The paradox of standardization and Innovation: how do Web3 builders balance the two?

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Original title: the paradox of standardization and innovation(The Standards Innovation ParadoxοΌ‰

Author: Michael mignano, co-founder of anchor

Compiled by: rhythmic blockbeats

Standardization is undoubtedly extremely friendly to developers and users, both in terms of development costs and adoption costs. The world of web2 is like this, and so is Web3.

EVM, a virtual machine with strong first mover advantage and the strongest consensus, has become the "standard" for decentralized application development in the Web3 industry.

In the seven years since the launch of Ethereum main network, the increasing number of solid developers has accumulated countless applications for Ethereum ecosystem, and also precipitated a large number of users. Now for developers, deploying applications in the EVM ecosystem can not only reach the largest user group, but also make perfect use of the perfect infrastructure. The most important thing is that it can be combined with thousands of EVM applications. For users, only one wallet is needed to seamlessly switch between RPC and all applications in EVM "standard".

However, EVM also limits the innovation of Web3 industry to some extent. Taking EVM contract as an example, only 16 local variables can be defined, which greatly limits the implementation of complex application logic. If you want to implement complex application logic on EVM, you need to make cross contract calls, which is not only very expensive, but also very unsafe. Of course, we have also seen the perfect implementation of defi applications on EVM, because the logic in defi applications is relatively simple, and the synchronous execution of EVM is extremely friendly to financial applications (eg. lightning loan). For other Web3 applications, perhaps they need to think about the paradox between "standardization" and "innovation". But the good news is that ALT L1, equipped with other virtual machines like wasm, is slowly rising, which gives Web3 innovators other options.

This article is from Michael mignano, co-founder of anchor, a podcast platform. It defines "standardization" and elaborates on the advantages and disadvantages of standardization and the challenges it brings to innovation. The Institute of rhythm and motion translated the full text:

Technical standards, such as podcast RSS, are necessary for the wide dissemination of emerging technologies in the information age, because only standardized technologies can be better integrated into the existing ecosystem. But everything has its two sides, and the popularity of standardization also restricts innovation to a certain extent - that is why the format of podcast has hardly changed in its 20-year development process.

The advantage of technical standards is that it can help teams save time and money and provide a common language for products in the market, so that developers do not need to establish each component in the market or redefine the communication mode between systems. For example, the team building a new email client does not need to redesign the format of email transmission between sender and recipient; Instead, they can only use SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) and focus on improving the user experience. In other words, people can directly use the standards formulated by predecessors, so as to speed up the process of product development; At the same time, compared with establishing completely proprietary products, products established according to standards tend to have stronger market adaptability.

Although standardized products can reach the audience more quickly, the cost is that the lower access threshold will flood the same category of products, leading to market differentiation and restricting the progress of innovation. I call this phenomenon "the contradiction between standards and innovation", which will be explained in detail below.


Definition of standard


In short, a standard is a specification of how a technology (hardware or software) interacts with other technologies. Standards are usually developed by the community, approved and maintained by committees, which are usually open to anyone who wants to participate. Some examples of technical standards include HTTP (for web browsing), SMTP (for e-mail transmission), RSS (for content syndication, such as blogs or podcasts), or SMS (for sending and receiving text messages).


Advantages of standardization


Let's use RSS (Really Simple Syndication) to understand what benefits the standard brings to the product team: RSS has always been the underlying technical standard of podcasts, providing a powerful distribution mechanism for creators to publish their audio through a single terminal and quickly combine these contents to other platforms. In the past 20 years, RSS has developed a common language for podcasts and their applications, which facilitates the communication between them and promotes the vigorous development of podcasts on the Internet. To publish audio through RSS, the creator (or the podcast platform on behalf of the creator) must publish podcasts in a specific format, including only the parameters defined in the standard, such as the URL link of the podcast cover, the list of episodes, and so on.

I spent a lot of time dealing with RSS. I once co founded anchor, a podcast creation platform, which was acquired by spotify in 2019. Anchor allows anyone to easily post podcasts from IOS, Android or their web browsers anywhere without professional experience or knowledge. For creators, the magic of anchor is that they can publish podcasts to all podcast listening platforms through RSS with the click of a button. Therefore, anchor has developed rapidly and finally become the largest podcast platform in the world.

RSS not only helps anchor in the development of podcast creation, but also promotes people's consumption of podcasts. Almost all podcasting applications in the world (such as apple podcast, spotify, overcast and many other applications) support podcasting under the RSS standard. The advantage of this is that if a podcast application adopts this standard, it can automatically show its users all podcasts in the world. Similar to the email example I mentioned above, this means that these applications can focus on the user experience without worrying about their platform content. This is because these contents already exist on the open Internet and can be easily accessed for users to enjoy.


