#33 – David Lockie on Why Web3 and WordPress Might Work Together – WP Tavern

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast, from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case Web3, what it is and how it might work with WordPress.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast, player of choice, or by going to WPTavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcast players. If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, well I’m very keen to hear from you, and hopefully get you, or your idea, featured on the show. Head over to WPTavern.com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox. And use the contact form there.

So on the podcast today we have David Lockie. David is the Web3 lead at Automattic, which is a new role. He’s trying to understand what Web3 is and how it’s going to alter the course of the internet in the future. You might’ve heard of Web3 and be confused about what it is exactly. DAOs, NFTs, smart contracts, Layer2s, and DeFi. These are all terms associated with Web3. But they’re not necessarily well understood. It’s complex. These technologies go about things in new and innovative ways. So what does it all mean?

David’s on the podcast today to help us to understand the whole concept of Web3 and how it might affect the WordPress ecosystem, what it is, how it works and why it’s useful.

You’ve likely heard of examples of Web3 out there in the real world. Crypto currencies, people selling NFTs and more. These may seem like interesting experiments, but not all that practical or useful for the majority of people. David wants to explain that it’s the underlying technology, which is interesting here. A decentralized approach to gathering and storing data, which is just beginning to find some practical applications.

Perhaps this technology has a future, which is, as yet, unimagined. We’re just waiting for the perfect implementation to take this from an intriguing, but edge case technology to something more widely adopted and understood.

Typically when we record the podcast, there’s not a lot of background noise, but that’s not always the case with the conversations I recorded at WordCamp Europe. We were competing against crowds and the air conditioning. And whilst the podcast is more than listable. I hope that you understand that the vagaries of the real world we’re at play.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading over to WPTavern.com forward slash podcast. And you’ll find all of the other episodes there as well. And so without further delay, I bring you David Lockie.

I am joined on the podcast today by David Lockie. Hello?

[00:03:39] David Lockie: Hi Nathan how you doing?

[00:03:40] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, really good. Day two of WordCamp Europe. You’re the first person that I’ve been able to actually say to, how’s the conference been going so far?

[00:03:47] David Lockie: It’s been great. It’s been really nice just to see everyone again. I was mainly on the stall yesterday on the booth, the WooCommerce booth. I haven’t been to any talks yet. And so I can’t speak to the conference content, but just the experience of being around everyone of there being booths, of there being people like, it’s like jacking into the main line of excitement around WordPress.

So I’m I’m loving it. A hundred percent.

[00:04:12] Nathan Wrigley: Just give us a little bit, very briefly of your background with WordPress. Just to paint a picture of why you are here today and where the authority comes from.

[00:04:19] David Lockie: Sure. I’ve been in the WebPress space about 15 years. I was a freelancer, and ran an agency called Pragmatic. I have been an entrepreneur in the space and I’ve been a marketer in the space as well. In terms of blockchain, crypto web three, I’ve been interested since about 2017, and over the intervening time I have become co-chair of the Beamer Blockchain Council. That’s the British Interactive Media Association.

I advise a couple of startups in the space, and most recently I’ve been really fortunate to be able to bring those two worlds together by joining Automattic as web three lead. It means that I can keep working on the technology in the community and the ecosystem that I love, but also have a chance to work on technology that I’m excited about and believe will inevitably disrupt and join with WordPress. So it’s a real privilege to have that opportunity to kind of marry both my tech loves together.

[00:05:15] Nathan Wrigley: Nice. Now I think there’s a fairly low chance that somebody listening to this will not have heard the words web three, but I think there’s a fairly high chance that they won’t actually understand what that means, myself actually included.

I’ve heard it. I’ve got the peripheral understanding. I’ve never bitten down into the middle of it, and probably I think I’ve got some misunderstandings that need cleaning up. So, just for a minute just tell us basically, if you can, probably without consuming the entire half hour podcast, tell us what web three is in it’s highest possible terms.

