Communication has always been core to technology, how to make it easier, faster, cheaper, more reliable. With the advent of online platforms, communication filters through databases, algorithms, and filters that don’t always align with the values of the communicators, leaving privacy, safety, and security in the dust.
As web3 platforms and protocols go more mainstream and occasionally become household names, now is a fine time for wallet-to-wallet (W2W) messaging to take its position in the pantheon of pivotal web3 transformations on the rise.
Thus far, blockchain-enabled wallets have primarily been used as stores for digital assets, for registering ownership and transfer of tokens on-chain. However, the rise of token-based communities has inspired a movement for identity through ownership — that owning a given NFT or an amount of a certain ERC-20 and the particularities of transaction history can convey much of a person (at least their marketing value).
With sufficient capabilities and parameter-setting, enabling direct communication between wallets, perhaps on-chain or perhaps not, can engender a certain degree of privacy in messaging and restore a degree of safety and security. At the end of the day, how many Discord hacks can we collectively take?
There are a variety of ways to token-gate communications, but only a few prominent projects have emerged to create direct W2W communications: Ethereum Push Notification Service (EPNS), Nansen Connect, and Metalink.
EPNS is a decentrally governed protocol that raised a $10.1 million Series A earlier this year and aims to build a cross-chain communications layer for all things web3.
Metalink, however, hasn’t raised any publicly known funding and is building a wallet-enabled chat app akin to Discord. While the platform doesn’t have any publicly available integrations as of this writing, OpenSea has employed Metalink as a customer service channel and a handful of NFT-driven communities have adopted the platform as well.
Another web3-native messaging app comes from Nansen’s recent launch of Connect. At first glance, it seems to be much more advanced than Metalink, but there has yet to be widespread adoption as Nansen’s gunning for Discord’s throne atop the community hub skirmishes.
To increase utilization of their protocols, EPNS and Metalink need not worry about serving the masses with peer-to-peer (P2P) messaging services. Instead, they should be racing to build robust APIs that can integrate with games, platforms, and other protocols, particularly in DeFi.
Whether the messaging is on-chain or not, that’s up to the provider to weigh the costs and benefits (and its customers). Regardless, no individual dApp should be building its own messaging features. Just as Discord removed the headache of building synchronous voice chat from every game developer’s to-do list, EPNS or Metalink could do the same for web3 products and platforms.
The key component essential to making this integration successful across any time horizon is building in strong filtering mechanics for both the products and the people using the messaging service. The distinction with this messaging is it would be filtered by on-chain signals.
After all, how fun would it be to have the same conversations we already have on Telegram a million times on literally everything else?
Builders need to acknowledge the harsh truths of operating in a space with extremely low barriers to entry and generally global access — and start building accordingly. Filtered messaging is essential across numerous contexts and we’d all benefit from it.
Imagine if you could lock your Twitter DMs to holders of particular tokens, whether an NFT, ERC-20, or minimum amount of ETH. Warren Buffett routinely auctions off an annual lunch date for charity — perhaps token ownership could be an appropriate barrier for lower-intensity functions, like DMs or video chats.
While shutting off all incidental communication to a select group of people might actually be bad for broadening one’s horizons, it would certainly have little downside when integrated with an NFT marketplace like OpenSea.
On OpenSea, there’s very little opportunity for buyers and sellers to communicate with each other, which makes effective price signaling a bit more difficult in the market, particularly when active traders often need liquidity to make their next trades. A seller would probably want to entertain bids from whales with heavy bags, blue-chip NFT holders, or even the person with the top bid on an auction for their NFT.
If a seller needs to exit a token pretty quickly, then someone who’s led the auction for a few days or has covered 90% of the reserve price would probably be a reasonable person to swap messages with. Simple permutations of IF-THEN functions that read on-chain signals that OpenSea and LooksRare already pull can create these valuable openings for interaction. Not a chance for spam unless someone is a tried-and-true troll willing to spend gas fees just to send a DM.
On a marketplace, a filtered messaging feature could also create avenues for private offers, accelerating deal-making and helping the overall market find its equilibrium.