Adverse effects of standardization


The use of RSS can save a lot of time and money for podcast software, so that they no longer need to redesign the flow of their content in the podcast ecosystem, which means that these applications can easily find audience groups. Therefore, since the establishment of the market about 20 years ago, there have been many podcasting software in the podcasting ecosystem. If you have ever searched podcast software in the app store or Google play store, you are likely to get a lot of search results. In some ways, this phenomenon is good for users, because it means they have more flexibility and can freely choose what products to use to listen to podcasts. But at the same time, users can only get a single experience. The reason is that, as mentioned above, the creation of standards should be based on consensus, so its underlying language will be difficult to change. Next, let's use an example in life to better understand the logical relationship.


Relationship between standards and innovation


Imagine that you and your partner are on vacation for two weeks in a country you have never been to. Because there are only two of you, you can do whatever you want in this trip without too much worry. For example, you can cancel your dinner reservation and go to a concert instead, or you can cancel your visit to the museum the next day and rent a car to travel to another city.

Now, imagine that you are not the only two people on this trip, but also your children, parents, in laws, friends, and your brother's family. Then, this will become a completely different journey, and all the journeys must be carefully planned. If you want to adjust some of the details, you need everyone to agree - which is almost impossible. In the end, although you can have an unforgettable experience with your long separated family, you will inevitably feel a little dull and boring.

Therefore, this is the same for blogs. If any design team wants to be innovative, it must persuade every stakeholder related to the standard to adopt their ideas, otherwise their creativity will also be invalid. In addition, if you persist, you will not even experience the benefits of standards. It's already very troublesome to go on vacation with friends and family. Imagine that if you have to deal with competing companies of different sizes, the difficulty will only increase - this is the contradiction of using standards for construction.


The paradox of standardization and innovation


The contradiction between standards and innovation is a problem that the team will inevitably face when building new products based on standards: on the one hand, it is a wider audience and higher product market matching, and on the other hand, it is an innovative design that deviates from market inertia and consensus standards. If a team decides to break the standard for innovation, but does not get the recognition of other stakeholders, they must bear the corresponding consequences. The more stakeholders in the ecosystem, the more people need to agree, and the more difficult it is to make changes.

Just imagine, if the team wants to build a closed-loop and proprietary system that is not based on standards, it can build everything from scratch, freely implement and adjust the technology, without being recognized by others. Of course, the disadvantage of this approach is that the development cost will be higher, and the acquisition of market positioning may also be more challenging. However, once the product finds its matching market, it can continue to accelerate the innovation process without being limited by standards.


Contradiction between standards and innovation


The contradiction between standards and innovation will force the team to make a choice: adopt standards to gain the same distribution / interoperability advantages as other existing products in the huge ecosystem (at the expense of long-term innovation), or build everything from scratch to seek higher flexibility and innovation potential (at the expense of existing audiences)?

Podcast platform and RSS standard

Before being acquired by spotify, we faced this problem in the early stage of establishing anchor. We can hardly make any innovative changes to the podcast format, because it is completely based on the RSS standard.

For example, suppose we want to open the comment area for podcasts and let these comments be displayed in the RSS feed of the program. Well, unless we can get hundreds of podcasting software to adopt this change, the audience will still not be able to participate in the comments. In this way, the Creator not only can't get any feedback, but also we don't have any chance to install this feature.

In other words, suppose we want to establish a richer and more flexible podcast analysis system to facilitate creators to better understand the effectiveness of their programs, so as to increase their income by receiving advertisements. Similarly, unless we also let other applications adopt this system, we cannot transmit data back to the platform, and we can only give up this function in the end.

In the past 20 years, the existence of RSS has made any podcast software can only be engraved according to fully solidified standards. Any team that wants to create differentiated products will end up in failure.


Communication software and SMS standard


This limitation also exists in communication software. SMS, a short message standard, was invented in the 1980s. After nearly a decade of development and the support of all important people, it finally became the first standard adopted by mobile phones and mobile phone operators in 1992, and finally became popular in 1999. After that, anyone anywhere in the world can send text messages to other mobile phones that adopt SMS standard, regardless of which supplier or device they use.

Later, someone came up with a wonderful idea to add picture function to the communication software. It would be great if you could send pictures to others. However, since SMS is an open standard, pictures cannot only be incorporated into the latest software updates. The standard itself also needs to be adjusted, and every equipment manufacturer and operator must agree to this change. Finally, SMS evolved into MMS, and then it took about a decade for MMS to finally reach scale.