[00:05:44] David Lockie: There are a bunch of different definitions. The one that I use is that it’s a family of decentralized technologies that allow people to coordinate in new and interesting ways. That’s a little bit more ethereal. A more practical, tangible definition would be technologies built on blockchains and related decentralized technologies. But the decentralization is at the core of everything that we talk about with web three.

I also feel a bit funny about the kind of blockchain, crypto, web three rebrand, because actually I think there are other very significant technologies that are coming down the line and will sort of converge as web three becomes more mainstream. Things like 3d things like AI. That means that when we’re talking about web three, it’s not simply an evolution of where we are in terms of the centralization, but it’s also this sort of new immersive experiential realm in which ownership and rights and value transfer and transactions all become part of a very rich tapestry that will feel like a new evolution.

For me, before the kind of blockchain web three rebrand, I used to talk about web three as the day when people stopped walking down the road, looking at their phones because they’re wearing glasses and it’s more ambient and immersive. So even to myself, I have a few different concepts of what it means, but decentralization is the key when people usually talk about web three.

[00:07:00] Nathan Wrigley: I see web three written in two different ways and I don’t know if it’s different. So I see web three as in W E B, no space 3. And I see web 3.0. Is there any separation there or are they exactly the same?

[00:07:13] David Lockie: I

think it’s just exactly the same I’m old enough to remember when web two was the excitement um and being in O’Reilly conferences in Berlin, and it was web two dot, that was like the hotness. And of course there was never like a web 2.1 or

web 2.5 And so I think web 3.0 is similarly redundant.

[00:07:32] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it seems to me that inside of the web three space is a bunch of acronyms and a bunch of different technologies. So I’ve written down a couple here and none of them, I particularly understand.

So I’ve got DAOs, got NFTs, I’ve got contracts, I’ve got something which was completely new to me, Layer 2s, and DeFi. Are these if you like sub domains of web three, are these just component parts that sit inside of it, or are they completely separate autonomous pieces?

[00:07:59] David Lockie: I think that’s a really good observation. And I guess the genesis of that is that the blockchain technology, which supports all of the rest of web three has a bunch of new terms and new concepts in it of itself. A blockchain is a new concept. A Merkel tree is a cryptographic term that unless you’re a researcher you wouldn’t know about.

The idea of cryptocurrencies and tokens and cryptography, some of this stuff, it was just not in the everyday parlance, and the things which have evolved from that, decentralized autonomous organizations, decentralized finance, non fungible tokens, smart contracts, layer zeros, ones, twos, scaling solutions, bridges, automated market makers. All of these things, they’re not just new words, they’re new concepts.

And I think that’s part of what people struggle with when they’re getting their head round web three, is that it’s very fundamentally different. The whole nature of it, the decentralized nature of it means that things change in a very profound way. And so there is like a massive vocabulary to get your head around and that can feel quite daunting, quite inaccesible.

And obviously you’ve got like the label for things, but then understanding what actually sits behind DeFi like, how is it different from traditional finance? How does it work to have a financial system that is entirely controlled by open source software? These are just brand new things. And so all of that terminology and all of those concepts are just things that you have to get your head around.

And I think people in this space often talk about this sort of rabbit hole where people can dance around on the surface and see the results of some of this stuff. Pictures of monkeys being worth millions of dollars, or like scams taking hundreds of millions of dollars by a smart contract floor. And so they form their judgments about this stuff, but actually when you find something that’s of interest and you follow that thread, you go down and the hole is long and varied and complex and ever changing. And the conversations that you have with people that have gone down that rabbit hole and haven’t, they just feel utterly different.

You have a different, like a different, basis for the conversation. And I guess that’s one of the things which people find challenging about the space as well like, people already naturally form cliques and geek out and, in group out group stuff. And I think. If you have a negative perception, for whatever reason of what’s happening in this space, then it’s very easy to feel excluded.

