Identity First, Apps Second: Beyond Gated Web 2 Platforms

May 19, 2023

Written by: @mattigags

- The Web 3 Social will emerge bottom-up indexing of identifiers attached to users’ blockchain address

- New apps will aggregate these verifiable identifiers, enabling users to connect in a social platform-like experience

- As the Web 3 social graph is inherently open - the apps are in a hard position to build moats

As the meme of Web 3 gained traction the intuition of many turned to social media applications. Many think that this industry is ripe for disruption. I agree, but I would add a nuance that the emergence of crypto-native social media might not be top-down but bottom-up instead.

Below is a synthesis and a loose sequel to Zee Prime’s Web 3 Social, Commerce, and The Fappening.

Our inquiry into decentralized social media started early in 2018 with that to this day struggles to validate its product thesis. It has been an interesting one nonetheless. In short, the founder believed that in the same way Google indexed the web with Pagerank, someone will manage to reliably index identities based on the underlying attention flows between social media accounts.

The attention flow refers to a direction of follows, likes, and other impressions with which users populate social networks. applied a similar model to the one Google used to bootstrap its search engine, but applied it to Twitter accounts not websites.

To break down the terminology:

  1. Indexing refers to bringing order into chaos e.g. unfiltered chaos of websites being cataloged by the search engine, essentially ascribing values to nodes on the graph
  2. (Social) graph is a result of indexing, meaning it is a mathematical structure that describes relationships (edges) between different nodes on graph
  3. Identities, in this context, are what uniquely define the nodes (entities) on the graph

We use the words network and graph interchangeably. Source: Intro to Networks

We still think that the indexing makes sense but not in a way Hive has pursued this. Although Twitter user profile metrics (such as follower count) is an interesting source of potential identifiers, we now have much more interesting identifiers at our disposal that are not subject to a gated platform; tokens.

I would define identifiers as any assets or metrics that help define someone’s position on a social graph. There are implicit and explicit identifiers:

  1. Explicit: username, handle etc.
  2. Implicit: follower count, likes, and everything else that describes the user such as holding a particular token or an NFT, having performed some on-chain transaction

Liquidating multiple debt positions on Aave could earn you a “Flame of the West” identifier/badge

Whether fungible or non-fungible, these open identifiers are not gated and already allow us to begin describing crypto social graphs (which until now were mostly financial, instead of attention flows we have capital flows between addresses). With the emergence of ZK-based attestation, we are upgrading our ability to ascribe identifiers based on user behavior and even port Web 2 credentials in a credible manner.

Identity first, apps second - no need to be locked in a platform to attain an identity

Our blockchain (mostly ETH) addresses are slowly becoming our user profiles. That is how the user interaction with the web will slowly invert, identities (addresses) will become primary, and apps secondary. The web will become natively social and users will not have to rely on gated social media platforms to facilitate connection to other users.

Indexing Users Not Pages

In this sense we view thesis as going in the right direction - indexing identities is a way to build decentralized and platform-independent social media, however, their form of attestation (attention score) failed to create a flywheel as it did not catch on.

Tokens are already tagging the web and defining relationships between users. The next generation of social media apps will rely on indexers that will offer additional utility.

Token-enabled clustering is a way to define a community. With the proliferation of non-fungible verifiable identifiers, also known as soulbounds, we might enter a Cambrian explosion of tagging enabling social activity. This means the crypto “Web 3 social” will grow bottom-up.

Suddenly we are not locked into an app to connect to other users; we need them only to facilitate interaction but not to define our social graph. The first part of indexing is done by the tokens (non/fungible and ZK identifiers) and the platforms built will facilitate discovery (via competing algorithms), DMing, tweeting, newsfeed-like UX, etc.

Speaking in more practical terms, Sismo ZKconnect, or something similar, could in a sense be an evolutionary tool that will accelerate the process of making crypto financial graphs fully social (with some privacy elements).

Is the crypto social app of the future just an aggregator (like Zapper on-chain activity feed)? Is it a wallet displaying your friends, follows, purchases, and ZK badges, allowing you to subscribe, block, mute, amplify, and message anyone on the chain? Do the inherent crypto financial tools enhance the experience? Send money to friends, lend them money (never a good idea), stake on their “tweets” or streams, etc.

Indexing of websites led to a better search and improved users’ navigation on the internet. It connected pages into a more structured web. Indexing users (based on identifiers) essentially means connecting them - or enabling them to get connected. This experience is similar to having one’s phone number; you know the number X is Joe, and you can connect with Joe via hundreds of different apps.

Supperapp Or Long-Tail?

Social media platforms emerged as monopolies of Web 2. Can Web 3 follow a similar path? As discussed above, identifiers in Web 3 become platform-independent in contrast to gated Web 2 identifiers. The potential monopoly play in Web 3 will then rely on the aggregation of these identifiers into a sticky application.

Building an aggregator is tricky in terms of a moat. If you’d like to build a “WeChat of crypto” you have to execute many features very well and still - you don’t own the users. They can switch to any other platform that provides the same without losing their underlying network. The switching costs are zero.

Therefore; any superapp of the future (will never call itself this) will figure out how to increase switching costs for users, either directly offering lower prices because it would innovate downstream (e.g. the blockbuilding, thus offering cheaper execution), or it would just provide a unique user product that is hard to replicate.

Block-building today is all about expressing financial intents. The social superapp could find a way to merge social intents with financial ones, and vertically integrate this blockbuilding process into its user journey.

Building solely on a unique, user-friendly product as a moat is another option. In a sense of crypto-network, it could be a fragile one, because it doesn’t acknowledge the commercialization of social experiences.

The innovation is about creating new bundles as one unbundles the old. Our guess is that creating bundles in Web 3 will require a solution that will solve complex coordination on the financial graph while integrating savvy social functions.

It is possible that in the short term, a top-down superapp can capture the market. In the context of the social Web 3, they’d have to separate the identifier from the wallet to succeed in locking in users for the long term.

Regardless of which solution dominates in the future, we expect an emergence of social Web 3 but predict it will be less of an app-centric boom and more of an identifier-driven (bottom-up) phenomenon, followed by a trend of wallet-like solutions that will try to aggregate these identifiers.

If you’re thinking about these problems, do not be shy and reach out.

Thanks to Ankit and longsolitude for their valuable input.

Disclaimer: Zee Prime has invested in, Sismo and Zapper.