How convenient would it be to open negotiations with someone live and then click buy right from the DM when an agreement has been reached?
Web3-powered gaming would also be a ripe place for token-filtered messaging.
Depending on the game, players could filter messages down to their clans or archnemeses to brag, flex, and issue challenges that they want immortalized on a blockchain so they can show their future esports-playing grandchildren how they kicked off the forever war between the forces of good and evil.
Token-filtered messaging could even become a feature for wallets, but this would need to be closely evaluated and carefully built to prevent the risk of scams and hacks. No one wants to get their situation hacked by a file transmission like Jeff Bezos did a couple years ago.
But! This could be the future of private P2P chat if the contents themselves are encrypted and stored on-chain.
It’s often tossed around in web3 that wallets can be the new vehicle for identity and authentication, at least to have a consistent persona in the database if not a true picture of the human using the service.
Sometimes P2P messaging doesn’t scale well, which is where feeds with followers and creators enables a good deal of reach. In the case of wallet-based messaging, 1:1 may not always be a helpful framework. Instead, 1:n could create interesting paths for communication and sense-making in the wider market.
This 1:n model would be wallet-to-all (W2A), in which a wallet could post a message publicly for anyone to see and interact with. Or, in a more advanced form, the message could be posted for a select group defined by on-chain signals.
Deep integrations with DeFi protocols spin up all kinds of moments wherein liquidity can be inspired, trades can be made, and communication can remain as pseudonymous as desired.
Naturally, this could immediately become a vehicle for spam and scams, but aren’t Discord and Telegram already hives for potential scum and villainy? At the very least, W2A connects to clear sources of truth via direct connection to blockchains, something Discord or Telegram have — for various reasons — abjectly refused (or failed) to do.
Turns out, grouchy gamers saved Collab.Land a ton of heartache and made everyone else’s lives just a little more inconvenient.
Digression aside, W2A could enable wallet holders to make public pronouncements in valuable contexts. A token pairing on Uniswap that has run dry could see someone make a compelling offer to the ecosystem to provide liquidity on a particular side of the pairing. A storefront in Decentraland or the Sandbox could post a notice of an exclusive sale or discount.
In these scenarios, this information would be displayed by a wallet with verifiable assets and a transaction history backing up the claims. Easily accessing this information would help anyone scrutinize the veracity of the message, which reduces the capacity for scammers to act and encourages the use of consistent wallets, further enabling the construction of online identities.
W2W and W2A can create a private layer of information exchange and help strip away one of the downsides to 3commerce: the lack of connection between buyers and sellers. There’s a lot to gain from enabling bridges between wallets.
In fact, with wallet-driven communication, how long until we see the web3-native Bloomberg Terminal or Symphony? The ability to lubricate deal-making and move things along a bit faster could see higher throughput and volume.
Further still, communities centered around tokens still lack a secure, token-native solution for communicating with their members. Token-filtered W2A could upend the model of relying on Twitter and Discord (imagine unlocking Twitter sub-feeds with tokens).
Dozens of attempts to create and capture the social graph for web3 have risen and fallen and still more will try again. With on-chain messages, encrypted or otherwise, one could easily trace the messaging activity to transaction data, line up timestamps, and paint a picture that loops social and financial activity together. That could be a pretty compelling map that shows activity between holders of various tokens and how much can be reasonably tied to sales and swaps.
Whichever developer that takes on such a monumental endeavor would surely be entitled to a medal and free beer for a year.
Getting people to adopt anything new these days is incredibly difficult, so it’s doubtful that Metalink’s direct play at Discord will succeed. The network effects simply aren’t there. Same for EPNS’s P2P messaging app.
Instead, these protocols should aggressively pursue a powerful API that allows filtering by on-chain signals and chase integrations with OpenSea, Rarity Sniper, LooksRare, games like Blank Block Party, virtual worlds like the Sandbox, all the major web3 products that people are already using.
With clever utilities and versatile application to different contexts, W2W can change the game for online connection. Fingers crossed someone does this right.
Shout-out to DALL-E 2 for generating some of these weird images for this post.