The Starters Guide To The Open Web: Introducing the 4NTS Vector Strategy

Today, 4NTS Guild is excited to announce the launch of a New 2021 Initiative that will see NEAR enter the classrooms, campuses, and universities of the world. The 4NTS Vector Strategy. 

The 4NTS Vector Strategy refers to our approach to bridging the gap between the confusing and oftentimes maddening world of crypto, with the larger intellectual and business communities that work across industries: Finance, Political Science, Economic History, Entrepreneurship, Emerging Technologies, and Education (among others). 

This is very much the beginning of our outreach strategy, but it is one that will snowball over time to bring new minds, ideas, and events to the NEAR Ecosystem from a community of curious and creative intellectuals. To kick off that initiative, 4NTS is pleased to public The Starters Guide To The Open Web. This introduction is meant for those interested in the paradigm shift that crypto-currencies represent, from a Macro perspective.

A brief overview of what this Guide entails includes the following Table of Contents: 

Outline of the State of Affairs: What Is Technology For Us? 

Surveillance Capitalism and the Advent of Psychopolitics

How Blockchain Can Empower You and Your Community

The Ownership Economy: Where Value is made Transparent, Fractional, Contract Based, and Global

Smart Contracts as a New Form of Management Responsibility

Legal Issues Accompanying Smart Contracts 

Why Build on NEAR? “The devil is in the details”

Governance and New Paradigms of Collaboration and Power

DAOs: What Are They?

What Kind of Leaders Do We Need?

Where Do We Go From Here? 

This Starters Guide Kicks off the 4NTS 2021 Vector strategy. In the coming months 4NTS will be reaching out to academics, business leaders, and innovation experts – and welcoming them into the NEAR Ecosystem so as to create value at the intersection of different fields of expertise. This may include livestreamed conversations: Interviews: Publications, and Events such as Symposiums and Conferences.

Are you currently studying at a University – What areas that you are studying could be enhanced or complimented by the value proposition of the Open Web? 

Do you have an old professor or business partner who would be interested in the Open Web and the value proposition of NEAR? 

What topics or research do you believe is important to bridge the gap between crypto and existing industries? 

Near Without the Noise Episode 7: Paras With Founders Riqi and Afiq

NEAR Without the Noise Episode 7, went in depth on a new collectible platform building on NEAR known as Paras. The name – an Indonesian word – is used to describe the face or persona of a thing, and refers to one of crypto’s first Digital Collectable Platforms, built around Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT’s). For educational and product purposes, the episode was interesting on many fronts: What was Paras’ original vision? How do they see the digital collectable marketspace? Why did they choose to build on NEAR and what is the future of NFTs? These were only some of the questions touched upon. 

Context is Key: 

Paras is a platform for Artists to publish collections of artwork or trading cards, and investors or collectors to accrue these collections for their diverse purposes. While this may sound initially unfamiliar, trading cards and collectables currently take up a marketspace of over $300 billion US dollars. Fan favorites like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Baseball Cards have increased in both popularity and value in the past twenty years. In parallel, novelists of some of the most popular fan fiction create cards of different characters for use either inside or outside of novels – as expanded versions of gameplay.

What Paras is effectively building is an open digital frontier for this space to inhabit: Where a kid from Uganda can trade a collectable with a teenager from Argentina: Where artists from any culture or background can share what they find beautiful, creative and valuable with collectors from all over the world. The value proposition for this vision is large, and that is why Paras is so exciting. Below are some of the most important takeaways from the Interview with their team. 

Paras Found Digital Collectables Accidentally: 

Originally, Paras was created as a form of decentralized social media and memory preservation for different users. They started building on Blockstack and were brainstorming different ways to involve users. The discovery of digital collectables and artists interested in selling their work via NFT tokenization was through a product-market fit event: 

So in a conventional digital market artists usually share their portfolios, and expect that there are people who will use their commission. But what if they can also post their content – that they already have – as a way to fund their next big project? But at the same time they can also sell their own content in order to get more money to create newer content. That is the background of how Paras is today. 

As a collectable platform, Paras allows Artists and Collectors to transact works embedded as digital trading cards. According to Founders Riqi and Afiq this is much different from other NFT platforms on either Ethereum or NEAR: 

Paras is really unique because there are a lot of NFT marketplaces out there. Especially on the Ethereum. We wanted to have some differentiation – after a while we were doing a lot more research. One of the biggest collectables out there are the card collectibles. Everything else is really big – from small children until maybe 20 people in their 20s or 30s. So I think the card collectable market – the physical one is really big. It is already there. And we just need to digitize it. This is where we will be focusing on – NFT Card collectibles, because the market is already there and it is pretty easy to just digitize it. 

And the focus of collectables is on the series of items rather than a single item: 

We wanted the collectors to collect the collection – not only just stand alone art like any item in an NFT marketplace. Because of that we wanted the collector to focus on the narrative, on the lore, on the story of the collection, on the universe of the collection that is being built by the artists themselves. Not just because of the visual or who the artists are. 

Why Build A Premier Collectable Platform on NEAR? 

The marketplace on paras.id

Originally, Paras was built on Blockstack. Shortly after, they migrated to NEAR and started building at breakneck speed. Why did the Paras founders decide to build on NEAR? For starters, because of its speed and cost: 

NEAR is one of the best blockchain protocols out there. They are really focused on production, their mainnet is really fast. Took like 3 seconds at most for every transaction. The gas fee is very cheap – like 1,000 Transactions will cost you 1 dollar. It is very cheap for developers wanting to build on top of the blockchain. Just build on NEAR it is fast, cheap, and the developer experience like I mentioned earlier: Most developers are really familiar with JavaScript. Well AssemblyScript is pretty much JavaScript, and fundamentally it is the same so JavaScript developers can use NEAR and AssemblyScript as an easy way to build your first decentralized app. 

Beyond the speed of the protocol, the cheapness of transactions, and the ease in building, Riqi and Afiq also emphasized how quickly it was to build their solution on top of NEAR:

Building on top of NEAR is making our life easier and that is why we can build this marketplace within a month: Since our first launch, the social media one, we have already built our indexer up and running; we already have our notification system; most of the things needed in our platform now is already being built. 

As a whole, what the founders of Paras are emphasizing about NEAR has been told time and time again by other founders and builders in the Ecosystem: NEAR is a scalable blockchain platform that puts usability first – not only for developers, but also for users. 

