The Blockchain revolution started with a little white-paper in 2010. Since then, key ideas have been primarily expressed in this academic format. If you want to understand crypto technology, crypto economics as a developer, investor or enthusiast, you need to be able to effectively prioritize and read white-papers.
I have recently developed an approach to reading white-papers, driven by the latest thinking on effective learning, and want to share it in this note.
There are currently 1855 cryptocurrencies listed on CoinMarketCap. A significant proportion of those have white-papers. Combined with white-papers for off-chain proposals like ZeppelinOS and Layer 2+ solutions, there is simply too much to consume.
The consensus in the research community is that choosing which papers to read is much more important than how quickly and effectively you read them, so we will start there.
How to find good papers
- Follow the Lindy effect. Old papers that are still relevant are more likely to be relevant tomorrow. I recommend starting with all the white-papers listed in the Crypto Canon.
- Next, focus on your field of interest. Only a couple of years ago, the crypto space was so small that one could follow everything. That's simply not true anymore. I have to remind myself that the most visible people in this space are crypto investors that need to have broad exposure to ideas, but I don't.
- Don't follow citations. A relevance-based ordering in crypto doesn't lead to the best papers as it is focused on the research and scalability side of blockchains rather than protocol innovation.
- Follow recent conferences and tweets of some of the most influential people in crypto. Follow good technical podcasts like Epicenter and ZeroKnowledge.
- Look for papers written by influential and productive teams. Are these white-papers foundational like the Ethereum white-paper? Are they written by productive and well-connected teams like the 0x white-paper? These papers are more likely to combine novel ideas with tangible potential.
How to read papers?
- Don't start by reading the paper. Start by reading the Messari token profile or watching a video presentation by the authors. Some papers may also have simplified versions. Only move on once you grasp the core concepts though a more concise medium.
- Use incremental reading throughout the whole process. This is a bleeding edge approach to knowledge retention in reading, but one that’s seems extremely promising.
- Read the abstract, the conclusions and study the key figures. Proceed to skim through the paper in increasing resolution until you cover all the parts of interest.
- Don't hesitate to pose clarifying questions to the white-paper's authors. The best place to do this is in their public Telegram group or over Twitter where the author will get more leverage from helping you.
- Finally, follow the references to find other interesting white-papers and repeat. As mentioned above, this is less effective in crypto, but still a useful practice.