ENS - A Conversation With MattGarcia.eth

Ex ENS Vision Product Manager and Content Creator

London Kings Cross — Location Of Our Farcaster Meetup — Photo by Andrei

At a bustling Farcaster meetup in London, I had the chance to connect with Matt Garcia, a prominent figure in the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) community. As we delved into the intricacies of ENS, Matt recounted his journey from discovering ENS in its nascent stages, when it was a mere blip on the crypto radar, to becoming an influential content creator and advocate for its potential. In our conversation, we explore the evolution of ENS from a promising digital asset to a cornerstone of the Web3 ecosystem. Join us as we navigate the transformative world of decentralized domains, the challenges they face, and the boundless opportunities they present.

How did your ENS journey began?

I discovered ENS in 2021 when the community of ENS traders was so tiny you could almost count it on two hands and there was almost no action on Twitter. I immediately felt attracted to ENS because I wanted to invest in NFTs but couldn’t find any appealing projects. At the time, NFTs were the shiny new thing and were attracting a lot of capital. So I wanted a part of that nascent pie.

However, the majority of PFP projects didn’t have any fundamentals — most of them were very bad even from a purely visual point of view. I love cartoon art, anime, and all sorts of visual crafts, but time and time again I stumbled upon subpar art quickly put together by careless grifters. I love money as much as anybody else, but I also love fundamentals and truth — and I could find very little ‘truth’ in those low-quality grifter schemes.

ENS was different, an oasis for many investors who like truth and money — it had potential for profit but also fundamentals since people were already using them to send money in a much more user-friendly manner. So I soon became an investor in ENS and also a niche content-creator about it. Some of my YouTube videos and threads attracted a lot of attention, especially after the massive ENS airdrop and, even further after the Digit ENS Bull Run that I’d predicted in one of my videos. All this ENS content creation activity caught the attention of Furyan.eth and Zim.eth. At some point, I joined the ENS Vision team.

You recently left your role at ENS Vision as Product Manager. For those considering undertaking such a role please speak to that experience and what led you there.

Content creation led me there. I think content creation is the best way to make yourself noticeable in any niche. It worked for ENS, but I think the same applies to most other sectors. So initially, Vision hired me to do their marketing because what they knew about me was my ability to create engaging content. But once I was inside, they also noticed that I was good at product and usability, and that’s when I started to work on the product side of things for Vision — always in very close collaboration with Zim, the founder and product brain behind Vision.

Usability is the most neglected aspect in the majority tech startups and tech corporations. Time and again, even in products from very powerful Big Tech companies, you can encounter terrible usability experiences — and when the usability is decent, most of the time it’s just that: decent. It’s very rare to find a tech product that is outstandingly easy to use.

But when a company manages to create extreme ease of use, that almost always leads to extreme success. There are so many examples of products that dominated a market thanks to extreme ease of use: the Google search engine, the iPhone smartphone, the Netflix video-on-demand service, and lately, of course, the chatbot ChatGPT. All of them combined extreme utility with extreme usability.

When you think it’s easy enough — you’re wrong — it can be made easier. And ease of use is crucial because it increases the chances of your product’s success astronomically. Make it stupidly easy, get stupidly successful. That’s my motto.

How do you explain the significance of decentralized domain names to someone unfamiliar with the technology?

A decentralized domain is, to put it very simply, an internet name that you can own forever. Now, let’s break this down — this statement entails that:

  1. it is a name, i.e. it can be used to identify things; 

  2. it is internet-borne, i.e. those things you name have to be on the internet (e.g. it can be your username on apps and video games, it can be the name of your website, it can be the name of your wallet to receive payments easily); 

  3. it can never be taken away from you, i.e. thanks to being issued via decentralized blockchain technology, once that name is sent to you, nobody can take it away from your wallet, not even a very powerful organization or individual, unlike web2 domains.

Beyond the functions originally envisioned for ENS, what surprising use cases have emerged over the years?

As Brantly Millegan (Brantly.eth one of the two brains behind ENS and the coiner of the famous ‘your web3 identity’ phrase) often says, initially they didn’t create ENS names thinking they could be used as universal usernames. So, this is probably the most powerful and unexpected use case that has emerged.

