Decentralised Social Graphs & Creator Economy - Deep Dive by Wordcel
Exploring Web 3.0 social networking and the Prize-Winner project of Solana - Wordcel
“We could solve crisis of confidence and even legitimacy in today’s institutions by shifting real power toward citizens, equipping them with real opportunities for prosperity and participation in society.”
– Don Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution
With the uprising of digital age, the creator economy has flourished as one of the major markets in the world. The population super boosting and motivating these creators, have also accelerated in past few years. The economy consists of people like us, who have a hobby to express, eventually turning into a side-hustle with an aim of monetising from it or a full-time passionate career option. However, creators are burdened by a difficult choice – establishing their position in some of the growing social platforms of the world. Perhaps the growth of global social network giants has empowered the notion of centralisation. Well, not only does this gives them a chance to regulate activities of a creator but also, impose control on end-user’s data, overstepping the boundaries of individual’s privacy.
It does get peculiar over time, the idea of someone surveilling and controlling our activities. 👀
Whatever the background, having the power to determine our own rules, from short-term decisions to important events, creates innovation and productivity.
Don’t you agree?
In this article, I talk about holding the power on our own idea, from its regulations to ownership and the projects that steer us towards achieving this goal. From the stage of Ideation to Publication, content creation is no easy task. Therefore, it is important to understand that the hours of efforts put in, to build something from scratch must be owned by none, other than the ‘creator’. Current statistics updated by Influencer-Marketing Hub, states that more than 50 million people have joined creator economy –giving a reason more to deep dive subjected to sovereignty over our content.
This deep dive will help understand 4 major objectives:
☞ What are the limitations of centralized social graphs?
☞ Why is it important to bring decentralized social graph as a boon to creator economy?
☞ Which projects are currently working towards this notion and how?
☞ Wordcel - the decentralized publishing stack on Solana? Is it finally the niche for creators?
Social Graphs 📉
The term “social graph” is not different from what we use daily, “social network”. Think of how we describe a phone book except this is a digital book. It is fundamentally a digital representation of relationships between users and entities of a social network – nothing but a way of connecting, consuming, and contributing, in an online system. Thus, the social graph is a pivotal part of our everyday life. Although, the largest private organizations, own and control these social graphs.
The Era of Socialization
Before diving deep into today’s social networks, let’s closely look at the precursors. In the beginning of mid-1990s, the first consumer-ready version of internet was available. This version is referred as Web 1.0. It allowed us to create basic websites and internet applications that changed dynamics of both societal and financial applications. This era is what people call dot-com boom and it’s the base of development and growth. Next in line was Web 2.0, the second version of internet.
Web 2.0 was more user-focused, interactive internet allowing for sharing the data in more efficient manner than the former. The beginning of Web 2.0 (traditional organizations) era promised an open digital economy, potentially describing themselves as pioneers to democratizing internet. The ideology was well-suited but what happened? With the agenda to democratise the Internet, events rather lead to concentration of power by large platforms, bringing an opaque structure of distribution.
The most popular examples are, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Medium/Substack etc. These are some of the platforms where many influencers and creators earn revenue via creating podcasts, videos, blogs, reels, etc.
In the domain of social media, monetization has taken over as one of many attributes, Web 2.0 offers. Fundamentally as a user, we all know that we have access to these platforms, whenever we want, its free!!
Or is it free? 🤨
What you are paying is the access to your information without you being aware of it. The data collected will be used as products for profit. If you are an influencer or a content creator, you probably know, for instance, You Tube earns 45% of the income generated by your content or any social media ad-sponsored platforms where the decision-making capability is not really in your hands. While some policies and initiatives can be attractive, some could make us shift towards a self-made platform rather. Generally speaking, the control of your content as a creator and your data as a user, is not yours. It is also important to know that algorithms (algos) are continuously criticised for concealing socio-cultural aspects. For example, algos on Youtube run in a manner that doesn’t show upcoming content of emerging creators in the ‘recommendations’, which can be a highly debatable topic in this ecosystem. On the issue of algos, one can also consider the case of Twitter, where the platform unconsciously promotes fake news as these algos inherently run based on the tweet engagements or volume of those tweets. However, an engaging feature of these platforms is that millions of people are connected from all over the world, increasing your chances of being viewed and entertained. This makes content creators dependent to be positioned on these platforms. That being said, Web 2.0 internet is also unsound because of the heavy dependency on centralized platforms.
This brings us to the foundational step of next version of internet Web 3.0.
Web 3.0 is built on the architecture of blockchain technology, prominently referred to as a distributed ledger, which is transparent, immutable, and decentralized.
