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Liam Vaughan

Liam Vaughan

4 months ago

Investors can bet big on almost anything on a new prediction market.

Kalshi allows five-figure bets on the Grammys, the next Covid wave, and future SEC commissioners. Worst-case scenario

On Election Day 2020, two young entrepreneurs received a call from the CFTC chairman. Luana Lopes Lara and Tarek Mansour spent 18 months trying to start a new type of financial exchange. Instead of betting on stock prices or commodity futures, people could trade instruments tied to real-world events, such as legislation, the weather, or the Oscar winner.

Heath Tarbert, a Trump appointee, shouted "Congratulations." "You're competing with 1840s-era markets. I'm sure you'll become a powerhouse too."

Companies had tried to introduce similar event markets in the US for years, but Tarbert's agency, the CFTC, said no, arguing they were gambling and prone to cheating. Now the agency has reversed course, approving two 24-year-olds who will have first-mover advantage in what could become a huge new asset class. Kalshi Inc. raised $30 million from venture capitalists within weeks of Tarbert's call, his representative says. Mansour, 26, believes this will be bigger than crypto.

Anyone who's read The Wisdom of Crowds knows prediction markets' potential. Well-designed markets can help draw out knowledge from disparate groups, and research shows that when money is at stake, people make better predictions. Lopes Lara calls it a "bullshit tax." That's why Google, Microsoft, and even the US Department of Defense use prediction markets internally to guide decisions, and why university-linked political betting sites like PredictIt sometimes outperform polls.

Regulators feared Wall Street-scale trading would encourage investors to manipulate reality. If the stakes are high enough, traders could pressure congressional staffers to stall a bill or bet on whether Kanye West's new album will drop this week. When Lopes Lara and Mansour pitched the CFTC, senior regulators raised these issues. Politically appointed commissioners overruled their concerns, and one later joined Kalshi's board.

Will Kanye’s new album come out next week? Yes or no?

Kalshi's victory was due more to lobbying and legal wrangling than to Silicon Valley-style innovation. Lopes Lara and Mansour didn't invent anything; they changed a well-established concept's governance. The result could usher in a new era of market-based enlightenment or push Wall Street's destructive tendencies into the real world.

If Kalshi's founders lacked experience to bolster their CFTC application, they had comical youth success. Lopes Lara studied ballet at the Brazilian Bolshoi before coming to the US. Mansour won France's math Olympiad. They bonded over their work ethic in an MIT computer science class.

Lopes Lara had the idea for Kalshi while interning at a New York hedge fund. When the traders around her weren't working, she noticed they were betting on the news: Would Apple hit a trillion dollars? Kylie Jenner? "It was anything," she says.

Are mortgage rates going up? Yes or no?

Mansour saw the business potential when Lopes Lara suggested it. He interned at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., helping investors prepare for the UK leaving the EU. Goldman sold clients complex stock-and-derivative combinations. As he discussed it with Lopes Lara, they agreed that investors should hedge their risk by betting on Brexit itself rather than an imperfect proxy.

Lopes Lara and Mansour hypothesized how a marketplace might work. They settled on a "event contract," a binary-outcome instrument like "Will inflation hit 5% by the end of the month?" The contract would settle at $1 (if the event happened) or zero (if it didn't), but its price would fluctuate based on market sentiment. After a good debate, a politician's election odds may rise from 50 to 55. Kalshi would charge a commission on every trade and sell data to traders, political campaigns, businesses, and others.

In October 2018, five months after graduation, the pair flew to California to compete in a hackathon for wannabe tech founders organized by the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. They built a website in a day and a night and presented it to entrepreneurs the next day. Their prototype barely worked, but they won a three-month mentorship program and $150,000. Michael Seibel, managing director of Y Combinator, said of their idea, "I had to take a chance!"

Will there be another moon landing by 2025?

Seibel's skepticism was rooted in America's historical wariness of gambling. Roulette, poker, and other online casino games are largely illegal, and sports betting was only legal in a few states until May 2018. Kalshi as a risk-hedging platform rather than a bookmaker seemed like a good idea, but convincing the CFTC wouldn't be easy. In 2012, the CFTC said trading on politics had no "economic purpose" and was "contrary to the public interest."

Lopes Lara and Mansour cold-called 60 Googled lawyers during their time at Y Combinator. Everyone advised quitting. Mansour recalls the pain. Jeff Bandman, a former CFTC official, helped them navigate the agency and its characters.

When they weren’t busy trying to recruit lawyers, Lopes Lara and Mansour were meeting early-stage investors. Alfred Lin of Sequoia Capital Operations LLC backed Airbnb, DoorDash, and Uber Technologies. Lin told the founders their idea could capitalize on retail trading and challenge how the financial world manages risk. "Come back with regulatory approval," he said.

In the US, even small bets on most events were once illegal. Under the Commodity Exchange Act, the CFTC can stop exchanges from listing contracts relating to "terrorism, assassination, war" and "gaming" if they are "contrary to the public interest," which was often the case.

Will subway ridership return to normal? Yes or no?

In 1988, as academic interest in the field grew, the agency allowed the University of Iowa to set up a prediction market for research purposes, as long as it didn't make a profit or advertise and limited bets to $500. PredictIt, the biggest and best-known political betting platform in the US, also got an exemption thanks to an association with Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Today, it's a sprawling marketplace with its own subculture and lingo. PredictIt users call it "Rules Cuck Panther" when they lose on a technicality. Major news outlets cite PredictIt's odds on Discord and the Star Spangled Gamblers podcast.

CFTC limits PredictIt bets to $850. To keep traders happy, PredictIt will often run multiple variations of the same question, listing separate contracts for two dozen Democratic primary candidates, for example. A trader could have more than $10,000 riding on a single outcome. Some of the site's traders are current or former campaign staffers who can answer questions like "How many tweets will Donald Trump post from Nov. 20 to 27?" and "When will Anthony Scaramucci's role as White House communications director end?"

