Like many media outlets in the Web 2.0 era, we at CoinDesk are exploring new ways to engage our audience directly, without the intermediation of the giant internet platforms that dominate the digital economy. 

So begins the journey of $DESK in beta at this year’s Consensus by CoinDesk conference, where those attending can earn special reward tokens and redeem them for items and experiences. 

(You can read about the mechanics of $DESK at its application site. Please note that only Consensus attendees earmarked to receive rewards will initially be eligible to claim tokens. This article is more about the “why” than the “how.”) 

This beta test of $DESK (long facetiously rumored to be in the works) is narrowly focused on the event environment. With the help of our partners at Unifty.io and Torus, we’re endeavoring to foster a carnival-like experience with two goals in mind: 1) to get attendees’ hands on crypto, many for the first time, and 2) to reward them for participating in the event’s various offerings, enhancing the overall sense of audience engagement.

With the various incentives we’ve created, we hope to glean valuable information from this closed-loop, beta-test environment, discovering what things and experiences people value at an event like Consensus while also figuring out what they’re willing to do to get their hands on them. 

Read more: $DESK: Your Questions Answered

How does the $DESK economy work? 

Well, attendees earn $DESK by completing various tasks at Consensus such as buying a ticket, watching sessions or attending networking functions. Then, on the spending side – following a model that, let’s face it, is not unlike that of Chuck E. Cheese restaurants – attendees can redeem their hard-earned $DESK for goodies in our NFT marketplace.

These include sponsor swag, tokenized versions of CoinDesk articles covering seminal moments in crypto history, experiences with speakers and even two large Papa John’s pepperoni pizzas delivered straight to your home (a nod to another important moment in crypto history).

Why $DESK?

If you’ve attended Consensus in previous years, you may recall how we distributed digital wallets to attendees pre-loaded with NFT sponsor swag. While many people warmed to the concept, we found that engagement was limited.

We hypothesize there were two reasons for this. 

The first is that swag distribution was too random. Giveaways weren’t aligned with attendees’ interests. (I remember giddily opening my first wallet to find a tokenized edition of a 35-page money transmission licensing memo from some law firm. With all due respect to our lawyer friends out there, this was not exactly something I was excited to read.) 

$DESK seeks to rectify this by pooling all swag into a marketplace with varying prices and degrees of scarcity, and then letting attendees purchase the items they want with the rewards they earn.

The second reason for limited engagement with past Consensus wallets was the transaction was unidirectional. You turned up, you got a wallet with swag. You didn’t have to do anything. There was no way to earn more goodies. There was no gamification, no competition. 

Read more: What is the ERC-20 Ethereum Token Standard?

Now, in using $DESK to incentivize people to partake of the many event offerings and to engage directly with each other in fun, interactive ways, we hope to enhance the overall experience, bolstering the event’s appeal as a vibrant, participatory affair. In some respects we see $DESK as a tool for building a Consensus community. 

Some of the drivers behind the project stem from necessity. After the coronavirus pandemic forced us to launch Consensus: Distributed last year as our first fully virtual, full-scale event, we realized we had to be inventive if we were to make the experience more interesting and engaging for our audience, speakers and sponsors. How could we get people to do things?

We realized that with any virtual experience, including Consensus, you’re not fully there. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re watching a Zoom webinar. And when the tickets are either free or priced at levels well below those of in-person events, the motivation to stick it out through all the sessions is low. If you’re not there among the masses, you don’t feel as compelled to get out and meet people or to build your knowledge. 

We have an incredibly robust agenda this year with nuanced content, but we know that as organizers we are competing for your attention with everything else that’s happening on the internet at that time. Now, with $DESK, we can offer you a little something extra in return for that valuable attention. 

Consensus by CoinDesk conference attendees can earn $DESK reward tokens and redeem them for items and experiences.

Easy on-ramp

We’ve designed $DESK to be an easy, safe and fun way for people to use crypto. Many Consensus attendees are new to the industry and have never created a wallet or bought or sold anything in crypto. $DESK offers a risk-free, easy way to do so, without the real-life danger of forever losing your keys or wallet. You don’t even have to worry about the on-chain gas fees typically required to execute smart contracts (all transactions will be conducted cost-free on Rinkeby, an Ethereum testnet, or proving ground for software experiments). 

The hardest part about crypto is going from 0 to 1 – from not owning any to owning some. So we’ve tried to make that first step as easy as possible. If this effort helps new people come on board, to create a wallet or to buy a non-fungible token for the first time, that will be a huge win. 

We also wanted to borrow from one of the crypto industry’s real innovations: the airdrop, deploying a loyalty-driver model such as the one Uniswap distributed to its users in September 2020. In a similar vein, we’re distributing $DESK to all previous Consensus attendees as a way of saying thank you. 

In all, $DESK is about being on-brand with what the industry is doing and about innovating our core product. We think we can be an industry leader, making virtual events more interesting for attendees. As the first, real, event-focused reward token, $DESK has the potential, we believe, to overhaul a business model that has been pretty static for years. Gamifying the experience with cryptocurrency rewards could fundamentally transform how the events business operates. 

Eventually, we believe every event will have something like this. We want to be the first to do it.

After Consensus

What happens to $DESK after the conference? We’re still figuring that out, but we have some big ideas on how to incorporate the token across our entire media ecosystem. Members of the CoinDesk community could perhaps earn $DESK via different interactions with the platform, such as reading articles (as our friends at Decrypt have done), completing educational courses, signing up for newsletters or watching videos. 

We’ll roll out the $DESK roadmap in the coming weeks and months. We’re excited to see how this experiment proceeds. 

Can $DESK be a tool to reinvent both events and media? Can we use it to take on the Web 2.0 titans, to forge a new Web 3.0 business model based on direct publisher-to-audience engagement and community building? We’ll see. The answer to those questions will, in part, be determined by how much readers like you engage with the product at Consensus 2021. 

Consensus by CoinDesk is our big-tent virtual experience May 24-27. Register here.

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Disclosure
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.