It’s still not fully realized, of course, but we can already see this use case on many web3 dApps like Uniswap, and on marketplaces like Vision, Blur, OpenSea. On all of them, if you have a primary ENS name set, it will show as your username without you having to fill out any fields. Seamlessly.

And this use case, of ENS as a username, is even now reaching the realm of social media with Farcaster being the first marketplace in which every single username is an ENS. Either you use your primary ENS as your username there (I, for instance, am mattgarcia.eth on Farcaster), or you are given a Farcaster native name, which is also an ENS thanks to the magic of ENS subnames. How amazing is that?


As a member of the community, what major challenges have been faced? And what steps taken to ensure the system remains secure and resistant to potential abuses?

Although I occasionally participate in their forums, I am not a member of the ENS DAO. But I can tell you that even before the creation of the DAO in 2021, the protocol was already very robust at the purely technical and code level but also at the human and game-theory level. Nick.eth, the code genius behind the ENS protocol, and Brantly the everything-else genius behind it, designed one of the most celebrated protocols of web3.

For example, ENS is often criticized for renting instead of selling their domains. However, this was a very carefully considered decision to protect the namespace. If somebody loses interest in their ENS name, they are also likely not to renew it, and that name will return to the pool of names that people can register and use.

If ENS registrations were one-time purchases, every time somebody forgets about a wallet, or loses their wallet’s secret phrase, or, God forbid, if someone dies, those names would remain trapped forever in those forgotten wallets. Thanks to renting, most of them quickly return to the pool of available names, and very few names are lost forever. This is just one example of great design — the ENS protocol was very, very well thought out, especially when Brantly was still there.

With the proliferation of various ENS services, how do you differentiate ENS Vision from others? What makes it unique or superior?

Well, as you know I recently left Vision, so I don’t have as much insight anymore to talk about their current positioning. But I would say that there are only three significant marketplaces for ENS domains left and what sets Vision apart from the rest is that it is totally customized for ENS traders. In that sense, it is different from generalist marketplace competitors like OpenSea that caters to various audiences. Additionally, Vision has the quickest response to any new requests from the ENS community. For example, it’s the only marketplace that implemented a robust integration of the new ENS subdomain functionality soon after it was released by the ENS protocol.


How do you see the pricing model evolving as the demand for shorter domain names increases?

Right now, there are only three price tiers for ENS domains: $5 a year for longer domains (5 characters or longer), $160 a year for 4-character domains, and the most expensive, $640 for ultra-short 3-character domains. This was decided by the ENS protocol designers to protect the scarcity of shorter domains.

For example, there are only 17k units of 3-letter domains; if they were priced at $5 each, a couple of whales could have instantly minted them all when they were made available in 2019, which would have been bad for the ENS namespace. Due to its effectiveness in preventing short-domain concentration in a few hands, I don’t think this pricing structure is likely to change anytime soon.

What is likely to change is the introduction (or rather, the release) of 1-character and 2-character domains. As of today, the shortest domains you can register on the ENS protocol are 3-character domains. But the ENS DAO is already considering ways to release the 2-character and 1-character names. Domains like mr.eth, 1.eth, ❤️.eth, or x.eth — imagine the web3 flex of owning one of those.

But they are extremely scarce (for example, there are only 26 one-character domains using the English alphabet, or just 10 one-digit domains). So the DAO is considering several options to release them in a way that allocates them as optimally as possible.

One of these ways would be to hold a public auction. It would be great for publicity for the entire ENS protocol, as auctions where assets go for big figures can attract a lot of media attention. Another advantage is that those rare domains would go, if not to the most worthy person, at least to someone who is putting their money where their mouth is and who is unlikely to forget them tucked in a drawer if they’ve paid so much for them.

The other option the DAO is contemplating is to ‘gift’ them to organizations or projects that present plans that have public utility or that would favorably impact the ENS and web3 community. For example, .op.eth could go to Optimism, and fr.eth could go to Farcaster. Then these organizations could release subdomains to their users like papa.op.eth or papa.fr.eth, since the shorter domains are the best for serving as roots for subdomains.

