Web3’s Missing Killer Social Media App

Since the rise of Ethereum in 2016, the blockchain community has been grasping for a successful example of real world impact beyond financial use cases. Can an app powered by web3 primitives cross the chasm to mainstream adoption and power something fundamentally unique and disruptive, relative to its web2 counterparts? So far hopeful examples like Cryptokitties and Axie Infinity have temporarily captured the world’s attention, and inspired large intra-crypto movements, but themselves haven’t had the sustainable staying power to hold up an ongoing success story to the world at large.

Meanwhile, social media applications, a category which has led to many of society’s ills in recent years, and is clearly ripe for disruption via the theoretical promises that web3 delivers, have likewise not had success gaining mainstream adoption. Early experiments like Steemit, a reddit-style community, and Pepo, a mobile first TikTok style app, couldn’t garner mainstream attention, and the explosion of early apps on top of new social protocols like Lens, Orbis, Farcaster, and DeSo haven’t yet reached product maturity to have a compelling shot at inspiring and connecting the world.

So far a lot of what we’ve seen have been attempts at cloning the functionality of existing social sites that people are already used to engaging with every day: web3 Twitter, web3 TikTok, web3 Reddit, web3 Twitch. It is typically a nearly-cloned-but-subpar experience, with the inconvenience of having to pay for every user interaction, and the vague promise of better creator monetization or data ownership slapped on. Mainstream users have shown they may not care enough about data ownership to switch platforms for that reason alone, and unless the app is truly delivering on better creator monetization and distribution, in a sustainable way, it’s unlikely to attract the quality content needed in order to break through to a broader audience. The apps that have scratched the surface of bringing mainstream users together with token incentivized content have often ended up as token pumping echo chambers, and then faded away to irrelevance.

It is very unlikely that the breakthrough killer social platforms will emerge as the cloned “web3 version of X”, but instead, will introduce a paradigm shifting primitive or behavior, that is truly native to what blockchain coordinated decentralized networks can enable.

True Impact

Let’s take a look at some of the concepts within the blockchain ecosystem that have been uniquely disruptive:

  • Crowdfunding and capital formation
  • Permissionless access to global, digital first, financial services
  • Digital ownership and verifiability
  • Collective global coordination

The acronym based version of the above list is simplified as ICOs, DeFi, NFTs, DAOs.

While we all try to point to examples of how the innovations in these areas can change and improve the physical meatspace for society at large, I don’t think it’s a stretch to see that the impacts are most clearly seen within the digital-first confines of the web3 world.

On-chain funding for ecosystem growth and development projects quickly attract recycled digital first asset capital, globally, when compared to efforts to raise funds for physical world, local projects that are external to the web3-future that everyone believes in and wants to see exist.

DeFi protocols are far more effective for interacting with on-chain assets, transactions, and digital goods, that are composable, than they are, for, say, taking out a mortgage for a new home purchase.

NFTs representing digital assets like in-game items, PFPs, or collectibles are far more compelling and disruptive than NFTs representing a physical event ticket or deed, in which case they typically introduce more friction and legal overhead than they are worth.

Token coordinated DAOs themselves have brought strangers together digitally through chat rooms, codebases, and online tools far faster than any company or non-profit has been able to form, scale, and accomplish a complex goal.

I take the above signals and arrive at the recognition that there is a digital first, web3-centric world that has emerged, and is bootstrapped into existence via the blockchain-enabled disruption in the above categories. But I think this gets particularly powerful, when combined with a second recognition that this web3-centric world is growing at an incredible rate.

I used the words echo chamber before, and I think it’s worth a debate. Six years ago, when I went all in with my time on joining this world, my greatest fear was that it was purely an echo chamber — a bunch of optimistic forward thinkers (and a bunch of less-ethical opportunists) talking only to one another, with their dreams of data and financial sovereignty, and better economic alignment between creators, users, and platforms. And even if this fear is still founded, it’s been incredible to see the order of magnitudes of growth of the size of this echo chamber. Seeing the talented developers, entrepreneurs, creators, investors, social scientists, and more, so deeply captured by the mind-bug that is web3, and dedicating so much of their time to it, is one of the most inspirational aspects of working within the space.

