The tech world is always looking for the next 800 pound gorilla. But what if the biggest innovations moving forward come from a bunch of smaller gorillas, operating profitably and autonomously? That’s what the “meta layer” is all about and blockchain is an enabler.
There is a great deal of blockchain investment talk about fat protocols and decentralized applications, but the big value will be in the layers that connect this ecosystem. The meta layer is a horizontal layer that accesses all your data across all apps, across all domains.
The meta layer is a horizontal layer that accesses all your data across all apps, across all domains.
Let’s use the video domain as an example: It’s similar to how Apple TV brings together Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO, and iTunes content into one frictionless interface through the (unimpressively named) “TV” app. It’s a meta app that pulls from all your various services and data sources, from all of your domains including video, social, physiological, knowledge, and empathy among others.
However, with blockchain, that aggregated data will not reside with one centralized company. Instead, it will be in your personal data wallet, with discreet bits shared only with select service providers — and only with your conscious intention.
A world of missed opportunities
Right now, there’s an avalanche of personal data that goes unused. Your sleep habits are measured by your Apple watch, your gym app knows whether you checked in for yoga, your Fitbit knows your stress levels, Facebook knows how much you’ve been messaging your partner, Amazon Kindle knows what you read this week, United knows you went on a trip with friends to Utah, Instagram has the photos, etc.
This is crucial data that we’re not examining the way we should. Why not? There is too much friction in sharing and connecting data right now. Companies don’t want to share data. Their data, I mean YOUR DATA, is their competitive asset. Customers don’t trust companies with privacy. Data is siloed. There is a lack of transparency. It requires additional computing power. There are transactions costs.
There is too much friction in sharing and connecting data right now.
And there’s also a major friction problem with the input/output of data. The purpose of the phone is to be an input/output device to get to an app. And the purpose of an app is to be an input/output device to get to a feature. So there’s a minimum of two points of friction right there, just to get to the feature that you actually want to use – and many more steps to find the actual piece of content you seek.
And the way we currently navigate that world is via hundreds of different apps. They’re vertical silos. You go into the bottom, climb back out, go into another one, etc. It’s too much hassle. Seriously, think about this.
You may say this feels pretty easy and way better compared to how it was 10 years ago. But remember, before we saw a touchscreen iphone in 2007, no one felt they needed a touchscreen iphone.
Decentralization can change the game
Blockchain will help us collect this data and connect the dots in new ways.
It provides distributed layers of computing power from core to edge, data extraction, data mobility, and trustless, frictionless transactions. Of course, we can do (most) all these things today without blockchain — but we can’t do it at a mass consumer scale across disparate applications. Don’t trust a centralized corporation to enable it for us.
In the future, decentralized world of applications, there may be no 800 pound gorillas like Facebook and YouTube. They will be replaced by 800 gorillas that are 1 pound each, operating across different sectors with microeconomic fairness for all participants, including audience, creators, widget providers, curators, analysts, writers, and much more.
And those smaller gorillas are going to solve different issues within their respective ecosystems. They’re going to be hyperfocused on providing solutions to their niche cohorts. And they will be independently profitable — this is a game changer. How many pure play video copy protection technical solutions do you know to be sustainably profitable today? Think privacy, copy protection, community comments, streaming quality, customer service and many more critical applications, no longer needing to be rolled up and “acquired” as an exit strategy, but instead coexisting together yet autonomously, exchanging liquid currency between them, creating a vibrant digital economy that’s no longer controlled by a few companies.
In the current system, the incentives are not properly aligned for the good of the community. The incentives are aligned for shareholders. But isn’t this backwards since the count of the community members that use these services far outnumber the count of shareholders? Think about it, Netflix subscribers outnumber Netflix shareholders, Facebook users outnumber Facebook shareholders. Blockchain can help switch this paradigm and better align the interests of the shareholder and the customer.
Blockchain can help align the interests of the shareholder and the customer.
Situational awareness and recommendations on steriods
This will give us “situational awareness,” where the right apps are in front of us at the right time. If I’m walking to work, that’s the wrong time to show me Netflix’s “what to watch” options — but it’s a great time to present me with a discount on coffee at a nearby café or a shift in the weather. This is when I need quick alerts, not a 15 minute read on Medium.
Situational awareness: The right apps are in front of us at the right time.
We’re going to be covered with this layer of applications that are situationally aware of what’s going on in our lives and the power of it will be enormous.
When data comes out of its silo, it will bring a whole new depth to recommendation engines too. We’ll be able to reach deep in the preferences of our network, following a ladder of interrelated desires to pinpoint what’s right for us, right now.