What Kind of Artists is Paras Looking For? 

As a digital art collectables platform, Paras has the important task of recruiting not only crypto-artists, but also artists who are not familiar with cryptocurrency and the digitization of art via NFT’s. While this can be challenging, Paras is still bullish on bringing new and unfamiliar artists into the crypto space: 

For now we are having a lot of crypto artists that really help the community, and help onboarding other artists. For now we are just like 70% crypto artists and 30% non crypto artists…When we are trying to onboard people that are not coming to the crypto space. The concept is very foreign to them. It is hard for them to imagine buying a digital art card online – who is buying that? 

Beyond focusing on creating a collection – i.e. some sort of long term value engagement with their audiences, Paras currently has a form available for prospective artists to apply to get whitelisted onto the platform. This is to ensure that content remains safe-for-work and within the parameters of the early days of the project. 

What’s Next In The Development Plan? 

The market for collectibles themselves is around 370 billion dollars. And virtual goods are around 50 billion dollars. From the Pokemon cards, from their first Pokemon cards until now they sold around 30 million cards. The Card Collectibles market and the collectibles market is really big for us to disrupt. This is where the NFT – the crypto space – will be growing much bigger from this year because we have a lot of newer blockchains like NEAR Protocol. We can onboard some non-tech users to the platform really easy.

Paras has big plans for its platform on NEAR, and in many ways can be seen to be on the frontier of the digital collectable marketplace. Future planning and development on Paras is focused on two primary things: (1) Catching up to other NFT marketplaces in terms of features and user experience, and (2) making it easier for artists to showcase their work and fund future work via an original creative launchpad. This is what they had to say about both respectively: 

One thing we are trying to catch up to is to have similar features to other NFT marketplaces like auctions, on-bidding, but some different aspects that we are really focused on is the card features: The booster pack. We wanted our artists to create our collection and put it into the booster pack and just like your physical trading cards you buy a booster pack and get 5 random cards. Aside from the booster pack we are also trying to build these trading mechanisms. In real life people trade cards and that is where we are hoping to build this year for Paras. And for the narrative for the series for the collections we wanted to build the publication place for the artists to share their lore, their narrative, their story and hopefully in the future create a novel, omics and other creative stuff for Paras. 

On the topic of the all new Paras Launchpad in the works: 

We want to create a creative launch pad – if you new in 2017 that we had ICO’s and that is it. With Paras we believe that we can create more like a creative launch pad where some artists can create a project and fund it through these initial criterias. We can onboard a lot more impressed people like gameday developers, comic artists, developers, and many more. Also other creatives as well. It’s going to be very exciting and offer many things that artists and creatives have never had access too before. 

What Does Paras Hope To Be In The Future? 

All things considered, this is what Paras left us with, as their vision for the platform in the long term future: 

We are not just looking for 1 hit wonder artists that can sell cards that cost thousands of dollars. We want to be a one hit wonder platform in which we sell the highest bid cards that exist in NFT marketplaces: But we want to grow a sustainable community in which their creative process and their creative ideas can be stored and expanded for the long run. We want our artists to collaborate with one another. We are very much open to a lot of artworks that we have.

The Case For NEAR Episode 1: Enzyme (Previously Melon Protocol)

Introduction

The NEAR Protocol Main Net Launched in Quarter 3 of 2020, roughly two years after initial development began. In tandem, on March 1st, 2019 (while NEAR was Building) Melon Protocol, now known as Enzyme Finance, launched it’s Version 1 on Ethereum. 

Since that time, both protocols have been developing at breakneck speed: NEAR, for its part, is finalizing the NEAR – ETH Rainbow Bridge, has onboarded a number of new projects, and is also finalizing updates to its wallet. Enzyme meanwhile, has gone through a rebranding, has more than 435 active funds on its network, and continues to recruit fund managers onto its protocol. 

In The Case for NEAR Episode 1, we put forward an argument for why Enzyme would benefit from bridging onto NEAR, so as to allow future fund managers to operate funds on either NEAR or Ethereum. This starts, in Section 1, with an overview of what Enzyme is and where it stands in its development. Section 2, explains how Enzyme currently works on Ethereum. Sections 3 and 4 explain the value added by NEAR Protocol, and puts forward a thesis specifying why Enzyme should consider migrating onto NEAR. 

What is Enzyme? (Previously Melon)

“Melon is an Ethereum-based protocol for decentralized on-chain asset management. It is a protocol for people or entities to manage their wealth & the wealth of others within a customizable and safe environment. Melon empowers anyone to set up, manage and invest in customized on-chain investment vehicles.”https://melonprotocol.com/

As described on its website, Enzyme is an open-source protocol that allows fund managers to create and manage a pooled asset vehicle on chain at “a fraction of the cost” of a traditional fund. In short, Enzyme is a decentralized solution for financial asset management: Whereas traditional funds are complex, riddled with fees, intermediaries, and legal documents, Enzyme embeds all of the rules for managing a fund between a portfolio manager and different stakeholders on a smart contract level – making it more cost-effective and straightforward, while still maintaining trust, asset custody for investors, and security. 

As summarized on the Enzyme Documentation page, Enzyme provides the following to prospective investors and fund managers: 

Rules and Parameters Up Front: Requires fund managers to define the key rules and parameters of the fund which are in turn deployed to the blockchain and enforced by smart contracts – no more need for fund administrators.

Transparent and Immutable Transactions: All transactions are recorded (transparently and immutably) on the blockchain – no more need for complex auditing.

Investors Maintain Custody of Assets: All assets remain in the custody of investors themselves and can be redeemed at any time – no more need for custodians.

Fund Performance is Transparent: All data about fund performance is on-chain thus transparent, enabling investors and managers alike to compare fund allocation and performance. Transactions on the blockchain are near instantaneous, and unlike transactions in the traditional world which can take several days, do not require clearing and settlement services.

Reduced Fraud and Malicious Behavior: By enabling investors to retain custody of their assets and enforcing fund parameters on the blockchain via smart contracts, Enzyme dramatically reduces the ability of fund managers to act fraudulently or malevolently.

Save Time and Money: By automating so many back office and intermediary functions, Enzyme drastically cuts the operating cost of managing a fund – thereby enabling managers to pass on these savings to investors.