In your view, what is the next big evolution for decentralized domains?

I’m a bit concerned for decentralized domains and the entire web3 industry as a whole. If you’d asked me nine months ago, I would have given a completely different answer, but the earlier-than-expected advent of advanced AI — people thought this wouldn’t happen until the 2050s — has changed the game for every economic sector, including crypto and web3.

People need to understand that crypto and web3 emerged during one of the quietest periods in tech. Crypto was born and grew from 2009 to 2022, right after all the other significant tech advancements had occurred. The personal computer, the website, electronic mail, mobile phones, smartphones, social media — all these had already made their mark before Bitcoin was born. So, in the relatively quiet decade of the 2010s, VCs and other investors had little else that was radically novel to invest in other than crypto. All the crypto bear and bull cycles occurred during that relatively uneventful decade when crypto was pretty much the only significant radical tech novelty.

All that changed in November 2022. ChatGPT ushered in the era of commercially available advanced AI. Contrary to popular belief, AI is not just another competing technology; it’s the most significant technological innovation in human history — something that completely changes the rules of the game and the very course of human history.

So in that sense, crypto and web3 need to adapt quickly to this new AI landscape, or they risk to disappear. I like to say that AI will either make or break crypto — and unfortunately this applies to decentralized domains as well.


How do you see the interplay between decentralized and traditional domains playing out in the long run?

In the best-case scenario for crypto in which web3 survives and thrives, traditional web2 domain trading could migrate to web3 to use it as their settlement layer. One of the worst aspects of web2 domaining is its painfully slow and inefficient buying and selling process. When a web2 investor discovers web3 domain investing, they’re instantly enamored with quick settlements and nearly perfect domain discoverability.

Having near-perfect information on every single domain available for sale at any given moment is virtually unheard of in the web2 domain market. There, information is fragmented across numerous marketplaces. There are no aggregator platforms like ENS Vision where you can see every domain available for sale at any given time.

The same goes for settlements. In web3, clicking the “buy” button instantly completes the transaction — zero wait time. Money goes straight into the seller’s wallet, and the domain instantly transfers to the buyer’s wallet. In web2, buying a domain involves days of waiting, and you’re left hoping the transaction doesn’t get canceled because the name had already been sold on another marketplace. The blockchain offers perfect, publicly available information in real time and for all parties, a massive advantage for web3 marketplaces.

So one of the most promising business models in my opinion, is to wrap web2 domains into web3 tokens that can be easily bought and sold on web3 marketplaces. A new company called 3DNS is already attempting this and even if they fail somebody else will do it — it’s inevitable.

What role do you envision decentralized domains playing in the broader landscape of web3 applications and decentralized web?

Decentralized domains like ENS names are a way to easily way to name all web3 resources — emphasis on “all.” We’ve already seen this in action with wallets. If a leaderboard shows that sexyfox.eth made a sale, it’s far more user-friendly and memorable than seeing that 0x28o383…3m2p1 made a sale. The same applies to smart contracts. Few people realize that you can name any Ethereum smart contract with an ENS domain. So, when you’re scanning transactions on a block explorer and see that a contract named PepeWrapper.eth was involved instead of 0x28o383…3m2p1, it’s considerably more informative and user-friendly too.

But ENS was created to name virtually anything; the above are just the initial use-cases. Think of an ENS name as an infinitely extendable hanger where you can hang any nameable blockchain resource — wallets, contracts, social media usernames, and even any new types of resources that emerge in web3. ENS has been crafted to be the universal naming system for everything in web3. Best of all, it’s completely permissionless. You don’t have to seek approval from the ENS DAO to use ENS for naming your novel web3 resource — you can go ahead and implement it yourself whenever you wish.

How do you balance the drive towards decentralization with ensuring user-friendly experiences, especially for non-tech-savvy individuals?

