Today we catch up with Matt Hussey, Editorial Director of the Near Foundation. Near is a non-profit that runs the world’s fastest-growing, carbon-neutral and open-source blockchain.
Walter Jennings: Welcome to Waves in the Finoverse. I'm Walter Jennings, the host of a podcast brought to you by Finoverse. We're talking with the wave makers creating ripples, waves, and tsunamis across finance, crypto, FinTech, Web3, and beyond. Listen weekly to hear the change makers talk firsthand about their experiences in this dynamic industry. Can you get arrested for writing code? Will your money one day expire? And can Web3 fix Facebook? These are some of the questions that our next guest will answer. Joining us is Matt Hussey, editorial director of Near foundation. It takes 15 seconds to build your smart contract on Near; this is a whole new model if you could introduce the concept of decentralized autonomous organizations, and how they operate on Near.
Matt Hussey: So a DAO or a decentralized autonomous organization sounds horribly complicated, but it's essentially it's a set of rules by which a group of people sort of work and live by, and those rules can be used for anything from, you know, a social club to, you know, how do we manage a treasury to how do we vote on what a team of people do together? And how Near kind of helps that is making it incredibly simple. So you can start a doubt in as long as it takes to start your email address, you know, we give you creating play functionality. So how many people do you want in your DOW? What sort of voting rights do you want? Do they have to have an NFT to sign their votes, all that kind of stuff? So we sort of suck all the code out of it and make it as simple as possible to do for anybody?
Matt Hussey: So we're seeing a lot of social enterprise projects spinning up in particular, like, how does that social enterprise spend its money? So lots of people want, especially in the kind of Web3 space more broadly, want to be able to take part in how something's run and the decisions that get made. And so lots of dials are being spun up to allow people to vote on different issues to propose votes. And so we see a lot of those sorts of things, a lot of things around; how do you manage money? And what direction a company go in seems to be the two most popular approaches.
Walter Jennings: Near has quite a large community? And what are the innovations you're seeing being driven by that community?
Matt Hussey: Yeah, I mean, it's one of those things where, in my background and in journalism, you assume that innovation comes from the top and then works its way down? Web3, it's very much the opposite. We've seen the community come up with ways of, you know, disrupting everything from like carbon credit industry about how to sort of like measure and capture carbon and rainforest to how do you run a charity to? How do you build a kind of gaming ecosystem. So we're all in the grips of the gaming world at the moment. But these companies, communities are building completely new ways of working with game developers working with artists and designers and sort of creating this overlap that is happening completely organically, whereas historically, you would have assumed a kind of centralised company would then hire those people to perform a certain role. The community kind of drawing people together themselves and kind of saying, Hey, this is my favourite artist, I want him to take part in designing characters in this game. And then for that, to then lead to this community, the community have come into the fascinating kind of glue to put things together that traditionally kind of a pure centralised company might not have come up with themselves.
Walter Jennings: Can you give me examples of real world innovations that we might notice that have occurred in Web3?
Matt Hussey: That's a good question. So obviously, the big one is NFT. So this is the idea of how do you make something on the internet scarce? So we've come from a world where the internet allowed you to copy things infinitely. What the community Yeah, the broad web, through community and Near has played a role in that has done is gone. Okay, how can you make something that lives on the internet and live nowhere else scarce? And yeah, we can get into a conversation about, you know, is code law and things like that. But I think the biggest innovation is the idea that you can make something one of a kind in a world where that doesn't really exist. And I think also, the second one would be to have programmable money, which is another big topic of conversation is the idea that you can make money behave in certain ways, and you can make money be used to incentivize certain behaviors, and be rewarded in a kind of non-monetary way and capture value for things that historically haven't had monetary value.
Walter Jennings: I’m going to come back to programmable money because I'm a big fan of CBDC and also the concept of private money soon, but we were talking momentarily about NFT's and or nonfungible tokens, I assume many non-Web3 listeners would hear NFT and think of, you know, a piece of art that jiggles yet there are 1000s more applications. Can you unpack NFTs for us?
