From ZKPs to the future of music/Web3: What we learned at DevCon
Last week, several Water & Music community members attended DevCon in Bogotá, Colombia to take the pulse on the cutting edge of global Ethereum development.
For the uninitiated: DevCon is one of the largest Ethereum developer conferences in the world, featuring advanced talks and workshops from a global slate of Web3 developers, DAO leaders, academic researchers, designers, and other Ethereum-native practitioners. This year’s DevCon was the first since 2019 due to the pandemic, and certainly the most expansive to date in terms of size and programming, with 200+ hours of talks and 6,000+ attendees from 130+ countries.
Key conference tracks this year included but were not limited to Developer Infrastructure, Governance & Coordination, Opportunity & Global Impact, Layer 2s, Cryptoeconomics, and UX & Design; there were also several side summits allowed attendees to dive deeper into specific niches within Web3, such as Schelling Point (DAOs and public-goods funding) and the Web3 App Summit (more product-focused Web3 developer discussions). And, of course, there were the parties. Several organizations and communities in music, culture, and Web3, including Sona, Seed Club, Mochi, and Serotonin, pulled up and staged memorable dinners, showcases, and raves throughout the evenings, providing the social glue for attendees beyond the walls of the Agora Bogotá Convention Center.
To reflect on the experience, 12 community members and staff at Water & Music came together to write a collaborative recap of key takeaways, highlights, and concerns from DevCon. We asked each member to share three to five bullet points in their own voice, with as much or as little detail as they saw fit. The points could be technical and/or non-technical; referring to specific talks or workshops, and/or commenting on the general atmosphere or vibe of the event.
All of us have a distinct lens on Web3 driven by on-the-ground experiences in music and culture — perspectives that understandably were not as highly represented at the official conference. So, our primary goal with this recap is to connect the dots between the more technical, cutting-edge discussions taking place among Ethereum developers, and what artists and the music industry can expect (and how they can best prepare) in terms of potential upcoming changes to music/Web3 apps and use cases.
You can read each member’s takeaways by scrolling down below, organized in alphabetical order by last name. You’ll notice a few throughlines across our contributions. Many of us are walking away from DevCon thinking about:
- The importance of new privacy and security measures in Web3 (including zero-knowledge proofs and account abstraction);
- The persistent scaling challenge for the music/Web3 landscape (growing the pool of both artists and collectors), and
- The opportunity to close the gap between technical and cultural practitioners in the Ethereum ecosystem.
You’ll also find many fun tidbits and recommendations for how to make the most of the conference experience outside of original programming.
Ultimately, we all left with many new connections, research agendas, and product ideas, and look forward to future gatherings of W&M members at other Web3 and music events around the world. 🙂
Andres (a.k.a. Colombo) spends a lot of time thinking about the articulation of Web3 innovation technology and intellectual property and its potential impact on artist development. As a W&M contributor, he co-led our splits protocol research project (which he presented on at DevCon), served as a core contributor to our Spanish translation efforts around our Web3 research, and helps out frequently across several other season-agnostic projects.
- The fact that the event that happened in Bogotá is a big deal for me personally. It reassures me that Colombia is an important hub for global culture and business. It felt like people were comfortable and having fun in the city, and there was an integration of a diversity of backgrounds, which supported and actioned on the pluralism theory in Web3.
- Most of the information, whether it be panels, stands, or even the interest of attendees, seemed centered around tools for adoption like on-chain ID or Web2 bridges (sign-in).
- Culture and art conversations were only happening in small niche groups.
Alec is in charge of ecosystem & integrations at Mochi — a coordination game protocol for DAOs, remote teams, and Web3 communities, in which players set goals relative to the organization, form teams, stake ether, and share insights to achieve their goals. He is also a founding member of BeetsDAO and Campfire, two organizations pushing the boundaries of web3 music. In his free time, he writes songs and produces music, and is currently preparing to release his debut collection on Sound.xyz.