In the early 2000’s, New York city used to have Internet Week, and conferences like SXSW used to bring together the entire internet industry in their own sort of echo chambers. It wasn’t long before the internet touched every aspect of people’s lives, and the idea of an Internet Week became irrelevant, as there was no way to congregate a single community of people within an industry that touched literally everything and meant different things to everyone. (Take a look at this schedule from Internet Week 2010 to see how the content themes clearly expanded beyond a small echo chamber of enthusiasts.) We see similar in blockchain, in which there are so many unique areas — core infra and scaling, gaming, NFTs, regulation, web3, metaverse, and more — all hinging on the powerful disruptions mentioned above but flourishing in their own online space.

How large does an echochamber have to get, before it is just the latest incarnation of the web?

Building the Killer App

Some of the best disruptive social experiences have emerged from a “come for the tool, stay for the network” type of approach. Instagram initially let users apply filters to their mobile photos and made them look great, so this alone was useful whether you had any followers or not. But it also let you follow your friends and morphed into one of the world’s largest social networks. Musically let you record and share clips of you singing or lip syncing to popular short audio clips, and eventually became TikTok after layering in a social network and recommendation algorithm.

Because the next disruptive social application won’t just be a clone of a web2 app, and it is hard to recreate an existing social graph within the web3 context, it’s likely that the big web3 enabled social app will start out as a tool that solves a real problem for users in the web3 echo chamber today. So what problems are this ecosystem facing that are created by the inabilities for existing web2 social adapt to this new world? Given the four areas of breakthrough impact seen so far above, there are a few themes around social and content that create clear opportunities.

  1. DAOs need a trustworthy home to organize and distribute their content in alignment with their web3 values.
  2. Content curation and moderation services within web3 social are missing, and haven’t been well incentivized.
  3. Discovery for high quality web3-centric content is still highly fragmented.

I’ve referenced the power of fast global coordination enabled by DAOs and blockchain based schelling points that incentivize people towards similar actions in the absence of direct communication. These DAOs communicate via digital first tools, and the content exhaust typically takes the form of video — community calls, core development calls, project demos, project overviews and reviews, token analyses and reviews, etc. This content has not had a safe home on traditional social and media platforms — typically being removed arbitrarily at the content level, or even worse, the account level.

When not removed, it can be subject to demotion in search algorithms, and even demonetized accordingly when creators suddenly find their content disappearing from search results. Platforms have incredible control to make changes at any time to the detriment of individual creators, without their consent. Content around capital formation and permissionless global access to a new financial system feel threatening to the status quo, and needs a safe home not subject to this whimsical blocking by web2.

Still projects and DAOs rely on tools like Google Meet and Zoom to conduct their calls and presentations, Youtube to record and archive their calls for playback, and very rarely have their own native content-management portal for distributing this content outside of a Youtube channel. While Youtube is great for distribution, there’s nothing prohibiting content from being distributed there for reach, while still being retained and organized natively within the DAO’s home base.

Opportunity: Build a Web3-native Zoom
Huddle01 is off to a great start here. Using open standards like webRTC to enable conferences and Livepeer to stream and record the content, projects now have a viable alternative to Zoom + Meet. But to make this truly web3 native it goes a couple steps further — with features that are friendly to anons and wallet based logins, NFT PFP avatar support, and token-gated access control around who can join and view sessions, it truly encompasses web3-native thinking that will make this product-led approach a fit for the fast-growing echo chamber of web3-centric projects.

Opportunity: Build a Web3-native video CMS for DAOs
After communities use these conferencing and live streaming tools to hold calls, presentations, and meetings, and after creators record content reviewing and sharing about these projects, the next step is usually straight to Youtube. Instead, there’s a huge opportunity for this content to be organized within the project’s own home base for easy access, search, comments, discussions, education, and future leverage. The missing piece here is an easy, web3-native, video content management system (CMS) targeted towards DAOs. What’re some of the opportunities here beyond what traditional video CMS platforms offer?

  • Token gated access controls determine who can access content based on on chain logic such as what NFT or tokens a user holds in their wallet. This is far more accessible and permissionless than proprietary CRM technology licensed from big-tech and built into browsers that determines whether a license was granted via a single issuer, limited to specific regions, payment mechanisms, and browsers.
  • Crypto-native payments enable open monetization for users around the world instantly, rather than requiring complex banking and credit relationship through limited payments vendors and banks. (Ask anyone who has had their Paypal account frozen or been rejected from opening a bank account after a months long process).
  • ENS and other on-chain identity support lets users take their identity and reputation with them beyond the walls of this application, as well as import existing identity characteristics into this application, in a way that they control — rather than using Facebook based login or worse.
  • Decentralized storage, streaming, and playback mechanisms lend an independent infrastructure to these applications guaranteeing persistence and access to the content, rather than subjecting the content to the whims of Amazon and Google who run the largest cloud platforms.

