The 2020s promises to be a breakout decade for web3. We explore the top ten applications of the tech to emerge in 2023 and beyond, and chart when they're likely to make their mark. Read the full list to learn why we're optimistic about NFT ticketing, music licensing, zero-knowledge proofs, and more.
As 2022 comes to an end, it is clear that web3 will transform how we do business. And not only business: web3 will also fundamentally rework how our culture evolve and how our societies organise. The remaining question is when. We take a closer look at the top ten biggest applications of web3, when they’re poised to break through, and what you should be doing today.
Our Start Doing segment explores the products that have traction at scale today. These are the innovations where, if you aren’t responding to them, somebody else is.
Start Planning covers the applications that are just around the corner. Within three years, we expect them to show their full promise. They’re coming soon, and you get ahead by planning now.
Looking further ahead to the five-year plan is our Start Researching segment. These are ideas to begin looking into now to make sure your work stays future-proof.
We round off the top ten with key ideas for you to Start Listening to. There’s lots that blockchain promises to do by the end of the 2020s, but we’ve focused on three that could have the biggest impact.
We'll explore the current state of the blockchain landscape, examine the trends that are shaping its future development in web3 and more broadly, and consider the challenges and opportunities along the way.
As consumers continue to value making memories over material goods, creating frictionless and unforgettable fan experiences remains a top priority for event organisers across the globe.
NFTs allow event hosts to turn their tickets into longer-term activations for attendees, whilst solving problems with counterfeiting and ticket touts that plague the ticketing sector. By issuing tickets as NFTs through a smart contract, event hosts can embed constraints on how tickets are used even after they sell, such as capping resale prices, whilst UEFA used NFT tickets for the international Euro 2020 football tournament, which activated only when ticket holders got close to the relevant stadium. Additionally, since NFT tickets are issued on the blockchain where ownership can be easily verified, it is extremely difficult to counterfeit.
“Over the past several months, we've seen artist after artist like Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift face heat because of issues fans struggle with when trying to purchase tickets,” said YellowHeart CEO Josh Katz, whose company provides NFT ticketing solutions. “At YellowHeart, we offer a smart ticketing model, which allows the ticket issuer to dictate if a ticket can be resold and cap any resales at a specific percentage. Artists, teams, and venues also get a cut of secondary sales, which currently is completely dominated by scalpers. As we reimagine how tickets are sold and distributed, the possibilities are endless.”
An even bigger impact lies beyond the ticket itself, connecting directly with fans through the ticket, which becomes a token to access more than just one event. By providing exclusive access to token-gated content, special perks, and digital communities, NFT ticketing has already enabled top artists like Maroon 5, Zhu, and Lewis Capaldi to increase fan engagement with their most loyal supporters. One example comes from Kings of Leon, whose NFT ticket initiative included 18 tickets providing fans with front-row concert tickets at every tour the band does, for life.
Industry incumbents like Ticketmaster have begun to take notice, releasing their own NFT ticketing capabilities in partnership with the Flow blockchain. So far, Ticketmaster has minted over 5 million NFTs for event organisers, whilst corporations like MGM Resorts and TAO Group Hospitality have partnered with Yellow Heart to implement their own NFT ticketing programmes.
Products like DALL-E 2 and ChatGPT are transforming the way we create. Opening up the ability to generate unique ideas with a few lines of text, these AI tools are already pushing the boundaries of what's possible in the world of digital creativity while reducing workflow speeds to a fraction of what they once were.
Adobe has developed a suite of AI tools for content creation, including Adobe Sensei, which uses machine learning to automatically suggest edits and enhancements to images and videos, whilst AI is becoming a key part of the game development workflow on engines like Unreal and Unity, as well as in the metaverse, for character generation, decision-making, and animation. Already, we’ve seen a slew of businesses built on the back of open-access AI tools from avatar creators to app builders to pitch deck generators.
According to AI artist, Artificial Bob, artists should either consider AI as a new tool in their workflow or ignore it entirely. “If traditional artists are willing to give it a shot, it can open a lot of doors for them,” he said. “But standing in the way of a runaway train is completely pointless.”
As these tools become more prevalent, it is likely that a significant portion of the media we consume will be influenced by AI. Democratising access to creative expression for both creators and non-creators is important, but we must remain cognizant of the potential for AI-generated content to homogenise and add bias to our cultural landscape, leading to a loss of diverse perspectives and ideas. The opportunities are plentiful, but how we choose to approach them will make all the difference.
