampant bot activity, inauthentic influencers, or the hyper-centralizing forces dominating the web, users are desperate for an upgrade. Unfortunately, blockchain technology alone isn’t the solution. It is merely a tool to take back the web.
If we are to take seriously the early vision of the Internet, then we’ll need a new set of platforms and some out-of-the-box thinking to achieve this. Let the revolution begin.
Two Steps Back, One Step Forward
Reports from the past few years have indicated that bot activity is rising. Fake Twitter profiles are the easiest way to grasp this phenomenon, but the practice exists throughout. On Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, and many others, it’s becoming harder and harder to determine who or what a user is speaking with.
In an article by The Atlantic from 2017, the publication cited research from Imperva which indicated that “bots—good and bad—are responsible for 52 percent of web traffic.” For the uninitiated, good bots are those that help sort web traffic results, move content between desktop and mobile, or ensure that websites are operating correctly. Bad bots generate spam, scrape data unbeknownst to users, and exploit vulnerable websites.
Not all bot activity is inherently malicious, but certainly, the good bots are getting a bad rep.
The rise of e-commerce, however, has added another dimension to the bot problem. An online storefront with hundreds of five-star reviews will lead to a higher click rate than its competitors. Similarly, viral content that promotes specific brands will also land more viewers and buyers. This, in conjunction with bot activity, has created a third problem: Inauthenticity. Another digital sales model being manipulated in this way is influencer marketing.
Earning an endorsement from a relevant figure in your industry or celebrity with over one million followers appears like a quick and cheap way to get your product before the eyes of a large audience. And, to an extent this was true and as such these influencers have been turning a neat profit to sponsor a project. But, there is a dark side to this model that is only now surfacing.
The CEO of Social Chain Group Steven Bartlett explained in a LinkedIn post that the majority of influencers are using a series of apps and bot activity to stimulate impressions on social media. He went on to say that roughly 95 percent of the likes, reposts, and commentary for many of these influencers are entirely fake. “By 2020, global influence spend is predicted to be between 5 - 10 billion dollars,” said Bartlett. “And I think marketeers have run into an industry with a tremendous amount of hope, without really knowing what they’re doing, tracking or paying for.”
Ultimately, the wisdom of the crowd is an excellent metric for measuring quality, but what if that crowd is dominated by highly-incentivized proprietary algorithms?
Google isn’t alone in working through this issue either. Facebook is working hard to determine the intentions of bot activity, just like Twitter and other platforms. The famous Captcha has already done heaps in distinguishing between human and machine. Google Analytics also helps companies identify the sentience of traffic to their site. These initiatives are fantastic improvements, but some believe that they don’t go nearly far enough.
Reinventing the Digital Wheel
While commentators in the blockchain space are still figuring out whether they are reinventing finance or the Internet, a few companies are already on their way to building out a Web 3.0.
The crypto-native Brave project has tackled the browser industry head-on. Built on Chrome’s open-source library, the Brave browser boasts faster speeds than Google while also providing an ad-free user experience. Add a token to the mix, and they flip the web surfing model on its head. Users are given the choice between viewing sites without advertisements, or, if they’re interested, can earn some Basic Attention Token (BAT) for opening and viewing a banner ad.
The ability to tokenize and make tradeable something as abstract as attention is revolutionary. The combination of bot activity, e-commerce, and cryptocurrencies give a whole new meaning to the attention economy. To bring this idea to a pitch, however, there’s still an ingredient missing.
Platforms like Steemit, albeit relatively unsuccessful in gaining the same traction as Brave, have proven that quality curation is still a major component of the modern Internet experience. The premise is simple. Steemit, like Reddit, has a native token called STEEM which holds real monetary value. At the time of writing, STEEM is trading at roughly $0.40 a token.
When a Steemit user finds an article that they like, they can tip the creator with STEEM. Content that accrues value moves to the top of the site’s pages. It’s rudimentary and can be thought of the crypto-equivalent of an upvote or like.
Unfortunately, Steemit can still be very easily gamed. And the STEEM token only serves to make more clear the value of manipulating a platform. It has been reported that once a piece of content has earned a certain amount of votes on Steemit, it is flagged as trending or “hot.”
Articles that trend, no matter the platform, earn even more votes simply because users are more likely to upvote trending content. Often, content is upvoted without ever being read.
That being said, the idea represents the beginning of what the Internet could be with the aid of blockchain technology. A free market of ideas curated by elected moderators and promoted via real monetary tools is indeed promising. By increasing the cost of gaming a system, like in the case of Steemit, bad actors are less incentivized to falsely promote content because it becomes too expensive.
Taking all of these factors into consideration has also given life to another age-old marketing mechanism.
Word of Mouth and the WOM Protocol
The problem has been clearly outlined above. In the modern era, e-commerce and bot activity has incentivized inauthentic online interactions. If something becomes a viral sensation, one can bet that the early catalyst was indeed algorithmic. The introduction of cryptocurrencies into this problem has curbed some of this interplay, but human nature continues to exploit any and all avenues.
The crux of the issue, as seen on Steemit, is how moderators or oracles operate in such a system.
The WOM Protocol offers a novel solution and reduces the entire mechanism to realigning incentives between all parties with the WOM token acting like the grease keeping the system running. To get a better idea of how this works, consider the lifeline of a piece of content.
Once a creator publishes a piece of content, they are rewarded with WOM tokens in relation to how much user engagement it generates. This is very similar to how almost all social media platforms manage content. The difference between this and Steemit’s platform is how the curators of WOM operate.
WOM curators measure the quality of content following three metrics: Authenticity, product, and effort. Authenticity is defined as content that has not been compromised by monetary incentives. Product means that the content relates or promotes a particular product like a pair of shoes, a new electric toothbrush and so on. Effort measures the detail in which the creator goes into to describe the pros and cons of the product, as well as any other creative elements such as gifs, videos and the like.
Curators, on the other hand, are incentivized to exclude their personal opinion when evaluating products. If, for instance, their recommendation does not meet the market’s opinion the curator is penalized. Herein lies the value of the Reputation (RP) tokens. RP tokens represent the “curation power” of the curator; if they hold more of these tokens, typically their influence in the evaluation process holds more weight.
These tokens are also 1:1 backed by WOM tokens ensuring that curators also have “skin in the game” when defining high-quality WOM content. If they fail to match the market’s desires, they risk losing real money.
Ultimately, the WOM protocol goes one step further than Steemit by including curators in the scheme. Consumers still define the market interest, but as tastes change curators and creators will be better incentivized to respond to this change as each of them can earn value by adjusting to the market as quick as possible.
More importantly, with both the curators and creators correctly aligned, the consumer will have access to a higher-quality stream of content. This generates a positive feedback loop as brands have a better pool of market insights to draw from.
In this configuration, we also get a better idea of how decentralization will remove the inauthentic interactions that have become common on the Internet. Each individual can operate under their own prerogative, but with everyone in the ecosystem incentivized to promote the highest-quality content, a near-perfect meritocracy arises.
Even Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, might call that revolutionary.