So, you're new to crypto but have already heard about IC or DFINITY from some friends. You're curious to find out more and may even be interested in joining the DFINITY team or contributing to the IC community. How do you learn more about this industry, the DFINITY team, and the Internet Computer?
Here's a guide that can help you get started to grasp some basic concepts and get your hands dirty in this exciting world of Web3, metaverse, blockchain, and some of the most advanced Internet technology innovations.
Challenges of Learning Blockchain
We shall first reckon with the challenges before the deep dive. Learning about blockchain/crypto is not easy. Everyone is talking about it. Every media is tossing around buzzwords like Web3, metaverse as if the future has already arrived and you're going to miss the train. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about it with very divided views. People from different blockchain camps diss each other and everyone thinks his/her chain is the greatest.
Blockchain is a very complex subject that weaves together sophisticated concepts from economics, investment, finance, mathematics, cryptography, software, the Internet, and even sociology. There is an overwhelming amount of information available that's hard to keep up with. It's an Amazon jungle with a large variety of sub-ecosystems all vying for supremacy with their own drumbeat.
There are many notions in blockchain that are hard to fathom. For one, many are still trapped in the debate on why Bitcoin is worth so much and why it's not another Tulip Mania. Some say blockchain is a database, but some say they don't use a database anymore; some say it's a continuously growing network with smart contracts, but some say they don't see how to interact with these smart contracts. And ... why are those jpeg photos worth half a million dollars?
Also, information decays very fast in the blockchain. What you read three months ago may have already become obsolete now. The trending topics for the moment seem to be rotating at a lightning speed. Just when you think you've got a hang of something, that thing is no longer hot and something else has taken over the airwave. It's all very tiring and confusing.
How To Do Research
With all the above challenges, the below few suggestions could help you ramp up fast.
First, get on Twitter. Everyone in crypto is on Twitter. Social media networks have come and gone in the last 20 years, but Twitter has remained to be the best hub for intellectuals and KOLs in tech - it's certainly the largest. Instagram is for photo influencers. Reddit is an acquired taste with too many trolls. Facebook is for birthday reminders. Linkedin is a train wreck with few new features or improvements in the last ten years. Wechat and Weibo have a massive user base, but the cost of high-quality information discovery is too high. Most of the original content nowadays either comes from Twitter or can be easily found on Twitter. Try to read the source, not the second-hand Google-translated version.
Second, when you run into a blockchain project, always ask the question "Which blockchain is this dApp built on?". The blockchain industry consists of several major tribes - or what we call ecosystems. Every ecosystem is built around a Layer-0 or Layer-1 protocol. Each ecosystem has its own legions of crypto funds, developers, node providers, wallets, games, NFT collections, NFT marketplace, and decentralized apps (dApps). The embedded technology from the Layer-1 blockchain network dictates how the dApp shall be built, what kind of business model it may adopt, and how to do its go-to-market. When a dApp adopts an L-1 blockchain, its growth will follow the rise and fall of the ecosystem of this blockchain. Think about Game of Thrones. You don't fight for two different houses.
Third, do not make the naive assumption that Ethereum equals blockchain. Ethereum is an influential protocol that has gathered a huge amount of assets and almost all the crypto developers and OGs cut their teeth in the early days of Ethereum. However, there are many other blockchain protocols that are growing fast and chipping away at the market share of Ethereum. Bitcoin ecosystem still lords over all other blockchains, for becoming the alternative standard of the store of value. Ethereum ecosystem is the dominant force where most of the NFT series are minted. Solana, Avalanche, NEAR, Polygon, Algorand, Binance Smart Contract (BSC) follow the footstep (and to a varying degree, its code) of Ethereum and try to become a better version of it. Cardano does things in their own way, in hard mode. Polkadot and Cosmos are Layer-0 networks that try to connect multiple chains. The Internet Computer Protocol ("ICP") developed by DFINITY has expanded the boundary of the blockchain industry significantly, if not the Internet. Arweave and Filecoin are two major IPFS networks that try to do distributed storage. If you come across an L0/1 blockchain that's not from this list, it's too small to matter (critical mass is important in crypto) or too early to consider (a blockchain protocol becomes meaningful only after launching its mainnet).
Fourth, always apply the first principle by asking these two questions: 1) "Who are its customers?" and 2) "What value does it bring to its customers?". This is the only way to validate whether a blockchain protocol or the many dApps built on it can bring value to society. You will find that many blockchain protocols or dApps are created to support another protocol. In the same vein as you would try to find a natural person through layers of BVI/Cayman entities, keep tracing up the chain until the end customer becomes an average Joe in the street. Try this exercise and see how many dApps/L1 blockchains can actually bring you to a real retail customer Joe or enterprise customer Smith. If such a customer or use-case scenario cannot be found, then this dApp/blockchain is built on layers of mirage. Mirage is rampant in crypto.