Matt Hussey: So simple as NFTs are essentially a way of creating a single line of code that represents a thing. Now that sounds horribly abstract and not very interesting. But it allows you to do is it allows you to create keys to things, so that might be the best way of thinking about it. So what we've seen in the world currently are keys to imagery. So a JPEG and avatars are the most popular use case for NFT, which is like I have a key that says this picture is mine. That's my body exactly right. But you can do all kinds of interesting things with it. So what we've seen at the moment is, we've seen lots of code in the creative industries pick these up. So you've got like musicians using them to represent music and sounds, that that's then leading to really interesting things about remix culture. So we're seeing musicians at the moment, like NFT, like component parts of their songs, allowing people to buy them, own them, mix them and then reassemble them in two different ways. And that then ties into sort of royalty, the royalty world, which is, you know, in the current world, it's very hard to track royalties. And you know, if you're the original creator of something, you have very good lawyers a lot of money to go and chase people if they copy your work, right? Whereas in the Web3 world we're seeing musicians and artists use this sort of smart contract code this key to trace where something goes. So what we're seeing is this sort of remix culture that says, hey, I borrow 10 seconds of your song for my song, every time my song gets bought or sold in the contract, it will be your 10 seconds represented as a fraction of that payment. So you'll just get paid every time someone buys that song in perpetuity.
Walter Jennings: So Matt if you had one song or one artist that you could take with you in the Finoverse. Who would you be rocking to or relaxing to?
Matt Hussey: That's going to be very, very biassed and say one of my team is a music producer, one of my writers, and he just released his first music NFC this week. So I must say it's quite; he calls himself northern telecom. And it's his first song he's produced on the Web3 world, so I'd say I would jam out and listen to that.
Walter Jennings: You also have announced a new Online Kingdom - Armoured Kingdom multi-platform global entertainment universe founded by actress Mila Kunis and a superhero creator Sharad Devarajan. How does it work?
Matt Hussey: So it works in the end; it brings different worlds together, it works from that. So if you think about the world of kind of comic books in their original format, they were just pieces of paper that were designed to tell a story that brings that world into storytelling in a digital world which is you know, this can be a more immersive this can be more kind of tailored and customise communities can have more of an input into how stories are told. And then layered on top of that is the kind of world of Web3 which brings in ownership and brings in the idea that Something is tradable and shareable and definable in ways that people commit can never be, you know, if you imagine, you take a paper comic from the days of your, if you were to cut out a picture of Superman comic, it's worthless, right? In the digital web three world, you could you could make characters in your Metaverse, ownable and tradable and shareable, which means that people can get have a much closer relationship with the storytelling that they love and the characters that they love in a way that has never really been done. So imagine that the Marvel Universe is a kind of example, all the characters you see coming out of Hollywood at the moment, they are characters that the IP is owned by a studio, and then the Studio makes a film and then you buy to see the film, the audience is always kept at arm's length, whereas what I'm in Kingdom of kind of said is what if the audience wasn't kept at arm's length, whatever the audience was part of it, and could own bits of it, and trade bits of it, and use bits of it to create new worlds themselves. And so the Armour Kingdom really is the best thought of as kind of a sandbox whereby storytelling, graphic, art, comics ownership, community, have all been sort of dumped in together, and they're gonna be sort of sloshing around in all these weird and wonderful ways that in some ways that we don't really know what they'll do yet.
Walter Jennings: You know, we're recording this episode here in London in August of 2022. There's 10% inflation and forecasts of an upcoming recession. And you've talked about user-generated content. And we've seen in countries in the Philippines and Indonesia, people making money through user-generated content, you know, that seems to me a little bit of the ultimate destination. How is near enabling and monetizing helping people monetize their user-generated content,
Matt Hussey: The Near Foundation, like many of the foundations in Web3 is taken a very different approach to starting and building something. And what I mean by that is, there's less desire to kind of capture all the value in IP at the very top, and more interesting innings encouraging an intensive value in IP to be generated at the grassroots level. So user-generated content as a kind of version of that, whereby, on the coding level, for example, you know, if you're a developer and you deploy a piece of code, or a smart contract on Near, and let's say that that contract has a revenue, like a cost to activate that smart contract, developer can capture 30% of every all the value of every time that contract is used, right, which is kind of what do you think about sort of, is that YouTube, deploying a bit of code and saying, the guy who built it gets a slice of the action every time that YouTube is used, right. And that stretches all the way out to kind of the the artist and creator level where we're seeing like versions of YouTube built on Web3 , whereby, you know, the revenue split on places like YouTube is very much favours YouTube over the developer, the creator rather gets a kind of slice of that was what web three is saying is, hey, here's a much bigger slice of the pie. And here are these four or five other ways that you know, user-generated content can be monetized, you can create a fan base. So it's, it's what's happening in the Web3 spaces. We're not reinventing the wheel, we're just creating a better wheel for the people who want to build wheels themselves. Sounds quite strange.