For example: Headspace captures my meditation habits, Seamless captures what I ate for lunch this week, my Apple watch is pinging my sleep and heartbeat patterns, my Mindbody app has my workout history, the Moon Phase app is capturing changes on gravitational pull and the amount of light I’m seeing at night, Facebook knows my girlfriend broke up with me, and 23andMe has my genome mapped.
Combining and connecting these data silos provides a predictive layer that will know what’s right for me at all times. But it’s not just a bottomless recommendation engine, it’s based on both my real time data graph as well as years of my data along with the anonymized data of people with similar profiles.
Access and privacy
The data is already out there. You can download all of your shopping data for the last several years from Amazon. On LinkedIn, you can download detailed information on your contacts. It’s incredible what you can find there. Yet these companies don’t make it easy for you to find, download, and use your data. They want to keep it siloed.
Sovereign data wallets and others will solve for this. Someone is going to figure out privacy and make it, gasp, fun for us to manage our data. Security will be gamified. You’ll swipe on data to share/hide the way you do with potential mates on Tinder. We’ll all have a much stronger grasp over our privacy (or be okay with letting it go).
One reason we don’t have that now is because pure play privacy is not a standalone profitable business. You have to have it plugged into Facebook or whatever. But in the future, we’ll be exchanging value via tokens and the privacy game will change. This is another way blockchain will be key to the meta layer process.
In the future, we’ll be exchanging value via tokens and the privacy game will change.
Let’s look at a couple of use cases…
Sample gorilla: Sports
Let’s say Suzy in Ohio has created a new trading cards application and Joseph in Taiwan has created a new fantasy sports application. They meet in an online community, and decide to team up and use a Swiss startup company that’s created a data wallet as a kernel in their platform. So now you’ve got three of these small “gorillas” getting together and seeing network effects from what they’re doing on their small scale. Others are going to want to plug into that ecosystem too: ESPN, the NFL, Nike, and/or people who sell sports memorabilia on eBay. Once there’s a platform with targeted users like this, others will want to join up. The network effects expand exponentially, and economic abundance is spread across the tiny gorillas.
Sample gorilla: Health
Let’s say you use the Headspace app to meditate. Well, there’s a whole log of data in there about how often you meditate. And that’s going to get more robust in the future. Plus, you might be journaling in another app, tracking your yoga practice in another, monitoring your sleep patterns in yet another. And think about what happens when we combine that data with data on the serotonin levels in our brain, the cortisol levels in our blood, etc.
Once we start to connect these dots and understand our behavior, we’ll make better decisions about buying products, participating in events, who we want to see. Think about that future compared to how Facebook/Netflix/other companies make recommendations to you today.
Collecting data across these different “gorillas” builds a data profile about me that really represents who I am, what I’m feeling, and what I’m ready to do right now. So when I go to buy lunch, I might get an alert that I should increase my sugar intake by three grams because my metabolism is fast today or whatever. That’s the future where the blockchain meta layer becomes social network 3.0 in a way that’s genuinely useful.
Collecting data across these different “gorillas” builds a data profile about me that really represents who I am.
The smart investment approach to the meta layer
Who is going to create this meta layer? Most great innovations happen by accident so here’s my prediction: It will start when someone finds a killer combination of two smaller apps. After a few of these, there will be killer app combinations that “bond” with other killer app combinations.
Soon, the network effect and law of accelerating returns will take hold. We’ll see a snowball effect, the world’s new mega-social network will form itself. It will dynamically change, adding arms and removing legs. Eventually, 4 billion people will be connected digitally in a way that is orders of magnitude more sophisticated than Facebook today. And the enablers for the meta layer will be communication and visualization technologies on distributed ledgers that reduce friction for all of this data to connect, process, and be interpreted.
Eventually, 4 billion people will be connected digitally in a way that is orders of magnitude more sophisticated than Facebook today.
Advice for investors
“I am looking to invest in a decentralized Facebook.” That is the wrong way of thinking. Instead, look to invest first in basic layer technology on distributed ledgers. Then identify those first few killer app combination use cases. The social network of the future will be decentralized. It won’t have a singular name the way we acknowledge Facebook or Twitter today. Rather the social network will be a digitally connected layer of bi-directional data streams you have authorized from different sources. The data connections will be endless and the user will be in complete control. Welcome to the world of tiny gorillas!
Some areas to pay attention to include sovereign data wallets, cross chain interoperability, and decentralized exchange protocols.