In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, the 'ownership economy' presents an exciting new frontier for content creators and business owners alike. This concept flips the traditional model on its head, allowing creators and entrepreneurs to retain ownership and control over their digital footprint while also providing a fair value exchange with an audience or customer base.
This also addresses the risks of building a business that relies too heavily on centralized incumbents like Facebook or Twitter that, at a whim, can squeeze you out, de-platform, or retain your core value.
That core value is the network you've worked hard to build.
If the risks of relying on centralized platforms are not a priority for you right now... the features and functionality that are coming in the next wave of the social internet will be. Early adopters will gain a massive competitive advantage.
TL;DR Don't want to read the rest? Available now via Podcast or YouTube.
Not Another Social Media App!?
Being an early adopter on the next big social app is a promise we've all heard before. Many of us are sick of signing up for yet another 'game-changer.' But what I'm looking at now is not just a shiny new app but an ecosystem where participation is earning you transparent and portable credibility across the entire network. So, whatever apps become the winners in that ecosystem, you won't be starting from scratch if you move to another app.
Imagine you'd built up 100k followers on Twitter but they changed their algorithm so your reach was nothing like it used to be and the features no longer suited your content. You find a new app that fixes all those issues, but you'll be starting from scratch with 0 audience.
Pay attention: this will be the last time you have to start from scratch again.
This is not the equivalent of setting up a static web page back in 1996; it's the equivalent of adding e-commerce to your business before the market got overcrowded or being an early creator on Instagram who stood out and grew exponentially over time... without the risk of getting rugged.
As a content creator, you don't have to be reliant on ad revenue or platform-based monetization. By leveraging a new era of decentralized networks, creators can monetize work in novel ways and build sustainable value without being tied to one specific platform. The network you build is portable, and the content you create is published to distributed storage that no single entity owns.
But that already exists, doesn't it? Email lists can be exported and moved between Newsletter delivery services because of the open protocol of SMTP and I can move my website to a new host because of DNS for domain names. RSS provides the same for blogs, and like Vinyl records, Podcasts have made a comeback through RSS in an almost analog fashion.
Yes, this is true to some extent.
Along with the foundations of the open internet itself, these 'Protocols' have remained relatively true to their original purpose.
There is also value in the economy of scale provided by large networks like Twitter. No denying that. But value at what cost. Larger platforms come with the promise of greater reach by tapping into their massive user base. But it's not that simple. The omnipotent algorithms chew us up and spit out a deluge of shallow SEO driven content created to growth hack the system. I know, I've been there and done it myself and I still catch myself dipping my toes in that murky water.
There's no avoiding this algorithmic game, if you want to remain competitive as a business. But as an individual I'm driven to experiment and test alternatives that respect the early intentions of the internet. Let play on protocols designed to spawn, what may become the future norm.
Chris Dixon says...
“What the smartest people do in the weekends, is what everyone will do during the week in 10 years.”
You don't need to be inventing the next "big thing", just make time to try new things.
The internet was founded by researchers with a vision for an open system that created a level playing field for everyone. Protocols like SMTP for email, and HTTP for web access further underscore this spirit of openness, promoting a free exchange of information and ideas. This is what the internet was founded upon. It is what has been commonly referred to as the 'Read' error of the internet where information was typically 1-way, a bunch of online directories and catalogues you could read without any real engagement. I still remember that feeling of wonder the first time in 1996 that I heard a dial-up modem connecting me to information from around the world.
The second evolution of the internet, known as web2 is where the economics of well funded corporate entities began to consolidate ownership by providing services for free at the expense of being tied to their platform. Before YouTube you could pay for video hosting at a premium or set up your own media server, but streaming was barely usable. These networks were a natural evolution which brought about innovation.
They not only consolidated content hosting and delivery services but consolidated the ability for people to connect and find each other beyond email. It started with chat clients like ICQ and MSN Messenger, MySpace was an iteration of blogging for the masses and then Facebook took hold.
User generated content and self-publishing proliferated, shaping society in a way we hadn't seen since introduction of the printing press. This era is dubbed the Read-Write phase of the internet, we could now create content and interact with ease. I remember the default for a startup web businesses back then was to tack 'Interactive' onto your business name!
For further reading on this history, Chris Dixons recently published book 'Read Write Own' perfectly sums up this history of the internet, let alone the future of ther ownership economy. I'd highly recommend you grab a copy.
But what is the 'Own' in his book title?
Web 3 (or is it still 2.75?)