According to PredictIt co-founder John Phillips, politicians help explain the site's accuracy. "Prediction markets work well and are accurate because they attract people with superior information," he said in a 2016 podcast. “In the financial stock market, it’s called inside information.”

Will Build Back Better pass? Yes or no?

Trading on nonpublic information is illegal outside of academia, which presented a dilemma for Lopes Lara and Mansour. Kalshi's forecasts needed to be accurate. Kalshi must eliminate insider trading as a regulated entity. Lopes Lara and Mansour wanted to build a high-stakes PredictIt without the anarchy or blurred legal lines—a "New York Stock Exchange for Events." First, they had to convince regulators event trading was safe.

When Lopes Lara and Mansour approached the CFTC in the spring of 2019, some officials in the Division of Market Oversight were skeptical, according to interviews with people involved in the process. For all Kalshi's talk of revolutionizing finance, this was just a turbocharged version of something that had been rejected before.

The DMO couldn't see the big picture. The staff review was supposed to ensure Kalshi could complete a checklist, "23 Core Principles of a Designated Contract Market," which included keeping good records and having enough money. The five commissioners decide. With Trump as president, three of them were ideologically pro-market.

Lopes Lara, Mansour, and their lawyer Bandman, an ex-CFTC official, answered the DMO's questions while lobbying the commissioners on Zoom about the potential of event markets to mitigate risks and make better decisions. Before each meeting, they would write a script and memorize it word for word.

Will student debt be forgiven? Yes or no?

Several prediction markets that hadn't sought regulatory approval bolstered Kalshi's case. Polymarket let customers bet hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously using cryptocurrencies, making it hard to track. Augur, which facilitates private wagers between parties using blockchain, couldn't regulate bets and hadn't stopped users from betting on assassinations. Kalshi, by comparison, argued it was doing everything right. (The CFTC fined Polymarket $1.4 million for operating an unlicensed exchange in January 2022. Polymarket says it's now compliant and excited to pioneer smart contract-based financial solutions with regulators.

Kalshi was approved unanimously despite some DMO members' concerns about event contracts' riskiness. "Once they check all the boxes, they're in," says a CFTC insider.

Three months after CFTC approval, Kalshi announced funding from Sequoia, Charles Schwab, and Henry Kravis. Sequoia's Lin, who joined the board, said Tarek, Luana, and team created a new way to invest and engage with the world.

The CFTC hadn't asked what markets the exchange planned to run since. After approval, Lopes Lara and Mansour had the momentum. Kalshi's March list of 30 proposed contracts caused chaos at the DMO. The division handles exchanges that create two or three new markets a year. Kalshi’s business model called for new ones practically every day.

Uncontroversial proposals included weather and GDP questions. Others, on the initial list and later, were concerning. DMO officials feared Covid-19 contracts amounted to gambling on human suffering, which is why war and terrorism markets are banned. (Similar logic doomed ex-admiral John Poindexter's Policy Analysis Market, a Bush-era plan to uncover intelligence by having security analysts bet on Middle East events.) Regulators didn't see how predicting the Grammy winners was different from betting on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Who, other than John Legend, would need to hedge the best R&B album winner?

Event contracts raised new questions for the DMO's product review team. Regulators could block gaming contracts that weren't in the public interest under the Commodity Exchange Act, but no one had defined gaming. It was unclear whether the CFTC had a right or an obligation to consider whether a contract was in the public interest. How was it to determine public interest? Another person familiar with the CFTC review says, "It was a mess." The agency didn't comment.

CFTC staff feared some event contracts could be cheated. Kalshi wanted to run a bee-endangerment market. The DMO pushed back, saying it saw two problems symptomatic of the asset class: traders could press government officials for information, and officials could delay adding the insects to the list to cash in.

The idea that traders might manipulate prediction markets wasn't paranoid. In 2013, academics David Rothschild and Rajiv Sethi found that an unidentified party lost $7 million buying Mitt Romney contracts on Intrade, a now-defunct, unlicensed Irish platform, in the runup to the 2012 election. The authors speculated that the trader, whom they dubbed the “Romney Whale,” may have been looking to boost morale and keep donations coming in.

Kalshi said manipulation and insider trading are risks for any market. It built a surveillance system and said it would hire a team to monitor it. "People trade on events all the time—they just use options and other instruments. This brings everything into the open, Mansour says. Kalshi didn't include election contracts, a red line for CFTC Democrats.

Lopes Lara and Mansour were ready to launch kalshi.com that summer, but the DMO blocked them. Product reviewers were frustrated by spending half their time on an exchange that represented a tiny portion of the derivatives market. Lopes Lara and Mansour pressed politically appointed commissioners during the impasse.

Tarbert, the chairman, had moved on, but Kalshi found a new supporter in Republican Brian Quintenz, a crypto-loving former hedge fund manager. He was unmoved by the DMO's concerns, arguing that speculation on Kalshi's proposed events was desirable and the agency had no legal standing to prevent it. He supported a failed bid to allow NFL futures earlier this year. Others on the commission were cautious but supportive. Given the law's ambiguity, they worried they'd be on shaky ground if Kalshi sued if they blocked a contract. Without a permanent chairman, the agency lacked leadership.

To block a contract, DMO staff needed a majority of commissioners' support, which they didn't have in all but a few cases. "We didn't have the votes," a reviewer says, paraphrasing Hamilton. By the second half of 2021, new contract requests were arriving almost daily at the DMO, and the demoralized and overrun division eventually accepted defeat and stopped fighting back. By the end of the year, three senior DMO officials had left the agency, making it easier for Kalshi to list its contracts unimpeded.

Today, Kalshi is growing. 32 employees work in a SoHo office with big windows and exposed brick. Quintenz, who left the CFTC 10 months after Kalshi was approved, is on its board. He joined because he was interested in the market's hedging and risk management opportunities.