Walter Jennings: Yeah, no, it's a way of empowering folks. It isn't always all good news. What are some of the frustrations and concerns you're hearing from Web 3 developers?
Matt Hussey: Yeah, well, a lot of frustrations, developers are never happy. But a lot of the frustrations come with ease of use, you know, we're kind of really early stage of this technology, where it's still hard to use, it's hard to understand. It can be very slow in places. It can be hard to educate people because, you know, the hurdle and barrier to entry for developers or for users can be quite high. So that's an issue regulations a huge issue. You know, if you're, if you've seen in the news recently that the tornado cash developer was arrested because of the product that he'd built, and that's sent a bit of a shockwave through the developer community where they're saying, Can I be arrested for just writing some code?
Walter Jennings: In fact, you came out with a statement Near Foundation came out with that on the belief in privacy. Yet that can be a two edged sword if you're perhaps a malevolent actor, so they're not everyone has the best intentions at heart. So how do we balance the needs of the many and the needs of the few?
Matt Hussey: Yeah, it's a great question. And I think there are a lot of discussions around about it. I think from the foundation's perspective, the, the approach is, you have to have a layer of transparency See that compliance of regulators. So you need to have a kind of like, do we know roughly who the people are that are moving around in this in this world that we've created? But once you're sort of in that world can the people in the side will transact and interact with each other without prying eyes. So there's a technology that's buzzing around at the moment called zero knowledge proofs. And this is the idea. It's quite a highfalutin idea. It's the idea that can two people exchange and transact with each other in a way that allows each person to know just enough to verify the person's who they say they are, without revealing too much so the person can be identifiable. And this is the kind of very, very big question at that moment. So can you be compliant with regulators, while preserving privacy? Is the big question zero knowledge seems to be the kind of leading way to achieve that at the moment.
Walter Jennings: Yeah, the leading way, however, perhaps not the ultimate solution.
Matt Hussey: Not the ultimate solution. So what we're seeing as we, like we've seen in every world is a kind of scale of people taking different approaches, some projects of being want to be very compliant with regulators. So exchanges, for example, that are based in the US projects like Coinbase, for example. They see their future tied to their ability to get on with regulators. So they're not necessarily going to be pushing privacy solutions for users in an in adversarial position to regulators, they want to be nice regulators. So you have that on the one end, and then you have your 20 other cashiers and your blenders, who is that the spirit of what they've built is, should someone be watching you while you're moving money around potential money. But the idea of there are some use cases where privacy is really important. So Vitalik Butyrin, the founder of Ethereum said that he had used the cash to send money to refugees in Ukraine. And he said he did that not to conceal his identity, but to conceal the identity of the recipients. So there are lots of reasons why privacy is important. But the spectrum of privacy preserving tools is very much an open conversation.
Walter Jennings: An oxymoron is when you put two concepts together that don't seem to fit, like jumbo shrimp. And now we're talking about regulated crypto, it seems that the industry was born out of a desire to get away from regulation. And now we're coming back full circle. So tell me about getting that balance. Right?