As the carbon credits market experiences dramatic growth during a period in which the climate crisis attracts growing responses, blockchain is well-positioned to improve its transparency, security, and efficiency. Speaking to Culture3, Emma Sokoloff, partner at Shine Capital, explains that “blockchain technology can create a secure and transparent platform for verifying, buying, selling, and tracking credits, bootstrapping the market’s liquidity and integrity.”
In providing greater transparency and traceability throughout the carbon credit value chain, blockchain makes it easy for anyone to verify exactly who is involved in the transaction and whether the credits have been certified by a globally recognised standard, whilst counterfeits can be traced to their source onchain.
This presents opportunities to any supply chain. As Deloitte reports, “organisations can digitise physical assets and create a decentralised immutable record of all transactions, making it possible to track assets from production to delivery or use by end user.” In carbon credit markets, this brings transparency to carbon credit markets, helping ensure that those purchasing carbon offsets can navigate the market confidently and efficiently.
Those benefits exist even in permissioned markets that are valued by larger enterprise clients that make up most of the demand in carbon credits. But in addition, blockchain enables new forms of permissionless markets, in which anyone can purchase credits, and where selling them is more open. Platforms like KlimaDAO and ClimateCoin make carbon credit marketplaces more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises, and individuals, by tokenising carbons assets onchain where they can be bought by anyone with an internet connection.
“We're not creating another new corporate standard, but working with the existing standards,” explains Samuel Lee, Head of Strategy at ClimateCoin. “Today, businesses are relying on acquaintances to get their credits sold, but with blockchain there's an instant liquidation opportunity.”
For the first time, brand value is and awareness is not generated solely by employees of the brand, but rather by a broader community of supporters. Enabled by web3, which records distributed ownership of large IP sets on the blockchain, we are witnessing the emergence of a new generation of brands.
Creative strategist Ben Mayor White, the architect behind adidas’ $23m web3 activation in 2021, predicts that community-led brands will eventually come to eclipse many web2 giants. He explains that early movers like Yuga Labs and Gary Vaynerchuk have written a compelling story and narrative for community members to latch on to, but understand how to engage and give distribute control to their community to exploit the advantages that a decentralised brand brings, creating the conditions in which thousands of professionals are motivated to promote IP in which they share ownership.
This is perfectly illustrated by members of Yuga Labs' Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), who have leveraged their commercial IP rights to launch merchandise lines, water companies, and restaurants. Similarly, Vaynerchuk's VeeFriends rolled out its children's toys to Macy’s and Toys R Us in the United States. The more the brand grows, the more everyone in the community benefits.
“We will see web3-native IP all around us.”
Safa, the pseudonymous founder behind Tally Labs, a web3 media company built around Yuga Labs IP, illustrates the distinction speaking to NFT Now. “Disney, the most famous web2 media business, is built on protecting their IP at all costs,” they explain. “When the Bored Apes came around and offered commercial rights to holders, an entirely new mindset emerged.”
Speaking to Culture3, Swickie and Lord Truffington reiterate the same theme, observing how the distribution of commercial rights to community members like them has created new opportunities for branding. “We’re entering a renaissance era where we will see web3-native IP all around us,” Swickie says. The marketing executive has leveraged her BAYC IP to launch her own digital community and clothing brand. ”I believe that a web3-based project, one that is still potentially unknown, will be the genesis of tomorrow’s legacy brands.”
Bringing physical assets onto the blockchain opens up a range of adjacent opportunities both within and beyond the consumer-brand relationship. Using near-field technology, companies can directly link an NFT to a physical asset, providing customers with verifiable proof of authenticity and ownership mechanisms. Brands can then attach other exclusive IRL perks and digital assets to the product.
In December 2022, LTD.INC teamed up with web3 musician Ape Rave Club (ARC) to release 100 limited edition hoodies, each embedded with an NFC chip. When scanned, the chip connects to the NFT to reveal an unreleased track from the artist, demonstrating the potential of NFTs to bring unique and exclusive opportunities to customers.
“It turned a piece of clothing into a delivery mechanism for music,” summarises Daryl Kelly, CEO of LTD.INC, for Culture3. He explains that LTD.INC has already completed activations with major brands like Wrangler Jeans to differentiate their products in the market and create greater and longer-term engagement with customers.
The concept can be applied across the board, engaging customers with exclusive interviews, 3D files, digital wearables, or in-person opportunities. “In the next five, kids won't be buying products unless they're scanning them and interacting with them, verifying their authenticity, downloading a digital wearable, and running around with it in their favourite game,” Daryl predicts.