Last, while it's natural to ask a few friends who seem to be closer to the crypto industry to get started, nobody is any wiser and you should do your own research (DYOR) to draw conclusions in your own method. It's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a neutral voice in this industry. People are often too knee-deep in a camp already to tell you something objective - including myself. Read the white paper, conduct due diligence on the team, and observe how they conduct themselves on Twitter. Only after you commit sufficient time and effort to do this research with brutal intellectual honesty, the path to truth or faith (always in relative terms in crypto) may then reveal itself to you.
Where to Start on Web3 and Crypto
First, start with Twitter. The following IDs will usher you into several interesting realms.
- Elon Musk The one that moves the market
- Vitalik Buterin Creator of Ethereum
- Dominic Williams Founder of DFINITY
- Lyn Alden One of the best working economists today, especially on inflation
- Matthew Ball Prolific writer on Metaverse and Gaming
- Naval Ravikant The Yoda that utters words of deep thoughts
- Balaji Srinivasan Crypto intellectual tour de force
- Wu Blockchain Crypto news from China and the world
- Odaily China Crypto News One of the few remaining crypto media outlets that still report out of China
- Chinese Crypto Twitter Hall of Famer A widely followed list of 63 prominent Chinese KOLs in crypto
Podcast provides the best fresh content on crypto. Below are my favorites. Be careful about your dosage. They can be very addictive - for sheer high-quality speakers and contents that could induce a high level of stress, anxiety, and FOMO.
- Bankless Weekly crypto news, one of the best in the business
- Techmeme Daily crypto/tech news in usually 20-minute segments
- Lex Fridman Podcast Best interviewer on technology with all-star speakers like Elon Musk, Charles Hoskinson, and Neal Stephenson
- Tim Ferriss Podcast Best interviewer in general with speakers like Jamie Foxx, Naval, Vitalik, and Nick Szabo
- Unchained Podcast by Laura Shin Twice-weekly podcast on all things crypto
Books unfortunately don't age well in crypto. By the time a book is published, most likely it's already obsolete. A few can either withstand the test of time or provide rich enough historic background that would still be helpful today.
- The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking Saifedean Ammous' seminal book on Bitcoin to answer the most frequently asked question in crypto
- The Infinite Machine: How an Army of Crypto-hackers Is Building the Next Internet with Ethereum Camila Russo's book vividly captures the early days of being wild when Ethereum was created. Fun read to understand the origin of crypto's culture and key players.
- Snow Crash Neal Stephenson's famed sci-fi novel published in 1992 introduced the concept of metaverse.
Reading whitepaper is the right way to sink into blockchain. We like it hard-core.
- Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 It's a masterpiece that should be enshrined in US Library of Congress. An uncanny amount of wisdom is condensed in this 9-pager doc.
- Ethereum Whitepaper by Vitalik Buterin in 2013 Vitalik introduced smart contract to blockchain, that forever changed the face of the Internet.
Newsletter is another good venue of good content. This is the best times for writers, people who can articulate their thoughts and build an audience with their narratives. Writing is the easiest way to establish credibility and gain respect. Most people I follow are writing on either Substack or Ghost. I used to subscribe to 20+ newsletters - I still do, but I just don't have time to read them anymore. Crypto is moving too fast. Between Twitter and Podcast, I get 90% of what I need to know.
Where to Start Researching on DFINITY and ICP
It's important to read from the right sources. DFINITY's official website is your jump-off point, where you will find all things DFINITY and IC. DFINITY's Twitter account has the latest information and official announcements. ICA Dashboard from Internet Computer Association provides real-time statistics about the Internet Computer Protocol (ICP) network. DFINITY's Developer Forum is where the engineering team of DFINITY discusses issues, bug fixes, product features with IC developers and users - this is the best place to conduct your due diligence on DFINITY.
Read up the updated IC Whitepaper here: The Internet Computer for Geeks (v1.1), which was just released on Jan 27, 2022. The previous whitepaper was written and published in 2018, way before the launch of IC mainnet ("Genesis") on May 10, 2021. A lot has changed since then. It's a 45-page pdf doc and written by some of the best cryptographers and software architects in the world.
DFINITY's channel on reddit is another great place to observe how DFINTY team engages the IC community. It speaks a lot to DFINITY's ethos, vision, and capabilities. In particular, Diego from DFINITY wrote this excellent MEGATHREAD: Technical AMAs that points to all 9 AMAs from DFINITY's R&D team during May to Aug 2021 after Genesis. Each team in the R&D organization took turns to field questions from developers. It's a fantastic learning experience.
