NFTs Have Finally Enabled Us To Stop Saying The Word “Blockchain”
This article originally appeared on Forbes on April 1, 2022.
As a long-time builder of Blockchain tech and businesses, I’ve said for many years that we’ll know Blockchain has adopted when people stop using the word “Blockchain.” My analog for this is that no one refers to TCP/IP protocols; they just say: “the web” or “the Internet.” These shifts in nomenclature — from technical terminology to a more prosaic/user-centric one — signify that the technology is evolving and that the types of users are expanding. No longer are people solely entranced by the possibilities of the technology, but rather, they are finding value in products that the technology enables.
To paraphrase Clarke’s Third Law, the technology has sufficiently evolved so that it, like magic, disappears and, thus, shifts the value and the user’s focus to the product rather than the underlying tech.
This is a wildly exciting development for those of us who are long-time Blockchain true believers. For years we’ve been forced to attempt to explain the virtues of Blockchain — which is inherently (and unapologetically) technical — without the benefit of use cases that make understanding much more achievable.
Of course, what has finally led people to “talk” about Blockchain tech without saying the word “Blockchain” is the NFT.
I’ve been asking random groups of my students at Berklee (not those in the class I teach on Blockchain) if they’ve heard of NFTs; all have. When I ask what those letters stand for (”Non-fungible Tokens”), only about 60% know. When I ask those who do know what the abbreviation stands for to explain how NFTs work, the percentage of those who can adequately do so drops to near zero. Admittedly, this is not a scientific survey, but it does illustrate the point: nearly everyone has heard of NFTs, but nearly no one knows that NFTs cannot exist without Blockchain tech; in short, the technology has evolved sufficiently to magically disappear.
Beyond the satisfaction that arises from feeling justified in being an early adopter of a technology that has now entered the mainstream (and being grateful to now have a use case to ease explanation), the NFT hype cycle (and, as I have recently written, it is that) is pushing the overall sector (somewhat frustratingly being called “Web3”) into a new stage of the diffusion of innovation model that E.M. Rogers created: From “Early Adopters” to “Early Majority.”
The significance of this is not simply the additional market penetration, but that Blockchain tech has now crossed a significant chasm that very few businesses or technologies ever do. Summarizing a main point from Geoffrey Moore’s seminal book on the topic of innovation, Crossing the Chasm, this occurs when the new technology begins to improve peoples’ lives without forcing them to learn new skills. That is, people now are buying, selling and trading NFTs, from a user experience perspective, generally in the same manner that they have done with other collectibles forever. All of the technological “magic” that powers this is invisible. Not only does this allow for an acceleration of users— via network effect and NPS-driving growth —it also drives new investment dollars into the space, which only adds to the acceleration.
To be sure, there are still clunky elements related to the purchase of NFTs (I’m looking at you “wallets”) that we all know will be smoothed out over time. But, had it not been for the adoption of NFTs, we might not have evolved towards never saying the “Blockchain” word again, while enjoying all that Blockchain tech empowers every day.