- South America is a hugely important region for the present and future of Web3. Our ambitious goals as a global, decentralized ecosystem can only be achieved if we actively create space for engagement and contribution from everyday people in cities like Bogotá.
- The best party spaces and gathering spaces are dynamic ones. The inclusion of the hacker basement, wellness zones, outdoor space, and more at the Devcon & Schelling Point venues made for a comfortable experience, and helped me to pace myself throughout what might have otherwise been an extremely exhaustive experience.
- State of play is at the center of Web3. Our obsession with memes, play-to-earn and conference side events underscores this. It is crucial to design experiences, products and shared spaces that cater to our sense of play.
Nicole is co-creator at Seed Club, a Web3 accelerator and the leading network for DAO builders, with alumni including Water & Music, Refraction, Cabin, Boys Club and Krause House. Prior to Seed Club, she ran the Open Music Initiative, a network exploring blockchain and the music industry, and Berklee College of Music’s Creative Entrepreneurship Institute.
- Builders keep on building. I ran into many folks throughout DevCon I’d first met when they were building music blockchain projects in 2016–2019. The persistence and commitment to continue exploring these new technologies, and new business models, with music is inspiring, especially as the atmosphere continues to evolve.
- First personal Vitalik [Buterin] sighting. At the top of my DevCon bucket list was a spotting of Vitalik, and seeing him speak on zk proofs and snarks did not disappoint. I deeply appreciated Vitalik’s humble, humorous and thoughtful approach to the tech, and especially the massive movement that has assembled around it. To quote Jonathan Mann, “We’re really lucky to have him.”
- I love devs. While holding down a choice table during a coffee break, connecting with passing Seed Club and Berklee alumni, and discussing token-curated registries and music neural networks, we were approached by various DevCon attendees asking if they could join our conversation. All this time, this is what Discord has been trying to recreate: Passionate, topical conversations with friends being joined by other informed and curious passersby. I loved being within a culture where people felt brave and comfortable enough to join conversations with strangers.
Alex leads tech and strategy at Water & Music.
- The topics at Schelling Point seem to be moving at a slower pace than the main DevCon topics, leading to lots of repetition in narrative since last year. It’s not good or bad, just worth noting.
- ZKs [zero-knowledge] were a big theme, positioned as the perfect compliment to blockchain’s shortcomings.
- Like any conference, I think most of the value came from connecting with people around the event. At first there was pressure to go to everything, but with recordings being published online pretty quickly, the focus shifted towards connecting with people instead.
As director of open-source projects at HIFI Labs, Dan leads neume, a project that aims to index all Web3 music activity. He previously led strategy at ICE, JAAK, and PRS for Music. As a W&M contributor, he’s written on music NFT metadata and a “post-royalties” music industry, and contributed to v1 of our music NFT contract template.
- The reiteration of the importance of user-controlled privacy, for example, opt-in anonymity; and the on-chain vs. off-chain identity debate.
- The power of subtraction, and constantly evaluating whether you can pull back and let others take over.
- How designing for completion, i.e. “if we do these final steps then we get to finality”, oftentimes leads to chaos very soon after.
- Maybe the future of music NFTs contains no music at all; music represents liability, and if its inclusion doesn’t raise the value of the token over and above the risk it includes, then future music NFTs will probably look to build and market in other ways.
- The conversations at an Ethereum developer level vs. at a web3 music company level are poles apart, in terms of ambition, scope, and speed of progress.
Nick George is an event producer, experimental musician, filmmaker, and sushi chef currently working for the Web3 marketing company Serotonin.
- I’ll admit I didn’t go to DevCon much as I was focused on team-building and making sure 40 adults drank enough water and had a good safe time in Bogotá. However, I really enjoyed that the only booths allowed were impact projects or public goods initiatives. Design elements were top-tier. Beautiful.
- I’m 34 and clubs are too loud. The Avalanche House at the legendary Video Club was awesome, but it would have been nice to have a place to chat or hang out without loud music. Couldn’t think, lost my voice. Make chillout rooms mandatory.
- High-quality branded earplugs = missed swag opportunity.