The 3rd phase we're entering now is where we take back ownership of our digital lives. The move to decentralized networks is becoming undeniably mainstream. Blockchain networks are still at an equivalent stage to where internet adoption was in the mid-late 2000's. That's not to be confused with development, UX and infrastructure which has come along in leaps and bounds as developers and designer from web2 shifted to web3 during bull markets like 2018 and 2021. Some great examples of this I'll get to shortly for content creation.
While it's not apples for apples to compare, the most important crossover is how many developers have stayed through the bear market and continued building, how many VC firms have stayed 'in touch' even if their funding dried up amidst broader macro constraints. They know the tipping point is upon us and are eagerly positioning themselves, not for the short term wins we see in the speculative crypto casino culture, but for the medium-long term investment in a cultural phenomenon.
I could talk for ever on this, and I will. But right now I want to pivot back to what I'm doing right now to get back to tinkering and trying new things and why you need to consider how and where you publish your content as both individuals and as business entities going forward.
My Web2 Tech Stack
I started Read.Write.Execute last year as a way to synthesize my skills and experience in communication, marketing and brand building over 25 years, with my 'hobby' of experimenting in web3, blockchain and crypto since 2014.
My first instinct was to build my website, newsletter and blog on fairly well established web2 platforms based on the recommendations of other content creators who have found success, and replicate that in my own way. Even in web2 no one platform does everything you want so I landed on a combination of Kartra for my main website and newsletter delivery, while building up a series of course content in the background which is where Kartra really stands out.
Kartra doesn't manage blogging so well so I recently started a trial of 'Dropinblog' which integrates seamlessly with Kartra through embedding and I love it's live SEO ranking as you write. Downside is, that for a relatively new content creator without any revenue stream to speak of yet... this combo is not cheap. To embed on Kartra you need to upgrade to the Growth plan at more than $200 / month! (Shout out to the founder of Dropinblog actually, after I replied to his personal welcome and said much the same, he applied a 25% discount to my plan for the first year).
But I won't be taking it. I'll tell you why shortly.
The alternative is Wordpress which I've used many times over the years as a web developer, but I know all too well how much time is required to piece together all the different plugins and add-ons. If you read my article on the Art of Restraint - Perfectionism to Profit' you know I lean a little toward being a detail oriented creative. The challenge is, I'm also time-poor with family, kids and paid work. We always pay for convenience, which is what I've ended up doing.
The more I rack up the subscription fees to these services, the more I question what I'm getting for it, not only short term but long term as well. If you want to build a sustainable business, you need to build value into your core product from the ground up. You have to build it yourself. There's always a case for short term gain by building apps on top of existing corporate networks, but you have to know when to take profit and exit because it comes with platform risk.
But building everything yourself as a one person business is just not feasible for most.
So what's the next best thing, to build long term value, from the content you publish to the business solutions you provide? Lets first define 'long term value'.
Who Owns the Flywheel?
The 'ownership economy' is simply about owning the value you build. You need to own the flywheel that generates growth for your brand.
Content creation is not just for individuals, it's for any brand big or small. It needs to be more than an afterthought tacked on to a marketing plan, it should be the hub through which messaging pillars reach your audience for greater traction, efficiency and momentum. This flywheel is what generates value and enables a brands growth, particularly if it fosters a sense of quality and trust.
Imagine for a moment this flywheel is part of a bicycle.
What happens if you're in a wheel where the spokes are the centralized corporate channels that reach your audience, and some of those spokes begin to fail. At the very least your ride gets bumpy and you are forced to slow down. You lose traction with your audience and you risk the tyres falling off completely! Now imagine the gears on that bike are controlled by an algorithm which thinks it knows the best gear for your ride. The gears start changing randomly and you struggle to maintain speed and efficiency on the road. You are constantly peddling harder to keep up momentum. I hope you're wearing a helmet!
Zen and the Art of Flywheel Maintenance
So how do we build a reliable bike from interoperable parts in the blockchain stack.
I've been exploring a range of content publishing platforms since 2021 that align with the principles of an ownership economy but only recently did I find something that I think is perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between web3 and the less crypto-native masses.
I tried Mirror.xyz back in 2021-22 when I co-founded and authored content for a CPG DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization). We developed 'gm Cereal' using Bored Ape IP with Bored Becky and launched a Chocolate range with OnChain Monkeys. You can read the Litepaper here - alas the bear market got the better of the project and we had to let it go).
For simple publishing of content to the blockchain, Mirror is great, but aside from the ability to mint content (purchase an NFT token of ownership for articles) there is not much beyond read-only functionality. Think of Mirror as a blockchain version of Medium. It's based on the Ethereum blockchain so transaction (gas) fees can be a little higher for people wanting to mint content. It's also crypto only which means it really caters to a crypto-native user base and audience for now.
