Stop Calling Them Badges

Chance
Coinmonks

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On-chain Badges are so much more than just participation trophies.

For many people in Web3, badges are often referred to and used in conversation as signals of social recognition or participation. As tokens, whether fungible or non-fungible, badges have found their place in the market as memorabilia that an individual is expected to cherish rather than value.

Historically, badges have been little more than a way to flex one’s collection. With the extremely limited product definition and usage scope of so many already-existing solutions, the adoption of badges has plateaued as individuals and organizations struggle to adopt the far too idealistic models that have been proposed.

Today, what is so easy to call a badge, is more appropriately just a bad smart contract and, likely, feature(less) product.

Badges can be much more than meaningless memorabilia jpegs offered when one doesn’t want to offer something of value. “Jimmy, you did so well on this! Get him a badge, Nancy!” they say as they miss the single biggest operational-unlock Web3 has seen yet.

Drilled into the ground by ideas that cannot stand on their own without the marketing efforts of VCs chasing the next shiny things, the open market adoption and development of badges have been non-existent; Until Badger. (You can find detailed docs for Badger on the GitBook.)

Badges should be extremely powerful access keys driving complex and granular access policies on- and off-chain. That hasn’t been the case until now, though. You can find the full whitepaper on cosanostra at Badger: On-Chain Credentials

With the introduction of Badger, every on-chain organization and individual can enjoy the benefits of an improved badging ecosystem, on-chain access policy, and organization management tool.

To fully understand why we are redefining what a “badge” is, we will start by digging into what’s wrong with the previous implementations and what a badge isn’t followed by exploring the new capabilities of an ecosystem with available Badges.

From a world of valueless participation trophies, Badges can finally serve as powerful keys that hold power to unlock the kingdom.

Attestations

Early into the concept development of badges, many individuals coalesced on building attestation engines that allow external parties to write data on-chain that points to a specific account. For example, did you dump all of your Optimism after claiming your airdrop? Be ready to have an attestation that prevents you from getting any future airdrops.

This crude and extremely cost-heavy mechanism would enable an individual or organization to “attest” a piece of data for another account. Serving as a mechanism to write data to the chain that other ecosystem participants can verify against, the desired benefits are obvious and simple to understand. There are user-related pieces of data that individuals want to be associated with active accounts in the ecosystem.

Unfortunately, writing an efficient and scalable attestation engine has proven difficult for many of the “leading development houses.”

Using the chain as a database is not scalable.

Attempting to stuff data on-chain not only fails on every metric of scalability but, more importantly, supported coverage of the active and participant ecosystem will be <1%.

Why?

On an EVM-compatible chain, there are ~2²⁵⁶ addresses. Yet, many implementations have architected a model that writes data directly to each person, sometimes multiple pieces, rather than only writing data when the end-user requires it. This means that one is expected to move all data on-chain rather than focusing on maintaining the ability to verify against it.

There are so many addresses in existence that new addresses can be generated using 12-word seed phrases without the concern that someone will randomly be able to guess yours! Still, the choice today has been to abandon all previous wisdom of blockchain development and revert to storing raw data blocks on-chain.

Instead of a future-write system, with at-write, a system can maintain 100% coverage with minimal effort and costs that do not scale proportionally to adoption. Efficient badge systems enable this, but such a simple approach to creating something like attestations will always end up poor due to the actual misuse of the blockchain.

In reality, 99% of blockchains are designed to be used as verification engines. However, many continue to ignore that. Using a Merkle Tree, an individual could associate millions of data points with a single write-on-chain.

Yet, there has been zero thought devoted to how one builds on-chain attestations, which means inevitably, every single platform that adopts this style will either fade to nothing or reach a scale of adoption where the cost becomes too high to manage.

This also impacts the consumer behavior surrounding when and what to write as it is severely hampered due to the constant *attester* cost of what could be a value-add. The attested is the one that gets value, yet the attester is generally the one that pays, further destroying the economic value of the proposed attestation frameworks. An overall, broken system that illustrates the lack of thought and mental fortitude carried by many of our favorite wordcels.

Badges As Reputation/Resume

Reputation is almost always (unless nation-state backed) localized to your area of operation.

Even if you mint me a fancy reputation badge, there is no reason someone else in another network should, or even could, value the attribute 1:1. Reputation can only be globalized to the maximum extent it is adopted. This is true digitally but is more clearly illustrated in the real world.