But hey! There’s a catch in here too!! There are few initial foundational changes which needs to be made before building any decentralized platform.
The Layers ⇢
To explain these modifications, a quick dive into deeper concept, inspired by Balaji Srinivasan’s talk, in the Breakpoint 2021 - the change has to be made at the Layer-0 (L0) of creator economy. With L0 blockchain, developers can have complete control over the governance of their work, enhancing true privacy.
Layer-0 (L0) is the foundational point of Blockchain. Layer-1 (L1) is where the internet, hardware and connections exist between them, that allows L1 protocols like Bitcoin, Ethereum to run smoothly.
Take for example, Binance Exchange has created Binance Chain, L1 platform which was built using Cosmos SDK (L0), a Cosmos’s customizable framework for building blockchains. Therefore, L0 not just helps in building blockchain protocols, but also allows for cross-chain interoperability between L1 projects.
Simply put, different blockchain can communicate with each other, which is a feature missing in L1.
⬇️ The protocols do have limitations which can be fixed at the very base, L0.
A limitation of scaling, by which I mean that DApps (decentralized applications) built on top of L1. The protocols on L1 have to strive for blockchain resources which ultimately slower the transactions.
A limitation of usability, as L1 are optimized for average use cases rather than developer uses. Updating conventional Layer 1s often requires forking the network, which takes months and sometimes, hard forks can break up the community.
A limitation in terms of sovereignty; DApps are built on L1 and therefore, typically under the governance of Layer1. That means, if any bug is encountered in Layer 1 protocol, until L1 approves to fix, nothing can be done. By that we can understand, DApps are fully dependent on L1 on which they are built.
Now, what is good for creators – Having control over L0….
Creators should have control for L0 which allows them to scale, optimize usability based on their community needs and gain sovereignty by not just being independent, but allowing interoperability between blockchains.
The Decentralized Version 🔗
Imagine, if you could create as much content you want, based on your ideas and skills that you wish to express to the world. And now imagine if you could do that without having to depend on large companies!! And monetize!!
This is where an open-source decentralized platform allows you to be fully compensated for your efforts. The four principles as defined by Don Tapscott (Executive Chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute), in his book, ‘Blockchain Revolution’ can give a better idea of why we need such an ecosystem: Honesty, Consideration, Accountability and Transparency. The notion is based on, NO intermediation and third-party involvement as opposed to the case of centralization. As good as the words sound, they are well, important in our daily lives. Grounded on this idea, we now have the opportunity to reclaim the social graph for those who want their content to be created, regulated, funded, and owned by themselves!
The dynamics between your content and users accessing it, will only be a two-way street with no dividers in between. Therefore, a much common phrase used now is not creator economy, but ‘Passion Economy’ which is self-sufficient and autonomous. An economy where both creators and audience engage with each other without a central party. There have been increasing examples of decentralized social platforms that are shifting the trend of decentralized social graphs upwards, in Web 3.0.
NOTE: As alternative to existing social platforms, the below-explained platforms are chosen based on their features and drawbacks to compare with new upcoming platform that eliminates those limitations to a larger extent. How the content creators can work their way through and take full advantage while being aware of some limitations are also explained here.
Ownership and control of data can again be returned to the individuals to whom it belongs. How? Let’s now look at this substantial shift towards decentralized social platforms. s
Mastodon is considered as an alternative to Twitter, it is like microblogging, where you can publish text posts, pictures, videos, polls etc. Mastodon runs on a concept of ‘federation’, a form of decentralization. Instead of running on a single server, unlike Twitter, there are multiple servers that any number of people can use. Unlike a traditional website, Mastodon websites can be interoperable, which lets its users communicate with each other.
Being an open-source platform, it allows anyone to create an “instance” (own server). Each instance/community has their own set of guidelines and rules, users need to follow. You can create a server on the platform and create a set of rules and guidelines within the server/community where people will need to follow those rules.
It also provides an easy way to build our own server without any technical knowledge through Mastodon hosting.
Mastodon uses open protocol to implement federation, called ActivityPub. Any software that implements federation via ActivityPub can seamlessly interact with Mastodon and its websites. The “Fediverse” a term for all websites that can communicate with each other over ActivityPub and World Wide Web. For example, Mastodon can communicate with Pixelfed (a federated image sharing platform like Instagram), PeerTube (alternative to YouTube, explained below).
