Hey t2! I'm currently writing a long series of posts on web3 social. I'd love to make it as collaborative as possible and involve the smart minds of the space including the t2 community and team. I also wanted to find an occasion to test out t2. What follows is the draft I'll finalize and share on Mirror next week. This is the first chapter in a 6 chapters series. Any feedback on the general structure, writing and content is deeply appreciated and valued!
What’s ‘web3 social’? How do web3 social apps differ from web2? Are the early promises of decentralization, ownership and trustlesness on track or are they breaking under the numerous trade offs that come with building complex tech? What’s changing for users, creators and their communities?
Those are some of the questions we’ll explore together in this series on web3 social. In today’s chapter: “defining web3 social”, which i used myself as a way to catch up on the ecosystem, we’ll:
- map the current web3 social landscape and define what web3 social means as I understand it today - scoping projects
- Introduce some of the main stakeholders involved - scoping web3 social personas
- Highlight the main narratives pushing web3 social - scoping web3 social culture
This series’ backstory
After a year spent working on a mental health project I came back to focusing fully on web3 to work as an independant and creator.
As I was hunting for cool new clients a good friend introduced me to Hadrien, founder and CEO at Sismo, a (Paris based!) company applying ZKP for privacy and data aggreagation.
My best case scenario was to assist Sismo with growth and marketing, but what emerged was a much better deal. Hadrien proposed sponsor me to write an educational series on web3 social. As someone who loves to write and tell stories it was a clear yes, I couldn’t have found an opportunity like this even if i had tried.
So here I am, diving deep into web3 social and trying to pull the work of many smart builders into a few digestible pieces.
This chapter inspires from at least the following builders and thinkers: Nir from Yup.io, Dan and Varun from Farcaster, Bradley from Lens, Jacob from Zora, Raz & Reka from Guild, Jakub from SGV, Peter from 1kx, Diana from Rehash and [finish list].
1. Scoping web3 social projects
The State of Web3 Social v0, June 2023 Mapping
I thought that a good old mapping of the state of web3 social would be entertaining to start with.
The plan is to upgrade and revise this mapping and corresponding database over the next few months as we explore the space in more detail.
Please DM me on Twitter/Lens/TG to update this mapping.
Let’s quickly define each category of this State of web3 social (v0).
I’ve observed that challenges and opportunities differ depending on where you are in the stack. Whether that’s monetization opportunities, decentralization constraints, go-to market and so on
Protocols are made of concepts and rules coded as smart contracts that run on blockchains like Ethereum. They empower developers with essential web3 social building blocks: posting, commenting, following, messaging and more.
XMTP is an example of a web3 protocol that solves the messaging building block with a maximally decentralized approach. Web3 social seems to be pretty early and some key protocols are still in early phases of development.
Protocols are used by developers and optimize for ease of use by them. We’ll see that it seems important for protocols to be decentralized in order to remain relevant to other pieces of the stack.
[add image of protocol layer]
The data layer are all the tools that enable for a safer, smoother, richer experience of web3 social applications through the creation and manipulation of user data. This includes the creation of a dencentralized identity, name and avatar, profile, txn history, data privacy & selective information sharing and providing access to various digital social spaces.
One of the promises of web3 is that this data should be fully owned by users. This implies that data should be accessible, portable and private. Again there are a lot of remaining challenges at this layer.
POAP is an example of data layer project which helps users enrich their identity and unlock a range of new experiences with their POAPs.
[add image of data layer]
Clients & apps layer
The user facing interfaces and experiences built on top of web3 social protocols. They leverage the breadth of tools available at the data layer to elaborate valuable and novel use cases for end users like collectors, creators and regular consumers.
My first idea was to segment apps according to their focus on different web3 social personas of collector, curator and creator. I eventually went for a simple categorization of apps according to their main function. What’s interesting is that the newest experiences don’t fall in any of these categories.
An example at the clients and apps layer is PartyBid which enables people to easily purcase things together with crypto through a truly novel experience.
[add image of app layer]
Defined as the technology primitives without which protocols, tools and apps would break. Some examples are ERC 721/1155/6551 standards around which so many projects are designed.