For now, it hasn’t been balanced at all. User-friendliness is really lacking in web3. I’d say that user unfriendliness is one of the two major crypto roadblocks, along with government hostility. But unlike government hostility, it’s within our power to fix the usability roadblock. And within this user-unfriendliness roadblock, the main contributor to the problem is how unfriendly (and unsafe) relying on secret phrases is. The secret phrase is a huge deterrent to widespread adoption. As long as it exists, mainstream crypto adoption is unlikely.

I think solutions like WorldCoin’s public-blockchain-based and privacy-preserving biometric identification are the way to go for replacing secret phrases. WorldCoin hasn’t yet applied their IDs to secret phrase replacement, but if they or someone else does, a boom in web3 adoption will be possible. Biometric access to all your assets in life is a matter of when, not if — and I’d love for that tech to be created on a web3 public-blockchain, not on some opaque web2 walled garden.


How do you view the current regulatory environment for decentralized domains, and how do you foresee it impacting the evolution of the ecosystem?

Unlike other aspects of web3, name regulation is not as critical for governments because it doesn’t directly involve money. So in that regard, I think it will face much less obstruction compared to DeFi and cryptocurrencies. The only aspect that could eventually attract more attention from regulators is that of trademarked names. If web3 domains succeed and become a significant part of social and economic life, as web2 domains did before, I could see governments trying to enforce intellectual property and trademark rights on web3 domains by forcing marketplaces and other middlemen to remove trademarked domains from their platforms or dApps. Actually, some marketplaces like OpenSea already preemptively do this to avoid potential lawsuits.

Decentralized domain names are becoming a way to create and assert digital identity. How do you envision the competition and collaboration dynamics among the different blockchain ecosystems in this space?

How the ecosystem will evolve in that regard is something nobody knows yet. On the one hand, ENS was created with the very ambitious goal of being the universal naming system for all the world’s resources, and that includes all blockchains. However, being realistic and considering the intense rivalry between blockchains, can anyone seriously believe that the Bitcoin bros will ever use .eth-ending identifiers? The same goes for the Solaneers, the Cardano boys, and so on.

Perhaps if ENS migrated to its own dedicated blockchain and issued an additional TLD that felt more chain-agnostic than .eth — something unbranded like, say, .o — then ENS could become the universal naming system for the entire web3. But as long as ENS is this Ethereum-centric, I imagine that several naming systems will have to coexist. And actually, this has disadvantages but also many advantages: competition is often a good thing for technological progress and also eliminates single points of failure.

With the potential for decentralized domains to be used as online stores, service portals, and more, do you foresee a saturation point? Or do you think the applications are as limitless as the traditional web?

I think decentralized domains, much like web3 and crypto, still need to prove their full potential before we can even begin to talk about a saturation point. Potential applications are indeed as limitless as in the traditional legacy web or more, but for now, they are mostly still experimental, tentative, or used by a very reduced minority of crypto and NFT heads.

In practice, crypto, web3, and decentralized domains haven’t shown much more than sound money as a widely-used society-changing achievement. In terms of applications that are already significantly impacting people’s lives in really large numbers across the world, sound money is still the only crypto use case that stands out.

I don’t want to belittle crypto and web3 though; as Brian Armstrong, the CEO of Coinbase, aptly puts it, if sound money were the only real use case ever to come out of crypto, that would already be a massive leap forward for society. Money that you can own permissionlessly, send instantly to the other end of the planet (also permissionlessly!), and that is as sound or sounder than gold (especially Bitcoin, and to some extent Ether as well) — that is nothing short of a monumental human achievement.

So, in that sense, decentralized domains already have one great use case in place: naming the wallets we use to store and send that glorious cryptographic sound money. But all other use cases for decentralized domains are still in the experimental or tentative phase. When crypto and web3 become more user-friendly as a space (e.g. by replacing secret phrases with something easier and safer) and when more real assets are tokenized and tradable as NFTs (e.g. video game assets of games that people really like to play, physical real estate, academic degrees, etc.), then all those decentralized domain use cases will really begin to flourish. But until then we can say that we are still early — very early.

Thanks to mattgarcia.eth (https://linktr.ee/mattgarcia) for his perspective. 
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial or investment advice. Please do your own research before making any investment decisions.

Papa is an artist, musician and writer.



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