Hey t2! another draft for an article i'll publish next week! Sammi helped elaborate some of the concepts in this article including the web social project triad. Let me know what you think in comments!
In issue #1, I shared an initial version of a mapping of web3 social projects. You can find it here. Thanks for the feedback and suggestions, I'll share an update before the end of this series.
Today, I'd like to delve deeper and distinguish between the two main categories of projects on this map: infrastructure projects and applications. I'll introduce a general framework that we can use to think about any web3 social project at a high level.
Infrastructure Vs. applications
Before beginning my research for this series, my initial thought was that web3 social simply referred to "any app leveraging crypto primitives like smart contracts and NFTs to create novel social experiences." This isn't entirely incorrect, but it only captures part of the story.
Through a conversation with Hadrien from Sismo, I encountered a more rigorous, infrastructure-based perspective of what web3 social means. Hadrien posited that a web3 social project must be decentralized, interoperable, had open data and was privacy preserving.
The main difference between Hadrien and I is that he is building at the infrastructure layer when I’m pretty consumer minded. And therefore our respective views reflect some of the differences between the infrastructure builder culture vs. the consumer app culture.
Let me detail some of these differences:
- On the one hand infrastructure projects are destined towards builders, tend to have more web3 native value propositions that rely on things like credible neutrality and decentralization.
- Applications, on the other hand, are designed to be used by a wider range of end-users, have very diverse use cases and may need to be more centralized in the early stages until they find PMF.
The web3 social project triad
In the examples given above there are 3 core elements that differentiate infrastructure and application layer projects. They’re the user persona, the degree of decentralization or ‘web3ness’ and the value proposition or ‘narrative’. Those have to be in sync with each other and can be articulated in a triad.
Quick definitions: persona, web3ness, Narrative
Persona → the typical representation of the user or community member a project is targeting. We'll delve deeper into the different personas of web3 social, some of them include creators, collectors, consumers, curators, moderators, and private communities.
Web3ness → the degree of decentralization, openness, interoperability, and privacy of an app or protocol. This is especially important at lower levels of the stack, where the properties that emerge from high 'web3ness' constitute the main value proposition. Below is an illustration of the various degrees of web3ness that may exist. All these properties are interdependent and must be developed in parallel in no specific order.
Narratives → the overarching stories where protocols or apps articulate their value proposition in a way that resonates most with their potential users. Today, these narratives are often based on the technical capabilities of technology at the infrastructure layer and are starting to be much more varied at the app layer.
Analyzing the triad of an infrastructure project
Now, let's see what the triad might look like for infrastructure projects.
Developers use protocols and middleware tooling, their holy grail is to be able build web3 social applications permissionlessly on top of existing social graphs with significant usage.
Personas ~ devs and creators who don’t want to get ‘rugged’
Developers are the typical user personas of web3 infrastructure projects. This includes social media protocols like Farcaster, messaging protocols like XMTP, or attestation tools like EAS.
Developers seem to value credible neutrality above all else. It guarantees that they won't be unilaterally shut off from the protocols they're leveraging from one day to the next, as recently happened with Reddit's API. They also value access to as many users and as much user data as possible to build and iterate quickly on their applications and achieve early adoption. Finally, they appreciate great developer experience and interoperability with other ecosystems and tools.
Creators are also the users of protocols, albeit indirectly they’re sometimes considered builders. They utilize the apps, tools and clients created by developers. Creators share, communicate, build audiences and communities, and monetize their work. They too value credible neutrality and censorship resistance, along with the ownership and portability of their social graph.
Web3ness ~ protocols need to prove they won’t shut people off from their protocols
Technically speaking, infrastructure projects aim for a high degree of decentralization or web3ness to satisfy the need for credible decentralization among developers and creators.
To be convincing, a protocol or tool must meet the 'sufficient decentralization' threshold, ensuring that developers can always run their service and users can always access essential features on the network or migrate their data to another client.
“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
Today, protocols such as Farcaster and XMTP remain centralized. For instance, the XMTP team currently operates all live XMTP nodes as the community is in the process of testing the upcoming client. Despite rolling out a dozen nodes in its network in Q2 2023, Farcaster still lacks several critical aspects such as privacy, ownership distribution, and governance.
At this point, the credible neutrality of these protocols is ensured by the trust placed in their early teams, as well as confidence in the team’s ability to execute their publicly available roadmaps towards infrastructural and economic decentralization.
XMTP, for example, has a two-year timeline with four different phases covering everything from the deployment of a network of XMTP nodes to the accompanying economic mechanisms. It remains to be seen whether XMTP has any long-term plans to decentralize decision-making as well.
“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
Narratives ~ censorship resistance and permissionlessness
The narratives at the infrastructure level significantly echo the preceding sections, emphasizing permissionlessness and censorship resistance.