Then I discovered Paragraph.xyz!
Paragraph is a decentralized blogging platform that allows writers to publish their work in a censorship-resistant and user-owned environment. It's built on blockchain technology, ensuring that writers have true ownership of our content and the network of readers we build. More than that, the content data and network you create is portable, usable and interoperable with a growing ecosystem of powerful publishing protocols and tools. I'll explain more about what that actually means... but I can hear the first question that comes to mind for most...
"Do I need a censorship resistant platform if I haven't been de-platformed or shadow-banned elsewhere? I only plan to blog about my families secret recipes?"
You wouldn't think so, but there's more to consider than that.
You could just use Paragraph like Substack without any need for a crypto wallet at all. You can publish blog posts in a refreshingly clean interface and have those automatically sent to an existing mailing list you import. You can set up gated content for free subscribers or paid memberships using Stripe for recurring credit card payments. All cozy and familiar.
Here's where it gets interesting! You can also set up membership tiers and gated content for people who hold a defined amount of a crypto token or an NFT and people who have a crypto wallet. Paragraph allows minting via energy efficient, fast and cheap Layer 2 blockchains (like Base, Optimism, Polygon and Zora). Not only that, people with digital wallets who are subscribed to your content can now receive notifications with content title and intro text to their wallet address every time you send out a newsletter!
The number of unique Ethereum addresses reached more than 250 million by February 2024 and the number of unique addresses active on a given day has been reported to be around 400,000... and growing fast!
This is the first time I've seen a publishing tool that balances the features and monetization options for mass market appeal without being fully blockchain centric. Paragraph blends these traditional and familiar options with the blockchain tech stack for entrepreneurs and creators who value their work and want to preserve those "family recipes" for generations to come!
Imagine if there was a Twitter killer with the same appeal? Well hold that thought...
First I want to answer that question I heard from the cheap seats...
"Where is the data being stored that makes it so censorship resistant and secure?"
On Paragraph, all content is published to Arweave.
Arweave is a decentralized storage network that offers permanent storage of data. It differs from traditional cloud storage services or other blockchain-based storage solutions by its unique approach to data storage, ensuring that once data is uploaded, it remains accessible indefinitely and it's not hosted on a single entities servers.
Arweave addresses the problem of data preservation on the internet, making sure that information, websites, and applications are permanently recorded and accessible. It's used for various applications like decentralized website hosting, data archiving, and even storing the transaction history of other major blockchains.
▼Key Features of Arweave: Dropdown for more
Blockweave: Arweave utilizes a novel blockchain-like structure called a blockweave. In addition to referencing the previous block, each block in the blockweave also references a random previous block, creating a weave of blocks. This structure incentivizes miners to store more data because they need access to random previous blocks to add new ones and get rewarded.
Permaweb: The permaweb is a permanent, decentralized web hosted on the Arweave network, where websites and applications are stored forever. Once deployed, the content can’t be changed or deleted, making it resistant to censorship and ensuring the permanence of the data.
Endowment Model: To ensure long-term storage, Arweave uses an endowment model where the upfront payment is calculated to cover the cost of data storage for 200 years. The payment is invested in a way that it covers the ongoing costs of storage over time.
Proof of Access (PoA): Arweave uses a consensus mechanism called Proof of Access, which complements Proof of Work. PoA requires miners to prove they can access old data to add new blocks to the blockweave, ensuring that data is stored reliably over time.
Data retrieval and transactions: Data retrieval in Arweave is fast, and transactions involve very small fees, making it cost-effective for both storing and accessing data.
Token - AR: The native cryptocurrency of Arweave is called AR. It's used to pay for transactions, storage, and rewarding miners for maintaining the network.
Yeah but... nothing is really permanant!
Let's just be realistic for a moment. When we say 'permanant storage' we're talking about, not waking up one day to find that a corporate entity has sold, gone bust or been hacked. But even Arweave and blockchain aren't totally indestructible... I mean what happens if a catastrophic event wipes out global internet? Well I think we've got bigger problems if that happens!
What if the network, is no longer maintained by enough nodes to keep it operational? Sure that's a possibility. For Arweave to become unusable, a significant majority of its nodes would need to quit simultaneously, leading to a loss of data redundancy and accessibility. While theoretically possible it's highly unlikely due to the distributed nature of the network and the economic incentives for nodes to remain active.
The question I ask is this: if I knew I was going to die tomorrow... where would I place my lifes work for posterity?
Assuming not all of us are in a position to store our data in an underground, nuclear and meteor proof storage facilty in the north pole... I'd choose Arweave.