And that it’s just all this nonsense going on and you don’t wanna engage with it because it’s just too much. Like it’s a lot. It’s really a lot.

[00:10:28] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. I think that’s a part of the puzzle for me. When web two came along and social happened, you could completely get it. And it took a while for the harm of all of that to become obvious. What I’m seeing in the press at the minute is the inevitable backlash. I’m seeing people’s wallets being emptied and certain blockchains becoming disrupted and all sorts of negative press.

Six months ago I felt there was a tidal wave in the opposite direction. It was just positivity, just Bitcoin, crypto, NFT. This is all brilliant. It feels to me at the moment as if we’re riding a wave of, hang on a minute, there’s danger here if you’re not careful, if you’re not thoughtful, if you don’t understand what you’re doing. And so that I suppose is a concern that maybe you’re gonna have to be confronting in your role in the near term.

[00:11:14] David Lockie: It’s definitely something that’s on my mind. But this is far from the first cycle in crypto as well. And I guess having lived through the previous cycle, the 2017, 2018 and then right through to 2019 where everything started lifting up again. There were very clear patterns and they follow typical economic cycles as well.

You get the positivity and then the overexuberance and then the sort of speculation, like the top. And then, there’s some bad news and then suddenly everyone starts getting fearful and the fear is a positive feedback loop. And so the price dumps and everyone gets scared and bored and runs away.

But all that is like the bottom of that cycle. And then out of that will come, like in the UK, a new use case. New people with new funds, new ideas. Projects that were worked on during the bear cycle start to come to fruition. So we saw this with the previous cycle was really around, for me, it was around Ethereum and starting to see the promise of smart contracts and NFTs and some of this sort of the web three, rather than just Bitcoin price action.

And this time round was catalyzed by decentralized finance and then continued into NFTs. So it could be, a pretty wintery situation for a couple of years. But then new use cases, new projects will emerge and we’ll be up and at ’em. And if you average out, the actual use of this technology, it doesn’t align brilliantly well with the market action, like the price action. It’s still going up and to the right, obviously like with some ups and downs, according to how exuberant everyone is.

I guess that’s one of the things that’s sort of interesting is that it’s a very integrative technology, in that it is economic, is technological, is also social as well. It’s the first 24, 7 global permissionless marketplace for people to do stuff, whether that is financial stuff or coordination stuff or whatever. It’s the first time that we’ve been able to do that with meaning attached to it like economic meaning.

So we’ve been able to do that with WordPress, with open source development for decades. And that’s been insanely valuable to everyone as a result. One of the challenges with web two is that we were creating all of this value, but there were no direct internet native ways to try and capture and program that value.

So we relied on all these secondary business models. Particularly advertising and data collection to extract or convey some of that value around what was essentially an economy, but with no native currency to exchange. And I think that’s one of the, the most profoundly interesting things that web three does is it allows us to underpin, not overlay, but underpin everything else that we do online with internet native programmable money that can serve all the different use cases that we have now and into the future.

[00:13:55] Nathan Wrigley: Do you feel that things like blockchain, decentralized ledgers and all of that is a clever idea, but is still trying to actually find a use case, which is useful for most people? Again, we’re harking back to the weird things that happened like NFTs and so on. That just strikes me as a bizarre use case, but the decentralized block chain, the idea of a ledger which is imutable and everybody can inspect and see. It feels like that’s got a lot of uses, we just haven’t figured out what they are. Practical, useful things for most people in the same way that the web is practical and useful for most people.

It feels to me at the minute, it’s a stretch to get, for example, my mother to have any interest in web three because the barrier’s too high. The weirdness is too much. And maybe we’re just waiting for that golden apple, somebody comes up with something. Oh, that’s remarkable. That’s brilliant. Everybody can get ahold of that. I just wonder if that epiphany hasn’t happened yet.

[00:14:51] David Lockie: I think it’s a, an interesting question. There are definitely elements of, and it’s a bit of a kind of web three trope. Like it’s still early, there’s still lots of innovation ahead of us. Like maybe there will be that killer app that suddenly everyone goes, oh, this is why blockchain’s important in our life. This is why web three’s important in our life.

