With bitcoin prices stuck in a months-long holding pattern, some cryptocurrency traders are speculating on what might be the next hot market bet: digital assets associated with visions of a decentralized Internet, referred to colloquially as Web 3.0 tokens.
Data tracked by Messari and published by Arca Chief Investment Officer Jeff Dorman shows the cryptocurrency sub-sector of “Web 3.0 tokens” gained 22% in the week ended Aug. 1, outshining bitcoin and every other sub-sector, including non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency by market value, rallied 10%.
On a year-to-date basis, tokens associated with decentralized Internet applications have seen an average 244% rise, trailing the NFT sub-sector’s 2,726% gain but beating bitcoin’s 37% appreciation.
Some of the most prominent Web 3.0 coins, such as livepeer (LPT), helium (HNT), and bittorrent (BTT), are up at least 800% this year, despite a slump in cryptocurrency markets since April, according to Messari.
“Seeing the Web 3.0 ecosystem grow exponentially since the beginning of the year and keep the majority of their gains after the capitulation even in May is very positive for the crypto market,” Nick Mancini, a research analyst for Trade The Chain, told CoinDesk. “Higher prices are directly linked to increased demand and expansion of services in each layer, and because of this, the ecosystem is able to continue its growth.”
Web 3.0 refers to a paradigm shift for the Internet run by network participants worldwide and defined by a set of open, trust-minimized and decentralized networks and protocols offering services such as computing, storage, bandwidth, finance and identity.
For instance, the Ethereum-based Livepeer protocol offers a marketplace for video infrastructure providers and streaming applications, while Filecoin and The Graph provide decentralized file storage and data management networks. Helium uses blockchains and tokens to incentivize consumers and small businesses to provide and validate wireless coverage and transfer device data over the network.
Messari’s tracker shows the Web 3.0 tokens sub-sector, which includes over 40 coins, has a total market valuation of $25 billion, excluding oracle provider Chainlink. (The oracle provider is widely associated with decentralized finance and has a market cap of $10 billion).
However, just considering prominent projects like The Graph, Filecoin, Helium and Livepeer, the market capitalization of Web 3.0 tokens tallies less than $15 billion. That’s just 2% of bitcoin’s total market capitalization of $735 billion. But it’s similar to the size of the decentralized finance (DeFi) space a year ago. Messari data shows the DeFi subsector now includes 137 assets and is worth over $50 billion.
Awaiting Mainstream Attention
While the Web 3.0 tokens have outperformed bitcoin and other major coins by a big margin this year, the sector is yet to witness the euphoria or mainstream attention that Bitcoin, Ethereum, DeFi, NFT, and even Ethereum layer 2 projects have received since October 2020.
That’s probably because the underlying technology is relatively complex.
“Web 3 is not quite as easy as DeFi is to understand, and it’s probably 12 months behind DeFi in terms of mainstream awareness,” Kyle Samani, co-founder and managing partner at Multicoin Capital, said. “We expect this to change as consumer-facing applications based on NFTs, social tokens and creator monetization grow over the next 12 months such as Audius, Mirror, and many others.”
The DeFi boom began a year ago and has remained intact to date. That sector’s market cap has grown from roughly $5 billion in early 2020 to over $50 billion at press time.
Samani is confident that Web 3.0 tokens will play catch up as DeFi sometimes gets a bad rep; however, there is no negativity associated yet with the idea of a decentralized internet. Recently, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Commissioner Dan Berkovitz said that DeFi derivatives might be illegal in the U.S.
“No one really says that The Graph, an indexing protocol for querying networks like Ethereum and Solana and IPFS, is bad, whereas a lot of people in the existing financial system say that DeFi is bad,” Samani said. “So as the awareness of Web 3 grows, it’s hard to see anything but general support and enthusiasm.”
Institutions Chip In
While mainstream adoption is still at least a year away, deep-pocketed investors are pouring money into Web 3.0 tokens. Multicoin Capital is invested in The Graph, Helium, and Livepeer, according to the official website.
Grayscale, the world’s largest digital assets manager and preferred venue for institutional investors to gain exposure to digital assets, launched a livepeer trust in March. Rayhaneh Sharif-Askary, director of investor relations at Grayscale Investments, told CoinDesk last month that investors are diversifying into Web 3.0 tokens.
“It’s diversification within the asset class, whether investors want exposure to bitcoin as a store of value, Ethereum for smart contracts,” Sharif-Askary said.
“And then the other applications beyond that are building upon those networks, and solving other real-world problems,” she said, adding that Grayscale’s Livepeer trust is structurally identical to the landmark Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) (Grayscale is a unit of Digital Currency Group, an investment holding company that is also the parent of CoinDesk.)
Livepeer’s LPT token is up 1,050% this year. The protocol’s weekly revenue surged 10-fold to over $10,000 in the February-to-June period, according to data provided by Web3Index.
Doug Petkanics, CEO and co-founder at Livepeer, told CoinDesk that online streaming is a $70 billion market and accounts for 80% of the Internet traffic today. Further, the market is set to grow from $70 billion to $250 billion in the next five years, according to analysts’ projections, Petkanics said. The prospects for The Graph, and Ocean Protocol are also looking bright, as Messari’s second quarter review said.
Aside from the strong use case, many of these Web 3.0 tokens offer attractive yields via Staked, a platform that allows investors to earn yield from staking and DeFi without taking custody of their crypto assets.
For instance, Helium’s HNT token currently offers an annualized 8.7% nominal yield, while The Graph’s GRT offers a 15% yield and LPT offers 30% returns. The high returns led to positive sentiment for these tokens, as reflected in the below sentiment chart.
“Traders have been feeling bullish in regard to them, which fuels a network effect,” Mancini said. “Traders profit and stake, and, in turn, tell others about the outsized opportunity.”
Crypto Market Is Much More Than Bitcoin
The days of investors considering crypto markets synonymous with bitcoin are passé. While bitcoin remains the top cryptocurrency by market value, the recent underperformance relative to other coins suggests investors are diving deeper into digital-asset markets to find investments with faster growth potential.
“One-week data may not mean much, but if we look over three months, six months, and 12 months, there’s a clear shift away from bitcoin into other sub-sectors, Web 3.0 being one of them,” Arca’s Jeff Dorman said in a Telegram call.
Per Arca’s research note published earlier this week, bitcoin has had “both poor up-capture and poor down-capture” this year. In plain English, bitcoin struggled to outperform other major coins during the market-wide downturn observed after mid-April but also underwhelmed as the market recovered in the past couple of weeks.
According to Dorman, the data shows that some new investors are bypassing bitcoin and ether and going directly into other industry sub-sectors. Historically, investors have used the top two coins as gateways.