Web3 talent marketplaces want to be the next LinkedIns, but what exactly do they do?

Recruiters, the future is now. Should you care?
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Francis Scialabba

6 min read

Imagine a talent marketplace where companies can invest in candidates not only through the traditional means of payroll, but via the promise of cryptocurrency and the utopian rhetoric that often comes with it.

You might envision a platform that allows freelancers to earn crypto by completing skills assessments and inviting users to sign up. Maybe candidates mint their own tokens, which can be bought by employers, similar to securities on the New York Stock Exchange. If any of these newfangled concepts take flight, it’ll see talent marketplaces collide with Web3—a conceptual iteration of the internet that, according to proponents, aims to wrest ownership away from monopolistic tech companies and place it in the hands of users, with a sprinkling of blockchain tech and digital currencies on top.

It’s often touted by advocates as transformative, and it’s already touched HR in the form of metaverse technologies that can bring remote workers equipped with VR headsets into digital workplaces. Now, it’s gunning for users of Linkedin, Upwork, and even the archaic Craigslist job board, as a wave of upstarts attempt to reinvent freelance talent marketplaces for a new era.

“In our work society, there’s things that have been tried, and in my opinion, they didn’t work as well as they should,” Pedro Oliveira, co-founder and CEO at Talent Protocol, a Web3 talent marketplace, told HR Brew.

The crux of Web3 talent marketplaces (and Web3 in general) hinges on “building new web-enabled networks that are owned and controlled by the market participants, instead of just a couple shareholders,” Adam Jackson, co-founder of Braintrust, explained.

“Ownership” has a malleable definition, depending upon what participants decide to do on the platforms, as well as the various forms of “tokenomics” employed by each one. But leaders of some Web3 talent marketplaces see their models as capable of evolving a few traditional HR practices—namely, recruiting.

Between skeptics and technocrats poised to forge a new frontier in the talent wars, there are questions for HR to consider: Are the platforms merely adding a layer of Web3 hype on top of what LinkedIn and Upwork already offer? Or are they devising a new scheme that will alter the landscape of freelance marketplaces and their relationships with HR departments?

Recruiting revamped. In an ideal world, Web3 talent marketplaces want to eliminate the uncertainty that comes with vetting candidates.

At Outdefine, which focuses on applicants looking for Web3 jobs, applicants can complete certain skills assessments, earn credentials, and collect crypto. A list of credentials hosted on its platform should allow employers to “cut out a huge chunk of the recruiting process,” Ryan Miller, the company’s head of talent, said.

According to Fiipe Macedo, co-founder and CMO at Talent Protocol, anyone can boast about skills on LinkedIn or a résumé that they don’t actually have, but by listing accreditations on the blockchain—a digital ledger that permanently records transactions—recruiters and hiring managers can scour for talent with certainty.

“When you go to someone’s profile and you see that they’ve worked at some place or went to school, that increasingly can be instantly verifiable. Because it is on the blockchain, [it’s] verified by someone you trust,” Macedo said. Miller of Outdefine surmised that tacking certifications onto the blockchain will “save both parties a ton of time.”

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But are credentials suddenly unassailable when they’re notched on the blockchain? “When you dig into the details of how this thing works, it’s basically an Upwork clone, plus some sort of token attached to it for some unclear reason,” Stephen Diehl, a programmer, writer, and crypto critic, told HR Brew.

Diehl, for his part, noted that such verification schemes are arbitrary, and that logging a credential on a digital ledger doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. “Technology can’t verify that data is correct,” he explained. “You put garbage on the blockchain, it doesn’t somehow magically become accurate anymore than someone can simply lie on their LinkedIn.”

Crypto, for vibes? Oh yes, there are tokens involved. To incentivize use of their platforms, all three companies offer digital tokens to either client companies, freelancers, or both. For Talent Protocol, careers are “multiplayer journeys”—but not in any sense reminiscent of Fortnite.

Job-seekers mint their own tokens, which become an investment opportunity for “backers” (or what Web2 dinosaurs might call “employers” or “clients”). A freelancer’s clout rises in tandem with the number of tokens purchased by backers, increasing the value of the investment and, theoretically, a freelancer’s stature. Eventually, freelancers and employers alike will be able to sell their tokens on regular cryptocurrency exchanges at any time, Macedo added.

“If 10 people are really interested in your career and interested in supporting you, that’s more than enough” to forge a successful career path on the platform, argued Macedo.

Throwing cryptocurrency into the mix raises eyebrows for Diehl, due to the volatility that’s seen exchanges shut down and hacked. But there’s also an enduring confusion belying what utility cryptocurrencies actually have in today’s economy, he explained:

“The crypto narrative changes every six months. It was a store of value, then it was a medium of exchange, now it’s digital gold, and now it’s the new internet. Six months later, it will be something new. None of them actually make any sense,” he argued.

Despite crypto being baked into his platform’s operation, Jackson of Braintrust doesn’t foresee HR people needing to understand the ins and outs of digital currencies. Similar to previous functions of the internet, such as HTTP, he said blockchain is just another layer of infrastructure that people will ultimately snooze over. “When you use your iPhone, there’s a million protocols built in and you don’t give a shit about any of them, right?...I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask HR executives to have to understand tokenomics.”

HR folks might not have to get it, but they could be instrumental in Jackson reaching his ultimate ambitions: “Braintrust exists to do what Airbnb did, except to the talent marketplace: Create a really level, easy to understand, uniform product experience, [a] very easy way to pay and a price discovery engine.”

Whether or not companies and their HR departments see it that way will only become clear as these platforms grow.—SB

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SammBlum on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Sam for his number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.