For example, the best World of Warcraft players cannot just walk into JP Morgan and take the CEO position. The established reputation of every individual in every single niche is localized to the usage.

However, today the existing badge systems are proposed and designed as if localized reputation has any value globally. Not only are they built as if the WoW player could get the CEO position, but even as a testament, they would be able to do the job well!

While this comparison is a tad in the land of ad hominem, one can actively find protocols that market heavily on using badges as a professional reputation system, a mechanism in which one could complete work and receive money and a badge as “social proof.”

This way, they could do freelance work for an individual and point to an NFT that says, “Ben paid me $100.” Yet, that can be, and is, done today without needing the blockchain.

On top of that, no two strangers in society share the exact valuation criteria nor the scale at which that preference and valuation exist. The idea that reputation has global value is only possible in a world where perfect information exists. Unfortunately, that is not the case for reality.

(There is a model in which multiple networks spoke together to create a wheel-and-hub model. The existing models do not offer that either and will be something we explore in the future.)

While attempting to build an on-chain resume, many problems arise. Primarily, if tokens are not bound to an address, reputation could be transferred between two individuals.

This means that one person could do the work while another takes credit for it. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the systemic issue, the most important and pressing issue was determined to be that the tokens could be transferred. For many, the solution was to simply make tokens of attribution non-transferable.

This means that it is expected of an individual to maintain the keys of a single account — their entire life or accept the consequences when their reputation is wiped out. When an account is hacked, when a user updates their keys, or when the organization wants to update for security, that person is out of luck and has no options.

Critical to understanding, the account the badge is bound to is not what generated the value and money; it was the individual behind the account that generated the value. Yet, with soulbound data, that association is not moving, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Reputation badges designed for a global system are an objectively poor model design.

Further, the reputation of every single person is running on an active decay simply due to the natural volatility in businesses and product adoption (especially in crypto.) Speaking bluntly, very few of today’s products will have long-term economic and societal support. No usable market exists even if a good technical product could be created.

All of these downsides, all of these consequences, all of these technical incapabilities. The way to secure the future is not by living in a Black Mirror episode.

Soulbound Tokens Do Not Exist

As we dig deeper, the picture worsens. Due to the massive misdefinition of a badge, the market has walked down a rabbit hole that it now finds itself struggling to get out of.

This is largely due to the idea of a soul-bound token, one that an actor cannot transfer, and that is forever bound to them. This is a contentious conversation for some, so let us go through each piece quickly.

  • You do not have a digital soul, nor does your account. Your account can be hacked, you can change accounts, and you can have multiple accounts.
  • Locking a token on actors without the option to remove hurts good actors and increases the damage a bad actor can cause.

Critically, we are not here to discuss soulbound tokens as they objectively do not exist, are an ineffective idea, and cause more damage to adopters than benefit. All this before one even considers the aspects of

  • Scarlet lettering.
  • Majority exclusion.
  • Inescapable doxxing.
  • Identifiable voting records.
  • Eternal, family, credit scores.

Soulbound tokens are one of the worst ideas in recent web3 exploration, and because of that, each time an EIP is drafted, it is drowned in the conversation of the nuance surrounding soulbound tokens; both the good and bad.

Yet, the market remains convinced that badges are “meant” to adopt this elementary concept from an individual that does not even participate in DAOs, nor has an active place in the operating ecosystem. This is what happens when WoW players get to be JPMorgan CEOs.

One cannot get lost in the weeds while being woke. Simply, nearly the entire concept of soulbound tokens can be corrected with a few slight adjustments:

  • An individual can always forfeit any badge. No exceptions.
  • One does not have a soul or account; Badges are pseudonym tokens.

With a simple adjustment, one can secure all the intended benefits of a soulbound token while avoiding the complete prevention of progress. This simple adjustment also:

  • Removes all need for consensual minting to be in the conversation.
  • Adopts the idea that reputation is localized.

This has grown so out of control that businesses, protocols, and products have entirely marketed themselves on the creation and usage of EIPs, only to abandon them when they’ve collected upon all the available social capital. A case of woeful developers, leaders that can only sell words, and a market that is too afraid to speak up, the concept of digital identity and access continues to sit out in the cold.

Overt Paternalism with Consensual Minting

Further, new proposals are made that fail to understand how the blockchain works due to the current markets’ lack of understanding.

