The New Creator Economy – DAOs, Community Ownership, and Cryptoeconomics
by Nader Dabit
I first had what I can only describe as a spiritual awakening about 10 years ago to the fact that technology would (figuratively) rule the world. And since then, I've been obsessed with wanting to understand how software works and how to build it.
Since that moment, my life has changed significantly for the better. I can only attribute it to the simple fact that I have relied not only on my own instincts, but on those of people much smarter and more experienced than I am.
My hypothesis is this: try to find and follow the lead of those who have exhibited a long track record of success, find interests in their wake, and do my best to excel at them (while continuing to explore my own curiosities).
During this time (like many developers) I've relentlessly dived into books, podcasts, blog posts, YouTube videos, and source code of every kind. But there has always been a topic that has captured my curiosity the most – futurism.
Futurists like Gerd Leonhard and Michio Kaku speak of a future that's sometimes beautiful and sometimes bleak. But it's always with the passion and phrasing that make your thoughts wander and move past the current moment in time and into a mind boggling world that does not yet exist.
I recently had another "aha" moment, similar to my technological awakening, that has completely changed the direction of my career and my life. In the spirit of these futurists, I want to talk about why Web3 excites me just as much as their ideas, but is instead happening as we speak.
Why is Web3 So Exciting?
This post is meant to dive more into what I think are the benefits and repercussions of Web3. If you want to know my interpretation of what Web3 is, see my thoughts here.
Web3 represents a handful of ideas which together bring about entirely new mental models, organizational structures, and community incentives. These force us to rethink many things that we have become accustomed to.
All of the recent innovation happening is possible because of decentralized protocols. The internet itself has thrived because of native internet protocols that we use everyday, like HTTP, FTP, TCP, and SSH.
One of the reasons these protocols have been so successful was that they were widely adopted and not subject to change. If I build a site using HTTP, people can use it without any centralized intermediary – we can trust that it is going to work.
There are two major pieces of native functionality that have been left out up until recently – payments and state.
Blockchains have enabled both of these things, opening the door for programmable money and state without the need of a centralized server, bank, or any intermediary at all.
Web3 Enables Ownership
One of the driving forces and the one that resonates with most people (and me) is that Web3 enables ownership.
At some point the internet and gaming became almost indistinguishable. Not only because most games continue to receive updates over time, but the most popular ones are often the most interactive ones.
Fortnite took a lot of people by surprise because it created an innovative new combination of gameplay, peer-to-peer connection, and a unique business model – and everyone gets the game for free.
The experience is very interactive, you can join old friends and make new ones, there are constant improvements and enhancements that just happen automatically – the game is consistently evolving.
The monetization strategy was also innovative. Fortnite allows players to buy in-game currency as well as skins that they can wear in the game. If you have a child you know that the $65 you may have spent on the game itself is probably peanuts compared to the amount of money kids spend over the lifetime of their gameplay.
The problem, though, is this: when the player decides to stop playing the game or outgrows it, where has all that money gone? More importantly, who is allowed as a creator to benefit from all of the purchasing power? The answer is, well, Fortnite (the platform).
What if, instead, players retained ownership of their items and were able to keep or sell them? Their items would maintain, increase, or decrease in value like any physical asset.
These types of experiences and communities are now being made possible via NFTs. NFTs enable scarcity in a world where there was in the past no scarcity.
Axie Infinity is an example of how this looks in practice. It is a blockchain-based game that is the most successful of its kind, and has recently had explosive growth, catapulting it to over $1 billion in sales with over $780 million in the 30 days ending August 10 2021.
When players realize they can retain much of the value of their time and investments while still enjoying the benefit of the game, it changes the way they view gaming and where they spend their money. But it also aligns new incentives around the game itself. If the game succeeds, they can share in that success, therefore they become even more invested.
The combination of ownership, community, and creators who have built audiences creates a whirlwind of new and exciting opportunities that we are just starting to begin see explored.
Social media platforms were revolutionary. They allowed anyone from almost any background the ability to grow and foster large audiences using tools that were made free to anyone with a device and an internet connection.
There are no gatekeepers to becoming famous on social media as there have been in the past in film and TV. The intermediary was abstracted away and peer to peer connections and content sharing was made possible.
The flaw in these implementations is that they offer a terrible monetization system, not just for the platform but for the creator as well.
Advertising and the exploitation of user data is the go to play. Also almost all of the money generated by the platform, goes to the platform – the platform monetizes the content being created by its users in exchange for use of the platform itself. This is how social media works today.
In Web3, both creators and the community are able to gain and retain ownership within a platform, creating a synergy that, once experienced, makes the legacy interactions of the past seem archaic and undesirable.
When I say ownership, I don't only mean ownership of content, but actual equity as well.
We are seeing the beginnings of this in the art world of Web3. Artists who were, in the past, often barely making it are now able to leverage their platforms, often in collaboration with other community members or causes. They can create projects that leverage NFT collections to give community members as well as the public a way to participate and distribute equity all around. Art and code are also beginning to overlap.
Projects like Generative Masks allow talented creators like Takawo Shunsuke to leverage the skills he's acquired throughout his career to generate over $3 million in sales for his collection in just a few minutes. He's able to spread awareness for himself and his cause, and create another new community (of owners) simultaneously.
The best part is that he's giving it all back to the communities he's benefited from. On top of that, smart contracts allow him to programmatically enable a commission for any future sale that happens going forward, and in just a couple of weeks that amounts to another $600,000.00+.
Generative art itself is an emerging category that combines code and creativity and is something that could alone warrant an entire post. But it suits the coming era particularly well, as it enables artists to scale their creativity, community, and distribution.
There will continue to be a larger and larger percentage of digital artists because they can use powerful tools and programs to create art that can then be used in an infinite number of ways. They can then put it for sale on an international, 24 hour, liquid market.
OpenSea, the top online art marketplace today, has seen an absolute explosion in growth the past few months.
Even recently surpassing Etsy in sales.
Whether this type of volume continues, I have no idea. My guess is that there will be some volatility and fairly large swings both up and down. But there is definitely something there.
Most of these NFT projects are launched on Ethereum. Ethereum is soon merging a new consensus mechanism that will make NFTs orders of magnitude more environmentally friendly as a means of sales and transfer of art, which in the past all required ground transportation.
Future of social media
As it stands today, users of social media platforms can begin leveraging Web3 tools, communities, and platforms to begin monetizing their audience.
I believe there will be a breakthrough app that will disrupt social media as we know it built in the in the next 1 - 3 years that blends all of these ideas together in a way that we haven't experienced yet.
Jack Dorsey of Twitter is also working on a Decentralized version of Twitter, though I believe that this type of application will ultimately come from the community or a DAO.
DAOs, grants, community ownership, and social tokens
DAO stands for Decentralized Autonomous Organization. You can read about what a DAO is here, here, and here, but I want to focus on how DAOs will play a part in the new creator economy.
Shared ownership is a characteristic you'll see carried across all areas of Web3, including how we think about companies and incentive structures around how business is done.
In Web2 companies, cash usually comes from investors and there is no value returned to them for years. Ownership is largely concentrated in the first handful of employees along with their investors.
It usually takes years to reach a point where investors or employees with equity can begin to see any return on their investment and time spent, often through the old ways of advertising and exploitation of user data.