When it comes to policies, as Mastodon is just a software that can be used to power any website, the Mastodon project maintains and all websites/servers need to adopt the Mastodon Server Covenant by pledging to actively moderate against hate speech, take daily backups, have one emergency admin at least and provides 3-month advance notice in case of shutdown of the server. Moreover, each server has their own set of rules or policies like requiring the use of certain tags on potentially sensitive content and in some case some websites/servers have relaxed policies but ultimately every server adopts Mastodon Server policies.
Just imagine if you can follow an Instagram user from Twitter account and comment on their picture or reels. If Twitter and Instagram are federated services, that could be possible. With Mastodon account, users can communicate with any other compatible website, all it needs - the software support ActivityPub protocol.
The design of Mastodon feels incomplete. It’s looks like chat rooms do have a cohesive, growing social network. Keeping in mind, it’s a decentralized non-profit protocol, but hey! Looks matter on internet ⭐️
Second, it has a unique approach that might or might not lead to stagnant growth by creating servers based on groups and topics. It can lead to create opinion bubbles, which usually is not an upside benefit for a social network.
PeerTube is an alternative to YouTube, except its decentralized social media platform using almost similar standards as Mastodon such as content warnings, regulations, and rules. PeerTube is a software that allows you to create a video hosting website. The difference between PeerTube and YouTube is that it does not have intention to create a huge platform centralizing video on a single server. The concept of PeerTube is to create a network of multiple small, interconnected video hosting providers. The monetization is up to the creator on how he/she would like to monetize their content either by donations, or social tokens or through NFTs.
PeerTube is open code under free/libre license which allows users not to pay to install on your server. As it is open source, it is auditable and transparent. It can be enhanced by anyone’s contribution. Like Mastodon, it is based on ActivityPub, which allows us to connect with any other website. The real example is Mastodon user can now comment on PeerTube server videos or like them by using the Mastodon account itself. So, there is high level of interoperability between them. PeerTube decentralizes video storage and decision-making power or monetizing their own videos. It allows to display videos and accounts of other PeerTube websites.
It allows peer-to-peer broadcasting by reducing the server bandwidth overload if video becomes viral.
When coming to limitations, I could see 3 major one’s –
This is a main issue which PeerTube needs to work upon. If you video gets success, the only way to increase the bandwidth problem using WebTorrent protocol to share it between people who are watching it. There is no simple process for it and it requires technical knowledge and time take process for creators.
Each server gets only 20GB storage, but it again depends on different instances. PeerTube kind of solves this using S3/Object storage, a native support for storage, but again this requires bunch of technical knowledge and learning curve which consumers a lot of time for a creator.
Transcoding is nothing by translating video to audio data to one another. As of now there is not such feature on PeerTube, but it announced that it may implement transcoding by remote workers in the future.
Additionally, most videos on PeerTube are procured directly from YouTube. This not only undermines the position of a great application trying to expand itself on decentralized structure but also, hurts creators who have published them. The effective feature that needs to be considered here is ownership of the content, which doesn’t quite seem to fit in this picture.
Overall, it is a great platform for people who are creators and have technical skills or have technical person to their team. It needs to ramp up a lot more to bring lot of traction to their software-based platform. PeerTube is not in a motive to replace YouTube, but it remains to be free and decentralized by the goal of providing an alternative to something that has different values.
Another a couple of projects to understand the current landscape -
Chingari allows users to record, and share videos with wide selection of filters and games. Users can discover creators, download their videos, like, share and interact with their most-liked influencers/creators. It is the first video-based creator application that turned to Web 3.0, involving community.
It works on Create to Earn (C2E) and Watch to Earn (W2E) business models. Chingari believes the platform creators are core value drivers of the platform. Being the first platform which is making influencer-ship as a profession, it shares their 30% of revenues with the creators directly through their GARI Tokens. In simple words, creators earn GARI tokens by creating content on Chingari and users earn GARI tokens by viewing creators’ content.
GARI tokens are used for wide range of purposes both inside Chingari and outside. GARI acts like an in-app currency and be used as governance for GARI DAO. As of now, there are not many limitations that are being explored when playing around with the tools of Chingari. However, going forward, we need to keep an eye on how the platform might transform further. You can learn more about it through their website or through our previous article.
CrowdPad is a tokenized community building tool which is established to empower everyday creators by allowing them to create, discover and manage their tokenized communities all at one place. It is also launching out a software-based tools that helps creators to operate their own community by empowering them to create social tokens.
