This past week, John McAfee announced a service to produce white papers for a fee. It remains to be seen how this service will be received; but one thing is clear. When Satoshi Nakamoto published the the historic “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” cryptocurrency was born and the world set on course to change forever. At the same time, Nakamoto built a framework for launching a cryptocurrency: the white paper.
Speed forward to today, in a world where white papers are critically important to every ICO or blockchain project with a token or coin, a white paper has a heavy influence on the success or failure of a project. It is often the first stop for people seeking to become familiar with a project and leaves a lasting impression.
The Shifting Role of the White Paper
In the beginning the cryptocurrency space was filled with almost exclusively technical people. Peer review of very technical papers was the norm. Now, the rapid inflow of investors and curious potential participants is growing exponentially. It’s important to note that this creates a disconnect between the traditional audience as it was, and the real audience of today.
So what does this all mean for ICOs — in particular, their white papers? To find out we spoke to industry insider Jena Binderup @jenabinderup. Binderup writes white papers and does marketing and sales for blockchain projects. She shared her views on the current landscape as well as what the future might hold.
“Currently white papers are in a transition phase,” she says. “They used to be pure-technical documents written by and for technical readers. The audiences are expanding. The white paper needs to serve more functions as blockchain projects are launched not only as open source test projects, but as businesses that set out with the goal to see a return of some kind.”
“Along those lines I hear often from tech experts that white papers are not really white papers, and that a technical professional must write a white paper. I’d like to clear that up first by saying I understand this frustration. What I’m seeing now is teams responding to this by creating a white paper to serve a broad audience and a ‘yellow’ paper to serve the technical readers. So the yellow paper of today is the white paper of yesterday, simply a color-name change. The focus on technology is still very much there.”
Binderup has made a career out of working with technical experts. For a solid chunk of her career, she was a technical proposal writer, working closely with engineers, attorneys, and software developers writing large business proposals in a number of industries in the public and private sectors. “I built my career working with very technical people – I specialize in that. I have found there is a strong need for that. The more technology advances, the more it’s important to bridge the gap between technical experts and the average person on the street. It takes quite a lot to get a technical message broken down to a level where the masses can understand it, and working with technical folks to bridge that gap is what I learned to do while writing proposals in technical industries like engineering and law and telecom. It may not sound similar to blockchain or platforms or crypto but the storytelling process is the same. It is nuanced, sophisticated, and complex. Those are the industries I gravitate toward.”
“I guess my brain needs to absorb a lot of information to feel satisfied,” she says. “I live for the ‘deep dive’ conversation with the brilliant mind of a technical expert — it resembles a creative flow state.”
How to Write a Great White Paper
There are no current hard and fast rules for writing white papers. But starting with a clear structure helps to round out the content, Binderup says.
“An introduction with an outline of the industry you’re entering and its current competitive landscape, backed by research. Followed by an overview of your technology solution in that industry, followed by the meat and potatoes of your paper, the details of your technology and break that down as much as possible into sections and layers and slices of information. Follow that section with the token economy, how it breaks down. Then there’s the team bio section, the roadmap, the sources cited, and appendices, disclaimers, and other assorted items your specific project might need. If you’re entering a highly regulated industry like insurance or finance or something you’ll have other relevant stuff to add, so this is a general roadmap of course. But use imagery as much as possible. Hire a graphic designer, do not skip this. Add skimmable elements, some sidebars, statistics, and include research whenever possible. Remember to cite it at the end.”
As for actually writing the thing, she says “I tell teams that a white paper looks like a document when you read one, but when you’re writing it — it’s not a document. It’s a process, an iterative draft process. Very important to remember this so you stay focused. So with that in mind a strong technical section is probably where you’ll feel most comfortable starting, so do that. Always start where you are comfortable and write that content first. After that, build out the story you’re telling — the problem your technology or platform is solving. That is something not enough teams do well, and it makes all the difference. Then, illustrate some use cases of real-world applications and provide some examples that will be accessible for anyone. And include disclaimers about your tokens. Pay a compliance attorney to review the thing. Just in case.”