Youtube has some very good videos on DFINITY and IC. Three series are fairly up to date and most useful. Inside DFINITY by founder Dominic Williams is a good start. Community Conversations hosted by Liz Yang is a treasure island. Coding with Kyle by Kyle Peacock teaches you how to build a site on IC.
This Medium article DFINITY in 2021: A Year of Developer and Community Growth on the Internet Computer rewinds 2021 and highlights key accomplishments in IC's ecosystem building. Another Medium article The Internet Computer Community Adopts 25 Proposals for Future Crypto Innovation indexes 25 proposals that were adopted by the IC community toward the end of 2021, each of which came with a detailed scope and technical elaboration. A technology team's capability and commitment are best validated by its ability to deliver milestones along its roadmap consistently. DFINITY has a very comprehensive and ambitious post-Genesis roadmap for 2022 and beyond. These three Medium articles collectively would give a full picture of ICP's past, present and future.
DFINITY Showcase highlights notable projects in the ecosystem of the Internet Computer. Explore true Web3 dApps in NFT, Social, Games, Metaverse, DeFi, Infrastructure, Enterprise and Productivity. Try them out yourself before drawing conclusion on what blockchain can or cannot do or publish your "first impression on Web3" article.
Besides the above sites/articles from the DFINITY team, my own Twitter ID @herbertyang is a good spot to keep track of the latest happenings and growth of DFINITY and IC ecosystem in Asia. My pinned tweet is a thread of threads that chronicle all the major events by DFINITY team or key players in the IC community. If someone would like to conduct a due diligence background check on DFINITY/IC, want to know our key activities since Genesis, find out which are the rising star projects that have the potential of becoming the next Web3 unicorn, or which crypto investors we like to partner with, this digital garden of forking paths has all the answers for a dedicated seeker.
At the time of writing this article, we don't run any social media site/group on Wechat or Weibo. If you see something in Chinese that labels itself with a prefix of "DFINITY", "Dfinity", "IC", or "ICP", keep in mind that they are NOT managed by the DFINITY team, but by independent third-party community members. Some of them have excellent contents that complement our official social media/site very well; some of them are done with poor taste that makes us cringe, if not want to send them a cease-and-desist letter right away. Don't place your blind trust in someone simply because they claim to be the "official" channel of DFINITY. There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation on Wechat and Weibo.
How to Try Out ICP
If you're a developer, start out with smartcontracts.org to download the IC SDK and go from there.
If you're not a developer but an Internet user or investor, you can start your ICP journey with this onboarding flow:
- Register an Internet Identity anchor/account at identity.ic0.app, which is created and managed by DFINITY. This is your passport to authenticate your identity in all the ICP dApps. You can do this on your iPhone or Windows phone. It's free to register an Internet Identity ("II") anchor/account. You can register as many II accounts as you like.
- Login to your NNS (Network Nervous System) account. NNS site is also created and managed by DFINITY. It's the official (hot) wallet that can manage your ICP token, transfer ICP, stake ICP, participate in the NNS governance (NNS is a DAO), and manage your canisters (in a similar fashion as you would manage your AWS dashboard). Get the Principal ID from your NNS account. This is the wallet address that can be shared publicly for you to receive ICP token. Login to NNS requires authentication by Internet Identity ("II").
- Get some ICP tokens via means that are available to you in a manner that's allowed in your local country. Once the ICP tokens are in the custodian wallet of your exchange account, transfer them to your own wallet, which is identified by the Principal ID in Step 2.
- Return to your NNS dashboard. You shall see the balance of your account has been topped up. The transfer is almost instantaneous within 1-2 seconds. No need to pay any gas fee other than the transaction fee charged by your exchange platform.
- You can do many things with NNS wallet, but not for buying NFT. You need a third-party wallet for NFT. Two wallets are most popular for ICP holders for NFT, Plug and Stoic. They are developed not by DFINITY but by independent IC developers. Sign up for both of them and transfer some ICP tokens to your new wallets.
- Explore some NFTs at Entrepot, the largest NFT marketplace for IC, a sort of Opensea for Ethereum. Buying NFT on IC is instantaneous and you pay NO gas fee. IC uses a "reverse gas model" that would give you the same user experience as traditional Internet, where the developer bears the cost of up-keeping a site and users pay no extra transaction fee like the gas fee in the Ethereum ecosystem.
- Explore a few SocialFi dApps in true Web3 fashion, DSCVR (reddit on IC), distrikt (Linkedin/Twitter on IC) and OpenChat (WhatsAp/Wechat on IC).
Desirable Qualities to Excel in DFINITY and Web3
First and foremost, you need to have a passion for technology and how it will change people's lives. Without this passion, you're just doing a job by taking orders like a bot. Many work in technology but only a small cohort of people actually think about it, talk about it, write about it and act on it, 24/7, non-stop. If you're a technology enthusiast, you will have a reputation by now and you know it.