Social tokens are nothing but a creator-coin. It is a mechanism to quantify the creator’s time. It helps users or the fans or community of the creator to participate in creator’s growth beyond just a verbal support. Creators can capitalize on their fan base, community by directly monetizing their content using this tokenized based content offering their fans/community or specifically speaking creator’s token holders’ ownership over unique digital assets (it can be posts, videos, or any other digital asset). The exciting use case is you get to own the viral video or picture of your creator by investing yourself in them through these social tokens. You can learn more about through their website or through our previous article.
To be fair, most work under decentralized social graph structure relating to creator economy is still undone and requires huge support, belief, and right incentives to go forward. As compared to existing giant companies of social media, these applications have still gone forward with a reflection of data privacy, transparency, security protocols and stepping towards a cultural revolution of creator economy.
However, a complete upcoming revolution of creator-led platform is WordCel that contains attributes, a creator would definitely want to explore!!
Publish, Monetize and Distribute On-chain
Renowned as the winner 🏆 of 5th global hackathons (Riptide, Web3 track), Wordcel is the high-impact project brought into Solana Ecosystem, also securing a prize of $50,000 USDC.
It is a decentralized publishing stack on Solana, building protocol around sovereign creation and distribution of content. The term, ‘Wordcel’ itself projects to “People who are good with words”. The main agenda behind building such a platform is to host your own uncensored publication as an owner. You can build your on-chain profile and decide how to distribute, monetize, and regulate your content. It is, as mentioned before, self-sufficient, and autonomous. As compared to other platforms for publishing work such as Twitter, Medium, Substack and Ghost, the table below sourced from Twitter handle of Wordcel Club, shows how Wordcel has proposed to maintain the idea in terms of ownership and ease of use. You can also import articles from Ghost and Substack, currently expanding on Medium as well. Adding to this, Wordcel will be open-sourced for Github contributions.
Familiarise yourself with Wordcel ➢
An additional important feature would be ‘censorship resistance’ with everyone being able to use it and publish rich articles, expressed in best way possible. As a user, you can also connect your wallet to Wordcel, by clicking on ‘connect your wallet’.
There are ranges of wallets available where you can select amongst your detected wallets or sign-up for one to start connecting with Wordcel. Once you enter the password for your wallet, you will be redirected to this page that asks to connect ⬇️
Finally, to gain access into the club of proud writers – after clicking on ‘Connect’ whilst connecting your wallet or by simply clicking on ‘Request Access’, you will be redirected to the page where you have to fill the required information about your handles on Twitter and Discord along with sharing your written pieces. Finally, filling a description of, why you want to be a part of Wordcel Club with your SOL wallet address.
NOTE: Wordcel hasn’t rolled out invites to any anyone. The team still needs to launch on Mainnet, which means any end project would be released on Mainnet will be accessible by the public to use. But surely, you can sign up by using your wallet and join in the exciting journey.
The Wordcel Club also gives out an important attribute of ‘Proof-of-Post’, that directs you to Solscan, validated on-chain. This means whatever the post/content you publish would be recorded on Solana blockchain network and acts as a Proof of your Post – making it sustainable and eternal. This feature is powered by one of the strongest networks, Arweave built on blockchain and proof-of-access. Arweave technology is a DAN (Decentralized Storage Network) which helps to store files permanently across distributed network of computer.
In summary, why should you use Wordcel as your niche,
✔️ Censorship Resistance – Express yourself uncensored without any intermediate party between you and your audience.
✔️ No barriers to entry – anyone can use it, just follow the steps above and express your best self to be the part of the club, bringing your passion to the world.
✔️ Complete Ownership – Gain overall power on your content, where you choose how to distribute and monetize it.
✔️ Data storage – The data stored from contents published on Wordcel are permanently stored – enhancing sustainable future.
✔️ Wordcel is also used as a desktop Dapp (Decentralised Application), currently under work for some great insights of features where you can use Wordcel editor (checkout this feature) from desktop to publish your work.
✔️ With such features, it is bound to bring upon ‘Creator Longevity’ – The protocol can help creators remain passionate with freedom of managing their own content distribution as opposed to the offers made by centralised platforms.
Finally, this initiative takes us one step closer to the direction of change via decentralization and sovereignty amongst creators. With this technology presented in Web 3.0, the opportunity to expand possibilities are almost unlimited ♾
More than becoming a passionate writer, become a content owner as well whose work is kept ever green with the help of WordCel!! Leave your opinion and questions down in the comments below, keep an eye out for more ⇢
▪️ Until then, Happy Learning!!
Please check out the References:
The Crypto Syllabus - Francesca Bria on Decentralisation, Sovereignty, and Web3
Variant - The Ownership Economy, 2022
Effective Altruism Forum - Aligning Recommender Systems as Cause Area