However, if you look at a lot of internet infrastructure and web infrastructure, like most people don’t understand the importance of any technology, really. They just jab at buttons on their phone and things happen as a result. But that doesn’t mean that the underlying technology isn’t important. People just wanna write a WordPress post.

They don’t care about this pull request or, whether it’s Gutenberg or classic editor. They just want to do a job. So I think there’s an element to which a lot of people will never need to know or need to care about web three. We may well see some like breakthrough use cases.

Personally, I do think NFTs and digital collectibles are gonna be one of those breakthroughs. We’ve seen it this cycle. Instagram is teasing at an upcoming release about allowing people to display and eventually to buy and sell collectibles on Instagram. If that rolls out to 3 billion people, that’s mass adoption.

They’ve got a patent in for meta pay, which is their own payments, digital wallet and digital currency exchange infrastructure. But even then, like people might not know that is all part of blockchain. They might not understand the technology that…

[00:16:12] Nathan Wrigley: It’ll still be a button on a screen.

[00:16:14] David Lockie: Still be a button on a screen that they can use to buy a thing from the brand or the creator that they love and want to support or the clothes that they wanna wear. But I also think that there’s another aspect to it, which is that the world is not without its challenges right now. And things which don’t seem important now might suddenly become incredibly important. And we can always look at the edges to see where the innovation and the use cases are.

So for example crypto has a very valid use case now of international remittence. So if you are a migrant worker, you’re working another country, we need to send money around the world. You can do that more safely and cheaply using crypto. And that’s what a large proportion of non trading or investing use is around. The ability for migrant workers to send their funds directly to their family, with the minimum fees involved.

When we look at international businesses who have Ukrainian and Russian workers and still need to pay salary, crypto provides an option where there was not one before. And I think in this world that we are living in where potentially we’re looking at splinternets like you know the great fire wall of China. The Russian internet, if things continue the way they’re going having means for value transfer and coordination that is free from the constraints of nation states, might suddenly become super important to everyone. There’s also that element that I think is interesting and worthwhile. Even if the majority of people never understand it.

[00:17:46] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah the whole decentralized thing, let me rewind. It feels like 25 years ago, proprietary software came on the market and you bought it and then free open source software also in parallel was going on. And I think we’re at the point where we can tentatively say that free open source software won that ultimately that’s what I think anyway, if you look at certain segments. So we now have proprietary centralized things and you are advocating for decentralized things.

Is it to say that the centralized thing is, it’s something that we no longer desire? So a good example would be my bank. I wish my bank to have my money and I wish my bank to take care of my money. So that in the event that something happens then I’ve got some kind of backup.

I know that institution full of those people is there to protect me. In the case of decentralized, I worry that an accidental theft of a phone might be enough to wipe out my life saving. And I wonder if this is a, a real difficult bridge that is never gonna get crossed. So in other words, what makes decentralized so much more superior than centralized? Maybe it doesn’t, maybe there’s a place for both forever.

[00:18:56] David Lockie: Yeah. I think that latter is exactly where I come in. One beautiful concept that came out of web three is this idea of complimentary opposite. So whilst I’m advocating for people to learn and find out about decentralization and why it can be important and valuable. I’m definitely not saying like centralized stuff is bad.

And actually when we look at a few examples of success, we see that anyway. Automattic, WordPress.com also WordPress.org. Arguably neither would be as successful without the other, but like combined, it means that where a centralized entity can be most impactful like, things can go down that route. Where there are opportunities to do stuff that a centralized organization simply can’t do the .org ecosystem can do it, it can innovate at the edges.

