The Internet is an Archipelago

Interoperability is the most important concept for web3 enabled commerce. Learn why and how it will shape the future of online commerce and a lot more.

If you've ever tried to do some research into web3 and related technologies, chances are you've come across the term "interoperability." If not, consider yourself introduced now.

To understand what the future of online products, services, and commerce will look like, we first need to understand interoperability. It's one of the most potent traits of "web3", and it will play a massive part in shaping that future. 

To build it, we must first understand it. 

Taste the word. Interoperability. Inter-opera-bility. 

It's not the most consumer-friendly word. It sounds pretty techy, right? 

Let's take a step back, and paint a picture. We'll return to that word later. 

Photo: Unsplash @alexb

Island jumping in Greece

Archipelago: “an extensive group of islands”.

Imagine that you've booked a trip to go island jumping around the Greek islands. Sounds nice, right? There's one catch: 

Each time you get to an island, you show up empty-handed, and you have to buy and collect everything you need for your stay there. When it's time to jump onto the next island, you must pack all your things in a box, close the lid, and travel empty-handed to your next destination. 

If you ever return to this specific island again, you can have your box with your things, open it and use them again. But if you don't, that box will stay there, lid closed for eternity. 

Next island, empty pockets. Rinse and repeat as you travel through the Mediterranean. 

You do this for a while, and you'll have many things spread across many different islands. Hard to keep track of it all. 

Welcome to the Internet Archipelago

Internet: “an extensive group of online destinations”.

The internet experience is much like jumping islands in Greece without luggage. We spend our time on different internet islands; we engage, collect and create. And we leave it behind when we travel to the next island. 

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In special cases, the people governing specific islands have agreed to build bridges. Sometimes through a partnership, sometimes because one island acquires the land rights of the other (Facebook acquiring Instagram). 

Where there are bridges, we get to bring our stuff across. But for the most part, there are no bridges. 

One of the significant innovations of web3 technology is the promise of interoperability on the internet. Combined with another principle, ownership, it will enable us to travel between different internet islands with the belongings that matter to us. Bridges across all islands.

No partnerships or acquisitions are required. 

It's made possible by two technical innovations:

  • a public database of belongings (blockchain)

  • an open and agreed-upon standard to define those belongings (tokens, including NFTs)

As the world progresses towards a future where we don't have to leave our belongings behind as we venture across the internet, it opens a new space for designing immersive, adaptable consumer experiences. 

Why should it be important for me to travel around the internet with my "things"? Because I can show up as me. 

The importance of enabling users to show up as themselves and for the services and products they interact with to understand them is driven by two factors:

  • Consumers spend increasingly more time living digital lives

  • Because of that, the importance of their digital identity increase

Early innings of showing up as ourselves online

Over the past few months, several major internet products have introduced NFT support. On both Twitter and Instagram (still in beta), users can connect a wallet and bring in content they verifiably own. This concept easily translates to e-commerce experiences: 

 You can imagine entering a sporting goods store (physical store or digital) looking for new trail running shoes (because you do enjoy trail running, right?). 

If the store could see that you carry a 10K trail running race badge with you, that'll enable the store to adapt and create a better shopping experience. 

A related example: DC and Warner Bros recently launched their Bat Cowl NFT collection for Batman fans. When a customer engages with a cinema, there's value in knowing the difference between an "average customer" and a customer holding a Bat Cowl. Especially if a DC or Batman movie is playing. 

Since these digital belongings are open, accessible, and standardized, one brand or company can adapt based on items the customer picked up from a different company.

 It means that the cinema from the example above could map out how different audience segments overlap with other brands and leverage that to create optimized experiences for each customer segment: 

  •  Badges I carry from a game I play

  •  Cars from my digital car showroom

  •  Ticket stubs from a concert or another cinema

  • and so on

As our digital identity keeps increasing in importance, more users adopt the idea of "digital items representing me," more products and services will start creating these adaptable experiences. 

In turn, that means that your customers will also start expecting that from you. 

What now?

Consumers aren't going to wake up tomorrow and start expecting us to adapt and leverage the potential of interoperability (thankfully), but I do believe this is on the horizon. It's coming. 

As a brand, company, product, or service looking to engage consumers – and younger ones in particular – I would start by working on my answers to these questions: 

  • What would you need to know about your customers to adapt your product and create more meaningful and engaging interactions with them?

  • What would other companies need to know about your customers and how they engage with your product for that third party to create more value for the same, shared customer?

Answers to those questions create a great foundation to continue exploring a strategy of interoperable commerce.