Issue #52: Web 3 Social
This issue was inspired by several conversations with @anonalyx, and I haven’t been this excited about a topic in a while.
This week we’re talking about the Web 3 social experience. These are very new thoughts and I’m sure I’ll refine a lot of this in subsequent issues. Here’s the backdrop…
The Web 2 social experience (aka social media) was about bringing the offline, online - real life moments captured with a photo or video being broadcast on social media platforms for others to consume, like and comment on. It’s a personal reality show, and our physical lives are the raw material.
With Web 3 and the Metaverse, we’re moving to an era where our virtual lives (what we do natively online) are as interesting, capturable and sharable as our real ones, maybe even more so. This is the basis for the Web 3 social experience.
Spoiler - NFTs steal the show.
Let’s zoom in…
Web 2 Social → Web 3 Social
Think about the similarities between platforms like Instagram, Youtube and TikTok. If we generalize them, they are digital platforms for sharing our physical lives. We can share a selfie from vacation on Instagram. Record a prank video and upload it to Youtube. Post a video of you and your friend doing a choreographed dance on TikTok.
All of this content is based on something that happened IRL. Social media extends the reach of our real lives to people who aren’t physically there to experience it with us. Put differently, our real lives are the raw material for Web 2 social media content.
Another interesting aspect of social media is the role of visuals. With the exception of Twitter, every major social media platform revolves around visuals. Why is that?
Photos and videos are the tools we use to capture those real life moments so we can share them with others. It’s the only mechanism we have to show others who weren’t there with us.
Visuals are also how we prove something happened. They are the evidence, the attestation. It’s no surprise that the aggregate of our social media content forms the basis for our online reputation. If I show you a bunch of amazing pictures and videos from my life, you believe those things actually happened. They form the basis for how you perceive me.
We curate which moments to share and stitch them together into a slideshow that we present to the world in the form of an Instagram page or a Youtube channel. These are carefully curated compilations of our physical lives.
So to recap Web 2 social media:
Our physical lives are the raw material
Based on visuals (photos, videos)
Carefully curated to present the version of us we want others to see
Now, we’re transitioning to an era where our virtual lives - what we do natively online - is as interesting and capturable as our physical lives. We can own virtual things. We can earn virtual credentials. We can work for DAOs. We can build a brand and audience based solely on our virtual activity. The next generation of social platforms will be digital tools for sharing our digital lives.
If physical moments, experiences and possessions are the raw materials for Web 2 social, then virtual moments, virtual experiences and virtual possessions will be the raw materials for Web 3 social.
So how do you capture digital moments, experiences and possessions?
NFTs, the basis for Web 3 Social
If you’ve read an article about the Metaverse recently, there’s a good chance it featured an image of a futuristic, video game-like world. Basically, Ready Player One. When I wrote my issue on the Metaverse last year, I used the photo below. The same photo that dozens of other magazines and websites used for their Metaverse articles.
The thing is, this isn’t the Metaverse today. The Metaverse experience that exists today is the Internet experience with some Dapps and NFTs sprinkled in. We’re still staring at a 13” screen with 2D graphics and interacting with web applications to do everything. We don’t have a fully immersive virtual reality yet.
But, even without the fully immersive experience, we can start to create the assets that fill these virtual worlds. NFTs and their corresponding imagery are the first generation of Metaverse visuals.
If you’re wondering when the transition to Web 3 social started, it was when NFTs became PFPs (profile pics) on Twitter. A seemingly silly, benign action that will mark the beginning of a new phase of social.
For the first time, people are using social media platforms to display something from their virtual life, not their physical life. The visual of the NFT says to viewers “I own this thing”, the same way a picture of a new sports car says “I own this thing”.
Play out this trend with one assumption in mind - that an increasing number of our online actions and accomplishments will be represented with NFTs. I’ve referred to these as micro-credentials in previous issues, but more generally, they are a way to record our virtual lives. Think about how many little memories of moments from our lives have slowly faded over time. But the second you see a photo, you’re immediately transported back to that place and time. NFTs don’t just say I own this, they can say “I did this” or “I was there”.
And just like I would post a photo to Instagram, I’m going to display the NFT in my wallet, proudly.
This is the future of NFTs. They are the vehicle for capturing not only our digital possessions, but our digital actions. The Web 3 social equivalent of a photo.
The most valuable members of every online community will have NFTs signaling their reputation. If you were a seed investor in a new startup, you will have an NFT. If you’re a member of an exclusive DAO, you’ll have an NFT. Everything you do, and especially the things you do better than others, will be represented by an NFT. And within those communities, you will be recognized above others. This is how the online status game plays out in Web 3.
But what if I don’t want every aspect of my virtual life publicly accessible? Today, that’s the default. Your wallet addresses and their contents are viewable by anyone. With Web 2 social, I had to choose what to share. With Web 3, everything is already online. Curation becomes even more important.
A fun thought experiment is imagining what a Metaverse-version of Instagram would look like. You can’t share photos of your real life, so what can you share?
How about images of your avatars, digital art and other NFTs (which can represent literally anything) you’ve acquired?
You can see this proof of concept in action by connecting your Metamask wallet to Opensea and viewing your “Profile”. All your NFTs displayed in a gallery view, and *I think* organized chronologically based on date of acquisition. The NFT gallery is the first generation of a Web 3/Metaverse social media profile.
For now, NFT galleries show every NFT in your wallet. However, as our wallets collect hundreds of NFTs, the question becomes - “do I want to show everything?” We spend hours meticulously selecting and editing what we share on Instagram, so it’s safe to assume we’ll be as selective and self-conscious about our NFT gallery.
The next generation of galleries will have better curation features - the ability to hide, organize, sort by community, etc. Keep an eye on Islands.xyz.
The real unlock though comes when you can discover and connect with others. Real social interaction. We don’t have a great example of this yet, but projects like Context, that give you updates on people’s NFT transfer and sales activity in a “news feed” format, and whatever Zapper is working on (see screenshot), are peaks into the future.
Image-based NFTs is where we start. We aren’t living in expansive virtual worlds just yet. But you can imagine a future where we are back to posting videos of our avatars doing some new dance…sigh.
I’ll be writing more about this topic.
Thanks for reading,
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