- As long as you don’t have to enforce a venue capacity, working door at the crypto party rules. You get a chance to meet and greet people at a decent volume, have some small talk, and be the first point of contact that people have when they arrive. As a midwesterner who throws parties, this is kind of my bread and butter. I can’t turn the charm off. Great to know who shows up as well.
- The Mochi party technique of RSVPing with a fully refundable deposit is 100% genius. Looking for an excuse to bust this out.
- Seemed like every meal was better than the last one. Ended up eating at Mesa Franca twice in a row, it was so good.
- Best coffee = Varietale.
Cherie is the founder and publisher of Water & Music.
And now for a characteristically lengthy answer from me 😉 I spent most of my time at DevCon hanging with music/Web3 folks at side events and coffee chats, and the handful of official talks I attended were mostly on the governance/coordination and UX/design tracks. From the vantage point of leading Water & Music, I was most interested in sharpening my higher-level mental models for a) what makes an effective DAO today, and b) what are the smoothest and most compelling interfaces and participant journeys we can build for cultural professionals (and everyday people) in Web3.
Clearer frameworks and language for “DAO strategy”
- Early on in my journey growing and leading a DAO, I often felt a lot of anxiety around the phrase “DAO strategy,” because it felt like an oxymoron. Traditional approaches to corporate strategy seem to operate on 5- to 10-year plans and set key goals and metrics top-down, whereas DAOs are presumably all about facilitating bottom-up, emergent needs and behaviors, most of which you seemingly cannot possibly plan for beyond a few months in advance.
- A year into this DAO thing, though, I’ve realized that structure is not only good, but is also necessary for running a DAO effectively. Fostering emergent community interests and passions in a way that stays aligned with the community’s mission requires clear frameworks for what is and is not safe to try. We’re spending a lot of our time at W&M nowadays trying to build out templates around our research, education, and events initiatives in a way that we can more confidently hand off to our community to run themselves.
- It was interesting to see some meta-level DAO strategy and operations frameworks emerge at DevCon and Schelling Point. For instance, Andros Wong (co-founder/CEO at Wonder) broke down the key elements of DAO operations into Coordination, Governance, Financing, and Community; Paul Kohlhaas (founder/CEO at Molecule) laid out four clear use cases for Web3 in a scientific research context, namely IP funding, publishing, research governance, and researcher identity/reputation. The value of these frameworks is less about diving into the technicalities of the blockchain, and more about having simple but powerful mental models that one can use to measure the health and robustness of a given DAO in a more systematic way.
Stubborn DAO problems
- I attended my first-ever dev-focused crypto conference earlier this year (ETHDenver, in February 2022), so have been gathering some data ever since on what kinds of problems seem to be gaining more progress, vs. which problems seem to come up again and again. Some DAO problems that have not been solved yet in 2022 (and will probably take a lot more development to make even incremental progress on):
- Common knowledge — or knowledge shared by everyone in a group or community without having to reference any specific written material. Scaling context and information across a decentralized community is SO hard; most of the discussions at Schelling Point and DevCon seemed to reiterate that it was hard, instead of providing suggestions for solutions. (The one exception might be Shrey Jain’s talk on Designated Verifier Proofs.)
- Hacks and security flaws. Isaac Patka’s talk “Exploiting inattention & optimism in DAOs” was illuminating in how even the most modular, custom DAO infrastructure is still incredibly vulnerable to attacks from bad actors. The privacy and security issues that many W&M members outlined above are as urgent on the organizational level as they are on the individual level. In many cases we’re talking about the ability for someone to drain potentially tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in community resources from a treasury without the right monitoring tools.
- Slow decentralization. This isn’t so much a problem as it is a reality that I’m noticing many DAO leaders (including myself) are much more comfortable talking about publicly. You don’t have to — in fact, you probably shouldn’t — decentralize every part of your organization right off the bat. Instead, embrace decentralization around your community’s biggest strengths, while embracing slower/progressive decentralization for areas that are less familiar or higher-risk. Paul Kohlhaas from Molecule talked about how their dealflow working group (i.e. recruiting contributors) could decentralize quickly, but other departments like operations could not because they required stronger leadership and accountability.