Matt Hussey: Yeah, it's such a crucial balance. So the the kind of history of crypto, like any kind of disruptive technology is to kind of resist or to undermine what came before to disrupt it, essentially. And what came before crypto was a world where your money and the issuing of money and the definition of value was controlled broadly by states and international bodies that kind of controlled things like remittances and things like that. So crypto came along and said "hang on a minute, why do you get to say and define all of this?" Why can't we have a say ourselves, and that has been that as an experiment has been unbelievably successful, and has completely changed the conversation around value and money and who controls money. But then we've reached a bit of a crossroads. And that crossroads is you can continue to be the sort of thorn in the side of the world's regulators. And you can sort of become sort of digital pirates and continue to sort of flee from port to pour, eluding capture at all costs, or you can sort of come in from the cold and say, Hey, we want to be part of the conversation around regulation, because we believe the DNA of all this stuff is really important to empower people to do things they couldn't do before. So how do we do that? And I think, so far, most of the conversation has been around avoiding regulation. But the conversation I think, is changing. And I think for the foundation, we want to we're based in Switzerland, we want to be part of the conversation about EU regulation, which has been a topic this year, to say, hey, we're not here to make your life difficult. And to make it easy for criminals. We want to be on your side. But we don't want to erode all of the ideas that we've come up with, which is sort of self determination around value and the idea of owning IP that doesn't sit in some third parties. In a server that can be hacked and exploited. We want to be able to say hey, these ideas are valid, but how do we join the club? So they can be on your side rather than on the side of criminals and anyone else who wants to use it for nefarious means,
Walter Jennings: Okay, I want to dive into a subject you brought up earlier, which was programmable money. And I know our listeners would have heard of CBDC, Central Bank Digital Currency, but I'm getting a sense there might be CBDC and programmable money, and they sometimes are the same, but many times are different. So I know within a central bank digital currency, there's a lot of oversight, but programmable money sounds to me like something slightly different. Can you explain?
Matt Hussey: Of course. So the typical kind of crypto answer is it isn't. So I'll give you an example. So arguably the kind of leader in CBDC, and programmable money from a state level is China, right? And we all know what China has done in the past. But what they've been doing in their kind of pilot schemes in cities and regions is doing interesting things like putting expiration dates on money. Why would you put an expiration date on money? Well, let's say, you know, the economy is doing something it shouldn't be doing, let's say consumer spending is declining, and you need consumer spending, because you need the tax revenue that comes from that. China's been doing expiration dates to try and incentivize people to spend at critical times to kind of balance the books at the state level. Now, whatever your thoughts on that are good or bad, is at this stage, it's more of a kind of a sense of giving you an idea of what is possible with programmable money. Most of the CBDCs are just the idea of allowing the sort of Central Reserve or the Bank of England or any other kind of state authority to have a much better picture on what money has been spent. Where, because at the moment, so in the UK, for example, the government can only really know what money has been spent off retrospectively, like they can't know in real time, or money has been spent off. So it makes financial planning quite hard. So it has to be done in the aggregate.
Walter Jennings: So you could actually have energy related money that is can only be spent on for the relief of increasing energy bill.
Matt Hussey: Exactly that. And so then what can happen is, is in the money that need to be spent on energy, rather than, you know, if you looked at during the COVID era in the US and other places, governments issued checks to help people manage their cost of living, how much of that money was used for what the government wants you to spend? Don't know? Is that a good or bad thing? Yeah, debate is another debate about, you know, civil liberties and stuff. But I think in this case, what is interesting is, if you're sat in Downing Street or the White House, that moment in your flesh, you're facing inflation that rates never been seen before in our generation. And there are ways of incentivizing people to use handouts or bailouts or whatever language you want to use to help them with specific things. It's quite tempting idea,
Walter Jennings: Very easy to write it into the code. Web3 is now also going to change social media. And I'd be interested in your views on what we can anticipate in Web3 driven social?
Matt Hussey: Yeah, great question. So I think the fundamental thing that will change with webs the social media is ownership. So if you look at the board ape NFTs connection, for example, they've built a kind of their own Metaverse, which is the idea of, hey, you can go and hang out with your avatar that you own and interact with people and buy land and do interesting and weird things like that. Social media is sort of being is sort of falling into that and saying, you know, in the current world, all the IP that you generate on Instagram, or YouTube is essentially owned by the company that allows you to do it, which as we've seen, lots and lots of times with court cases where people have felt their IP being used in an in an against their wishes or against their permission, because you've signed terms and conditions that allow the company to own your IP or to kick you off, or to ban you or Sue, or there's a lot of things, Web3, and social media is moving towards a world where not only does ownership become more of a thing, but also the community gets more power to decide. So what I mean by that is, let's say you're in a on a social media platform, and someone's behaving as in a way the community isn't like, there isn't there are versions of these social media platforms that says to community hey, if enough of you vote, yeah, we've we put a proposal forward in a DOA or on another structure and say, Is this person good or bad for the community and the community says bad? The community and getting them out? And it means that the creators of the network aren't always kind of pulled in to sort of adjudicate and decide whether someone's being good or bad.
Walter Jennings: It's a self-healing community that monitors itself.