Source: https://melonprotocol.com/docs/solution/

How Does Enzyme Currently Work?

Enzyme is a place to create, manage, and invest in investment funds. In this sense, it epitomizes the transition from traditional, centralized finance, to innovative, decentralized finance. Concretely, Enzyme works in the following manner:

As an investor, you head over to Melon Terminal and can browse from existing funds to invest into. DAI, wBTC, wETH, and USDC are all available to invest into a fund. Once you have decided you would like to invest in a specific fund, you simply have to: (1) Approve the smart contract to transfer tokens into the fund (and Pay the Gas Fee). (2) Read the investment request. (3) From which the request is executed by anyone with access to the contracts. 

As a fund manager, with meta-mask connected, you can log into Melon Terminal, name your fund, set your fees, agree to the rules of your jurisdiction and then create a fund. Once your fund is created it becomes listed on the Melon Terminal, and if it is made public, it is open to investment from any prospective investors. 

Enzyme explains its goal as providing a “Platform for decentralized asset management.” As one of the first projects to build such a solution as a Layer 2 Protocol, Melon has the opportunity to revolutionize and democratize how assets (and future crypto / digital assets) are managed in an open, permissionless and secure manner.

Taken from: https://melonprotocol.com/docs/solution/

To date, Enzyme boasts a total of 432 funds with more than 4.6 million USD in assets under management. An overview of existing funds can be found at: https://melon.avantgarde.finance/.

What Does NEAR Offer Enzyme?

While Enzyme has built an exceptional protocol on top of Ethereum, it stands to gain much more from bridging onto NEAR. The two main reasons have to do with (1) Low transaction fees on NEAR, as well as (2) the long term usability value proposition. Both are outlined in detail below:

(1) Low Transaction Fees on NEAR

Enzyme is designed for either investment managers or investors to interact with the protocol. However, in its current form this becomes difficult, time consuming and costly due to high fees on the Ethereum Network. As it currently stands, it takes 9 Transactions to deploy a customized Enzyme smart contract when setting up a fund. Gas Fees can fluctuate depending on usage on ETH as well as the amount of time. 

1. Begin Setup

2. Accounting Contract 

3. Fee Manager Contract

4. Participation Contract

5. Policy Manager Contract

6. Shares Contract

7. Trading Contract

8. Vault Contract

9. Setup Complete 

Each of these transactions are costly and time consuming for initial setup. This is also the case when it comes to investing in a fund, as every investor must approve the smart contract to transfer tokens into the fund (and thus pay a gas fee when moving funds into or out of a fund). 

On NEAR, transactions are extremely cheap and designed to remain low, regardless of how active the network becomes over time (hence the idea behind dynamically resharding the network as more transactions accrue). While Enzyme currently estimates that it costs a couple hundreds of dollars for setting up a fund on Ethereum, it is estimated on NEAR that all required transactions would cost less than $10 US dollars to get started, with almost no wait time either. 

The numbers here have been outlined by Illia in previous posts

Cost: The Initial price for 1Tgas is 0.0001 N. So one block is 0.1N at the minimum.

Time: With ~1 second blocks and constant validator rotation transaction get routed pretty quickly to the validator that will include them.

Including other common actions such as creating an account and sending funds: 

Source: https://docs.near.org/docs/concepts/gas

Note: Contracts also return 30% of the transaction fee back to the application / developer. In this sense Enzyme would actually stand to earn additional revenue as their platform grows over time, simply from taking a very small percentage of the NEAR used in starting and managing funds. 

“For example, the maximum fee change per block in Ethereum is 12.5%, and the block time is 12-13 seconds. In NEAR, the maximum change is 1% at 1 second block time.” – Deribit Insights

(2) Usability for Long Term Protocol Engagement

The second point that should be considered relates to the long-term usability proposition that NEAR offers Enzyme: Enzyme exists as a place for investors to invest in crypto mutual funds (and hopefully other assets in the future) while managers can handle those funds without actually owning the capital. One question that might be worth asking, is What kind of people would want to invest in a crypto mutual fund? 

If any segment (now or in the future) of Enzymes’ audience includes new crypto users, or those unfamiliar with handling the in’s and out’s of wallets, private keys, and alphanumerical addresses, then it would be beneficial for Enzyme to bridge over to NEAR: On NEAR, users are able to handle crypto using more familiar Account ID’s, simple login functionality, and one-click access to their wallet or an application on the protocol. 

For the long-term usability of Enzyme, managers from traditional finance and investors new to crypto would benefit (and be more likely to use Enzyme) by having a more streamlined and user-friendly management system than what Ethereum currently offers via MetaMask. For more on this see Alex’s post here. 

The Main Takeaway: If Enzyme were to bridge over to NEAR they would be able to keep their current service offering on Ethereum, but would be making a smart long-term investment in offering a more user-friendly and cost-effective service on NEAR. 

Why Should Enzyme Migrate to NEAR?  

Given these two major benefits, there are ultimately 4 reasons why Enzyme would do well to migrate or bridge across to NEAR: (1) Cost for Users, (2) Time For Onboarding, (3) Usability For Protocol Development, and (4) Support from NEAR.

Cost For Users: On NEAR, Enzyme will be cheap to use for both managers and investors. Starting a fund will not be cost-prohibitive, nor will investing in a fund of your choice. 

Time For Onboarding: Setting up a fund will take minutes instead of hours. Sending money between funds is equally fast and will remain so thanks to NEAR’s sharding design. 

Usability for Development: Enzyme hopes to re-imagine asset management under the guise of building an open, permissionless, and accessible protocol for future investors and fund managers. When taken in context, this means that Enzyme should be accessible to current fund managers interested in moving into crypto, as well as current investors looking to put crypto in the hands of more experienced traders. Both demands are handled by NEAR with their user-first design, easy account setup, and progressive security models. 

Support From NEAR: The NEAR Foundation is currently in the process of finalizing it’s grants program. In parallel, the Melon Council (i.e. Enzyme Council) has stated that they are happy to fund research into initiatives that include “Research on Integration with Interoperability Protocols” as well as “Research on Integration with DeFi Protocols”. Together, the two projects are strong enough to start funding initial research into helping Enzyme bridge across onto NEAR.  