Localization as a necessary Web3 strategy
- I’ve always held that you cannot understand the arc of music and tech on a global level without understanding regional consumer behaviors and cultural norms. This especially applies to music/Web3 when it comes to understanding global onboarding strategies and legal issues, as the copyright and tech-adoption landscapes vary super widely across different regions of the world. It was cool to see the importance of international nuance and understanding reflected at DevCon, with several talks focusing specifically on LatAm and Africa and the challenges those regions face around Web3 adoption, especially when it comes to spending power.
- (Sample talks: The past/present/future of Web3 in LatAm; Growing the Global Ethereum Community through Localization; How LatAm cities are thinking about blockchain solutions; Web3 adoption in Africa; Borderless Africa – A New Narrative.)
- A lot of side conversations I had highlighted how burgeoning the LatAm music/web3 community still feels, in spite of so many artists being active in Web3 in the region. It seems they’re still looking for the right connective tissue and the right localized approach to fan and artist onboarding and sustainability, instead of relying solely on the top collectors and platforms already, which are largely US-based.
The need for more culture-first perspectives in Web3 dev discussions
- A lot of discussions around the future of Web3 point to entertainment and culture industries as the primary drivers of mainstream adoption (à la Snoop Dogg), in terms of making the value and impact of Web3 more legible to laypeople. And yet, this perspective was almost entirely missing from DevCon, even in the UX & Design track — I expected to hear more perspectives from the users whom developers want to build so badly for in the first place.
- (Some cool exceptions: Several music folks including sweetman and Andres Botero gave music-themed lightning talks at the Ethereum Magicians workshop, and René Pinnell from Artizen gave a talk on funding structures at Funding the Commons.)
- All in all, this gap is understandable because the conference was more dev-focused, but I would love to bring the culture-centric perspective on Web3 development out of solely side conversations at coffee shops and parties, and into the official DevCon rooms. This seemed to be a shared interest among music/Web3 folks in several side conversations I had, and I would love to be a part of this effort moving forward.
Marcus is an artist evangelist, creative technologist, and experiential designer. As a W&M contributor, he has been one of the core contributors to our Spanish translation efforts around our Web3 research, and has contributed interviewing, writing, and analysis across our season and season-agnostic projects.
- I highly recommend looking into the proposal around rich content types in NFTs (canonical media) by Iain from Zora. I believe Iain’s EIP proposal is a key to unlock global rights attribution not just for Music/Web3, but for all on-chain rights administration.
- Cooper Turley’s music NFT showcase at Mad Radio was a success! Great job from Andres’ team in particular (which manages one of the performers, KASBEEL) — captured a lot of special moments on Twitter and helped bring light to an otherwise forgotten territory (Buenaventura).
- Aguardiente is good for you!! 🙂
- The programming at DevCon tends to reveal the prevailing interests of the Ethereum ecosystem in each year it runs, and this year was no different. In 2017 I spoke at Devcon 3, attended by just under 2,000 people, about a system to manage and license music rights using Ethereum. Yet in 2022 at DevCon 6, across 6,000 attendees, 200 hours of talks, and 444 speakers, the music/Web3 developer ecosystem was represented by a handful of lightning talks given under the banner of Ethereum smart contract standards. None of Web3 music’s standout projects made an appearance at Devcon. This could be interpreted in a few ways, but I find the following two most compelling: (I) by embracing NFTs, music/Web3 has unwittingly aligned itself with the NFT ecosystem (also conspicuously absent) and, as a result, become disassociated with the Ethereum developer community, or (II) music now represents a far smaller sub-group in the Ethereum ecosystem than it did in 2017, as other use cases like DeFi, DAOs, and Gaming have outpaced Music for developer mindshare, users, and investment. Either way, I left feeling a little deflated knowing music had finally been relegated from “killer app for Ethereum” to light entertainment between talks.