Mid-May, the company's website had 75 markets, such as "Will Q4 GDP be negative?" Will NASA land on the moon by 2025? The exchange recently reached 2 million weekly contracts, a jump from where it started but still a small number compared to other futures exchanges. Early adopters are PredictIt and Polymarket fans. Bets on the site are currently capped at $25,000, but Kalshi hopes to increase that to $100,000 and beyond.

With the regulatory drawbridge down, Lopes Lara and Mansour must move quickly. Chicago's CME Group Inc. plans to offer index-linked event contracts. Kalshi will release a smartphone app to attract customers. After that, it hopes to partner with a big brokerage. Sequoia is a major investor in Robinhood Markets Inc. Robinhood users could have access to Kalshi so that after buying GameStop Corp. shares, they'd be prompted to bet on the Oscars or the next Fed commissioner.

Some, like Illinois Democrat Sean Casten, accuse Robinhood and its competitors of gamifying trading to encourage addiction, but Kalshi doesn't seem worried. Mansour says Kalshi's customers can't bet more than they've deposited, making debt difficult. Eventually, he may introduce leveraged bets.

Tension over event contracts recalls another CFTC episode. Brooksley Born proposed regulating the financial derivatives market in 1994. Alan Greenspan and others in the government opposed her, saying it would stifle innovation and push capital overseas. Unrestrained, derivatives grew into a trillion-dollar industry until 2008, when they sparked the financial crisis.

Today, with a midterm election looming, it seems reasonable to ask whether Kalshi plans to get involved. Elections have historically been the biggest draw in prediction markets, with 125 million shares traded on PredictIt for 2020. “We can’t discuss specifics,” Mansour says. “All I can say is, you know, we’re always working on expanding the universe of things that people can trade on.”

Any election contracts would need CFTC approval, which may be difficult with three Democratic commissioners. A Republican president would change the equation.

More on Economics & Investing

Chritiaan Hetzner

1 month ago

Mystery of the $1 billion'meme stock' that went to $400 billion in days

Who is AMTD Digital?

An unknown Hong Kong corporation joined the global megacaps worth over $500 billion on Tuesday.

The American Depository Share (ADS) with the ticker code HKD gapped at the open, soaring 25% over the previous closing price as trading began, before hitting an intraday high of $2,555.

At its peak, its market cap was almost $450 billion, more than Facebook parent Meta or Alibaba.

Yahoo Finance reported a daily volume of 350,500 shares, the lowest since the ADS began trading and much below the average of 1.2 million.

Despite losing a fifth of its value on Wednesday, it's still worth more than Toyota, Nike, McDonald's, or Walt Disney.

The company sold 16 million shares at $7.80 each in mid-July, giving it a $1 billion market valuation.

Why the boom?

That market cap seems unjustified.

According to SEC reports, its income-generating assets barely topped $400 million in March. Fortune's emails and calls went unanswered.

Website discloses little about company model. Its one-minute business presentation film uses a Star Wars–like design to sell the company as a "one-stop digital solutions platform in Asia"

The SEC prospectus explains.

AMTD Digital sells a "SpiderNet Ecosystems Solutions" kind of club membership that connects enterprises. This is the bulk of its $25 million annual revenue in April 2021.

Pretax profits have been higher than top line over the past three years due to fair value accounting gains on Appier, DayDayCook, WeDoctor, and five Asian fintechs.

AMTD Group, the company's parent, specializes in investment banking, hotel services, luxury education, and media and entertainment. AMTD IDEA, a $14 billion subsidiary, is also traded on the NYSE.

“Significant volatility”

Why AMTD Digital listed in the U.S. is unknown, as it informed investors in its share offering prospectus that could delist under SEC guidelines.

Beijing's red tape prevents the Sarbanes-Oxley Board from inspecting its Chinese auditor.

This frustrates Chinese stock investors. If the U.S. and China can't achieve a deal, 261 Chinese companies worth $1.3 trillion might be delisted.

Calvin Choi left UBS to become AMTD Group's CEO.

His capitalist background and status as a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum don't stop him from praising China's Communist party or celebrating the "glory and dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" a century after its creation.

Despite having an executive vice chairman with a record of battling corruption and ties to Carrie Lam, Beijing's previous proconsul in Hong Kong, Choi is apparently being targeted for a two-year industry ban by the city's securities regulator after an investor accused Choi of malfeasance.

Some CMIG-funded initiatives produced money, but he didn't give us the proceeds, a corporate official told China's Caixin in October 2020. We don't know if he misappropriated or lost some money.

A seismic anomaly

In fundamental analysis, where companies are valued based on future cash flows, AMTD Digital's mind-boggling market cap is a statistical aberration that should occur once every hundred years.

AMTD Digital doesn't know why it's so valuable. In a thank-you letter to new shareholders, it said it was confused by the stock's performance.

Since its IPO, the company has seen significant ADS price volatility and active trading volume, it said Tuesday. "To our knowledge, there have been no important circumstances, events, or other matters since the IPO date."

Permabears awoke after the jump. Jim Chanos asked if "we're all going to ignore the $400 billion meme stock in the room," while Nate Anderson called AMTD Group "sketchy."

It happened the same day SEC Chair Gary Gensler praised the 20th anniversary of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, aimed to restore trust in America's financial markets after the Enron and WorldCom accounting fraud scandals.

The run-up revived unpleasant memories of Robinhood's decision to limit retail investors' ability to buy GameStop, regarded as a measure to protect hedge funds invested in the meme company.

Why wasn't HKD's buy button removed? Because retail wasn't behind it?" tweeted Gensler on Tuesday. "Real stock fraud. "You're worthless."

Wayne Duggan

Wayne Duggan

6 months ago

What An Inverted Yield Curve Means For Investors

The yield spread between 10-year and 2-year US Treasury bonds has fallen below 0.2 percent, its lowest level since March 2020. A flattening or negative yield curve can be a bad sign for the economy.

What Is An Inverted Yield Curve? 

In the yield curve, bonds of equal credit quality but different maturities are plotted. The most commonly used yield curve for US investors is a plot of 2-year and 10-year Treasury yields, which have yet to invert.