Developers should be able to build without constraints and indefinitely, ideally having a say in the governance of the protocol they’re using and promoting. Concurrently, creators and users should control their data and access multiple clients, preventing unilateral bans by bots or centralized moderation teams.
The two primary social media protocols today, Lens and Farcaster, are unique in their positioning. Lens seems to cater more to creators, while Farcaster leans towards being builder-savvy.
Typical triad for a web3 social app or client
We now turn our attention to the typical triad at the application layer. Here, the types of personas can be much more diverse, and consequently, the narratives and degrees of web3ness are on a broader spectrum.
End-users are using web3 social apps in order to connect, mint, collect, distribute their creations engage or participate in communities and want a seamless and personalized experience accross clients.
Personas ~ creators, collectors, curators, consumers, mods
Unlike the infrastructure layers, which focus on builders, the app layer generally caters to end-users, whether they are professionals, hobbyists, or passive consumers.
Creators tend to receive the most attention among all these personas today, primarily because they create the content that fuels social platforms. Without exceptional creators, social products cannot achieve the "content liquidity" (s/o @rafathebuilder) or "conversational liquidity" (s/o @dwr) necessary to attract a critical mass of users. Onboarding creators is at the heart of Lens’ go to market strategy in order to create more usage.
Curators, a subset of creators, provide context online, generating meaning and discussions around the content found on platforms. They already existed in web2, but in web3, they may receive increased rewards for their work and contributions.
Passive consumers absorb content on platforms and within private communities. They purchase creators' work for consumption. They seek entertainment, education, quality content, and creating relationships.
There are more personas at this layer. I started a list of all personas in the appendix at the bottom of the article.
Web3ness ~ more flexibility in the short term
Higher degrees of decentralization become increasingly vital when raising the stakes or the value handled by a protocol. Blockchain technology was initially invented to manage money because trust is crucial when entrusting your entire savings account to someone.
Even though personas like creators, collectors, and curators may value censorship resistance, many users will be willing to compromise on trustlessness for a better user experience until some psychological threshold is reached. This could be having someone in their close network being deplatformed.
Builders must ensure that they strike the right balance of decentralization at the right time, balancing market fit and developing tech that will endure over time and gradually decentralize.
A founder of a web3 social app recently told me they were “currently optimizing for speed rather than decentralization, keeping indexing and data processing private. It doesn’t make sense to start designing networks and dev tools if market fit isn’t confirmed.”
Overall, it's about market fit and finding the right use case. Infrastructure projects understand their mission is to create usable technologies for developers, while applications often have no clue about the use case and therefore need to iterate more quickly to discover novel social experiences, then worry about decentralizing complex infrastructure.
One could assume that on the long run, applications failing to decentralize and open properly will have limited interoperability and isolate themselves from the rest of projects for the better or for the worse. They’ll also face more trust issues.
If decentralization at the infrastructure level is too hard to enable then economic decentralization might help balance this out through shared upside and governance.
Narratives ~ as diverse as the number of possible use cases
Narratives at the app layer tend to abstract away much of the blockchain jargon in favor of 🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁…. discussing the cool things you can do or aspire to do using the products.
They’re also quite diverse, depending on the project’s category, and I’ll cover some of them here.
Reclaiming attention (ex: t2.world)
Current web2 platforms are designed for us to spend as much time as possible scrolling. They're harvesting our time and attention by re-routing our brain's reward circuitry, one of the most significant 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 ad-based, and by being owners and governors of the platforms and communities we consume from. This narrative is apparent on writing platforms like T2 World.
Community driven/multiplayer (ex: Pendium, Partybid…)
“What are you using blockchain for if not multiplayer stuff” recently said Evin McMullen, founder of Disco.xyz, at a discussion I attended. And makes sense to assume that if web2 was about the creation of individual identities, web3 will be about leveraging these identities to interact in richer ways, including as groups.
Let me cite two quotes here:
“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.” from party.app’s landing page
“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.” - from the 1kx multiplayer article on Mirror.
Creator monetization and data ownership (ex: Paragraph, Lens, Madfi…)
Just 4% of creators make a living from their content. Brand deals are the most lucrative sources of income. Web3 social changes that thanks to new means to monetize without platform intermediaries. Creators should be free to move accross platforms and have multiple additional tools for monetization.
Community growth and engagement (Guild, Bonfire, Salsa)
Many tools are focusing on helping creators and brands tighten the bond with their communities through enabling the aggregation or creation of new communication channels and digital spaces where communities can hang out, keep updated and contribute to projects.
Onchain discovery and exploration (ex: interface, Rainbow, Layer3)
Appendix: Web3 social personas table
- sufficient decentralization by varun
- matt’s podcast
- the journey to decentralization XMTP docs
- Dan’s bankless podcast
- (see- aleksija vijicic x chase podcast) on provenance and attribution
- 1kx piece on multiplyer stack
- content liquidity piece