Web3 has created a movement to fundamentally change how we interact with each other in the digital world. Soulbound tokens (SBTs) are the latest emerging use case for blockchain technology looking to support an interoperable digital identity. With SBTs, alongside their applications and infrastructure, it becomes possible to create socially verifiable reputations and a more pluralist digital world of increasing returns.
What Are Soulbound Tokens (SBTs)?
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin first conceptualized SBTs in a co-authored paper titled “Decentralized Society: Finding Web3’s Soul.” The piece described soulbound tokens (SBTs) as non-transferable NFTs that can represent a social identity and experiences in a decentralized society.
In the world of Web3, participants have accounts, or wallets, that hold many SBTs corresponding to a series of affiliations, membership and credentials. The SBTs can be self-certified, and describe something about personal profile and interest. They can also be issued by other accounts that attest to the social relations of the participant.
In other words, an account holds the extended social existence described by the SBTs.
Though its proponents are still refining the concept and use cases, the paper highlights how soulbound tokens could be pivotal in creating a decentralized society. But while the existence of SBTs can create a social framework, there still needs to be a way to create the connectedness of SBTs through relationships.
Semantic SBTs explained
SBTs are variants of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. The current NFT issuing practice is to write the tokenID, name and URI only in metadata. The URI usually points to somewhere on a centralized server like AWS. Although the data is open, machine reading of the data causes high friction. The friction is even worse if we try to build something that requires more intelligence. Not to mention that centralized storage is in contradiction to data sovereignty. Numerous tokens would become meaningless once the server is down.
A more decentralized way to generate SBTs would be to write their meaning in the metadata. We call SBTs with meanings written in metadata “semantic SBTs.” The open availability of semantic meaning within SBTs makes the reading of the meaning independent of any servers. And if we want to make it easier for the developers, we can write the meaning in a structured format like the Resource Description Framework (RDF), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standard.
For example, if an SBT represented someone who was a member of a DAO, when you read the on-chain data, you’d only know the account was holding an SBT, that’s all. But if we added the semantic meaning in metadata and followed the RDF format, the machine could easily know the account was a member of a DAO. And this is a directed graph link, connecting the account and the DAO.
There is no doubt about the wealth and depth of the intelligence data that can be mined from on-chain behaviors and relationships. Semantic SBTs create data resources that are easier to mine. As more people create their data in this format, the data web can increase returns that benefit the whole society.
Co-created social graph and linked data layer
The core principles of Web3 are centered around the wallets holding tokens.
Imagine a world where the on-chain behaviors can be recorded by semantic SBTs. You could have many SBTs like:
- Attended an event, claimed the Proof of Attendance SBT
- Completed a course, claimed the Proof of Skillset SBT
- Joined a program, claimed the Proof of Fellowship SBT
It can also be as simple as self-certifying something about your account, like minting a Proof of Interest SBT with the metadata “I love soccer games!”
Semantic SBTs, each describing a statement of self-profile or social relations, can be associated to unfold the social existence and image of the soul.
The more promising point is, with each semantic SBT describing a short statement of social relations between two accounts, pointing from one to another, the semantic SBT in fact models the pairwise relation between two objectives and forms a directed graph link. It’s theoretically the optimal way to map social relationships in a network of accounts with attributes. With numerous semantic SBTs held by an ocean of wallets, the decentralized society is really just a gigantic social graph!
With this scale and power, this graph theory could facilitate many functions in our Web3 life:
- Recommend connections and interests in dapps.
- Detect the intersectional soulbound clusters.
- Simplify the understanding of large amounts of data, trends and relationships by business.
- Identify the coordinated strategic behavior such as sybil attacks.
With semantic soulbound tokens, the building of reputation and trust will be easier with the bottom-up approach of self-issuance and peer attestation. Souls with more proof of something SBTs and more reputable SBTs will be more rewarding in many cases. Protocols that attest SBTs within their communities will find themselves benefitting from the co-created reputation and trust of the community.
The social graph fits the connectedness of semantic SBTs nicely, and it brings the perfect fit of a linked data layer. Consider each account is a data source that holds many semantic SBTs; each semantic SBT describes the relationship meaning in standard format and points to another data source. Semantic SBTs’ essentially make Ethereum a linked data web!
Data query can be done by protocols with standard language to get the return in seconds. When souls travel across communities, the data held by them can be easily shared and reused with minimal friction. The co-created linked data layer is a public good, with network effects and increasing returns that benefit every corner of the Ethereum Identity Ecosystem.
The beauty of semantic SBTs is about to get off the ground and open a wider door to Ethereum, one that is collaborative, semantically rich and not just about finance. Relation, a data value explorer based on Web3 Social Graph, is setting out to create the infrastructure necessary to define and encode social relationships among semantic SBTs.
Encoding social relations
Relation is a decentralized social graph infrastructure that empowers people and communities to co-build reputation and a better society in Web3 with semantic SBTs and linked relationship data. Relation is building an open semantic-SBT minting tool for everyone to mint SBTs and build their brands, while co-creating the decentralized social graph. The open and permissionless model is easy to use, letting individuals and brands start minting SBTs in minutes.
To make self-described profiles actionable, Relation is encoding social relationships through semantic SBTs. Through the addition of directed graph data that is machine readable, Relation Labs’s low-friction infrastructure provides an environment where data can be smoothly shared and reused across applications and communities with the W3C standard Resource Description Framework (RDF) to describe relationships within SBT metadata.
Beyond providing machine-readable relationships within SBT metadata, this also allows for a more human way of interacting with a decentralized society. Specifically, self-described relationships can let you:
- Make relationships both public and private;
- Revoke or burn certain relationships; and
- Allow relationships to expire.
Though we assumed the SBTs would be publicly visible for simplicity, privacy is still the issue we have deep interest in. Private SBTs are necessary to protect private information and avoid social control. Fortunately, we can deal with over-sharing by storing the hash of the data on-chain and keeping the data off-chain in decentralized storage like Arweave, and control the access by connecting applications to on-chain credentials, like the token gated spaces. ZK proofs are also a powerful way to partially reveal data and compute over SBTs.
In a truly decentralized approach to SBT infrastructure, Relation is ensuring that web3 social is accessible to everyone, reducing the barriers to entry and assisting in the development of more inclusive relationships.
Relation’s semantic SBT infrastructure can be applied to multiple use cases, including SoulDrops for both Communities and Souls. SoulDrops are essentially airdrops that are targeted for specific SBT holders. For Souls, this is an opportunity to collect as many SBTs as they can from events, organizations or memberships, to strengthen their digital identity with reputation.
For communities, SoulDrops present a “proof-of-things” solution that can be designed to make the airdrop based on what matters, like mitigating one user using multiple attacks (“sybil attacks”). When communities would like to make token airdrops to a certain intersection of souls or believe some SBTs are more trustworthy, the weighted direct graph can help to convene the souls and assign weight to the SBTs to make an effective token airdrop.
Most importantly, the infrastructure being created today for semantic SBTs is helping reduce the need for intermediaries and creating a clear path toward a decentralized society. As the need for a strong on-chain social existence continues to grow, projects like Relation Labs are creating a social system for creating, maintaining and encoding social relationships that are efficiently stored, and bootstrapping the technical layer of a unified and social composable, semantic data layer natively on Ethereum. The collaborative linked data layer generated by semantic SBTs makes Ethereum a better and equal virtual society for all.
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. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.