A typical yield curve has higher interest rates for future maturities. In a flat yield curve, short-term and long-term yields are similar. Inverted yield curves occur when short-term yields exceed long-term yields. Inversions of yield curves have historically occurred during recessions.

Inverted yield curves have preceded each of the past eight US recessions. The good news is they're far leading indicators, meaning a recession is likely not imminent.

Every US recession since 1955 has occurred between six and 24 months after an inversion of the two-year and 10-year Treasury yield curves, according to the San Francisco Fed. So, six months before COVID-19, the yield curve inverted in August 2019.

Looking Ahead

The spread between two-year and 10-year Treasury yields was 0.18 percent on Tuesday, the smallest since before the last US recession. If the graph above continues, a two-year/10-year yield curve inversion could occur within the next few months.

According to Bank of America analyst Stephen Suttmeier, the S&P 500 typically peaks six to seven months after the 2s-10s yield curve inverts, and the US economy enters recession six to seven months later.

Investors appear unconcerned about the flattening yield curve. This is in contrast to the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF TLT +2.19% which was down 1% on Tuesday.

Inversion of the yield curve and rising interest rates have historically harmed stocks. Recessions in the US have historically coincided with or followed the end of a Federal Reserve rate hike cycle, not the start.

Ben Carlson

Ben Carlson

2 months ago

Bear market duration and how to invest during one

Bear markets don't last forever, but that's hard to remember. Jamie Cullen's illustration

A bear market is a 20% decline from peak to trough in stock prices.

The S&P 500 was down 24% from its January highs at its low point this year. Bear market.

The U.S. stock market has had 13 bear markets since WWII (including the current one). Previous 12 bear markets averaged –32.7% losses. From peak to trough, the stock market averaged 12 months. The average time from bottom to peak was 21 months.

In the past seven decades, a bear market roundtrip to breakeven has averaged less than three years.

Long-term averages can vary widely, as with all historical market data. Investors can learn from past market crashes.

Historical bear markets offer lessons.

Bear market duration

A bear market can cost investors money and time. Most of the pain comes from stock market declines, but bear markets can be long.

Here are the longest U.S. stock bear markets since World war 2:

Stock market crashes can make it difficult to break even. After the 2008 financial crisis, the stock market took 4.5 years to recover. After the dotcom bubble burst, it took seven years to break even.

The longer you're underwater in the market, the more suffering you'll experience, according to research. Suffering can lead to selling at the wrong time.

Bear markets require patience because stocks can take a long time to recover.

Stock crash recovery

Bear markets can end quickly. The Corona Crash in early 2020 is an example.

The S&P 500 fell 34% in 23 trading sessions, the fastest bear market from a high in 90 years. The entire crash lasted one month. Stocks broke even six months after bottoming. Stocks rose 100% from those lows in 15 months.

Seven bear markets have lasted two years or less since 1945.

The 2020 recovery was an outlier, but four other bear markets have made investors whole within 18 months.

During a bear market, you don't know if it will end quickly or feel like death by a thousand cuts.

Recessions vs. bear markets

Many people believe the U.S. economy is in or heading for a recession.

I agree. Four-decade high inflation. Since 1945, inflation has exceeded 5% nine times. Each inflationary spike caused a recession. Only slowing economic demand seems to stop price spikes.

This could happen again. Stocks seem to be pricing in a recession.

Recessions almost always cause a bear market, but a bear market doesn't always equal a recession. In 1946, the stock market fell 27% without a recession in sight. Without an economic slowdown, the stock market fell 22% in 1966. Black Monday in 1987 was the most famous stock market crash without a recession. Stocks fell 30% in less than a week. Many believed the stock market signaled a depression. The crash caused no slowdown.

Economic cycles are hard to predict. Even Wall Street makes mistakes.

Bears vs. bulls

Bear markets for U.S. stocks always end. Every stock market crash in U.S. history has been followed by new all-time highs.

How should investors view the recession? Investing risk is subjective.

You don't have as long to wait out a bear market if you're retired or nearing retirement. Diversification and liquidity help investors with limited time or income. Cash and short-term bonds drag down long-term returns but can ensure short-term spending.

Young people with years or decades ahead of them should view this bear market as an opportunity. Stock market crashes are good for net savers in the future. They let you buy cheap stocks with high dividend yields.

You need discipline, patience, and planning to buy stocks when it doesn't feel right.

Bear markets aren't fun because no one likes seeing their portfolio fall. But stock market downturns are a feature, not a bug. If stocks never crashed, they wouldn't offer such great long-term returns.

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Max Parasol

Max Parasol

8 months ago

What the hell is Web3 anyway?

"Web 3.0" is a trendy buzzword with a vague definition. Everyone agrees it has to do with a blockchain-based internet evolution, but what is it?

Yet, the meaning and prospects for Web3 have become hot topics in crypto communities. Big corporations use the term to gain a foothold in the space while avoiding the negative connotations of “crypto.”

But it can't be evaluated without a definition.

Among those criticizing Web3's vagueness is Cobie:

“Despite the dominie's deluge of undistinguished think pieces, nobody really agrees on what Web3 is. Web3 is a scam, the future, tokenizing the world, VC exit liquidity, or just another name for crypto, depending on your tribe.

“Even the crypto community is split on whether Bitcoin is Web3,” he adds.

The phrase was coined by an early crypto thinker, and the community has had years to figure out what it means. Many ideologies and commercial realities have driven reverse engineering.

Web3 is becoming clearer as a concept. It contains ideas. It was probably coined by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood in 2014. His definition of Web3 included “trustless transactions” as part of its tech stack. Wood founded the Web3 Foundation and the Polkadot network, a Web3 alternative future.

The 2013 Ethereum white paper had previously allowed devotees to imagine a DAO, for example.

Web3 now has concepts like decentralized autonomous organizations, sovereign digital identity, censorship-free data storage, and data divided by multiple servers. They intertwine discussions about the “Web3” movement and its viability.