In this category I also want to include key enablers like the ability to build multiple clients on top of web3 social protocols.
Defining web3 social
Now that we’ve quickly segmented the space let’s define the criteria that projects have to meet in order to be part of our mapping; i.e. what does it mean to be a ‘web3 social’ protocol or app?
Through conversations with Hadrien and other builders at all layers of the stack It became apparent that the answer is nuanced. Some builders, mostly at the protocol and data layer, value strong decetentralization and privacy while others who are building or investing at the app layer are open to more compromise and mostly focused on finding novel social primitives and experiences.
“There is a spectrum as to how open it is, how censorship resistant, how privacy preserving, do you own your data? Having no centralised party control it is the main thing.” - Nir CEO @ Yup.io x Chase Chapman - The Otherside Pod
I came up with two different definitions or degrees of web3ness in order to frame this spectrum from loose ‘web3ness’ to ‘tight web3ness’, roughly represented by the illustration below.
Web3 social - the tight definition
The tight definition is a theoretical ideal for what web3 protocols could enable.
- high censorship resistance,
- code is fully open,
- developers can’t be rugged (cf. recent Reddit revolt),
- data is owned by the user, portable and private,
- multiple high quality clients can be used,
- offers direct and trustless monetization tools,
- optimizes for interoperability with other apps and protocols,
- Enables novel social experiences through the use of web3 native primitives.
Let me know if you can think of any project that satisfies all of these today because I can’t. Instead most projects choose to prioritize a few qualities first depending on what their use persona values.
The loose definition - much more nuanced
This need to prioritize is represented in the loose definition and terms like ‘sufficient decentralization’.
“A social network achieves sufficient decentralization if two users can find each other and communicate, even if the rest of the network wants to prevent it. […] Some believe that decentralization requires the entire social network to be on a blockchain. This is unnecessary and even undesirable.” - Varun Srinivasan, Co-foundar @ Farcaster
In Farcaster’s case part of the unessential features can be centralized like notifications. But centralizing the posting and reading of Casts, Farcaster’s version of tweets, as well as the namespace would make Farcaster undifferentiated from web2 social media.
“the trade offs come constantly, and its because we care deeply about decentralziation as a pillar, security as a pillar, privacy as a pillar, as well as how we want to approach the developer community. We want to build this out as a protocol for this to work well. It can’t be a widget or a centralized entity.” Matt Gallagan, XMTP founder - Web3 Talks Podcast
So when it comes to the fundamental building blocks of web3 social they need to be trustless and credibly neutral. Developers need to be certain that they have control and predictibility over the primitives they’re using as building blocks for their apps.
Moreover rigorous decentralization at lower levels of the stack is essential for the apps and clients to be sufficiently decentralized too. Lenster for example is social media client that is reliant on many pieces of infrastructure including:
- Lens protocol for follows, posting, reposting, collecting
- and XMTP for messaging
If any of these were compromised, part of the Lenster app would be at least partly compromised.
Following this logic It is also healthy if applications leverage multiple different micro-protocols for each feature or services so that when one of them breaks it is not the entire app that breaks. Over time only the most resilient protocols would survive by law of survival for the fittest.
In sum what makes web3 stand out is that it runs on a set of decentralized building blocks represented as the protocol and data layers. At the app layer there is more room for compromises.
Web3 social app builder are more concerned with creating novel experiences and social media primitives. Assuming decentralization is good at lower levels of the stack what matters most at the app layer is that users own their data while keeping them private and have optionality to switch clients.
Builders at this level of the stack have more flexibility to centralize part of the experience. That’s especially true for apps today as much of the web3 social infrastructure isn’t mature enough to support consumer use cases.
Friend.tech for example is building its upcoming social token products linking accounts to twitter accounts, not Ethereum addresses or ENS names. This might be for practical matters, Twitter is has much wider distribution as they experiment with their product.
TLDR; as a builder the qualities to optimize for at the project level -open data, privacy, decentralization and so on- seem to depend on two correlated things:
- where projects are in the overall web3 social stack.
- who is the user persona for the product or protocol
2. Establishing web3 social personas
From web2 to web3 social
There are some important tectonic shifts with web3 social when it comes to user personas.