- Though my DevCon experience was coloured entirely by the talks I attended, and those were mostly from the Governance and Coordination track, anyone skimming the titles of the talks there would quickly get the sense that all was not well in DAO governance. Speakers expounded on the perils of plutocracy, produced by our primitive one-token-one-vote governance systems, and some exposed easy-to-exploit flaws that suggests many DAO treasuries persist only due to the incompetence of hackers. Interestingly, many of the solutions offered borrowed from traditional corporate governance and political science. I expect we’re ramping up for a flurry of innovation and experimentation with DAOs and DAO governance next year.
- It’s worth noting that the rush and excitement of DevCon 6, with all its grandeur and ambition, took place under crippling macro conditions, including a protracted bear market, Ethereum trading ~70% lower than its all-time high, and looming recessions around the world. Considering the previous crypto winter all but killed any enthusiasm in the space for a few years, you’d never have guessed we were in an, arguably, worse situation today from the enthusiasm of the people gathered at the Agora Bogotá Convention Center last week. I’m grateful I get to be a part of this community; it’s an incredible place to be.
Rahul is the Co-Founder of Otterspace, and previously worked at SoundCloud as Head of Integrations and at Paperchain as CTO/Co-Founder. He has been working at the intersection of Web3 and music/community for six years.
- Account abstraction being a major UX breakthrough in Web3. This is being inspired from a paper Vitalik wrote recently. Tl;dr AA involves a unified account that can behave as a contract wallet and a user EOA wallet at the same. AA is what makes self-custody a viable solution for the mainstream. Almost ALL wallet startups are seriously looking into this. (Recommended DevCon talks on AA here and here, and a good Twitter thread on the concept here.)
- Emergence of Soulbound Tokens (SBTs) a.k.a non-transferable NFTs. Use cases are being applied in various Web3 segments; the Ethereum Foundation itself awarded SBTs to their core developers. There are 5+ EIPs being crafted on non-transferable tokens right now.
- Web3 Identity is taking shape, more than ever before. Identity passports, Verifiable Credentials, Soul Bound tokens, Universal Profiles, etc. were all hot topics at the conference. ENS and Lens were a huge hit.
- DAO governance & sybil resistance and moving away from 1-token-1-vote and away from plutocracy. Gitcoin is leading the charge on the conversation here with a series of workshops and the Schelling Point conference. (A Sybil attack is when a single actor is able to subvert the network’s reputation system by creating a large number of pseudonymous identities and using them to gain a disproportionately large influence. In DAOs, when 1 token 1 vote is a commonly used model, the sybil resistance is really low. Some good talks at DevCon on this topic here and here.)
- Zero Knowledge Proofs is still a super relevant and hot topic. With ZKPs, proving multi-party ownership of assets (like in music) or voting without revealing your identity would become much more viable.
Nick is the Executive Director of Strategy at dotdotdash, an innovation company building future-forward brand experiences at the intersection of culture and technology. Lately, he’s been conducting research about the perceptions and behaviors surround web3 and the metaverse, and has been building IRL events leveraging Web3 technology to augment the experience for attendees. You can read his research about how to onboard communities into Web3 at scale on Complex.
- There’s so much talk about what the internet, decentralization, and asynchrony makes possible, yet the thing that made DevCon so special was real people coming together in one place IRL. There were so many genuine new friendships, business opportunities, learnings, and discourse packed into a week, that I haven’t felt from hanging out in Discord and Twitter spaces in a long time. These digital venues just can’t replace IRL. The desire for IRL connection at DevCon was so strong. I loved the collaboration between ENS, IYK, and POAP. I saw these NFC-embedded badges everywhere. It is astounding that some people made nearly 500 connections over the course of the week. Anyone building Web3 projects or communities need to prioritize IRL experiences and meetups as a primary function of brand-building.