These ideas are linked by Cobie's initial Web3 definition. A key component of Web3 should be “ownership of value” for one's own content and data.

Noting that “late-stage capitalism greedcorps that make you buy a fractionalized micropayment NFT on Cardano to operate your electric toothbrush” may build the new web, he notes that “crypto founders are too rich to care anymore.”

Very Important

Many critics of Web3 claim it isn't practical or achievable. Web3 critics like Moxie Marlinspike (creator of sslstrip and Signal/TextSecure) can never see people running their own servers. Early in January, he argued that protocols are more difficult to create than platforms.

While this is true, some projects, like the file storage protocol IPFS, allow users to choose which jurisdictions their data is shared between.

But full decentralization is a difficult problem. Suhaza, replying to Moxie, said:

”People don't want to run servers... Companies are now offering API access to an Ethereum node as a service... Almost all DApps interact with the blockchain using Infura or Alchemy. In fact, when a DApp uses a wallet like MetaMask to interact with the blockchain, MetaMask is just calling Infura!

So, here are the questions: Web3: Is it a go? Is it truly decentralized?

Web3 history is shaped by Web2 failure.

This is the story of how the Internet was turned upside down...

Then came the vision. Everyone can create content for free. Decentralized open-source believers like Tim Berners-Lee popularized it.

Real-world data trade-offs for content creation and pricing.

A giant Wikipedia page married to a giant Craig's List. No ads, no logins, and a private web carve-up. For free usage, you give up your privacy and data to the algorithmic targeted advertising of Web 2.

Our data is centralized and savaged by giant corporations. Data localization rules and geopolitical walls like China's Great Firewall further fragment the internet.

The decentralized Web3 reflects Berners-original Lee's vision: "No permission is required from a central authority to post anything... there is no central controlling node and thus no single point of failure." Now he runs Solid, a Web3 data storage startup.

So Web3 starts with decentralized servers and data privacy.

Web3 begins with decentralized storage.

Data decentralization is a key feature of the Web3 tech stack. Web2 has closed databases. Large corporations like Facebook, Google, and others go to great lengths to collect, control, and monetize data. We want to change it.

Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Alibaba, and Huawei, according to Gartner, currently control 80% of the global cloud infrastructure market. Web3 wants to change that.

Decentralization enlarges power structures by giving participants a stake in the network. Users own data on open encrypted networks in Web3. This area has many projects.

Apps like Filecoin and IPFS have led the way. Data is replicated across multiple nodes in Web3 storage providers like Filecoin.

But the new tech stack and ideology raise many questions.

Giving users control over their data

According to Ryan Kris, COO of Verida, his “Web3 vision” is “empowering people to control their own data.”

Verida targets SDKs that address issues in the Web3 stack: identity, messaging, personal storage, and data interoperability.

A big app suite? “Yes, but it's a frontier technology,” he says. They are currently building a credentialing system for decentralized health in Bermuda.

By empowering individuals, how will Web3 create a fairer internet? Kris, who has worked in telecoms, finance, cyber security, and blockchain consulting for decades, admits it is difficult:

“The viability of Web3 raises some good business questions,” he adds. “How can users regain control over centralized personal data? How are startups motivated to build products and tools that support this transition? How are existing Web2 companies encouraged to pivot to a Web3 business model to compete with market leaders?

Kris adds that new technologies have regulatory and practical issues:

"On storage, IPFS is great for redundantly sharing public data, but not designed for securing private personal data. It is not controlled by the users. When data storage in a specific country is not guaranteed, regulatory issues arise."

Each project has varying degrees of decentralization. The diehards say DApps that use centralized storage are no longer “Web3” companies. But fully decentralized technology is hard to build.

Web2.5?

Some argue that we're actually building Web2.5 businesses, which are crypto-native but not fully decentralized. This is vital. For example, the NFT may be on a blockchain, but it is linked to centralized data repositories like OpenSea. A server failure could result in data loss.

However, according to Apollo Capital crypto analyst David Angliss, OpenSea is “not exactly community-led”. Also in 2021, much to the chagrin of crypto enthusiasts, OpenSea tried and failed to list on the Nasdaq.

This is where Web2.5 is defined.

“Web3 isn't a crypto segment. “Anything that uses a blockchain for censorship resistance is Web3,” Angliss tells us.

“Web3 gives users control over their data and identity. This is not possible in Web2.”

“Web2 is like feudalism, with walled-off ecosystems ruled by a few. For example, an honest user owned the Instagram account “Meta,” which Facebook rebranded and then had to make up a reason to suspend. Not anymore with Web3. If I buy ‘Ethereum.ens,' Ethereum cannot take it away from me.”

Angliss uses OpenSea as a Web2.5 business example. Too decentralized, i.e. censorship resistant, can be unprofitable for a large company like OpenSea. For example, OpenSea “enables NFT trading”. But it also stopped the sale of stolen Bored Apes.”

Web3 (or Web2.5, depending on the context) has been described as a new way to privatize internet.

“Being in the crypto ecosystem doesn't make it Web3,” Angliss says. The biggest risk is centralized closed ecosystems rather than a growing Web3.

LooksRare and OpenDAO are two community-led platforms that are more decentralized than OpenSea. LooksRare has even been “vampire attacking” OpenSea, indicating a Web3 competitor to the Web2.5 NFT king could find favor.

The addition of a token gives these new NFT platforms more options for building customer loyalty. For example, OpenSea charges a fee that goes nowhere. Stakeholders of LOOKS tokens earn 100% of the trading fees charged by LooksRare on every basic sale.

Maybe Web3's time has come.

So whose data is it?

Continuing criticisms of Web3 platforms' decentralization may indicate we're too early. Users want to own and store their in-game assets and NFTs on decentralized platforms like the Metaverse and play-to-earn games. Start-ups like Arweave, Sia, and Aleph.im  propose an alternative.

To be truly decentralized, Web3 requires new off-chain models that sidestep cloud computing and Web2.5.