Matt Hussey: Because if you look at you know, my background in journalism kind of enters into the discussion. So Facebook, for example, is constantly being asked to kick out users and pages and companies. But it forces Facebook into a really difficult position from a legal perspective and that is, if Facebook's as editorialising its platform, which it does to a certain extent, but if it does under US law, it becomes a different type of company becomes a media company, and therefore can be sued by other people, whereas at the moment is a technology company wants to be largely ambivalent to, you know, bad actors in the community because of legal reasons. In Web3, there can be a world where a project or company builds a world maintains the world, but the people who live in it and use it can decide who else lives in it and uses it rather than always having to come back to the creator and say, hey, this person needs to be kicked out.
Walter Jennings: Matt, you're a journalist and you write a daily newsletter called the brink, how do you pull out of the flurry of updates? What to write about?
Matt Hussey: Yeah, it's a great question. I think, for me, the most interesting part of, of Web3 and crypto is how it interacts with people. I think it's very easy to get lost in the kind of inside baseball stuff of, you know, protocol upgrades, and you know, developer, spats and routers. But I think the more interesting stuff is how this world is emerging from this sort of primordial coding and started to change people's lives. So anything from how people are using it to raise money for worthy causes to how people are using it to challenge the status quo in industries like social media or elsewhere. So just good old fashioned human interest stories. So what I wrote about recently was Do Kwon, who was the founder of the ill fated Luna network? Yeah, he's recently reemerged and did an interview with a new media company, talking about how he feels about the idea of presiding over the collapse of a $40 billion stable coin. And that's really interesting. Because while it's very easy to go, while the codes broken, or something's gone, broken, fundamentally, there's a person behind that who's written about it, or written it, and released it into the world and believed that was going to change that part of the world as he knew it. I think that's for me, the most interesting part is like, Who are these people? And why did they make the choices they made?
Walter Jennings:And have you been seeing a change in attitude this year? Because where we are now in terms of crypto and pricing is a fare far away from where we started the year. So how are the people you are interviewing responding? What are the sentiments and what are the biggest challenges being faced.
Matt Hussey: It's important to break this question up into groups. So the first group would be, let's say, the money people, these are people who invested large amounts of money into protocols and into projects. What I'm seeing is those people are still deeply invested in this space and continue to put money into this space, even though the western world is sort of staring down the brink of a very long and pronounced recession. So those guys really do see the value in the worthiness of this technology, then you have the kind of communities that evolve around these projects. And their attitude is sort of being kind of split down the middle between people who have gone into this space for purely speculative reasons. And people have got into the space, largely because they wanted to find alternative to what else was out there on the internet. So by that, I mean, if you're a social media user, and you're using Instagram, for example, and you don't like the algorithm and how it serves content to you, there are now communities and projects building up building alternatives to that. And there's a real split between the speculators and the kind of devotees, which is speculators are saying, well, I can't get rich anymore. And I'd say that's probably a good thing. Because it shouldn't just be the whole point of the work that I do. And the work that the foundation does isn't just to help lots of people make money. It's to help lots of people take back control. And that's a very political politicised thing to say, but that we're in a world where a lot of our online world is controlled or maintained by projects and actors that we don't know much about. So the crypto space at the moment is kind of going through this sort of inflection point where the people who are very committed to the grander ideas, the space is still very much involved, still very much seen this time as a place to kind of put your head down and get building. And then the more kind of fluffy speculator types are kind of leaving. And that's not a bad thing because I think the real work tends to happen in the kind of quieter times if you remember the last crypto winter, which I did. That was when we saw a lot of projects explode. A lot of projects get sued a lot of projects face criminal charges by regulators. But then a lot of the projects that are now bubbling up in terms of market cap are really the ones that were built and formed during the winter. Yeah, that Near was built in the last winter. You know, lots Ilana and lots of other projects emerge at the same time. So there's a kind of broad feeling of yes, it's tough out there financially. But actually, if you're invested in this space for the right ideas, it's a great time to be there.
Walter Jennings: End of year 2022 how are you going to evaluate whether or not you've been successful in your role?