Second, you need to have strong intellectual curiosity with an insatiable desire to keep learning and a strong ability to pick up new stuff. In crypto, nobody is an expert, and everybody is learning, all the time. The technology evolves so rapidly that the only sustainable competitive advantage in the long run for an individual or a team is how quickly it can filter the right information, unlearn what's no longer relevant, and acquire new knowledge frameworks and skills.
Third, you need to have a strong belief in decentralization and how it will transform the society for better. The core spirit of the original cypherpunk sub-culture and the present blockchain industry is about establishing trust efficiently and effectively in an increasingly decentralized world from a technological perspective (at least to me, this is agnostic to religious belief or political systems). If you can't pass this, you will have a hard time appreciating the power and beauty of blockchain, let alone Web3.
Fourth, you need to have a high level of conviction. Others could give you the spark or plant some seeds, but this conviction must be developed organically and internally. Debates among various L1 blockchains sometimes sound like religious wars. In traditional industries, you rarely see this and can sleep with comfort knowing that most industries have a legitimate reason to exist and persist. In crypto, the rise of one L1 blockchain may very well signal the demise of ALL other L1 blockchains. A lot is at stake. You must constantly challenge yourself, am I living in my own echo chamber, or is my believed network going to prevail and prosper? If you think you've got the answer, think harder and stay vigilant.
Fifth, you're an optimistic contrarian, not a cynical conventionalist. If your first question to a startup founder is, what if Tencent, Alibaba, ByteDance, or Facebook launch the same product as your startup, then you might as well stay in Big Tech and carry on with your life. Not saying you're beyond the point of salvation, but it will consume too much effort on both sides to turn you around.
Since the entire blockchain industry was created to solve the problem of trust, let's game on, carry forward that spirit, and be more tactical about how we can get to know each other more.
Creating a rapid feedback loop is a good first step. In traditional industry, a complete feedback loop between vendor and customer or between business partners is often a long and winding road. In crypto, everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly, is on full display on Twitter. You don't have to be a Twitter aficionado to signal to people what you like, what you support, and what you want. There are other ways to signal of course, but Twitter is the fastest way and the least that anyone can do.
Please refer more developers to apply for DFINITY's Developer Grants Program. As a non-profit foundation headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, we don't do revenue. We exist to promote the technology of the Internet Computer Protocol and work hard to drive mass adoption toward 35 million developers in the world (about 7 million in China alone). Everything we do is to attract more developers to use the SDK of ICP to build their next Web3 decentralized app. Many people come to me and offer intent for collaboration. This is what we want. Other things are just work-in-process or building blocks leading to this. This is the end goal.
Make warm intro for us. ICP doesn't aspire to create a better version of Bitcoin or Ethereum or AWS, it aims to reinvent the entire Internet as we know it. We need to reach out to a very broad spectrum of constituencies and audiences. I'll be hard-pressed to think of any segment that would be largely insulated from the future expansion of ICP. We can always use a warm intro to cultivate a new relationship that could help us penetrate into a new community or strike a partnership.
Last but not the least, you can also apply to DFINITY's Community Awards Program to leverage your resources and contribute to the growth of the ICP ecosystem. You don't have to be a programmer or know a line of code. You can be an artist, a community volunteer, a translation expert, an event ninja, a BD veteran, or just about any role in any capacity, small or large, public or private. You can do your day job at Company XYZ, and moonlight for IC, and receive grant awards. This Medium article by Mike Hunte of DFINITY shares helpful Tips on Writing the Best Community Awards Program Grant Application. If you end up joining DFINITY one day, you will be doing all these tasks (in turbo mode). This is a good way to size up yourself and get your hands dirty before you ape in.
hbc6w-gqaaa-aaaag-aagdq-cai on one of the 30+ subnets that are connected by Chain Key Cryptography to form an ever-expanding blockchain network that provides the storage and computing power to keep this site on. Since this is a simple single-page site with static contents whose states will not be modified by readers (you), it has only Query call, no Update call. Query call is currently not charged by the node providers (independent third-party data centers) for ICP, so my cost of maintaining this site is only for storage of the deployment files, which is about 11.5MB. Given that the storage cost on ICP is estimated to be $5 for 1GB per year at present, my cost of upkeeping this site is about $0.06/year. You can view this article/site on PC/Mac or mobile phone.
ICP is the first and so far the only blockchain protocol in the world that can host the front-end of a web application (so that users like you can interact with the smart contract behind), enable smart contract (every web application/site is created as a smart contract) and provide distributed storage and compute power (like a decentralized AWS).
This, is the future of Web3.