“Arweave and Sia emerged as formidable competitors this year,” says the Messari Report. They seek to reduce the risk of an NFT being lost due to a data breach on a centralized server.

Aleph.im, another Web3 cloud competitor, seeks to replace cloud computing with a service network. It is a decentralized computing network that supports multiple blockchains by retrieving and encrypting data.

“The Aleph.im network provides a truly decentralized alternative where it is most needed: storage and computing,” says Johnathan Schemoul, founder of Aleph.im. For reasons of consensus and security, blockchains are not designed for large storage or high-performance computing.

As a result, large data sets are frequently stored off-chain, increasing the risk for centralized databases like OpenSea

Aleph.im enables users to own digital assets using both blockchains and off-chain decentralized cloud technologies.

"We need to go beyond layer 0 and 1 to build a robust decentralized web. The Aleph.im ecosystem is proving that Web3 can be decentralized, and we intend to keep going.”

Aleph.im raised $10 million in mid-January 2022, and Ubisoft uses its network for NFT storage. This is the first time a big-budget gaming studio has given users this much control.

It also suggests Web3 could work as a B2B model, even if consumers aren't concerned about “decentralization.” Starting with gaming is common.

Can Tokenomics help Web3 adoption?

Web3 consumer adoption is another story. The average user may not be interested in all this decentralization talk. Still, how much do people value privacy over convenience? Can tokenomics solve the privacy vs. convenience dilemma?

Holon Global Investments' Jonathan Hooker tells us that human internet behavior will change. “Do you own Bitcoin?” he asks in his Web3 explanation. How does it feel to own and control your own sovereign wealth? Then:

“What if you could own and control your data like Bitcoin?”

“The business model must find what that person values,” he says. Putting their own health records on centralized systems they don't control?

“How vital are those medical records to that person at a critical time anywhere in the world? Filecoin and IPFS can help.”

Web3 adoption depends on NFT storage competition. A free off-chain storage of NFT metadata and assets was launched by Filecoin in April 2021.

Denationalization and blockchain technology have significant implications for data ownership and compensation for lending, staking, and using data. 

Tokenomics can change human behavior, but many people simply sign into Web2 apps using a Facebook API without hesitation. Our data is already owned by Google, Baidu, Tencent, and Facebook (and its parent company Meta). Is it too late to recover?

Maybe. “Data is like fruit, it starts out fresh but ages,” he says. "Big Tech's data on us will expire."

Web3 founder Kris agrees with Hooker that “value for data is the issue, not privacy.” People accept losing their data privacy, so tokenize it. People readily give up data, so why not pay for it?

"Personalized data offering is valuable in personalization. “I will sell my social media data but not my health data.”

Purists and mass consumer adoption struggle with key management.

Others question data tokenomics' optimism. While acknowledging its potential, Box founder Aaron Levie questioned the viability of Web3 models in a Tweet thread:

“Why? Because data almost always works in an app. A product and APIs that moved quickly to build value and trust over time.”

Levie contends that tokenomics may complicate matters. In addition to community governance and tokenomics, Web3 ideals likely add a new negotiation vector.

“These are hard problems about human coordination, not software or blockchains,”. Using a Facebook API is simple. The business model and user interface are crucial.

For example, the crypto faithful have a common misconception about logging into Web3. It goes like this: Web 1 had usernames and passwords. Web 2 uses Google, Facebook, or Twitter APIs, while Web 3 uses your wallet. Pay with Ethereum on MetaMask, for example.

But Levie is correct. Blockchain key management is stressed in this meme. Even seasoned crypto enthusiasts have heart attacks, let alone newbies.

Web3 requires a better user experience, according to Kris, the company's founder. “How does a user recover keys?”

And at this point, no solution is likely to be completely decentralized. So Web3 key management can be improved. ”The moment someone loses control of their keys, Web3 ceases to exist.”

That leaves a major issue for Web3 purists. Put this one in the too-hard basket.

Is 2022 the Year of Web3?

Web3 must first solve a number of issues before it can be mainstreamed. It must be better and cheaper than Web2.5, or have other significant advantages.

Web3 aims for scalability without sacrificing decentralization protocols. But decentralization is difficult and centralized services are more convenient.

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin himself stated recently"

This is why (centralized) Binance to Binance transactions trump Ethereum payments in some places because they don't have to be verified 12 times."

“I do think a lot of people care about decentralization, but they're not going to take decentralization if decentralization costs $8 per transaction,” he continued.

“Blockchains need to be affordable for people to use them in mainstream applications... Not for 2014 whales, but for today's users."

For now, scalability, tokenomics, mainstream adoption, and decentralization believers seem to be holding Web3 hostage.

Much like crypto's past.

But stay tuned.

James Howell

James Howell

6 months ago

Which Metaverse Is Better, Decentraland or Sandbox?

The metaverse is the most commonly used term in current technology discussions. While the entire tech ecosystem awaits the metaverse's full arrival, defining it is difficult. Imagine the internet in the '80s! The metaverse is a three-dimensional virtual world where users can interact with digital solutions and each other as digital avatars.
The metaverse is a three-dimensional virtual world where users can interact with digital solutions and each other as digital avatars.

Among the metaverse hype, the Decentraland vs Sandbox debate has gained traction. Both are decentralized metaverse platforms with no central authority. So, what's the difference and which is better? Let us examine the distinctions between Decentraland and Sandbox.

2 Popular Metaverse Platforms Explained

The first step in comparing sandbox and Decentraland is to outline the definitions. Anyone keeping up with the metaverse news has heard of the two current leaders. Both have many similarities, but also many differences. Let us start with defining both platforms to see if there is a winner.

Decentraland

Decentraland, a fully immersive and engaging 3D metaverse, launched in 2017. It allows players to buy land while exploring the vast virtual universe. Decentraland offers a wide range of activities for its visitors, including games, casinos, galleries, and concerts. It is currently the longest-running metaverse project.