IMessage is Apple's proprietary communication software, but it does not adopt the original standard. The reason why IMessage can be widely used is the credit of iPhone - to use IMessage, you must have an apple device, such as iPhone, but this is certainly a disadvantage. But if you choose apple devices, you can enjoy Apple's high-quality services. Thanks to its proprietary ecosystem, apple can continuously improve the user experience, which is beyond the reach of any communication software adopting SMS standards.


Development history of communication software


During these years, IMessage has undergone considerable changes: in the early years, it was no different from SMS; But now, its functions are very rich - read tags, photo libraries, filters, custom expressions, app stores, voice memos, and so on. The same is true of snapchat, Messenger, WhatsApp and many other such communication software, which abandon the SMS standard and gain opportunities for innovation and rapid development. But the price is that they can't interact with other software and lose a group of potential users.


Subscription platform and SMTP standard


Recently, you may have heard of a popular e-mail subscription platform, substack, where creators can independently build, store and expand their own consulting services.

The smart thing about substack is that it uses an open standard, SMTP, to easily send news messages to anyone who has an email address.

Compared with the above podcast example, any platform using RSS can immediately solve the supply problem, while substack does the opposite: it focuses on the demand side to ensure that every user can read the information content. This is a very smart strategy, which not only accelerates its development, but also attracts a large number of well-known writers and paying users.

However, although the effect of this method of using SMTP to send content to readers instantly is amazing, the cost is that as long as the e-mail complies with the SMTP standard, it can only be static. This means that substack cannot use email to deploy any dynamic functions, such as optimizing the search experience of readers in real time in the email client, opening the comment area for real-time updates, or realizing any other type of dynamic functions that can improve the user experience. Similarly, if substack wants to really implement these innovations, it needs to get the consent of most major e-mail client development teams on the Internet.

Therefore, substack recently made a clever Innovation: it launched an application to optimize the user experience in substack. The significance of this is that if substack can successfully promote this application, it can continuously improve its platform user experience without being subject to SMTP standards. However, doing so also means giving up the advantages of open standards, which they developed with at first.

In my opinion, the contradiction faced by substack is: continue to use SMTP to gain a wider audience; Or build a proprietary solution to accelerate the pace of innovation. Now the launch of its application has shown substack's attitude towards this contradiction. It is obvious that it has chosen to gradually move away from the standard.


Break the spell and have both


Although the contradiction between standards and innovation may imprison most companies that want to change, in fact, there is no way to solve this contradiction. In fact, at present, there are ways to let the team not only reap the benefits of the standard, but also creatively break through its limitations.

Make full use of existing systems

As long as time is long enough, all products adopting standards will eventually be similar. This is because the standards are deep-rooted and difficult to change, and the development of products will soon reach the upper limit. At the same time, the more products adopt standards, the greater the market inertia, and the less likely it is to change the standards. For each product, the market competition will be very fierce, and it will be difficult for them to successfully break through the differentiation strategy. Therefore, in order to make a breakthrough, these products must find vitality in a market that is not limited by standards.

Spotify's podcast business is an example. A few years ago, this streaming audio giant was just a music platform. Now it has included many other categories of audio content. Given the differences in content and experience between music and podcasts, many people hope that the company can launch an application dedicated to listening to podcasts, so as to distinguish these two types of audio content. However, if spotify does so, it will have to join the market competition of podcast platform, which is limited by RSS standard, and all products provide roughly the same functions. Therefore, once spotify moves to this market, it will be as difficult to cross the standard gap as other podcast platforms. Therefore, spotify makes full use of its existing music user group to send podcasts to hundreds of millions of users in its existing spotify application. In this way, spotify successfully broke this spell.

Provide backward compatibility

In fact, users prefer to use standard based products, because such products are not only diverse in choice, but also flexible in data transfer. Therefore, for products that want to follow the innovation route, they must retain the advantages provided by the original standards for users, otherwise they need to bear the risk of losing users and the market. To do this, products can be equipped with backward compatibility with standards. We can take a look at the practice of apple IMessage. As long as you have used IMessage, you are likely to send messages to Android users. When you send a message, the message box will turn back to the original green, because IMessage adopts the SMS standard at this time, which is convenient for you to interact with the recipient by SMS. In this way, Apple users can not only experience all the innovative functions on IMessage, but also continue to send messages to friends on Android devices.


summary


Although standards will restrict the pace of innovation to a certain extent, we cannot deny that standardization has brought many benefits to technological development. Therefore, when establishing new products based on standards, the development team should make various trade-offs and carefully consider how to deal with the relationship between standards and innovation when products go to the market in the future.


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