Let’s Make It Happen

The Future of Crypto is collaborative, positive sum, and cross-protocol in nature. Bridging Enzyme to NEAR will not only improve traction and engagement for both protocols, but it will also make decentralized asset management more accessible to the world of mainstream finance at a time when Crypto is only starting to become known. As a long-term play for the next 5 years, bridging onto NEAR offers Enzyme an additional opportunity to engage with users and managers in a cost-effective, time-conscious, and user-friendly manner. Let’s make it happen. 

Announcing: The Case for Building on NEAR

Welcome to 2021. Lots of people have said this is going to be a big year for Crypto: Social Tokens, L1 Protocols, NFT’s, Gaming, you name it. Things certainly seem to be trending in that direction, and there is undoubtedly a plethora of opportunities in front of us. 

On NEAR Protocol, this year is also shaping up to be a big one: The NEAR – ETH Bridge should open as fully decentralized and permissionless, Flux will launch, Mintbase will continue to build, and the Ecosystem as a whole is well positioned to expand significantly on multiple fronts. 

In light of these projections, 4NTS Guild believes that it is important to not forget about the basics: That is to say, the simple things that make all of the difference amidst the noise, euphoria, and innovation. For the NEAR Ecosystem those basics are rooted in the design of the protocol as being scalable, developer-first, and user-friendly. That’s why we are announcing The Case For Building on NEAR Series

In Crypto there are hundreds of projects – and hundreds of protocols to choose from. More often than not, decisions are made not because all information has been consulted, weighed, and calculated, but because development, and business timelines force founders to move ahead. Our bet is that there are a lot of projects in the crypto space that don’t even know what they are missing out on by not building on NEAR Protocol. 

In The Case for Building on NEAR series, we want to go through a selection of crypto projects and protocols; Pick the projects that stand out to us the most in the crypto space, and break down how their solution could work on NEAR, and why that might be a good idea to make the transition NOW. It might have to do with gas fees, it might have to do with usability, and it might have to do with building future solutions in Rust. 

Have a recommendation of a project to break down or make the case for? Let us know on Telegram or Twitter (@4NTSGUILD)! 

4NTS December Newsletter

Welcome to the 4NTS December Newsletter! December has been a month to remember in the crypto space, and also for the NEAR Ecosystem. In light of plenty of new content and new team members to the core NEAR Team, there have also been some important product updates relating to projects developing on NEAR at record speed. Let’s get started! 

NEAR – Calm Before the Storm?

December was definitely less volatile of a month compared to October or November. This does not mean that things are not happening—there is a lot going on in the background. New batch of Open Web Collective application? Check. New projects being signed on to the ecosystem? Check. New hires? Check. Interesting price action on $NEAR that might tell us that something really intriguing is going on? Check. 2021 is going to be very exciting for NEAR. Are you ready?

NEAR Without the Noise Recap: What Comes Next? 

December featured three episodes of NEAR Without the Noise from stellar people within the NEAR Ecosystem. In early December, Mildred and Chase from the Open Web Collective and OP Games respectively came on and shared their insight and experience from working with an up and coming Crypto Accelerator. 2 weeks later, Travis and Rob from Zed.run joined 4NTS Guild to discuss their innovative digital horse racing ecosystem, as well as the future of NFT’s. In late December, Rune Bentien – head of GooGuild and SharpDarts joined 4NTS Guild to talk about the state of crypto, the startup world, and the migration from Web2 to Web3. The full videos of Zed.Run and GooGuild can be found on Youtube

What’s Next? In January NEAR Without the Noise will continue to expand into the NFT’s angle of the NEAR Ecosystem, as well as featuring some completely new perspectives on the investment opportunity behind the NEAR Ecosystem, as well as the growth of NEAR in China! 

Guild Update – Education Guild Launches, Createbase Grants go Live, and Guilds Pioneer December Townhall! 

Guilds are quickly becoming a fundamental component of the NEAR Ecosystem. In the month of December the Education Guild launched on NEAR for anyone interested in learning more about NEAR, Crypto, and Ecosystem Design! In parallel, Createbase launched its Grant Program for prospective artists and NFT enthusiasts alike interested in building a home for NFTs on NEAR. Finally, the NEAR Townhall for the month of December featured an exclusive Guild update on the status of Guilds around the NEAR Ecosystem. For a full overview of this update check out the video here. 

Bonus: Students are prime candidates for recruitment into the Web3 space – Not only are most of them tech savvy and comfortable with the idea of decentralized products, but they also have time to learn crypto while they complete their studies! Check out a student’s perspective on the Crypto space through a member of 4NTS Guild.  

Electric Capital Report on NEAR: The Numbers Speak For Itself

Electric Capital is an early stage crypto investment firm that recently released a report on the state of the crypto space and the different levels of development across different Ecosystems. The Research Update known as “Electric Capital Developer Report 2020” had a number of  important insights into the state of NEAR protocol and its development in light of other L1 Ecosystems. The most notable ones? 

NEAR is one of the fastest growing Layer 1 Ecosystems at the Two Year Mark After Polkadot and Ethereum

NEAR has 3 times the number of developers in Q3 of 2020, that they had at Q3 in 2019.

NEAR is within 20 Devs of Ethereum at the 2 Year Mark. 

NEAR has increased their developer monthly average by 100%. 

Paras Is Building on NEAR: 

Paras is one of the newer projects that are currently building on NEAR. Paras is aiming to become a leading marketplace of digital cards, a cool concept that ties in with the surge of NFT-related startups. 

Even though the idea is pretty niche, you can’t deny that it’s pretty damn cool. And besides that, digital ownership of art is becoming a trend nowadays. To learn more about NFT’s on NEAR check out A Home for NFT’s is Building on NEAR.

NEAR Protocol Hiring Surge – Names that Matter:

Last but not least, the month of December witnessed a hiring surge of NEAR team members: From a VP of Marketing Alexandra Tinsman, to new Community Team Leads, NEAR is clearly staffing up for a big 2021. 

What We Are Reading and Watching: 

Leadership in The Ownership Economy—Scaling Decision Making while Minimizing Securities Risk by Jesse Walden

Crypto Theses for 2021 by Messari

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.

Psychopolitics, Neoliberalism, and New Technologies of Power by  Byung-Chul Han 

Giancaspro, M. (2017). Is a ‘smart contract’ really a smart idea? Insights from a legal perspective. The Computer Law and Security Report, 33(6), 825-835.