Decentraland began with a $24 million ICO and went public in 2020. The platform's virtual real estate parcels allow users to create a variety of experiences. MANA and LAND are two distinct tokens associated with Decentraland. MANA is the platform's native ERC-20 token, and users can burn MANA to get LAND, which is ERC-721 compliant. The MANA coin can be used to buy avatars, wearables, products, and names on Decentraland.

Sandbox

Sandbox, the next major player, began as a blockchain-based virtual world in 2011 and migrated to a 3D gaming platform in 2017. The virtual world allows users to create, play, own, and monetize their virtual experiences. Sandbox aims to empower artists, creators, and players in the blockchain community to customize the platform. Sandbox gives the ideal means for unleashing creativity in the development of the modern gaming ecosystem.

The project combines NFTs and DAOs to empower a growing community of gamers. A new play-to-earn model helps users grow as gamers and creators. The platform offers a utility token, SAND, which is required for all transactions.

What are the key points from both metaverse definitions to compare Decentraland vs sandbox?

It is ideal for individuals, businesses, and creators seeking new artistic, entertainment, and business opportunities. It is one of the rapidly growing Decentralized Autonomous Organization projects. Holders of MANA tokens also control the Decentraland domain.

Sandbox, on the other hand, is a blockchain-based virtual world that runs on the native token SAND. On the platform, users can create, sell, and buy digital assets and experiences, enabling blockchain-based gaming. Sandbox focuses on user-generated content and building an ecosystem of developers.

Sandbox vs. Decentraland

If you try to find what is better Sandbox or Decentraland, then you might struggle with only the basic definitions. Both are metaverse platforms offering immersive 3D experiences. Users can freely create, buy, sell, and trade digital assets. However, both have significant differences, especially in MANA vs SAND.

For starters, MANA has a market cap of $5,736,097,349 versus $4,528,715,461, giving Decentraland an advantage.
The MANA vs SAND pricing comparison is also noteworthy. A SAND is currently worth $3664, while a MANA is worth $2452.

The value of the native tokens and the market capitalization of the two metaverse platforms are not enough to make a choice. Let us compare Sandbox vs Decentraland based on the following factors.

Workstyle

The way Decentraland and Sandbox work is one of the main comparisons. From a distance, they both appear to work the same way. But there's a lot more to learn about both platforms' workings. Decentraland has 90,601 digital parcels of land.

Individual parcels of virtual real estate or estates with multiple parcels of land are assembled. It also has districts with similar themes and plazas, which are non-tradeable parcels owned by the community. It has three token types: MANA, LAND, and WEAR.

Sandbox has 166,464 plots of virtual land that can be grouped into estates. Estates are owned by one person, while districts are owned by two or more people. The Sandbox metaverse has four token types: SAND, GAMES, LAND, and ASSETS.

Age

The maturity of metaverse projects is also a factor in the debate. Decentraland is clearly the winner in terms of maturity. It was the first solution to create a 3D blockchain metaverse. Decentraland made the first working proof of concept public. However, Sandbox has only made an Alpha version available to the public.

Backing

The MANA vs SAND comparison would also include support for both platforms. Digital Currency Group, FBG Capital, and CoinFund are all supporters of Decentraland. It has also partnered with Polygon, the South Korean government, Cyberpunk, and Samsung.

SoftBank, a Japanese multinational conglomerate focused on investment management, is another major backer. Sandbox has the backing of one of the world's largest investment firms, as well as Slack and Uber.

Compatibility

Wallet compatibility is an important factor in comparing the two metaverse platforms. Decentraland currently has a competitive advantage. How? Both projects' marketplaces accept ERC-20 wallets. However, Decentraland has recently improved by bridging with Walletconnect. So it can let Polygon users join Decentraland.

Scalability

Because Sandbox and Decentraland use the Ethereum blockchain, scalability is an issue. Both platforms' scalability is constrained by volatile tokens and high gas fees. So, scalability issues can hinder large-scale adoption of both metaverse platforms.

Buying Land

Decentraland vs Sandbox comparisons often include virtual real estate. However, the ability to buy virtual land on both platforms defines the user experience and differentiates them. In this case, Sandbox offers better options for users to buy virtual land by combining OpenSea and Sandbox. In fact, Decentraland users can only buy from the MANA marketplace.

Innovation

The rate of development distinguishes Sandbox and Decentraland. Both platforms have been developing rapidly new features. However, Sandbox wins by adopting Polygon NFT layer 2 solutions, which consume almost 100 times less energy than Ethereum.

Collaborations

The platforms' collaborations are the key to determining "which is better Sandbox or Decentraland." Adoption of metaverse platforms like the two in question can be boosted by association with reputable brands. Among the partners are Atari, Cyberpunk, and Polygon. Rather, Sandbox has partnered with well-known brands like OpenSea, CryptoKitties, The Walking Dead, Snoop Dogg, and others.

Platform Adaptivity

Another key feature that distinguishes Sandbox and Decentraland is the ease of use. Sandbox clearly wins in terms of platform access. It allows easy access via social media, email, or a Metamask wallet. However, Decentraland requires a wallet connection.

Prospects

The future development plans also play a big role in defining Sandbox vs Decentraland. Sandbox's future development plans include bringing the platform to mobile devices. This includes consoles like PlayStation and Xbox. By the end of 2023, the platform expects to have around 5000 games.

Decentraland, on the other hand, has no set plan. In fact, the team defines the decisions that appear to have value. They plan to add celebrities, creators, and brands soon, along with NFT ads and drops.

Final Words

The comparison of Decentraland vs Sandbox provides a balanced view of both platforms. You can see how difficult it is to determine which decentralized metaverse is better now. Sandbox is still in Alpha, whereas Decentraland has a working proof of concept.

Sandbox, on the other hand, has better graphics and is backed by some big names. But both have a long way to go in the larger decentralized metaverse. 

caroline sinders

caroline sinders

1 month ago

Holographic concerts are the AI of the Future.

the Uncanny Valley of ABBA Voyage

A few days ago, I was discussing dall-e with two art and tech pals. One artist acquaintance said she knew a frightened illustrator. Would the ability to create anything with a click derail her career? The artist feared this. My curator friend smiled and said this has always been a dread among artists. When the camera was invented, didn't painters say this? Even in the Instagram era, painting exists.