If you’re working with a professional writer, she says, “do not hire a content writer or web writer from an online jobs board. Content writers and web writers won’t give you the quality. Technical writers can handle the complexity, but ask for samples there too. Sometimes they are too technical and the end result will be flat. You need a dynamic document that has layered communication for technical people as well as the complete man on the street. I know that seems difficult. It is. Work with someone who can handle it. Or accept that you’ll be writing 2 papers. I get a lot of requests from people saying, ‘I hired a white paper writer and paid them $X but the result was terrible, can you rewrite it?’ I say can you send me the draft the white paper writer gave you? Because maybe we can salvage some of it. And then they’ll say no, we have to start over because none of the original is salvageable. That tells me they hired a web content writer who maybe wrote an article or e-book about blockchain once. Teams need to vet better, not cheaper.”
The flip side, she says, are the expensive scammers.
“Don’t pay the most expensive fee you can imagine either. There are some high profile, high-fee writers out there plagiarizing papers. I know it seems crazy, but it is happening.”
White Papers and the Future Regulatory Landscape
Currently, projects enjoy low barriers to entry when starting a blockchain company. Some ICOs get by with just bare-bones attorney fees, a templated website and a mostly-plagiarized white paper.
That’s worked in the short term, but moving forward a strong white paper will be critical, particularly with increased regulatory requirements on the horizon. It’s easy to draw parallels between SEC prospectus documents and how they may influence the requirements in white papers. Blue Sky laws and other considerations may have to be clearly accounted for and discussed.
“There are often a number of boxes to check when writing a great white paper, and there is some possibility that one of those boxes will soon be meeting compliance requirements of regulatory bodies,” she says. “I may be overthinking it, but I come from the background I come from, these highly regulated industries and lots of paperwork all the time, so I think about such things when I’m constructing papers these days in an industry that is bound to face the same.”
Will a white paper written today hold up to the rigors of regulatory scrutiny in the future? That’s a hard question to answer, she says, “but a cheap white paper slapped together in a hurry from a content mill is going to have a bad time and the project’s existence could be affected by that. If we’re talking about some of these ICOs being grandfathered in on old regulations, that may happen, but if you’re ever required to submit your founding document to some review board, you want to make sure it’s something you are proud of and that represents your tech.”
There are currently over 1,300 coins in existence. Many of these projects were simply slapped together as shameful money grabs. Even Bitconnect had a white paper. This puts blockchain projects at a unique crossroads – if they act quickly, there is the potential that blockchain projects can be “grandfathered in” on future regulations. There are fees and likely other governmental costs these projects can avoid if they get a white paper produced and project off the ground before regulations are officially passed.
On one hand there is incentive to hurry up and produce projects and white papers. On the other, this could cause major headaches down the road if white papers are not created in a thoughtful and strategic manner.
If blockchain projects are relatively cheap to get off the ground and one of the only costs is the white paper, Binderup says, “invest time and resources into a quality document. Complex technical concepts deserve excellent storylines. Get the message of your project out to the market. Convey your vision and objectives in an enticing way.”
In December, Binderup was interviewed about white papers on Chris DeRose’s Bitcoin Uncensored show on YouTube. On Feb. 17, Binderup is scheduled to speak at the Bitcoin Superconference in Dallas on behalf of her client Blocksafe, a network service provider providing access to a blockchain-based system for managing data in connection with enhanced-defense technologies. She serves as an advisor to the Thought network platform and offers writing services to many other platforms and ICOs in the blockchain space.
The increasingly competitive nature of blockchain projects will fuel the already hyperactive ICO space. With hundreds of projects competing for investor dollars, projects must focus on solid ways to stand out from the crowd. Investors are looking for things to qualify and disqualify investments for their consideration. One of the fastest ways to be disqualified for consideration from an investor’s consideration is to have a weak, copied or lacking white paper.
To contact Jena find her on twitter @jenabinderup and check out her tips for a white paper. For more cryptocurrency information and news, check out www.fortuneinsider.com or reach out to me @forkedblock
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