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Product Designers: You Are Not Late

This is my salute to a post of a similar name by Kevin Kelly.

Today, I’m reflecting on my 15 years of design and product management experience, mostly at early-stage tech startups. The product designers I admire most got their hands dirty with early Web 2.0. They ushered in a new era of apps, advertising, social, and big data. They started companies that would become modern-day juggernauts: Twitter, Instagram, Airbnb, Squarespace, Vimeo and many more.

Web 2.0 was the ultimate expression of right place, right time, right people. The right distribution ecosystems were built, like iOS and Android. The right developer tools were rapidly evolving, making experimentation fast and cheap. Startup funding was aggressive and plentiful. Billions of new consumers got their first smartphone. It was a golden era for products: user experience became very, very smooth. User attention was artfully captured, retained, and monetized.

But on Web 2.0, I can’t help but feel too late. You’re too late, too. The juggernauts have network lock-in. They make huge profits selling your social life to advertisers, then reinvesting their profits into armies of new product designers, who then invent better ways to mine your attention. If you want to disrupt this status quo, good luck. On Web 2.0, we are all too late — the successful founders have built their moats, and we are left to fight over the scraps.

Remember all that weird decentralized app stuff from 2017? It was overhyped. All the startups died, and then they called it the “Crypto Winter”. Part of the hype was about two innovations:

  1. Money that can be programmed vs. government-issued, non-programmable money.
  2. Online identities that protect users’ digital rights vs. identities that allow continuous violation of your privacy so the juggernauts can show you ads.

Which online identity would you rather use? Which money do you think internet businesses would prefer to use? It could take two years or 20 years, but one way or another, these technologies will take over everything. This is the Web 3.0 — the most important technology shift of our lifetimes. And the current product design sucks. If you are a product designer, and you understand this, your timing is profoundly perfect.

Today on Web 3.0, most of the apps are various forms of online casino — sketchy, risky, and radioactive to normal people. There have been huge investments in the underlying technology and in business models, but not in the product design. The first decentralized app to reach one million active users probably already exists; it’s just too ugly to recognize today.

I’ve spent the last two years building Web 3.0 app infrastructure. Unlike the casinos, Blockstack is focused on enabling fundamental digital rights for all internet users. We help founders compete with the juggernauts. We also have an App Mining program which pays app builders to launch Blockstack apps that solve real problems and also delight users. We are proud of these apps, but also recognize we are in a product design vacuum.

You could be one of the first product designers to get their hands dirty with Web 3.0. The designers who showed us all how decentralized products should work. Gather your developer friends, and you can build a Blockstack app in a weekend. After a few days of iteration, you can qualify for App Mining and start earning monthly payments.

The top Blockstack App Mining apps in Aug 2019

App Mining is competitive, but even a modest dose of user thinking should catapult you to the top of the rankings. Alternatively, you can offer to join an existing app team as a designer or cofounder. I started a thread on the Blockstack forum to help connect app builders with product designers. Jump in, say hi, and meet dozens of developers who are building apps and need design help.

On Web 3.0, your timing is perfect. You are not late.

*The opinions expressed here are my own and not those of Blockstack PBC.

Jeff Domke

Jeff Domke

Jeff leads product at Blockstack. Previously he was CPO and the first hire at CompStak (real estate analytics) where he helped grow the user base 125x, hire 50 team members, and raise 22M in funding. He also previously cofounded Signal (CX analytics) and (consumer messaging).