But what is the value of your work if it doesn't reach the right audience.
Don't just value your work, value your network.
While I post mainly on X and LinkedIn nowadays, I've begun building a parallel network on web3 social platforms.
Honestly I've tried too many to mention over the last few years with Crypto Twitter degens clambering to grab handles on any new decentralized social platform that pops up.
None have really clicked for me. Until I discovered Farcaster and it's leading social app for desktop and mobile, Warpcast.
On first impressions it feels very similar to the feed experience of Twitter / X with the depth of information and engagement you'd get from Reddit... all in a beautifully functional mobile-first user interface.
Farcaster is a decentralized social protocol. This is important to note... remember protocols are things like SMPT for email or DNS for domains. They are the foundational layer on which everything else is built. It's a protocol that any application or interfaces can be built around. It allows users to control their data and identities without being locked into a single platform.
Warpcast is built by the Farcaster team on the Farcaster protocol. It leverages Farcaster to provide users with a social networking experience that is resilient and user-focused. Warpcast handle user identities, messages, and interactions, ensuring that the data is not controlled by any single entity and can be accessed across different platforms that use the Farcaster protocol.
This dual development of the protocol and the client has allowed them to scale a very innovative and intuitive user experience, which acts as the perfect springboard for what others will build out from there.
Such as Frames!
Warpcast and Paragraph can now integrate using something launched by the Farcaster team, known as 'Frames'.
'Frames' can be thought of as a standardized data format or a protocol feature that allows for embedding, referencing, or interaction with content across different platforms, such as directly in social posts on Warpcast.
At the time of writing this, Frames has only been live for about 1 week and already many clever and playful uses have sprung up from pick-a-path games to practical applications that show the serious potential Frames is about to unlock.
Imagine on Twitter if you could post a link to your blog and the automatic preview box that shows in your tweet is not only the open graph image, title and description... but an active 'Subscribe' button too... which anyone can click to be instantly subscribed to your blog without even leaving that post. That now works on Warpcast to Paragraph!
There are so many more use cases being built with Frames. They have just enough simplicity and constraint for developers to get creative with enough expressivity to achieve 'escape velocity' to propel Farcaster to the true web2 social killer.
To better understand the basic premise of Frames, watch this video from Farcaster developer, Varun Srinivasan.
Ok let's just come back up for air before we dive too deep.
Pivot to a Web 3 Tech Stack
For me, It's a small overhaul... and I want to take you with me! It's a chance to re-evaluate priorities and run content in tandem (for now) with some of the existing web2 technology stack (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, Kartra for the courses I'm building). Existing subscribers, you'll see my newsletter now delivers via Paragraph and the Read.Write.Execute blog posts now live on my rwx.mrjonkane.com subdomain.
I'd suggest the same for an existing web2 based business. You still have those social networks you've built. Just stop relying on them.
Learn these new platforms and when you're comfortable, begin 'inviting' your audience to join you there 'as well'. You'll find the most valuable customers are the ones who follow your lead. They're typically the early adopters who will amplify your messages.
Hone in on those followers and take advantage of the 'early adopter' narrative, work the value proposition of long term thinking as a competitive advantage into your own messaging pillars.
Let's review the above and list some action points you can take away and execute on.
We've touched on the ins-and-outs of the ownership economy and hopefully you can see a future where we, the creators and entrepreneurs, truly own and control our digital landscape. We've peeked into the world of web3, exploring how platforms like Paragraph.xyz and Protocols like Arweave are changing the game for content creation and storage. We've also looked at the power of building a resilient network with tools like Warpcast on Farcaster.
Now, let's get you rolling with some clear action steps:
Get Your Feet Wet with Web3: Start by exploring platforms like Paragraph.xyz. It's where the magic of blogging meets the solidity of blockchain.
Network Wisely: Dive into decentralized social platforms. Warpcast on Farcaster isn't just an alternative to web2 social; it's the future of social network ownership.
Bridge the Gap: Integrate these web3 platforms into your current content strategy. It's not about a complete overhaul, just smart additions which I only recommend because they are technically accessible to anyone without a heavy web3 onboarding.
Take it One Step at a Time. This is about evolving your strategy, not flipping everything on its head overnight. This is a great starting point if you're not crypto-native...
...but beware the rabbit hole, it is a trip!
References & Links Mentioned:
Read Write Own by Chris Dixon: https://readwriteown.com/
Kartra (building my courses): https://home.kartra.com/
Dropinblog (good web2 product) https://dropinblog.com/
Paragraph for Web3 Newsletter & Blogging: Paragraph.xyz
Farcaster (Warpcast) for Web3 Social: https://warpcast.com/
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