DeFi Needs an Infinite Story

Anand Venkateswaran

Musings on bringing back the collaborative magic in a fraught, increasingly insular space.

That early bitcoin phase – somewhere on the heels of 2013 and through 2016. Do you remember that? If you lived through or dropped into the crypto space during this time, you would remember a particularly addictive feeling. There’s no one word to describe it, really. A sense of adventure, of venturing into the unknown, even as you realised you were not going in alone? You didn’t hesitate to reach out to seek collaborations or an opportunity to simply jam. Whether you’re a crypto OG or you just got into the space, you would agree that this isn’t how the space feels right now. Something’s changed, even before COVID-19 happened. 

This blog has two strands which met quite by chance today. 

One strand is a conversation with Vignesh, captured in this CoinCentral interview. In it, the interviewer asks him about the next big change in crypto. One part of the answer is pragmatic – scaling. He says once that problem is solved, it will cause a profound change in the ecosystem. The other part of the answer was this – the space needs strong stories, he said. Stories that inspire awe. Crazy stories that embrace radical concepts, stories of people and projects that caused seismic shifts.   

The other strand is a talk I heard at a virtual meetup. That’s right. I was at a meetup in Cryptovoxels, attending as my avatar, paddle-floating 15 feet above the ground. Simon De La Rouvier took the stage as the last speaker, after a few others had spent quick minutes talking about their projects. Simon spoke about the infinite story – the kind that does not end, where every twist is fuel to push it further and a step closer to closure, the kind that is built by collaboration and which breaks the conventional boundaries of finite stories. The kind that has elements of antifragility and constant evolution.    

When you combine the two strands, they form a prescription for what ails DeFi right now. That space, which is arguably the reason the blockchain was created, has been on survival mode for the past year and a half. Scaling, regulatory pressure, self-indulgence and a sort of widespread cynicism have cast a pall on the space. It’s tough. In a matter of a couple of months, Maker, bastion of stability, collapsed. DeFi lender BZX was hacked; a smart contract vulnerability exploited. These instances are not a judgement on individual projects. They can’t be, because all the projects in the space carry the same vulnerabilities, the same fragility. 

I have had an enviable vantage point to the DeFi space over the past few years. Having entered the space around the time cryptokitties stalled Ethereum, it has been a crazy ride across the board. Price action was relatively less volatile than the trajectory of ideas, of stories.  

But DeFi needs a do-over. Enough of survival. It’s time to get back to that intrepid spirit of adventure. Even as the familiar wheels chug along, it’s time for mad experiments again. Sandboxed explosions, contained craziness, informed risk.  

These thoughts come about because crypto as a whole is still diverse enough to shock and awe you. One need not look too far. What we have built in the NFT space with Rightshare is such a joy to observe. Progress is visible here in full technicolor. Naked mannequin avatars of a few months ago suddenly sport exotic wearables and colour today. There are projects mulling over collateral buckets – NFTs containing a unique blend of ERC20 assets. Art is layered, and not just in meaning. There are experiments afoot in social currency. And there’s just so much fun in the air. And the secret is this – NFTs aren’t going to explode because their valuation or underlying asset or market sentiment is shifting. They’re going to explode because they’re loads less pretentious and loads more fun than DeFi. They will absorb DeFi, and discard that hard, crusty shell.   

DeFi needs an infinite story to jumpstart its heart, because the alternative does not bear thinking about. Perhaps the answer really is in a virtual world, paddle-floating 15 feet above the ground. 

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