This is the first in a series of mini essays ‒ short, non-comprehensive explorations of what it means to be onchain.
From on-chain to onchain
If we want to claim "onchain" as the next evolution of "on-chain", we've got a lot of work to do.
To be onchain is to create more complex data than ERC-20 token transfers and the occasional NFT purchase. The movement to onchain means building a nuanced web of data around an identity, a community, a network (we’re seeing these types of experiments play out in Zuzalu as I draft this post). But a world of abundant data isn’t actually a world of insights or knowledge… at least not yet.
Without proper interfaces for surfacing and interacting with this data, we actually can’t make use of it – data becomes no more than digital noise: potent yet indecipherable.
The importance of opinionated interfaces
This is where highly opinionated interfaces come into play. Unlike neutral interfaces that simply present data as-is, opinionated interfaces take a stance. They make assumptions about what the user wants or needs to see, and they filter, sort, and visualize data accordingly. They turn digital noise into a clear set of signals.
In the context of onchain data, we need interfaces that distill complex transactions, smart contract interactions, and governance activity into comprehensible narratives. We need dashboards that provide clarity around owners of vital protocol permissions and delegate participation in onchain parameter changes. We need tools that track the relationships between high-powered entities (think: FTX and Alameda).
But it's not just about condensing complexity. These interfaces are absolutely vital for the legitimacy of web3 infrastructure. Because when we consider what public, distributed ledgers really provide – it’s the ability to hold people accountable.
In the context of democratic systems, where power is allocated to individuals or entities by token holders, the capacity to scrutinize the chain isn't merely a neat feature; it is a critical prerequisite for the establishment and maintenance of legitimate systems.
True accountability is only possible when every transaction, every decision, and every action that takes place onchain is not just transparent but also comprehensible to all constituents – token holders, users, and participants across a given ecosystem. This transparency and comprehensibility ensure that all entities – delegates, onchain operators, and other powerful players – are held to a standard of accountability.
Without a clear understanding of onchain events, constituents are unable to make informed decisions or challenge questionable actions. They are left in the dark, unable to fully exercise their democratic rights or responsibilities. This inability to hold entities accountable leaves the door wide open for abuses of power and undermines the integrity of the system.
In essence, systems that lack effective, accessible interfaces for understanding onchain data fall victim to the same traps we see in centralized systems. In both cases, bad actors can exploit obfuscation and complexity to their advantage, carrying out actions that are detrimental to the ecosystem without fear of being held accountable.
The path to true legitimacy, therefore, goes hand in hand with the path to comprehensive accountability. It requires tools that not only make onchain data transparent but also render it understandable to all constituents, not just the technically savvy. It demands an environment where anyone, regardless of their background, can investigate, question, and challenge onchain events.
In this new era of onchain activity, transparency is not enough – we need highly opinionated interfaces that filter out noise and provide clear mechanisms for holding those in power accountable. The legitimacy of these systems, and their promise of a more democratic digital future, rests on our ability to meet this challenge.
To get an early look at what these interfaces might look like, check out pod.xyz – our latest product from Metropolis, which surfaces onchain relationships in a visual interface (including Safe membership, smart contract permissions, etc).
- Towards Crypto Literacy by Gaby Goldberg
- The Case for Programmable Transactions from Capsule
- Hidden Keys from Metropolis