These and more are all opportunities to meet unique needs that the crypto ecosystem has that aren’t addressed by traditional content companies and advertisers who are the customers of current CMS tools. Nascent tools like StreamETH, which has been used to organize the upcoming and archived content from Ethereum ecosystem conferences, serve as great open source templates for what can be possible here.

Opportunity: Build a Curation DAO for web3-centric content
One of the steps that is often overlooked in the early state of web3 social applications is the importance of content curation. The free-for-all that is the homepage of a “decentralized Youtube” which simply shows the most recently uploaded video first, is not a good content experience for the user.

This is a topic that deserves a post of its own to describe a protocol, but I would propose that a DAO that exists to enable always-on curation of content according to a set of provided guidelines. The preview of the mechanics would be that an app or community can pay-as-you-go into a curation DAO for a set of editors that are dedicated to the guidelines within the charter, and this DAO is coordinated by a token that is distributed to those who are succeeding at adding value in these critical editor-type slots, and those that are curating these slots. The value provided by moderation alone is worth its weight in gold in terms of preventing harmful content appearing front and center. Add to that the value of high quality content being quickly identified and surfaced, delivering a good experience and retention of new users, and it’s clear that this can be the difference between making it or not for an early social application.

Putting the pieces together for web3’s missing killer social application
A mainstream consumer success is a difficult thing to plan perfectly in advance — often combining the right timing, product vision, and a lot of luck to catch lightning in a bottle, and iterate on the growth from there. So the vision articulated here is just the seed of an idea for how I could see the killer breakout application emerging.

  1. Start with the tool. Build a web3-native video content management system for DAOs and convince them to use a Huddle01-type application to host their calls, record, and distribute their content. Each DAO that uses this gets a really nice page that organizes all their historical videos, makes them easily navigable, discoverable, searchable, and contains the right web3-native access controls (or possibly monetization mechanisms if creator-oriented). This is useful to a single DAO or project in isolation, and doesn’t require any network effect to find its fit.
  2. Enable some value-add curation across the universe of content created across users of this tool. Web3 content is typically public by default — stored on decentralized storage networks and distributed widely. Employ the Curation DAO above to begin to curate a content homepage for the highest quality web3 information, both archived and upcoming live, across the ecosystem, and as warranted category-by-category — DeFi, NFTs, token analysis, and more. Your model here is a video-specific reddit — the web3 homepage of the internet. While leveraging a growing universe of cross-network content, you still are providing a valuable single-player mode for any user arriving at this content homepage.
  3. Layer in the web3-social network effects around this content — wallet based login and identity, soulbound NFTs as reputation in commenting, curating, and playing roles in the interaction with this content. Users engage with content across DAOs and communities, so having their reputation be portable and visible is a sticky feature that builds a network effect around this particular application.
  4. Expand to the long tail of creators, who now actually care about distribution via this platform because of the audience and network effects built up on the back of the popular curated content. For the first time, there would be a compelling reason for a creator to choose this app rather than the web2 alternative — the distribution to its target audience (the growing web3 echo chamber) is more valuable than the uncontrollable distribution within generic web2 social, not to mention all the additional monetization and control benefits that are enabled by web3. Bonus points if you can make all the contributing users owners in the application platform itself, and layer in bootstrapping incentives.

The above vision barely scratches the surface on what can make this unique. It shows a path to a web3-centric Youtube/Reddit combination, but to truly fly it will be up to the project to innovate on the product mechanisms, UX, and incentives. Nonetheless, I think that a tool for DAO’s to organize and distribute their content, a curation on this content, and leaning into the growing web3-centric ecosystem that is hungry to consume this content in a curated manner, is a winning series of inputs.

Who’s ready to give this a shot? Get in touch and let’s get this kickstarted. There are a series of projects out there, including Livepeer, that can serve as building blocks, communities, and potential funding sources to help you get building. Reach out to me @petkanics if you’re building in this space.

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Doug Petkanics

Building live streaming on the blockchain at Livepeer. Previously Founder, VP Eng at Wildcard and Hyperpublic (acquired by Groupon).