The NFT Knowledge Gap is an Existential Threat to Decentralized Infrastructure

Passing the billion-dollar milestone of liquidity locked into non-fungible tokens is inevitable. The value of NFTs is that they give users unprecedented control over their digital property rights, identities, choices, finances, and other personal data, and this continues to be reflected in the growth and the valuation of the ecosystem as a whole.

The differentiating factor of non-fungible tokens is the ability to tell users "you are in charge here; nobody owns you". This opens up all kinds of possibilities that weren't previously available in decentralized systems. Protocols like ERC721 (the standard for NFTs) give users the ability to own their digital identity, to decide who owns their digital property (eg. through token curated registries), and to unlock permissionless access to digital resources.

While this groundbreaking shift enables a brand new digital economy, it also comes with a lot of questions and challenges around the technology and the implicit social and power structures that bring it to life and dictate it. We talk about a decentralized infrastructure, but the development, innovation, and governance of the entire ecosystem remain an uneven playing field, with power concentrations shaping and impacting the direction of the space.

The knowledge gap is where this uneven playing field originates.

Although the model of NFT protocols is designed to be self-governing and decentralized, a centralized power base sits at the core of this. The blockchain space has a strong developer community comprising talented individuals who can quickly move from one project to another, building on top of different blockchain protocols. Their ability to understand the technology gives them more access, more decision-making opportunities, more influence, and more power. The fact is, the complexities of blockchain technology mean that the average punter, the mainstream user that we are religiously intent on evangelizing, will have little to no power in the decentralized future if we aren't able to solve the knowledge gap.

Governance is not just another abstract idea. It is the foundation upon which the entire ecosystem rests. It will determine who gets to be a part of it, what type of users will have access to it, and how they will interact with each other. Without a process to effectively onboard users into a knowledge stream, it becomes hard for them to appreciate and benefit from the decentralized infrastructure.

You can think of it as a multidimensional user experience: governance determines the product, its UX, and engagement levels, which determine growth potential, which in turn defines how many more users will be able to interact with the digital environment; this represents the future of the entire ecosystem.

The entry-level requirement is an understanding of abstract concepts around tokenization and tokenomics, as well as the ability to grok the inversion and decentralization of incumbent financial and social systems. Most user-friendly NFT projects are either pure games or accessible through games. Although user adoption is great, this kind of onboarding manages to only scratch the surface of decentralization's full potential.

Before anything else can happen in the NFT community, people need to understand what they are using. The technology will only be as robust as the knowledge of users, and the incentives for developers to create the best protocols will only be as strong as their ability to make people understand what the f**k is going on.

It's crucial to provide a robust, in-depth, and educational knowledge base for people to understand NFTs in all their use cases.

If users can’t interpret and process how the protocols, layers, platforms, smart contracts, and even unspoken social contracts relate to the full spectrum of NFT use cases, it creates an opportunity for bad actors to take advantage of the user's lack of knowledge.

The NFT knowledge gap is, therefore, an existential threat to decentralized infrastructure that should be urgently closed.

The more critical a user's knowledge is to a protocol, measurable through a scale of complexity and user-generated decision making, the greater the incentive should be for the developer or organization in charge of that particular use case of NFTs to educate the user. This is a significant responsibility, and it belongs to every community, every DAO, and every project.

There are a lot of different projects trying to build the infrastructure that will support the NFT economy, but it's important to remember that each one of them is a community in itself, and it also has the responsibility to educate its users.

The NFT knowledge gap can be divided into two categories: general and specific. The general gap is the one that everyone in the ecosystem needs to contribute to closing. It covers understanding blockchain technology, smart contracts, token models, cryptocurrencies, and decentralized systems at large. The specific gap is the individual responsibility of every community and project to make their work accessible to users across a range of experience and tech knowledge, from entry-level to expert, moving users into their systems without a need for assumed knowledge, and without thought and care put into the informational onboarding.

In the case of ERC721 tokens, for example, when you have tokenized games or items with thousands of copies running on Ethereum, seeing the possibilities and the value requires education to the smart contract level at a minimum. When the NFT becomes an access agent to decentralized applications and protocols, you need not only a knowledge base for developers but also one for users - or they won't understand how to use it or what they need to do to make this useful for them.

For mainstream users to appreciate the value of the DeFi, Web3, NFT and DAO paradigms, they will need to understand how each works. And while some may say 'not everyone needs to understand’, this is far from true. In fact, a non-negligible number of users will have to be able to use and interact with decentralized infrastructure in order for it to succeed.

But the average user has no direct interaction with blockchain technology, let alone understand how it works. Although decentralized infrastructure operates in an all-digital environment, nonfungible tokens are pushing the boundaries of what users will be accustomed to. They introduce a new layer of data management and ownership that requires a new mindset.

Currently, there is no common language or framework that can effectively convey to users how nonfungible tokens work. With the current state of knowledge in mind, decentralization isn't just a technological problem anymore - it's also an educational one.

The current knowledge gap is not only a threat to decentralization but also represents a key constraint for mass-market adoption.