Code vs Culture: The Source of Trust in the Encrypted World


Whether in the crypto world or the real world, trust is the foundation on which the world can continue to operate. In the crypto world, there are two very different ways to build trust.

The most common in the crypto world is strong protocol projects, which achieve trust by deploying unchangeable code on a blockchain network. This concept is called “Trustless”, which is often translated as “trustless”. Of course, trustlessness does not mean no trust, but rather no need to consider trust factors. Because trust comes from 1) open and transparent, robust code; 2) a secure enough blockchain network to deploy the code.

Take Bitcoin as an example, people do not need to trust Satoshi Nakamoto. Everyone’s trust comes from the integrity of the Bitcoin code and the security of the Bitcoin network. Similarly, if someone uses Uniswap, they don’t need to trust founder Hayden Adams, but trust the code of Uniswap itself and the security of the Ethereum network. This form of trust comes from technical consensus and supports the basic values of the crypto world.

With the evolution of crypto culture, many community-based projects have emerged. These projects rely on members of the community to organize and promote the project, rather than pre-deployed code on the blockchain. Although it is centered on the community, most projects usually involve a centralized initiator and executor, and for a long time, the community still needs them to efficiently organize work and promote project development. Even sometimes the resources they control and the promises they give often constitute part of the overall consensus.

In this case, trust comes from recognition of common values and goals, and the community must reach a consensus on common values and trust that the executor (whether individual, group, or company) is equally committed to these values. Everyone understands that the restraint of technology is limited, and if the executor is willing, there is always a way to get around it. Here, encryption technology plays more of a role in ownership distribution, group coordination, and other functions, rather than strict control over all elements of the project. “Multiplayer games” have become a popular narrative in Web3, even though this is somewhat inconsistent with the underlying spirit of the crypto world.

But this world is not black and white, these two situations are like two ends of a spectrum. Most protocol projects cannot achieve 100% constraint using code, but rely to some extent on or allow the intervention of the social layer. Even projects that are purely centered on community members will use code constraints to some extent, such as multi-person co-managed accounts based on smart contracts. There are also many innovators working to stitch these two situations together, allowing many scenarios that were originally impossible to be achieved through code to be achieved through innovation.

However, to this day, community projects still rely mainly on the value consensus of the social layer. A friend discussed with me whether there is a good or even universal mechanism to achieve trust in community projects, and I think there is not. If a complex mechanism is needed to gain community trust, it means that the value consensus of the social layer has not been reached. And for a project that relies on the community, its fate is almost predetermined at this moment.

The current NFT market, especially PFP projects, has encountered a great crisis of trust, which in my opinion is precisely because these projects have not relied on both ends. Most projects have never had a value consensus, and the project party just wants to tell an attractive story to attract purchases. If all these projects are scammers, it may not be fair to many projects, but it is definitely not wrong to say that most of them are scammers. Even more fatal is that even if the original intention of the project itself is not a problem, it has not been done well in execution. Almost no project can establish a strong and sustainable value consensus. Most of the so-called “community participants” attracted are just here to make money.

The consensus at the technical layer is obviously even less. Most projects are just a collection of on-chain/off-chain pictures. Many projects do not even have a multi-signature account co-managed by the community. Neither end can be touched, so naturally there is no trust.

Although such projects may maintain a subtle consensus balance for a period of time and may even show strong consensus features to attract more participants, this balance is very fragile. The fate of a community project is not only determined by the project initiators, but also by the community itself. And the community is never a pipeline product that can be created through some mechanism. The community needs to mature organically and be in harmony with its cultural spirit.

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