So that’s, I think a very resonant example from the world we know. In crypto, there are some other examples as well. For example, there’s a crypto exchange called Binance. It’s a centralized, regulated KYC, AML, OFAC entity. You know it’s a financial organization and company that pays its taxes et cetera, but it also has a decentralized protocol called BSC Smart Chain which is plausibly decentralized and allows it to, allows innovation to happen around Binance whilst not being directly connected to it.

And I think even sort of more traditional businesses like you know arguably what Elon has done with Tesla is to use the power of social media to build this decentralized community of fans around the business. And so one of the tools he uses to achieve his corporate regulated goals is this recruitment of, these people aren’t employee shareholders not necessarily even customers, but they’re fans and they’re motivated towards the same goals for whatever reason. And so it’s that combination that I think allows for, it just creates a wider, more fertile space for innovation to happen.

[00:20:54] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. It’s more of a more of a marriage and less of a war. Maybe both will coexist and we’ll figure out which bits work best over here and which bits work best over there as time goes on.

[00:21:03] David Lockie: I also yeah, a hundred percent. I also think it’s about having checks and balances. Like for me before Bitcoin came along, there was really no, no non-destructive way to protest against the increasing centralization of power. There was nothing to prevent central banks doing whatever they wanted and, for governments to continue to exert pressure. Arguably with the genesis of Bitcoin and permissionless, public, decentralized protocols that can’t be stopped. If centralization goes too far, then people will flee to alternative currencies that are outside of government control.

That’s really just my personal take on it. And it’s not one that everyone’s comfortable with, but I do think there’s a sort of, I think it’s healthy for the, there to be a balancing factor whenever we’ve got like an axis that’s out of control, it’s helpful to balance that out.

[00:21:52] Nathan Wrigley: Are states able to disable their citizens from accessing this I’m thinking of China. Is it the case that if you were a citizen of China, you would be enabled to use the very things that you are describing or have they legislated against?

[00:22:09] David Lockie: It’s an arms race, isn’t it? They could block the protocol. But it’d be very difficult and there would be innovation around it. And the fact that they haven’t is also kind of interesting.

[00:22:18] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Okay. This isn’t going away. People are very excited about it. And Automattic have jumped on the bandwagon. Here you are. This is now job. Tell us what the remit of that is in Automattic. Now maybe there’s a direct connection with WordPress, wordpress.org, wordpress.com. I don’t know, but just outline what you’ve been tasked to well either work on already or figure out what you’re going to work on.

[00:22:39] David Lockie: Sure. And I should mention at this point the conversation that we are having today represents my personal views. Like I’m still working on the work that I’m doing within Automattic, and Automattic’s policy and position on stuff may well, not entirely align with mine. When I approached Automattic about the role, my thesis was that if WordPress and web three will forever remain separate we should understand why that is the case more deeply than just oh, we don’t like it, it’s a scam. It’s whatever.

There were potential touchpoints for the creators that use our platform, the merchants that sell on our platform, the technologies that we integrate, decentralized storage, for example. There are potentially competitors that are gonna emerge in the space.

I think there were just so many potential points of disruption for the WordPress community and ecosystem that I love, that I felt I could add some value to the whole ecosystem by increasing awareness, increasing understanding, and trying to bring some more nuance and balance to the dialogue that happens.

So it could well be that Automattic does nothing at all with web three, but at least we’ll understand in a sophisticated way why that’s the case, why we’ve made those decisions. My guess is that isn’t going to happen. In my talk later today, I’m gonna talk about a couple of use cases that I feel are sort of inevitable.

One is around crypto payments. So if we have the four freedoms of GPL, then arguably web three gives us the freedom to transact, the freedom to trade, and that’s a very ancient historical human trait, to trade to transact. Part of my argument is that’s what changed us from being hunting, gathering, tribal to societies and civilization, is the ability to trade and transact at increasing scales and over increasing timelines.

So allowing people to not only publish, and sell online, but to transact freely as well, just feels like an obvious thing to do. Why would we not let merchants who don’t enjoy the financial stability of the US or the UK or whatever, to be able to accept a currency that they wanna accept? It seems like a, like I don’t see very many valid reasons not to let that happen.

