The geniuses who helped design Apple’s first mouse have set their sights on blockchain and promise the internet will never be the same again

The design firm that created Apple’s first mouse has turned its considerable design prowess on the world of blockchain with a promise that the Internet won’t be the same again.

IDEO is now making investments in startups involved with what it calls the distributed web, which are projects like peer-to-peer digital cash networks, permission-less services, marketplaces, and messaging platforms. Elements of access, ownership and control can now be embedded into software applications, opening up a new world, according to a blog the company will post later on Tuesday.

It’s also set up a venture capital fund to take stakes, though the firm declined to provide more details. Already an investor in six companies, there are plans to make as many as a dozen more this year.

“We’re at that Cambrian moment,” said Joe Gerber, one of two managing directors at IDEO’s CoLab project, the center of the investing program that was set up in 2015 to explore the use cases for blockchain beyond bitcoin. “The foundational elements of the internet are being rewritten.”

IDEO will use design thinking to help startup founders and engineers make their products as intuitive as possible for the end user and by doing so help speed adoption, according to Gerber.

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He helps run the CoLab project with Ian Lee, who left Citigroup’s venture capital arm in 2017 to focus on this fulltime. His ex-Citigroup colleague, Daniel Hodd, is also part of the project. The firm is making small investments in early stage startups, though it has the flexibility to invest in later rounds if it wants.

Through their work with CoLab, Gerber and Lee quickly learned that while there are many brilliant cryptographers and engineers, they weren’t doing a lot of thinking about how real people use the products they develop, Gerber said.

“The most important thing is helping these projects and protocols that we invest in get into the world and get used by people and solve real problems,” Gerber said. “We think we’re perfectly positioned to help with that.”

IDEO’s history would suggest as much. In 1980, Steve Jobs turned to Dean Hovey, one of the founders of what would become IDEO, to come up with a mouse that cost a fraction of what Xerox’s $300 mouse cost. The solution, which cost $15, helped Jobs to revolutionize the personal computing industry. More recently, IDEO helped startup-in-residence PillPack come up with a strategy for delivering prescription medicine at home. Amazon bought the company for $1 billion last year.

Read more: JPMORGAN: Blockchain is overhyped and won’t change the world anytime soon

IDEO has already made investments in Rare Bits, a wallet for digital assets; ZeppelinOS, a developer platform for smart-contract projects; Messari, a digital library to help make sense of the cryptocurrency landscape; Handshake, a career network for college kids and recent graduates; and Freelance Labs, a marketplace for the gig economy that cuts out a middleman that can sometimes capture 30% of the economics.

They compared the current state of distributed web technologies to that of personal computing in the 1970s.

So how is this revolutionizing the Internet? The new technologies enable developers to encode elements of trust or access, incentives, ownership and governance into the software, Gerber said. Some of the questions that can now be posed and potentially answered, he said: How do you create ownership around data? How do you incentivize participation in these networks? How do you start to coordinate people using this communication technology?

One example is a marketplace. Currently, most marketplaces — Amazon, Etsy or StubHub, for example — are owned and operated by a third party that’s responsible for bringing buyers and sellers together and for dictating terms of the transactions. In return, the marketplace takes a cut of the money that changes hands.

Using the blockchain allows users to replace a lot of the services provided by the middleman and share in the cost savings, making it more like a cooperative. Users can be incentivized to come to the platform with tokens. Rules of engagement can be written into the code. And as a result, a marketplace can be created where both sides have a shared interest in seeing it succeed.

Read more: A leading investor at Barry Silbert’s bitcoin investment firm shares his top crypto trends for 2019

The IDEO execs recognize that some people may consider them crazy, especially with the current state of cryptocurrency prices and how that’s led to doubts about the industries future. That just makes this a better time to invest and develop enduring business models, they said.

“Yes, crypto is going through a winter but we think that people are overly fixated on the financial speculation and the cryptocurrency element of this and we think design and adoption will be the next phase in this technology evolution,” Gerber said.

Put another way, Lee said: “We have high conviction that what we consider distributed web technology is the next evolution of the internet.”

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