When art and technology collide, there's room for innovation, experimentation, and fear — especially if the technology replicates or replaces art making. What is art's future with dall-e? How does technology affect music, beyond visual art? Recently, I saw "ABBA Voyage," a holographic ABBA concert in London.

"Abba voyage?" my phone asked in early March. A Gen X friend I met through a fashion blogging ring texted me.

"What's abba Voyage?" I asked while opening my front door with keys and coffee.

We're going! Marti, visiting London, took me to a show.

"Absolutely no ABBA songs here." I responded.

My parents didn't play ABBA much, so I don't know much about them. Dad liked Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Deep Purple, and New Orleans jazz. Marti told me ABBA Voyage was a holographic ABBA show with a live band.

The show was fun, extraordinary fun. Nearly everyone on the dance floor wore wigs, ankle-breaking platforms, sequins, and bellbottoms. I saw some millennials and Zoomers among the boomers.

I was intoxicated by the experience.

Automatons date back to the 18th-century mechanical turk. The mechanical turk was a chess automaton operated by a person. The mechanical turk seemed to perform like a human without human intervention, but it required a human in the loop to work properly.

Humans have used non-humans in entertainment for centuries, such as puppets, shadow play, and smoke and mirrors. A show can have animatronic, technological, and non-technological elements, and a live show can blur real and illusion. From medieval puppet shows to mechanical turks to AI filters, bots, and holograms, entertainment has evolved over time.

I'm not a hologram skeptic, but I'm skeptical of technology, especially since I work with it. I love live performances, I love hearing singers breathe, forget lines, and make jokes. Live shows are my favorite because I love watching performers make mistakes or interact with the audience. ABBA Voyage was different.

Marti and I traveled to Manchester after ABBA Voyage to see Liam Gallagher. Similar but different vibe. Similar in that thousands dressed up for the show. ABBA's energy was dizzying. 90s chic replaced sequins in the crowd. Doc Martens, nylon jackets, bucket hats, shaggy hair. The Charlatans and Liam Gallagher opened and closed, respectively. Fireworks. Incredible. People went crazy. Yelling exhausted my voice.

This week in music featured AI-enabled holograms and a decades-old rocker. Both are warm and gooey in our memories.

After seeing both, I'm wondering if we need AI hologram shows. Why? Is it good?

Like everything tech-related, my answer is "maybe." Because context and performance matter. Liam Gallagher and ABBA both had great, different shows.

For a hologram to work, it must be impossible and big. It must be big, showy, and improbable to justify a hologram. It must feel...expensive, like a stadium pop show. According to a quick search, ABBA broke up on bad terms. Reuniting is unlikely. This is also why Prince or Tupac hologram shows work. We can only engage with their legacy through covers or...holograms.

I drove around listening to the radio a few weeks ago. "Dreaming of You" by Selena played. Selena's music defined my childhood. I sang along and turned up the volume (or as loud as my husband would allow me while driving on the highway).

I discovered Selena's music six months after her death, so I never saw her perform live. My babysitter Melissa played me her album after I moved to Houston. Melissa took me to see the Selena movie five times when it came out. I quickly wore out my VHS copy. I constantly sang "Bibi Bibi Bom Bom" and "Como la Flor." I love Selena. A Selena hologram? Yes, probably.

Instagram advertised a cellist's Arthur Russell tribute show. Russell is another deceased artist I love. I almost walked down the aisle to "This is How We Walk on the Moon," but our cellist couldn't find it. Instead, I walked to Magnetic Fields' "The Book of Love." I "discovered" Russell after a friend introduced me to his music a few years ago.

I use these as analogies for the Liam Gallagher and ABBA concerts.

You have no idea how much I'd pay to see a hologram of Selena's 1995 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concert. Arthur Russell's hologram is unnecessary. Russell's work was intimate and performance-based. We can't separate his life from his legacy; popular audiences overlooked his genius. He died of AIDS broke. Like Selena, he died prematurely. Given his music and history, another performer would be a better choice than a hologram. He's no Selena. Selena could have rivaled Beyonce.

Pop shows' size works for holograms. Along with ABBA holograms, there was an anime movie and a light show that would put Tron to shame. ABBA created a tourable stadium show. The event was lavish, expensive, and well-planned. Pop, unlike rock, isn't gritty. Liam Gallagher hologram? No longer impossible, it wouldn't work. He's touring. I'm not sure if a rockstar alone should be rendered as a hologram; it was the show that made ABBA a hologram.

Holograms, like AI, are part of the future of entertainment, but not all of it. Because only modern interpretations of Arthur Russell's work reveal his legacy. That's his legacy.

the ABBA holograms onstage, performing

Large-scale arena performers may use holograms in the future, but the experience must be impossible. A teacher once said that the only way to convey emotion in opera is through song, and I feel the same way about holograms, AR, VR, and mixed reality. A story's impossibility must make sense, like in opera. Impossibility and bombastic performance must be present for an immersive element to "work." ABBA was an impossible and improbable experience, which made it magical. It helped the holographic show work.

Marti told me about ABBA Voyage. She said it was a great concert. Marti has worked in music since the 1990s. She's a music expert; she's seen many shows.

Ai isn't a god or sentient, and the ABBA holograms aren't real. The renderings were glassy-eyed, flat, and robotic, like the Polar Express or the Jaws shark. Even today, the uncanny valley is insurmountable. We know it's not real because it's not about reality. It was about a suspended moment and performance feelings.

I knew this was impossible, an 'unreal' experience, but the emotions I felt were real, like watching a movie or tv show. Perhaps this is one of the better uses of AI, like CGI and special effects, like the beauty of entertainment- we were enraptured and entertained for hours. I've been playing ABBA since then.