Looking on a longer time horizon, by verifying authentic ownership of physical items, owners will in time even be able to secure loans against their onchain assets, physical or digital, via blockchain-enabled lending protocols, unlocking a new layer of liquidity for historically illiquid assets like consumer products and beyond.
Keatly Haldeman knows that the royalty system is broken better than most. He spent twenty years working in the sync licensing industry, the $3bn sector where producers buy music rights for films, games, and other media. “The data is terrible – there's no central database; it takes nine months to receive your money; and it can take two or three years to get paid from foreign sources,” he explains. “It's just a nightmare.”
Smart contract technology lets licensees remove friction in the process to manage rights, and eliminates costly middlemen in the process by automatically enforcing the terms of an agreement whilst ensuring that royalties are paid out in a transparent and timely manner.
Platforms like Arpeggi illustrate the commercial consequences of these technologies. Arpeggi is seeking to disrupt the traditional music sampling industry, which governs how artists can re-use clips, beats, or melodies from pre-existing songs in their own work. In the 1980s, music sampling gave birth to hip-hop and reshaped music, but the significant level of administrative work required to enforce rights and royalties led to the sampling industry becoming dominated by major record labels.
By underpinning a trusted and automated database that is not owned by one party, blockchain technology can fundamentally shift how music sampling industry: licence requests and royalty payments can be managed without friction. Arpeggi is working to enable that shift. “We are incredibly bullish about the future of NFTs for music licensing and attribution over the next five years,” says Wilton Gorske, Head of Marketing at the a16z-backed company.
“Producers can listen to an artist, buy the sample pack token that corresponds to the license they need (personal, commercial, public), publish their derivative work, and sign it with their corresponding wallet to prove they had clearance rights — all without private intermediaries.”
“We are incredibly bullish about the future of NFTs for music licensing and attribution.”
— Wilton Gorske, Arpeggi
Their long-term plan is to create an ecosystem in which anyone can create a track, pay to licence someone else’s music, and have those royalty payments flow seamlessly, potentially revolutionising how musicians govern, and earn from, the rights to their music.
Meanwhile, through secondary royalty structures, Web3 can unlock new business models for artists and their fans alike. We’ve already begun to see top artists like 3LAU and The Chainsmokers release NFTs of songs and albums directly to their fans, including rewarding their NFT holders with a percentage of the work’s royalties in perpetuity. Not only does this give fans digital ownership and a sense of belonging with an artists’ community, but it lets musicians bypass streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music and earn more from their creative works.
Over the next five years, we expect NFTs to transform the entertainment licensing landscape as more artists become attuned to the efficiency and financial benefit of smart contracts. Web3 streaming platforms are not intended to replace existing providers, but provide a major complement, offering a new level of fan-creator connection that these legacy platforms cannot match.
“Blockchain technology can create a secure and transparent platform for verifying, buying, selling, and tracking credits.”
— Emma Sokoloff, Shine Capital
Web3 has much to offer the outdated $200 trillion real estate sector, and blockchain has already demonstrated its capacity to bring title deeds onchain as NFTs, with all the efficiency gains that this brings.
In 2019, Mishcon de Reya, the London Magic Circle law firm, collaborated with the UK Government to develop a blockchain prototype to legally transfer a property and update the UK Government’s Land Register. It brought the transaction time down from 22 weeks to just 10 minutes.
Blockchain property transfers have occurred outside the lab too. In 2018, South Burlington, a city in Vermont of 18,000 people, began a pilot with Propy, a web3 real estate firm, that could ultimately lead to the city putting their land registry entirely onchain.
The reason governments are exploring bringing property deeds onchain come down to transparency, efficiency, and security. Immutable transaction records onchain let everyone easily verify ownership and historic pricing data, whilst smart contracts can automate much of the transaction process and accelerate the rest. Combined, these features make transactions more secure, eliminating the possibility of scammers inserting themselves into foreclosure, loan, and purchase processes.
The main obstacle for real estate to move onchain is legal recognition for crypto assets and the appropriate rules for blockchain in the real estate sector. Today, no jurisdiction accommodates NFTs as title deeds, but jurisdictions like the UK are actively pursuing the legal recognition of digital assets.
Blockchain voting uses digital identities and decentralised ledger technology to create a secure, transparent, and digital voting system. The vision is that it can let democracies move beyond just an election every few years and towards a democracy in which citizens can vote much more often.
