Avoiding skeuomorphism in decentralized nation states

I.

When I wrote about building a decentralized nation back in July, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to build one. In some ways, I have figured it out.

In this post, I’ll talk about what I’ve figured out and explore the various possibilities this could take.

My project, a decentralized nation called BWO, was chosen as one of the winners of the Solana India Hackathon. I did this with my best friend from school, Monodeep Dutta. Monodeep handled the art. I handled the code for the generative art, the legal framework and everything else on the technical and business side. Together, we built BWO- the first ever decentralized nation state in the world.

Here is the constitution.

The basic premise is simple. Get yourself a BWO NFT or our (tba) native currency, and you’ll have verified access to the nation. With verified access, you can participate in on-chain governance systems.

Like every act of creation, each product needs to have a balance between utility and creativity and a country is no different. The creativity extends to the brand, and it is what helps the community rally around something that is memeable and malleable. We chose ducks as something to emulate our art around, giving our population something fun and cool to wear and build a culture around.

As we’ve already seen from the rise of dog coins, a brand is sometimes more important, especially when retail adoption during market cycles is concerned. A sense of humor, memes and just having fun, is not something we plan to shy away from anytime soon. That is part of our culture from the get-go.

A lot can be said about developing a culture, but this post isn’t about that. It’s about how to build a nation and avoiding skeuomorphic traps of thinking. But what are these skeuomorphic traps?

II.

A recent Tim Ferriss podcast of Chris Dixon and Naval reminded me of a principle called “Skeuomorphic Design.” I highly recommend listening to the entire podcast if you get the time.

Skeuomorphic design is when some aspect of design is emulated over some aspect of design that already exists in the physical world. A good example of this is the trash can icon for the recycle bin of your computer, or the literal row by row design of your app drawer, resembling a bookshelf.

In time, this term carried over to mean adopting design systems of the past. When we do this, our intentions are good. The web pages of the 90s looked like magazines, but they were nothing like people had seen before on a computer’s screen. Now, every webpage on the internet looks starkly different from what existed decades ago and I’d argue that it looks cleaner in many ways.

When Facebook came about, it didn’t differ much in design from Orkut or Myspace except for the colors. It did have extra utilities, like apps like Farmville and groups, but it didn’t represent a seismic shift in our perception at the time. Now, there are “stories” in all social media everywhere. Most of them have some variant of tiktok built in, some variant of clubhouse, and some variant of periscope, snapchat, etc. Every social media doubles as a platform with multiple utilities to capture the market of the social media that started such utility. There’s usually an offer to buy the small company that started a new utility before they copy it and send it to obscurity.

In the end, that’s the web2 world in a nutshell.

In the web3 world, for open-source protocols, it is not hard to imagine a feature of one app becoming a new feature on all apps. But what this should eventually lead to- is a seismic shift in design and utility, leading to something that none of us can imagine right now. It would be more aesthetic, more equitable in design and more engaging and even profitable to spend time on. It would also be more ethical, censorship resistant and infinitely persistent. Unfortunately, nothing that exists right now even compares to what could exist ideally.

We can have broad, and often delusional ambitions of what they’d be, and as builders we can try to create our perceived reality, but if any protocol or platform stops evolving- it would get left behind in the rapidly evolving web3 space.

III.

While the initial design of BWO allows for progressive decentralization and unlimited lifetime, I’ve often pondered about what to build on it other than what already exists. Should it be a defi protocol, a yield aggregator, a decentralized social media, a censorship resistant perma-web or something else?

The more I thought about it, the more I caught myself falling into traps of skeuomorphic thinking- emulating design and utility of what exists over what I know without starkly changing anything. A decentralized country is not a DAO. It is not a social media. It is not a defi protocol. It is a nation, with it’s own culture and religion, and to build such a nation requires multiple social mediums, which are web2 right now, and will be web3 in the future.

I strongly believe that none of the decentralized social medias in the last few years will make it. I also believe that Meta, or Facebook, will eventually lose to a decentralized social media. All we need is an app or an idea that becomes impossible to ignore, something that becomes a necessity more than a utility.

The future will be different, starkly different from what we now see. It will have platforms that we cannot imagine now yet, and they will be superior to what exists right now.

I strongly believe in the Lindy effect too- that if something has existed for a long amount of time, it is more probable that it will exist for an equal amount of time in the future. BWO, by design, will exist everywhere, till there’s a censorship resistant and overall badass platform where we can exist indefinitely.

This is an amount of flexibility that doesn’t exist with any other protocol. Combine that with the democracy and the rapid experimentation of new ideas, I think our new country will be able to exist, innovate and disrupt existing systems of governance for decades of our lifetime, evolving each year, surviving each market cycle and growing stronger in population every day while we have fun and enjoy our time together.

Natural incentives of royalty-earning NFTs, verifiable citizenship, and a sovereign individuality already exist. Our ability to exist as citizen nodes on every platform provides a framework where we can’t be removed from everywhere at the same time. Decentralization, by virtue of which anyone can identify and run a BWO node, query the mint list and allow every holder verifiable entry, is also something that is possible right now.

What exists is simple enough that it doesn’t need anything else to work. The smart contracts are there, and when our NFTs launch, we’d have the social contracts too. I’ll continue working on BWO to build it out and test different mediums and systems to find our right place. It’s not hard to imagine wearing an Oculus VR and tuning into what’s happening in your virtual country, after finishing watching the news in your physical country.

Different protocols can be leveraged for permanency. Already the interplanetary file system and arweave makes the perma-web look like a viable reality.

We have no idea how they will innovate, but it is obvious that they’re here to stay.

IV.

Thus, to avoid the skeuomorphic trap, a trap of reiterating design patterns that exist already, we need to keep evolving with how web3 evolves. We would need to leverage platforms and protocols without bias.

BWO will exist in the metaverse. The one launched by Zuck, and the one created by crypto. Everywhere and on every platform, our population will spread with one goal- expanding our country.

We don’t know which platform will exist and what will perish in the future, so hedging our bets everywhere is the best outcome for this very early iteration of a decentralized country.

On-chain verification through NFTs and our currency will always allow for new citizens to join and participate. Innovation in the Solana ecosystem also makes me extremely hopeful about what we’re all creating together.

Hopefully, we’ll end up building a better world and I want you to be a part of it. We’ve grown organically to over a thousand members over the last few months. We’ll stealth launch very soon so that everyone interested can get in, without everything selling out in 5 minutes, as is the norm with most NFT drops.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope to see you on the other side.

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