Blockchain and cryptocurrencies have come to be viewed as great equalizers. Cryptocurrencies do away with the institutionalized financial power structures currently in place, and instead focus on providing access to services for a larger population without any barriers to entry. Similarly, companies use blockchain to create applications that bypass existing gatekeepers to provide more open and accessible services for anyone to use.

This new paradigm for design and development has led to some interesting changes in how the digital world – and several industries – handles stakeholder interactions and value transfers. One of the most significant changes is in how users can now monetize their online, and sometimes offline, presence using blockchain.

The traditional online model prioritizes the profits of companies and gatekeepers – those who control online services – over any benefits users may obtain. Whether it be from their data being used for advertising, their social networks, and even their insights, users have historically not been remunerated for their engagement. With blockchain, however, applications can offer users real incentives while striking down the existing power structures and removing intermediaries from the equation.

FINDING NEW WAYS TO MONETIZE

The status quo on the internet favors centralization. Most online activity happens around major hubs that centralize interaction, information and access. Social media, for instance, is an incredibly choice-less ecosystem, despite appearances. Users can migrate between a few similar services, but they leave value at each stop in the form of data collected and not paid for. A Facebook user’s data is worth roughly $20 on average for the company, though users don’t see a penny of that monetization.

The core issue in this matter is how centralization leads to the loss of self-agency. Users must go through gatekeepers to access a service, and those intermediaries set the rules and the costs for participation. Moreover, once information—or any item that holds value—is transferred in this way, users lose all access and monetization privileges over it. The problem goes beyond social media and even into areas like network optimization or influencer marketing, where established web properties still retain the power.

One of the ways in which blockchain works against this trend is by simply eliminating the central control element in favor of a democratic approach that reduces all nodes to the same level of importance. Information is stored across all points, and updated simultaneously across each, creating a forced transparency that makes many of the current practices in the online world moot. In addition, this decentralization means that interactions no longer require intermediaries, so users can make their own choices and retain control of their data when accessing services.

Furthermore, blockchain-based applications offer a clear and tangible way to monetize services that benefit all stakeholders. The technology’s ability to create cryptocurrencies designed for specific applications means companies can take inventive approaches towards how they incentivize users to participate and behave. This model delivers significant advantages, ensuring that all users are adding value to an ecosystem. More importantly, it means that startups can be creative when it comes to what services they monetize, and how they do it.

HOW USERS CAN PROFIT FROM THEIR OWN CONTENT

There are a surprising number of centralized industries that will be disrupted by blockchain’s inclination towards distributed profits. More surprising, however, is just how much these companies can get away with when consumers don’t expect to be paid for their contributions. For example, consider how often people take selfies without ever anticipating a return on their efforts (except for the likes from friends on social media).

By rewarding selfie-snappers for their images taken with popular products, blockchain company Selfllery is cornering the market on influencer photography in a way that benefits users and multinational companies alike. Users gravitate towards Selfllery when taking images instead of giving their “content” away for free, while advertisers can gain a more accurate picture of their target audience.

Others are giving users the ability to monetize their surplus resources. Gladius, for instance, lets individuals rent out empty bandwidth for web acceleration purposes, rewarding those that offer the best speed for websites participating in the service. Similarly, Sia offers cloud storage that is made up of the extra space users have on their computers. Individuals can monetize their empty hard drive space and be rewarded with tokens that are exchangeable for other larger coins.

Perhaps the most relevant example of an industry that successfully monetizes its unwitting users is big data. Platforms like those from the group collectively known as FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google) are free to use, only because the user-generated data is so valuable.

In response to this inequitable status quo, blockchain-based innovator Wibson has built a comprehensive, decentralized data marketplace infrastructure, designed to collect, verify and grant control of user data to those who created it. People who now have exclusive rights to their own browsing data, for example, can then turn around and sell it on Wibson’s marketplace to companies specializing in digital marketing insights. Alternatively, they can choose to keep their data to themselves to ensure greater privacy.

THE MONETIZATION WAVE IS JUST STARTING

The blockchain space has expanded tremendously within a relatively brief amount of time. The past two years alone have seen an impressive number of new enterprises born, with an average of 50 ICOs launched every month. As entrepreneurs identify areas for improvement in the current model, or opportunities to return agency to users, the blockchain ecosystem will become more vibrant, diverse and better for all stakeholders.

Users already have more freedom to take back control of their online presence and interactions. Blockchain can allow for the monetization of users’ goods and identities, democratizing the status quo and adding a layer of transparency that will break down any gatekeepers’ barriers.

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