In my current view, the following are the first order effects of web3 social:
- the rise of collectors as central players. Web 2.5 was about patrons and this transformation is fully achieved in web3
- Developers can leverage and entire stack to build quickly
- the renewed importance of curators
- Creators can now own their audiences and monetize directly
And a few significant second order effects:
- the formation of gated communities that have significant resources and are independent from social media platforms and the importance of community creators
- The role of passive consumers of content is of a lesser importance because they have less relative economic power?
- Moderators and administratiors will grow equally. We’re already seeing this in Discord communities.
- Scammers and bots are widespread until they’re mitigated with sybil resistance and AI
Web3 social stakeholder personas table
3. Exploring web3 social culture (WIP)
Understanding culture is just as important as building good tech especially at the app layer. Let’s explore the main themes and some general aesthetics of web3 social.
Web3 Social Thesis and Narratives
Data onwership and privcay (see lit protocol landing page)
Data ownership and privacy are the key arguments for web3 social when it comes to selling to consumer. In web2 the platform overlords kept data hidden from you, in web3 you’re the only one that’s able to benefit from this data and you can selectively disclose it.
On a longer time frame privacy and decentralization are the main barriers against an AI powered authoritarian state for which everything is legible and therefore traceable and predicible.
Creator monetization (see bello?)
Just 4% of creators make a living from their content. Brand deals are the mot lucrative sources of income.
Web3 social changes that thanks to new means to monetize without platform intermediaries. It is like internet scale patreon on steroids.
“Web3 is direct in the sense that traditional intermediaries have been banished in favor of protocols. That means more money and less hassle for creators, and crucially, empowers anyone to start monetizing their creations, regardless of following. Even people with smaller audiences can generate an income. This is a far cry from traditional platforms such as Tik Tok, YouTube and Instagram, where only the largest, ‘approved’ creators are able to be paid consistently.” - Madfi’s piece
Censorship resistance and deplatforming (Lens/Farcaster)
Creators and users can get banned from a platform where they’ve been doing their life’s work. They can be removed all their social capital unilaterally by bots or a centralized moderation team. More broadly any individual can be censored.
Web3 social changes that thanks to the fact that protocols are decentralized and have multiple clients built on top of them. If one client decides to ban a given creator they can always use another or create their own.
community driven/multiplayer (1kx, Partybid etc..)
“Ethereum has the potential to unlock new kinds of social coordination on the internet, but this potential has been out of reach for most...until now.” - party.app
“Tools for multiplayer creation have the power to turn passive consumers into creators by turning arbitrary on-chain interactions into a form of self-expression. These tools also bring artists closer to their audience than ever before by way of tighter pre-production feedback loops and post-release interactions. Blockchains and platform-agnostic standards adds provenance and composability to creative works, enabling communities to sample, remix, and make their mark on culture in ways that were not possible before.” 1kx
Reclaiming attention (see t2 world's landing)
Current web2 platform are designed for us to spend as much time as possible scrolling. They’re haervesting our time and attention through re-routing our brain’s reward circuitry. This is one of the biggest downsides of web2 platforms.
Web3 has the opportunity to change that through a diversity of clients and experiences enabled by open protocols, new business models that are not ads based and by being owners and governors in the platforms and communities we consume from.
The asset first thesis (Variant’s thesis for financialization)
Provenance and attribution (see- aleksija vijicic x chase podcast)
“We as consumers do so much for brands and it’s not tracked”Consumers provide ideas, feedback and do marketing for their favorite brands but they’re not rewarded for their work in any form other than the co-created product.
Distributing and attributing rewards and ownership to consumers and brand communities is one of the capabilities of web3. Doing that through NFTs, tokens and experiences.
Web3 social aesthetics and vibes
The current web3 social aesthetics are web3 native. So similar to the narratives above these are the representative of crypto culture more than the whole of internet culture.
- add Boys club brand
- Add Zora brand
- Add lens brand
- Add farcaster brand
Keep posted for Chapter 2!
In upcoming issues I’ll do deepdives into different areas of the stack starting with an analysis of a few major protocols. We’ll also leave some room for some fun speculation on the emerging use cases and apps and what could be the next net new consumer experiences enabled by these technologies.