Pentland, A., & Hardjono, T. (2019, November 23). Empowering Artists, Songwriters & Musicians in a Data Cooperative through Blockchains and Smart Contracts. ArXiv. arXiv.

Questions We’re Asking: 

With Uniswap gaining in popularity and fees skyrocketing again, will NEAR be the perfect solution? How does 1inch fit into the picture?

What will the BTC bull run mean for us in the future?

Is DeFi actually the future of finance or a mere fad?

Is the digital art NFT surge a bubble or the start of a long term trend? 

How long will it take retail investors to discover layer 1 alt coins? 

What is the future of Ripple? 

NEAR Without The Noise Episode 6: Rune Bentien

NEAR without the Noise Episode 6 Featured Rune Bentien from GooGuild and Sharpdarts. The discussion was one of the most insightful and important to describe the current state of crypto and the opportunities provided therein for developers and entrepreneurs just getting started. For a full overview of the episode, check out the YouTube repost here. 

In this summary, the most important points relating to Rune’s talk are broken down and explained: How Rune sees the nascent crypto industry, advice he gives to Web2 developers, his insights on launching a crypto company, and how he sees the fast-growing NEAR Ecosystem! 

Who is Rune Bentien? 

Rune is an experienced entrepreneur, investor, and technologist who has worked across companies such as Google and ConsenSys. An economist by training he spent 9 years working in commercial roles at Google, before moving  into crypto investing through ConsenSys Ventures. As an early supporter of the NEAR Ecosystem, Rune is founder of both GooGuild – a Guild on NEAR for Google Employees as well as Sharpdarts – a validator incubator that pioneers a business model of the future. 

In this episode of NEAR Without the Noise, Rune spoke about a wide range of topics: From the basics of crypto, to the migration from Web2 to Web3, to the future of the NEAR Ecosystem to the importance of entrepreneurship. As an insightful thinker and experienced crypto entrepreneur, Rune provides a unique perspective into the current state of the space. 

What is the Value Proposition of Blockchain? 

At the beginning of the conversation, Rune provided a multi-layered answer to what the value proposition behind blockchain really is from his own perspective, a more general crypto perspective, and then from the perspective of how some of his Googler friends see it: 

New Ways to Fund and Invest in Entrepreneurial Projects: “With the ICO craziness there was something here about enabling founders and startups with resources quicker and in a simpler way than previously possible. We know that the ICO model as we knew it was dead, but for me that was extremely powerful and the thought of being able to actually have liquid investments in early stage projects is this small aha moment.”

Crypto has Become Accepted Across the Mainstream: “The conversation has changed on Bitcoin and Crypto: It is no longer about this being illegal or a fraud, now it is a question about how it is compliant. We talk a lot about DeFi and what is next, but I am here for the long haul and same thing with NEAR. To enable real projects on top of NEAR to help the overall value of the community appreciate.” 

Google Is Paying Attention: “In Google there was a lot of interest in blockchain. The point is there is a lot of interest and there still is. Now you still have a lot of people [who aren’t familiar with the technology], but they are probably pretty comfortable given the outside situation. There are many people following this from these big tech firms.”

And perhaps the most important point of all three is that crypto provides a new way of fractionalizing and distributing value across different verticals. This value is something many stakeholders in the future will be interested in participating within. For Rune the first step in getting started in Crypto, is to recognize that the value is real value:  

Probably 99% of the people don’t really care if it is running on AWS or Google Cloud. Or Blockchain or a centralized technology. Some of those can be ownership of data control, etc. The first step of all in general is to get hold of some crypto – try to understand what this actually is and that this is actually real money. We all know this is all about trust.”

NEAR and GooGuild: 

Rune followed NEAR from its early days, through Illia – an ex-Googler and the Co-Founder of NEAR. With the launch of NEAR and the Open Web Collective, Rune was involved from the very beginning with NEAR’s stellar team – many of which have previously worked at Google and other big tech companies. On the topic of NEAR, Rune emphasized the speed with which the protocol has developed and how important that is for the Ecosystem as a whole: 

“I mean they moved incredibly fast. And that is one of the core traits for any company. Speed is bloody key. Right? And I think they have done that extremely well.” – Rune Bentien 

GooGuild was created by Rune, to try to help facilitate business development on top of the protocol: GooGuild is on NEAR to help people who either want to build, or people who want to help people build. As Rune explains, “And some of that can be for profit projects, some of that can be more ecosystem plays – and just trying to play a small but hopefully long term and valuable partner in the NEAR ecosystem.” 

To date, GooGuild is working to integrate other crypto projects with NEAR protocol, or to support projects already building on NEAR. This includes most notably, Flux as well as Enzyme. 

Sharp Darts

One of the first projects supported by GooGuild is known as Sharp Darts. Sharp Darts is a validator on NEAR that uses the fees from validation to incubate new projects building in the Ecosystem. As Rune explains in more detail:

“If you are trying to create a small ecosystem or network where we see the proof of stake network as a cornerstone – why don’t you make sure that that network keeps appreciating in value, why don’t you try to consider passing on the rewards to projects actually built with NEAR. That is what we are trying to do. If you stake with sharpdarts, the fees that we take would cover basic stuff and then everything else you go to projects. We are not there yet but we are working on it.”

In many ways Sharp Darts is pioneering a business model of the future: Where a validator of an open-source protocol recycles the profits from being a validator into supporting the development of new projects on top of that protocol. As the NEAR Ecosystem continues to grow, it is clear that the value accrued to validators will increase – providing Sharp Darts with a prime opportunity to invest in the long-term potential of the ecosystem. 

On Entering the Crypto Space as an Entrepreneur: 

While Rune brings a world of experience to investing, product market fit, and startups in general, he also is an experienced entrepreneur in his own right, he has an incomparable attitude and spirit to the nature of solving problems and creating new products for the world to use. 

For his story personally, he recollected his own journey as an entrepreneur and how he saw the importance of going out to solve problems instead of staying in a comfortable job at Google. The story is set when a friend of his explains what is really impressive about working at Google:

“Rune, you know what, I think it might be hard to get through the doors into somewhere like Google or Deep Mind. The Impressive part is when you decide to leave the most comfortable environment to actually pursue solving a hard problem, whether that is for money or something else.” 

