The world can be a noisy place. It has been interesting to watch this with the proliferation of the internet and social media over the past decade. The amount of photos, videos, articles, podcasts, tweets and more that are posted on a daily basis is unfathomable at this point. A staggering amount of data is available and at our disposal daily.
The internet and social media is great. It gives everyone a voice. It gives us reach to a global audience that we could never otherwise interact with. This also means that there is an ever growing number of people all across the world creating content for viewers, readers and listeners. The long tail of human creative output is playing out as we speak with the internet at scale.
As someone who thinks about the future a lot, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how we use the internet; and where the next decade might lead.
It is always fun to speculate.
I have also been thinking a lot about the price we have paid to have this luxury of the internet. It has certainly brought about so much change in our world. But in an ever more ‘connected’ society, what implications has this had on us as people?
Social media algorithms are optimized for engagement. They are optimized for engagement because social media sites rely on advertisers to make money off of you and me. The longer we stay on these sites every day, the more eyeballs that scan those advertisements, the more money these platforms make. Social media sites therefore hire engineers and professionals to make their sites as addictive as possible.
The advertising model is what the internet and most social platforms have been working off of since the 1990’s. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, it’s capitalism at the end of the day. These companies have revenue and profit targets to meet; shareholders to pay. It is the nature of the game.
Optimizing algorithms for engagement has led to somewhat of a tragedy of the commons on the internet and social media. The open ecosystem of the internet has been somewhat usurped by the advertising model that exploits individual users’ data; all while giving us ‘free’ platforms to use and interact on.
The question I have tried to ask myself lately; is there a better game we can play? Is there a better way that we can interact with one another and share valuable insights on the internet.
Here is what I am seeing.
Many platforms are completely free. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. Others operate on a freemium model like Spotify, Youtube now has a paid subscription tier, Linkedin etc… And then some you have to pay for completely up front; Netflix, Hulu etc..
In a world where we are the ones creating the content and the data that is residing on a lot of these platforms, we are not the ones benefiting from them. Once you post something, it is essentially ‘owned’ by these platforms (Check the terms and conditions). It is then swept up into the algorithms optimized for engagement as we spoke about before.
Until now, the internet has not had an inherent value protocol built into it. I guess this is the reason why the advertising model has triumphed so much. The companies that became the best at teasing data out of users are the ones that built the biggest foothold on the internet.
Interestingly, as information has become so ubiquitous, so too have we become smarter and more tech savvy. Creators on social platforms are becoming ever more aware of how our data is being used and sold to the highest bidder.
Censorship is another hot topic. Many social platforms are now putting in place checks and balances for creators to maneuver around.
It has also been interesting to see content creators — particularly those who care about the relationship with their audience — move towards using platforms like Patreon. If you are not familiar with Patreon, it is a platform that allows content creators to receive support directly from subscribers. They brand themselves as the “best way for artists and creators to get sustainable income”. They facilitate a more direct line from creator to consumer. Consumers pay a monthly subscription to receive exclusive content from their favourite artists and creators.
I think this ties in nicely to the earlier point of how the long tail of human creative output is being played out on the internet as we speak. It has never been easier to create a direct line from creator to consumer.
I think this means we will become much more conscious and picky with regard to the content we consume online. With such information overload at times, we will move towards wanting to refine and curate exactly what we are consuming. Does that mean we will pay for social media? Many of us already pay for the aforementioned platforms like Netflix, Spotify and Medium in exchange for quality content.
At what point does it become feasible for us to do this with social media?
Until now, there has never been a simplistic protocol for exchanging value on a peer to peer basis over the internet. Enter Bitcoin and Blockchain technology — We now have a means of facilitating micro transactions at scale.
What does it mean when we can facilitate transactions of a thousandth of a cent? When the barrier between creator and consumer is lowered further, what does the landscape look like? What does it mean when we are incentivised to create value, and can also be rewarded in the process.
The ability to transact with anyone across the world in near real time, with digital assets that can be divided by a thousandth of a cent opens us up to a whole new world of interaction online.
How will this all work you might ask?
Wealready have some examples of applications and platforms being built atop decentralized infrastructure. When it comes to blockchain technology, one should seek out the utility that the blockchain is providing.
Twetch is one such application being built atop the Bitcoin SV (BSV) blockchain. Twetch is similar to twitter in its current iteration and allows users to write transactions on the BSV blockchain by creating posts and interacting with other users. In this way it acts as an interface to the Bitcoin SV blockchain. With Twetch however, users pay microtransactions to post and follow other people. Users also receive payments when they are followed by others and when people like and interact with their posts.
Another example of how microtransactions are being facilitated on Bitcoin SV is Streamanity. Streamanity is a video hosting site akin to Youtube that allows users to view and post video content. Content creators are paid directly per view. The potential for earnings that go directly to the content creator are astounding when compared to the advertising model currently in use by Youtube. User also only pay for every second that they watch. If they close out of a video halfway through, they only pay for the portion of the video that they watched.
Ethereum’s DeFi Ecosystem is also leveraging decentralized networks to transform old financial products into trustless and transparent protocols that run without intermediaries. There is now over 200 DeFi projects built on Ethereum.
There certainly seems to be a trend towards bridging the gap between content creators and consumers as we outlined with Patreon. This is becoming ever more popular with creators who want to have a more interactive relationship with their audiences. It also benefits both parties and consumers know that contributions they make are going directly to the content creator.
As digital assets and currencies powered by blockchains reach scale, the ease by which microtransactions can be facilitated between content creators and consumers grows. Attribution of content can be logged on chain and creators can be compensated each time their content is watched, listened to or shared.
Will we reach a tipping point where it makes it necessary for us to curate the information we consume so much that we will pay for it. Will we reach a tipping point when we realize the price we are paying for giving up all of our data to be inundated with advertisements online? There is certainly some time before this all plays out. It will be interesting to see how Web 3.0 develops and to what extent micro payments for interacting with others will be implemented.