Many fail to do more than postulate about an idea as they shove the implications onto all adopters and end-users. Screaming, “that’s an implementation detail,” individuals with pinchings of experience hark above any individual who raises concern. *(A pitiful state of development and innovation that is likely far more illustrative of the state of the ETH community than anything else I have ever found.)*

Since soulbound tokens cannot be forfeited, there are now pushes to standardize. ‘Consensual Minting’ creates a new token type (not ERC20, ERC721, or ERC1155) and only allows individuals to claim mint. An implementation detail that can already be achieved today with nearly every existing token standard.

These EIPs have not magically discovered a way to prevent scam tokens from being sent to a wallet. Instead, they propose that the solution is to force developers to opt into a severely limiting standard. Yet again, a horrible decision that makes you question how these people manage to build any support.

Unfortunately, everyone is too scared to be critical because that’s ‘not very web3 of you.’

The inconvenient truth is that this is the state of the world. This land is led by individuals that can’t understand the concept nor the surrounding implications of the supporting code. Instead, amateur entrants to the market continue to standardize the definition of the ecosystem without even having the capacity to sit down and analyze a self-proposed solution.

Decentralized Identifiers (DiDs)

While you may have a username on a platform, generally, you cannot seamlessly acquire all the data associated with you on that platform.

This is what DiDs enable (kind of.) More concretely, this expands into having college degrees or even your driver’s license that you can digitally verify with minimal effort.

Consistently, DiD evangelists parade around the idea that an individual owns their data however, that could not be more inaccurate. An owner has a direct attribution of representation; in no shape, or form do they own their data, especially when this data is used more often as a limiter than a multiplier of access.

But they saw all the bad pieces of soulbound. They decided the best future was one where all the pain points were amplified to a million while removing a majority of the few benefits.

Generally, a DiD is a long string of encoded data sourced from a single individual. Operating with their own qualifications and sharing criteria, every data consumer must know the schema to conform to any extracted data. This is a problem that, for literally decades, has plagued the Web2 industry. DiDs did not magically solve this. Instead, many platforms just pretend that the state of things is ideal.

Realistically, this will eventually lead to creating a DiD aggregator that deals with all the headaches of schema definition but completely centralizes the interaction point for DiDs.

Worse, many of today’s DiDs are off-chain, which means, you guessed it, it’s an:

  • even more inefficient implementation of a database.
  • A step in the wrong direction as the consuming ecosystem now attempts to move us towards an invalidated life of data, the lack of verification permanence, the loss of controlled key, and so much more.
  • A non-technical solution to an entirely technical problem.

With this state of things, many are pushing a reality that will lead to extreme over-control, discrete majority adjunction, and inescapable consequences. Were you worried about the: “Facebook sells my data”? If so, prepare yourself; DiDs will bring a reality that makes Facebook look like a sweet summer child.

Regardless of one’s preference, DiDs remain solely valueless for the same reason as many other “solutions.” Today, the existing solutions rely heavily on soulbound data. Yet, we have just established that there is no such thing as a digital soul.

The proliferation of an actor-bound DiD system does little beyond hurt good actors and enable bad actors. Holistically, an objective failure at every single level.

EIP Over Saturation

Starkly, the ecosystem does not even need a new EIP for a genuine Badge system. The single thing that currently lacks an ecosystem-accepted definition is how a “locked” token is signaled. Even for locking, there are already very solid EIPs in progress, such as EIP-5633. The ecosystem is progressing; just a few individuals have amassed far too much social power and weight that they should not carry.

Still, it can often be challenging to determine noise and signal. For example, suppose you were given the task of aggregating all of the potential EIPs that detail an implementation of transfer-locking, you would end up with a result similar to

How are you to know which are good? It’s nearly impossible if you’re not a high-level Solidity developer. This confusion only makes the state of progression worse. As time unfolds and an EIP reaches the state of finality, the implementing developers inevitably realize that the EIP is unusable due to the consequences of the design implications of the EIP.

More critically, many EIPs attempt to solve the same problem because the authors do not understand the nuances of their proposal or the already existing proposals. It’s a self-feeding cycle of low-quality proposals that are often more detrimental to a concept’s progress than helpful.

Every need and desire for a functioning Badge system can be fulfilled with EIPs that already exist when combined with a modern perspective and the willingness to take a new and unique approach.

The Problem Hidden in Plain Sight

Generally, few of the things mentioned in this paper thus far have any scope beyond ‘access.’ Though obtuse, many of the proposed yet error-riddled proposals attempt to determine “who can access” with granular and consumer-defined controls.