- What people are saying about music x Web3 and where they think it’s going looks vastly different on public platforms like Twitter vs in private conversations at DevCon. I heard a lot of critique about the approaches of music NFT platforms, funding models, and the lack of participation from real fans vs. investors, that I don’t hear being said as loudly in public settings. There’s a very real fear of speaking out and being ostracized from the communities they’re a part of and losing financial and social capital. It makes me question if what some people are building are less like communities and more like cults, and if those approaches are really the best path forward towards encouraging real growth with the healthiest, most positive outcomes for artists and fans.
- One of those recurring conversations was about how we are still in a stage where artists fostering communities and fan clubs are being faced with a tradeoff: Build with Web3 platforms to be ahead of the curve, but the high barrier of entry risks limiting the amount of fans in, or use Web2 platforms to maximize fan adoption. This challenge will resolve itself over time as Web3 tools and platforms are more widely adopted at scale, but the reality of where we are today is that artists are having to risk making sacrifices in growth by going all in on Web3. Artists need to think strategically about where their fans are today and the phasing of introducing new innovations, in balance with the existing suite of tools and approaches available to them.
Hi, 👁 am sweetman.eth (sweets), aka the music nft engineer. i am building free & credibly neutral hyperstructures for musicians to leverage web3 🎹. All of my thoughts are CC0 / MIT license / open-source. learn more: https://github.com/SweetmanTech 🐇🕳
- public goods – quadratic funding, hyperstructures, open-source. social graphs. 🌱
- scaling onboarding – first DevCon in Latin America 🇨🇴. Zk Rollups, Layer 2s, and inexpensive transactions por la gente en America Latina. 🌎
- CAIP or EIP type strategy for progressing music metadata. both onchain & off. 🎼
- meeting the projects & people building for global adoption on Web3 music. HiFi Labs / Water & Music / Zora / Decent / Colombo / Kasbeel / Marcus. 📻
- free full wardrobe of “touch grass” & ethereum swag. ✨
Tom is a smart contract developer, passionate about building products and incentives that provide opportunities for creative and technical talent that might not have an opportunity otherwise. As a W&M contributor, he was one of the core analysts and interviewers for our Season 2 report on music and the metaverse.
- Big emphasis on how we “shift security left,” and bring security-minded thinking into the dev process early.
- Invariant testing and formal verification are hot topics for Web3 development.
- Got great feedback and encouragement from ~10 high-level devs that I shared “Behavior-Driven Development” (BDD) with. This is a popular and valuable practice in Web2, but I have not seen applied to Web3 (yet!). Predicting this will also be a hot topic, which helps devs build protocols that are safer and more user-friendly for creators and collectors. Also been thinking how it can dovetail with the jobs-to-be-done framework.
- There remains a big divide between NFT and DeFi ecosystems — e.g., almost every DeFi person I talked to had never heard of Zora, almost every NFT person I talked to was very plugged in on releases and protocols in their niche (PFP, generative, music, etc.) but wasn’t interested or knowledgable about any DeFi goings-on.
- Amazing city, people, energy, music, food, culture, great mountain city vibes all around. Incredible 10 days.
Pro tip: The full archive of recordings of DevCon talks and workshops is now available for free on their website.
Some recommended places to start:
ELI5 (“explain like I’m 5”) introductions:
- The past/present/future of Web3 in LatAm
- Growing the Global Ethereum Community through Localization
- Web3 adoption in Africa
- Borderless Africa – A New Narrative
- How LatAm cities are thinking about blockchain solutions
DAOs + public goods
- How to ethically build public goods infrastructure
- Universal Basic Income for Humanity
- Open Sourcing and Coordinating DAO Research for the Public Good
- DAOs and biomimicry
- New applications for quadratic funding
UX and communications
- Data + Empathy: How to Approach UX Decisions in Web3
- Positive Framing and Communication for Web3
- Why we need more soft skills in crypto
- The Future of Web3UX – a Paradigm Shift for a Better Collaboration between Design and Development
- Human-friendly contract interactions
- Working Towards a Plural Public via Common Knowledge and Designated Verifier Proofs
- Self-sovereign digital identity
- State of the ENS
- Web3 Social: the Next Wave of Innovation
- Account Abstraction panel