Rune goes on to explain how the key to proper entrepreneurship is rapid execution paired with iteration and improvement. In this context, any founder or developer looking to build a project that improves the world and provides value to a new market should be supported and helped within the Ecosystem. 

Where Does NEAR Go From Here? 

As an early Guild in the NEAR Ecosystem, Rune spoke often about NEAR looking for product market fit in the emerging crypto market space. But more important to that, he spoke about the need for NEAR to focus on developing the stack of success stories within their ecosystem: 

I really only believe that the only way to create proper appreciation of value, is by building on the technology stack. The technology stack will evolve in maturity as people use it. I think where we are now, where there are several other Layer 1s, the key is more critical mass. I see these protocols as a market place as well. It is not only a function of good technology, but it is mind share, and user and dev adoption. I think that is where everybody is trying to – ConsenSys did an amazing job with Ethereum – to build out that whole engine to get mindshare with ethereum. But also how can you also expand that mindshare – to me the most critical part is to ensure Dev and User adoption to ensure they are successful. 

In addition to the need to keep projects building on NEAR, Rune emphasized the importance of staying on the cutting edge of crypto-innovation as a collaborator with other protocols: 

You can bridge to ETH to some extent – you can try to copy cat everything that has been done with other existing protocols. Do you believe that there is more to this than DeFi and if so, what is after DeFi? The question for NEAR as a community, and as a team is about what they want to support and become. What I really like is that they are trying to enable this open community cloud platform for decentralized applications. I think there is not necessarily an easy answer. Do the obvious ones really help? 

For a full overview of the episode, check out NEAR Without the Noise Episode 6: With Rune Bentien. For any prospective founder or team of entrepreneurs entering the space, the NEAR Ecosystem contains a number of opportunities to quickly and easily get started with building the future internet of value and the many new products contained therein. 

Getting Into the Crypto Space: A Student Perspective

How many people don’t want more control of their own money? How many people can be dependent upon themselves to own their own funds and finances? Well, enter decentralization.

Two weeks ago I was an absolute newbie to the crypto world to the extent that the only thing I was aware of was that Bitcoin existed. I knew nothing more than that. Nothing about decentralized finance, blockchain, or any of the tools embedded within those focuses. Fast forward, and entering crypto has been the best thing I’ve done for my own interest and development as a student starting a career in this space.  It will give me a great opportunity to grow my knowledge in cutting edge technology as it begins to grow.

Background to Get into Crypto: What I Have Seen So Far 

Guess what? In this world, nobody has a background. The “résumé” to join a Guild or participate in an open-source Ecosystem like NEAR (and the rest of the crypto universe for that matter) answers the questions:

1. Do you have some sort of skill, at all?

2. Are you willing to learn a vast number of other skills (the most important being how to teach yourself)?

3. If you’ve been in this space before, how long?

4. Are you willing to keep trying, engaging and working with others to advance the goals of the community? 

Nothing else matters—not age, years of experience, whether you went to the best school, or any school at all, or how many groundbreaking applications you’ve built. You don’t have to retake college entrance exams to get a job in this cyberspace, and you surely don’t have to have every possible answer floating around. That is an exciting breath of fresh air for students and software engineers like myself, who are interested in participating in projects that we find meaningful and collaborative and that will someday have a lasting impact for the larger world. 

The Basics of the Crypto World: Getting Started

The first thing I learned with respect to this cyberspace is that nothing is set in stone. Things change everyday, and the use cases to all of these tools are absolutely endless. For example, let’s imagine a world where there exists multiple currencies that are not bound by a location. These currencies belong to the world. Sure some currencies may be best for certain situations, but anything would work. With respect to that, the BTC, ETH, XRP, LTC, etc. belong only to the individual when they keep it in their own wallet.

The currency is never owned by a bank or any other third party—the currency takes its turn with each individual and never anybody else. With that, each person must understand that his/her money exists on the blockchain. Any action is final. Send to the wrong address, and the currency is gone. In parallel to the sense of personal ownership, the entire space is truly committed to being open sourced. So not only is value distributed independently, but data is also used openly.

Decentralization

Understanding the idea of decentralization is key to grasping the underlying value proposition of blockchain technology. This is what NEAR is working towards for their ecosystem, but with the added value of having easy to use applications and a generally scalable protocol. From what I can see to date, decentralization is all about opening up access, ownership, and power: decentralizing apps for things like finance allow for more autonomy by individuals while also removing barriers to entry. There is no central person, company, or companies to control the finances or, in the case of NEAR, the open web. From this, we could see serious advances in fields like gaming where efficiency, digitally scarce items, and cryptocurrency integrations are top priorities that may one day be seamless and standard for all games. 

What Lies Ahead

Given that this new currency has no “homeland,” think about global betting markets (on Flux?)  or maybe a new stock market. What about fully decentralized finance (DeFi)?Put a couple of these together and you have a fully operational stock market on a DeFi system. What about all the other applications of these things? The possibilities truly are endless. Many of these ideas only look at the intersection of finance and crypto. What if we look at something like a decentralized and open web? Here at NEAR, we are using this to solve the problems that arise when people start to scale applications that relate to data, privacy, gaming, digital assets, marketplaces of the future, and much, much more.

Using NEAR protocol, these opportunities are made possible using advanced technologies like sharding for parallel computation in unison with a user-friendly account model. Pretty cool if you ask a Gen Z’er like me looking at what the next 20 years of my life and career might look like. 

Advice To Fellow Students and Developers: 

Get into this world….yesterday. As companies begin to understand the advantages to blockchain, DeFi, and NFTs, they will migrate quickly. At that point, blockchain and crypto will blow up. The thing to understand is that this newfound technological journey will not be a lonely road. As I’ve experienced at NEAR and through other contacts, people are more than willing to help you through this space and answer all the questions you may have. I, for example, have accepted this world in stride and feel like I am beginning to find a grasp on the surface of crypto and the general cyberspace in only 2 weeks. The learning curve is high, but the space is never boring. Learn everything you can…the rabbit hole is very deep and growing faster than ever.