As long as we’re clear about the importance for merchants to do their own research to understand their own risks and to proceed with caution, essentially. To understand what they’re doing. And that’s part of my role as well, is to help make sure if we do stuff, then we are trying to educate and inform and raise awareness at the same time.

The other one, I think, seems really interesting is NFTs. You know we’ve seen the weekly active wallet count go from pretty much zero a year ago to like a quarter of a million active wallets every week trading NFTs right now. They are an incredible way for creators to assert their rights and to monetize their content.

And the most important people in the WordPress ecosystem for me, are the creators that use it. The people who have sites that run WordPress, the merchants who sell through WordPress and WooCommerce. Without them there are no agencies because nobody wants the sites. There’s no Automattic to provide services out to that ecosystem.

So it’s about serving our users. And if creators of all types, writers, photographers, podcasters, musicians, videographers can generate a better fairer, a more durable living by using NFTs and royalties and the rights that it protects than by posting stuff to YouTube and getting 50% of the fees they make from advertising.

For example, then I think that’s something that the WordPress community is, it’s innately supportive of because we support the open web. We support creators. Like we want to give people the freedom to publish and to sell online. And this for me is just an extension of that. People are most free to publish and sell online when they can do that with financial resilience and the ability to protect their income.

[00:26:42] Nathan Wrigley: One of the pieces that I would imagine most people using WordPress are using is just the published button. They’re not producing videos. They’re not writing music or creating NFTs. They’re literally putting out written content and maybe there’s some images in there, what have you. And I think a curious, maybe underexplored, maybe it’ll happen, I don’t know, possibly it has, the idea of being able to prove definitively, that thing is mine. And I wrote it on that date and I can prove it forever. And I think that might be a curious, there’s no real financial benefit to that, but it’s a nice, almost legal.

[00:27:13] David Lockie: There’s a company, WordProof who do exactly this, right. And there are a couple of really interesting use cases there. To speak to the sort of monetization bit, a lot of money is made through search engine ranking. And content theft and plagiarism, like are all problems for publishers, real problems. So if we can find a way to help search engines, parse who definitively created this bit of content, then that will protect the original content creators to some extent. There’s a lot of complexity with that.

Another one is around trust. So if you’re a merchant and you’ve got like a shipping policy, a refund policy, general terms, and you timestamp them and you transparently show that something has changed and when it changed, then that builds trust with your consumer.

As a consumer, I trust that this store isn’t gonna change its refund policy and leave me high and dry if like the refund period has changed since I bought it, how can I prove that definitively? So there are some direct monetization opportunities, but also some indirect ones as well.

[00:28:12] Nathan Wrigley: Unfortunately we’re running out of time. So I’m just gonna ask one final question. If people are interested to find out more generically or it might be via you, what would be one or two of the quickest places to swot up on this topic?

[00:28:24] David Lockie: So there’s a web three educational community called Kernel that I would recommend to anyone. It’s a very holistic and quite philosophical look at this technology. And if I can remember the link correctly, it’s bit.ly, so B I T dot L Y forward slash all caps, W P K B 7. So that’s whiskey papa kilo bravo seven.

There’s also a bunch of learn to earn platforms out there. A good one to start with is rabbit hole, dot gg. rabbithole.gg. And there you can earn small amounts of crypto for learning to use a digital wallet or a decentralized exchange, or any of these other decentralized applications. So that’s a good, more guided, more practical way to start experiencing these technologies. And I think that experiencing it, whether you’re buying like $10 of crypto, whether you are signing up to a web three platform, actually just using this stuff is the best way to learn.

It’s very immersive and there’s a lot to get your head around. Just reading stuff. You’ll be reading for years and you might still not get it.

[00:29:31] Nathan Wrigley: David Lockie. Thanks for chatting to us today.

[00:29:33] David Lockie: Thanks for your time, Nathan.

This content was originally published here.