However, to get to the stage where citizens have confidence voting digitally, frequently, and from a device as frictionless as their phone, much more innovation needs to come first to definitely resolve issues around security, privacy, and accuracy, across hardware and software. Part of this will come via zero-knowledge proofs, but voters will need years to become comfortable with the technology too.
In principle, however, blockchain voting can solve the problems associated with digital voting. Since each vote is tied to a single identity and recorded on an immutable ledger, governments can accurately verify voting counts and eliminate the possibility of fraud.
“If a [voting] process is run on a blockchain, the process is guaranteed to run according to some pre-agreed code and provide the correct output,” writes Vitalik Buterin in a 2021 essay. “No one can prevent the execution, no one can tamper with the execution, and no one can block any users' inputs from being processed.”
In solving these problems, blockchain voting can offer a fundamentally new feature set to democracies: enabling a more direct form of democracy at nation-state level scale. Currently, formal democratic inputs are generally restricted to votes every few years.
“No one can prevent the execution.”
— Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum
It was of this representative democratic system, pioneered most successfully in the United Kingdom, that the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote “The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people is enslaved.”
If voters had the tools to vote on key topics even outside an election period, like confidence votes or impeachment proceedings, democracy would inevitably become more representative. But by enabling a secure, trusted, and efficient voting system that is easy to use more than once every few years, blockchain could be even more transformative for how democracy works.
Decentralised science, also known as DeSci, uses web3 technologies like blockchain and decentralised autonomous organisations to democratise and improve traditional scientific processes by connecting scientists to resources, publishers, and funders directly, instead of via established institutions.
Today, this is where science happens, typically in universities or corporate labs. But the bureaucracies in these institutions can slow down the process and embed bias. To date, the costs of these institutions have always been heavily outweighed by the benefit: providing the credibility that the scientific ecosystem relies on.
DeSci improves upon traditional science in two ways. First, by leveraging innovative and decentralised decision-making techniques to allocate funding, distribute resources, and prioritise publications, web3 could help shift the direction of scientific progress in a better direction. Were decisions about lab space and grants opened to a wider range of decision-makers and recipients, with or without more democratic funding techniques like quadratic funding, scientific progress would become the product of a more diverse group of people.
The reason that such a decentralised scientific ecosystem has not arisen to date is that without the credibility badges provided by centralised institutions, like Oxford or Harvard, it is hard to allocate resources and funding efficiently. By underpinning an immutable database, blockchain presents the means of sustaining reputational systems that do not rely on centralised parties.
Decentralised science already has a vibrant core community which demonstrates how this ecosystem is evolving. The Science DAO is a community funding advances in focus areas from genetics to radiation, whilst VitaDAO is dedicated to advancing anti-aging research. But to emerge from the forums of hobbying scientists and become the infrastructure upon which science is constructed for the rest of the 21st century, DeSci needs to create more established credibility systems and form bridges with existing institutions where existing resources, funding, and publishers – not to mention scientists – are currently working.
Zero-knowledge proofs, or ZKPs, allow one party (the prover) to prove to another party (the verifier) that they possess certain information, without actually revealing that information. In other words, ZKPs allows you to prove that you know something without actually telling anyone what that something is.
A general-purpose technology, ZKPs are poised to become a fundamental part of the internet's underlying infrastructure by the end of the decade, as more sensitive information is digitised and shared online.
For example, in the healthcare industry, ZKPs could be used to allow patients to prove that they have the medical information that is being requested of them, without actually revealing the details of their medical history to anyone else.
In finance, ZKPs could allow financial institutions to better manage risks, by responding to the net exposure of other firms, without actually revealing their trades to each other, potentially reducing the risks presented by misunderstood securities that created the 2008 financial crisis.
Meanwhile, voting systems can use ZKPs to allow voters to prove that they are eligible to vote, without actually revealing their identity. This could help to improve the security and integrity of online voting systems and to prevent fraud or other abuses.
As we continue to spend more time online, ZKPs have the potential to improve the security and privacy of our online systems and protect sensitive information from unauthorised disclosure.
Web3 represents an end-to-end suite of transformative technologies across culture, commerce and society. We have a strong belief that the ten applications above will make significant progress in the 2020s, and that the businesses and individuals who succeed in this decade will, in part, be those who have paid most attention to them. That said, it's impossible to capture everything: if you think we've missed anything, get in touch and join the conversation on Twitter.
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