What Do Developers Have To Say About NEAR? Figment / NEAR Update

Last month the NEAR team announced a partnership with Figment Pathway, a hub for developers to get started on the basics of different protocols including NEAR. In a recent event featuring NEAR Head of Education Sherif Abushadi, the Figment team provided an update as to the development of the NEAR Learning Pathway, alongside a number of developers taking part. Here are the most important takeaways from that update: 

Developers Are Signing Onto NEAR At Record Numbers: 

A lot of Devs are joining NEAR, starting to build on NEAR, learning how to interact with the Stack SDK, completing tutorials and learning how to deploy their first smart contract. Those users come from over 60 different countries and have created over 563 accounts on NEAR data hub. 

Notably, these developers are also eligible to earn rewards in NEAR with over 14,000 NEAR already rewarded. 

What Have The Developers Said? 

Over the course of the update, a number of developers from around the world spoke on the nature of the program as well as their perspectives on NEAR. Here are their most important insights: 

The one thing on NEAR that Ethereum Developers will especially like is that 30% of fees go to the owner of the contract.  

On the topic of NEAR and Ethereum, the Devs – many of which have been building on Ethereum or Bitcoin for more than 3 years – were clear that there was really no comparison between NEAR and ETH as separate blockchain Ecosystems:

There is no ecosystem comparison between NEAR and Ethereum – They are both different Ecosystems that can collaboratively evolve in the future: Ethereum has already 4 or 5 more years of developing the tooling, NEAR has had about a year and a half. There is not really an ecosystem comparison. NEAR has taken many lessons from Ethereum and tried to improve upon it. 

It’s easy to build on NEAR With Rust: 

The good thing about NEAR is that if you want to experiment and play around on Test Net you can do that super easily. You can do it easily on Rust. You don’t have to learn a different language or a special book on programming.” 

And some developers think, you should only be building on Rust: 

If you are serious don’t bother with AssemblyScript, if you are serious use Rust

Many developers see themselves on the cutting edge of a new era in the NEAR Ecosystem: 

We are the pioneers. This is the dawn of a new era. The opportunities are boundless. This will have, in my opinion, the greatest impact in revolutionizing technology bigger than the internet, bigger than oil – people don’t realize what this will do. Life will be tremendously different, and we are just in the early stages. We don’t have – there is no Google, Amazon, ExxonMobile, the Microsoft, the Apple – these giants still need to be created. There is a tremendous opportunity for everyone here.

OysterPack on Figment – NEAR Learn Session

Yield, DeFi and BTC Hoarders: How NEAR Fits in this Entropy

This article is fueled by excessive amounts of happy chemicals released in the brain, which is a normal human reaction that occurs after surviving 3 years of a severe bear market and seeing BTC breach an ATH. Be warned.

We’re in the middle of the financial revolution and you are the one holding the banner. No, really. If you are participating in the current state of the ecosystem, you are officially one of the early adopters that put their energy and money into this absurd and bizarre quasi-financial industry which is shaping out to be something that might save the traditional financial system. Don’t believe me? Fine, but even NASDAQ is writing about it.

Currently, the yields in the traditional economy are disappointing. 10-year Germany sovereign bonds are at -0.567%, and this is not , as there are more European countries that have a negative yield. So you are paying money to hold their bond. This is partly driven by the Covid depression, but quantitative easing (money printing, which is a common meme nowadays) is also at fault. However, if you invest enough money in ETH and set up a node, you can get 5%-20% APY (the number at the time of writing this article is still subject to change). NEAR makes you around 14% annually. Way better than paying money for holding sovereign bonds, right?

Of course, this is not an intellectually honest comparison because risks involved in holding sovereign bonds and staking some weird blockchain tokens are different, and therefore you are being paid a premium for taking on these risks. Fair enough. However, the space matures, good projects emerge out of the entropy and tech gets refined. And as tech gets refined and the risks diminish, new opportunities appear. For example, Circle is offering a waitlist for their new feature – a dollar deposit account that offers you 10.75% fixed term annually. And this happens in an economic environment where you essentially have to pay for holding some sovereign bonds. Circle can do this through different DeFi strategies that probably yield them around 15% annually, of which they give 10.75% to the depositors and leave rest as profits and as treasury in case of a crisis.

Even though this is still proof of concept and not a full-fledged feature, it allows us to take a look at the possibilities that the future might offer usAnd the most exciting thing is not even the fact that in a few years you might be able to add a few zeroes to your total portfolio – it’s that now there is an alternative to the financial system. Now you have another way of getting yield rather than banks or traditional investment – obviously, if you are bold enough and are comfortable with tech. 

The paradigm is changing rapidly – more and more funds are purchasing Bitcoin and coming out about their investment (fill before shill, remember). The last addition at the moment of writing this article was One River Asset Management that claimed that they invested 600 million dollars in Bitcoin in November. And that they are planning up their stake to 1 billion dollars of Bitcoin and Ether in 2021. So what does this tell us? Institutional investors acknowledge the opportunity that Bitcoin constitutes, especially under these global economic conditions. However, they also acknowledge Ethereum, which doesn’t really fit into the digital gold narrative – but does fit into the “enabling the alternative financial system” narrative. Ethereum supply is not limited, whereas Bitcoin is limited at 21 million coins. Ethereum is not hard asset in a sense that Bitcoin is. But it has a very important quality – almost everything is being built on Ethereum, whereas Bitcoin is just an investment vehicle.

“Why did you mention entropy in the headline?” you might ask me. Because this whole thing is still a chaotic Wild West. The progress of the space will be evident in hindsight 20 years later and it would seem like blockchain, digital currencies and DeFi just came into our lives and stayed there. But only the OGs would remember the chaotic, entropic nature of the progress – rugpulls, times when it seemed like blockchain is just a gimmick, exchange hacks. And all these events shaped out something new and beautiful – with some people losing it all in the process. All hail to sacrificial lambs of the new financial frontiers.

There is a concept called the Lindy effect, which roughly means that popular things age “in reverse”. So if the book was in print for 5 years, it will most likely last around 3 more. But if it was in print for 15 years, chances are that it will be in print for 14 more years. And if the book is in print for a century, it will probably live two more at least. This is logical, because if the idea survives, it survives. You can still find a two thousand year old book in your hotel’s bed stand table.

The Lindy effect relates to our topic because Bitcoin and Ethereum are very Lindy – a piece of technology that survived long enough for us to claim that it will survive for an even longer time. One might contrast that to the ghost chains that were “Ethereum killers”. Therefore we can pretty safely assume that Ethereum is going to stay here for a while (going to be excluding Bitcoin from the conversation, because it safely went into the “store of value” category, probably for the better). 