Matt Hussey: I think for me success is - can I and my team tell effective stories to help people understand the value of this space? You know, we've got lots of metrics to show that the near protocol in a community has exploded over the last eight months, which is incredible. But for me, I think the more important question is, have we been able to convey a much grander idea, which is why is this space exist? Yes, the space exists to many people as a speculative tool to make money. But I think there's a bigger idea that sits behind all this. And I think success for me would be can I convince somebody that this is more than just a fluffy way of buying pictures and selling them, and a way of organising people and ideas and ownership in ways that have never been done before, and ways that hopefully empower people who have historically been disempowered? To have a bigger slice of the pie.
Walter Jennings: So I love digitization, because our recording will be kept for 1000 years, and listeners in 100 years, whether the pivot points we're seeing today that really will create that future that you're trying to create. What are the things that are happening right now?
Matt Hussey: Great question. So I think the first is the geographical change in how technology has been rolled out in web three. So what I mean by that is historically, Silicon Valley, London, big cities in Europe and Asia have historically been the epicenters of technological change. And then what happens is, is that change spreads from those places to the countries that they sit in, and then the regions that they sit in, and then slowly the rest of the world. What we're seeing in crypto and web three is that actually, the part of that is true, but also parts of it has emerged in areas that have historically been overlooked by technological innovation. So, for example, the Near Foundation set up a regional hub in Kenya this year, because we saw such huge growth and appetite for knowledge in that region. But a lack of resources, lack of access to funding and mentorship that has historically not been interested in that region, we put it there. We've seen the same thing in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is one of the most vibrant places for crypto. And if you look at sort of the crypto adoption figures, more broadly, I in which countries have the highest adoption. It's Turkey is Brazil is Indonesia. They're places where historically technology has been late to arrive. And so the big I think the big pivot point here is that places that normally had to wait in line for innovation to arrive kind of leapfrogged that queue and go now we want this here. First,
Walter Jennings: I think the telephone we went from countries that barely had dial landlines. And next thing, they're on 5G. So you're seeing a leap frogging, born out of the desire of the community to have tools that work today, so many of the countries you mentioned, maybe underbanked, or not have the infrastructure in place. So this really is a big leap frogging again.
Matt Hussey: It absolutely, and we've seen this before. So when I in my formative years, as a journalist, I remember doing a lot of work on innovation in Africa. And what you saw was that your telecom services like cell phone services were being used in far more sophisticated ways there than they were being used in Europe. So for example, I remember doing an article on how farmers were getting live price feeds for crops every day on their cell phones, so that when they went to market, they'll be able to know what the right price was, they could avoid being ripped off or that kind of thing. So and they but then we looked at sort of PC adoption was incredibly low. So they say what we're seeing with Web3 is a kind of accelerated version of that, where adoption is not waiting for server farms, not waiting for the broadband fibre to go into the ground to be able to do this work. They're kind of just going No, we just need an internet connection. And we can take part in this this sort of great tech revolution.
Walter Jennings: And are you seeing any solutions coming out on near that? Blow Your Mind that really make these kinds of giant leaps?
Matt Hussey: Wow. Yeah, that's a great question. I, for me, like climate change is a big topic, personal topic of mine. And what what we're seeing with projects like open forest protocol and Kyoto Protocol and places that that is they've kind of taken a look at the way that world works. So you know, carbon capture reforestation, all that kind of stuff. There's been a lot of discussion this year, about how that system is broken. Whereas what these projects have done, a lot of the people who run these projects have come from there as well. So they're sort of experts in their fields. And I've looked at sort of the tech stack as it was and gone, this doesn't work. And they've come over to web three and have gone Oh, actually, there was a, there's a much easier way of doing this. So you have an open forest protocol, has people in the fields standing next to forests, measuring forest and then recording all that data on the blockchain. So that means that the data is immutable, it's not hackable, you can't fudge it, if you want to get people to buy more of it. And they also using satellite imagery to kind of verify whether the data is true or not. Whereas in the kind of this world, that moment on the ground measurement is horrifically prone to corruption and manipulation because there are a lot of very powerful people who want to portray an image of reforestation and preservation but actually don't want to do it. So I think for me, climate solutions coming out of this space have been mind blowing in terms of like the sophistication and the thought, that's gone behind them.
Walter Jennings: Well, Matt Hussey, thank you so much for joining us here on Waves in the Finoverse. It's been great to speak with you today and we appreciate the insights.
Matt Hussey: Thank you very much, it's been a pleasure to be here.