For example, whether you have an attestation, NFT POAP badge, or DiD, they are all used to gain access somewhere else (unless it is purely memorabilia). Everything is about access, yet everyone and every existing product have been distracted by attempts to solve identity with 100 lines of code.

In reality, Badges are credentials; they are keys to the existing Web3 locks.

What A Badge Could Be

Instead of serving as a soulbound piece of memorabilia, Badges can operate as access keys that unlock the power of the Web3 ecosystem. For years, mechanisms and locks have controlled who and what can be accessed with any given account.

Even with a product like Gnosis multi-sigs, the experience is far from ideal as each action requires a concerning level of quorum that prevents any efficiency from existing within the organization’s operational environment.

Using a multi-sig adds the requirement of having multiple individuals sign, thus approving, a transaction before it can be processed to add “security” and “trust” to the operating actions of an organization. By so many, DAOs are crowned as the way to scale operational efficiency. Yet, even the simplest things require more labor, time, and consideration than traditional models. A model of quorum-driven decision-making is not scalable and results in an organization that moves at the speed of a snail.

Badges introduce a new paradigm of highly-scoped proper on-chain usage.

With the ability to seamlessly define ownership, usage, and definition of a Badge, organizations finally have all the design space that has been needed since Day 1.

Redefining On-Chain Credentials with Badger

With the introduction of Badger, permissions of individual accounts are broken into token-level control knobs. While maintaining near-complete control of the usage implementation, every on-chain organization can build the future and use cases that most fit the existing processes. Instead of requiring an entire organization restructure, Badger remains un-opinionated. The lack of opinion allows every organization to remain flexible with the operational preferences that have already been identified.

While Badger aims to serve the individuals within an organization, the design space is far broader. As Badges are built using ERC-1155s, the consuming systems can remain modular and require a balance for any consumer. With the ability to have wrapped processing and consumption of Badges, the precise implementation possibilities of the Badge framework are near-endless.

This simplicity and flexibility mean that when an individual is onboarded to an organization, instead of adding multiple multi-sigs, an individual can receive a single Badge that denotes that fair access policy in the network and general Web3 ecosystem.

The benefits of a powerful Badge system are not just limited to individuals. With the acute attention paid to avoiding opinion at the primitive level, Badger can serve contracts that unlock capabilities that have historically been extraordinarily complex or laborious. For example, it is now much easier to

  • create a granular access policy for on-chain organization operations,
  • empower contracts as on-chain action gates allowing defined consumer behaviors, and even
  • mint a set of NFTs for highly-contextual actions while maintaining the benefits of higher-level organization control.

The capabilities unlocked are dense and unexplored. With practical Badges, on-chain products can accept retroactive funding and utilize that funding to cover the end-user transactional costs. You can read one of the earliest research around the newfound capabilities in Subsidized On-Chain Public Goods.

No longer is this theoretical. The future of granular permissions is far more powerful than the market has grown to expect. Allow yourself to enjoy the benefits of a truly futuristic implementation.

Middle-Down Management

While Badger offers a significant degree of design extendability, immediately upon adoption, an organization has a strong foundation of tooling that can be relied upon. Adopting the ideals of Badger, the management of a DAO is never truly bottom-up and is, at most middle-down.

Standing in contrast to current market adoption, the usage of Badger introduces a world in which there is no such thing as bottom-up management. Even in the most effective and well-formed DAOs, there is still a small set of decision-makers and doers. Few things are bottom-up. With genuine operator experience, Badger aims to increase the efficiency of organizations that operate in this land of collective management.

  • Critically, middle-down management is the idea that a single member has administrative control and ownership of the high-level organization.
  • Top-down management is the full-scale realization of having a decentralized party that approves high-level actions of the organization.

Today, an organization owner can add Role Managers that enable the ability to have designated individuals that can manage specific Badges. However, the Role Manager cannot self-opt in, nor can a vote automatically trigger an on-chain action. To have an organization that is bottom-up, the actions must be completed without needing board-level oversight. While possible in rare idealistic situations, Badger does not currently aim to serve ineffective DAOs.

Badger is not a tool that teaches DAOs how to operate. Badger is designed to increase the effectiveness of on-chain organizations that already work on-chain while needing more granular controls.

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Chance
Coinmonks

PLEASE STOP TRYING TO HIRE ME. IF I WANT TO WORK WITH YOU, YOU WILL KNOW.