Ethereum is the lifeblood of the current crypto ecosystem as it powers the loans, the on-chain option protocols, and the Uniswap gambling. However, the main problem with Ethereum is that higher transaction speed and lower fees are urgently needed, and they aren’t going to arrive anytime soon, as ETH 2.0 has only started. At the peak of the DeFi craze, it wasn’t uncommon to spend $50+ on gas for a single Uniswap transaction. Obviously, the future of finance can not be built with that kind of fee structure.

Here is where NEAR comes into play. Like other “Ethereum killer” platforms, NEAR has an advantage of being a new network – meaning that they don’t have to design a Proof of Stake system on top of the existing one, which is the case for Ethereum – they can just build a great one from scratch. However, unlike other “Ethereum killer” platforms, the NEAR team realises that Ethereum is not going anywhere, and that projects building on top of it are unlikely to move to other platforms completely.  It is almost like a DeFi Lindy effect. “If a project accrues 10 million in total value locked, it will most likely be a rugpull. But if it accrues 100 million, it will likely reach 1 billion”. And if projects won’t move completely, we can pull the same trick that DeFi devs pulled on Bitcoin – “wrap” and lock Bitcoin and put the tokenized coins on Ethereum, so-called wBTC, wrapped Bitcoin. Same thing here – NEAR “listens” to what happens on the Ethereum network (and vice versa) and wraps Ethereum assets, if needed. So all of the transaction-heavy operations can happen on NEAR, but the assets can stay on Ethereum. Win-win.

The future of DeFi is bright, and so is the future for NEAR. The project couldn’t launch its mainnet at a more perfect time – the market is booming, more and more projects are launching, venture capital is flowing, and even the institutions are going in. But what is more important – is that the NEAR’s team understands what it takes to thrive in the chaos of a nascent tech industry. And in their case, it means collaborating with Ethereum so the two networks propel each other forward rather than cannibalizing each other. And honestly, NEAR also might be a very profitable opportunity for you, regardless of your role – content creator, investor, dev. You just have to survive the entropy.

Education at NEAR: Scalable Affordable dApps for Hackers and Entrepreneurs

At BlockHash Live 2020, (3:17.29) NEAR Head of Education Sherif Abushadi spoke about the way the NEAR team has been building NEAR Protocol in light of the evolution of the world wide web, the future of cryptocurrency, and the nature of open-source project development. In parallel, the NEAR Education Guild led by NEAR’s James Waup, is planning to launch in the coming month by supporting research and ecosystem development on all things related to learning about and building on NEAR. 

“Building a strong community is hard and takes time to get right (and a lot of luck). You basically want to attract the biggest and brightest minds but to do so you have to have a compelling narrative that gets these people excited and motivated.” – The Daily Gwei 

What is the Open Web? Getting Behind The Narrative Grounding NEAR

Sherif delved into the history, present, and future of the web in his BlockHash Livestream. Covering the development of Web 0, Web 1, Web 2, and now Web 3, Sherif contextualized the development of NEAR within the revolutionary paradigm shift that distributed ledgers and digital tokens propose for creating a new internet of trustless value. 

While Web2 has been characterized by ‘broadcast media’ and the capacity to share large amounts of information, images, and videos with other people, Web3 is characterized by decentralization and ownership. 

In Web2 we are used to fast, cheap data. In Web3 one of the core features will be data unassailability and data permanence. This is a major shift.

– Sherif Abushadi, NEAR Head of Education

The narrative that NEAR embraces as a Layer 1 Protocol, is that it is uniquely positioned to not only scalably develop the Open Web – but to do so in a way that puts users and developers first. That vision is at the heart of what NEAR hopes to achieve: A scalable and usable Web3 platform capable of achieving mass adoption. 

Developers can Expect Easy Building and Built in Optimizations on NEAR:

To date, most blockchain protocols require developers to learn a special programming language in order to create smart contracts and applications (i.e. Solidity). NEAR approaches development by making it easy for existing developers (From Web2) to easily start building in familiar languages: Contracts are written using AssemblyScript or Rust and compiled to Wasm, which is almost Javascript, 

In addition, Sherif explains how optimizations on NEAR are built into the protocol, resulting in a network that is 10x-100x cheaper than ETH, where developers get 30% of the transactions that your smart contract uses, and where 1 second block time and 3 second finality make it easy to rapidly send transactions onto the network.

There Are A Lot of Opportunities To Get Started As A Developer or Entrepreneur On NEAR:

The Open Web Collective (-15 million raise for projects in 2020): Founders and teams have the opportunity to apply to the Open Web Collective as a unique crypto accelerator for their project dealing with all aspects of product design, business development, funding and team building. For more on the opportunities available click here. 

NEAR Grants Program (100k NEAR Budget): For solo projects, small fixes, events, NEAR is about to start their Grant program. This opportunity is for Web3 project planners, NEAR Community Members, and Guilds to leverage the grant system to continue to build the ecosystem. 

NEAR Bounty Program (50k NEAR Budget): At Near.org/bounties community members and public hackers have the opportunity to help build certain aspects of the NEAR ecosystem for a set reward. Bounties can be set by team members or Guilds. 

Figment Learn Pathway for NEAR: NEAR recently partnered with Figment Learn to provide a pathway for developers to start building dApps on NEAR. Completing the pathway will earn prospective developers 10 NEAR and also provide them with a basic overview of development on NEAR!

Gitcoin Kernel (8 Week Fellowship): Last but not least, through Gitcoin Kernel, developers have the opportunity to apply for an eight week fellowship to fully develop a specific project within the NEAR Ecosystem – this could relate to the EVM, Rainbow bridge, or any project or protocol building on top of NEAR! 

The NEAR Education Guild is Here!

The recently launched NEAR Education Guild is a collaborative place to discuss the growth of the NEAR community, set and earn bounties on communicating NEAR, and working with other interested community members interested in understanding all of the facets of NEAR protocol. As NEAR is a young protocol, and the education guild is even younger there is a world of opportunity for interested crypto enthusiasts, Web2 developers and genuine intellectuals interested in the new frontier of opportunity provided by the Open Web! To join the conversation, click here.