The Future Of OwnyFans
September 19, 2023
Written by: @mattigags
Asocial Media And Web3 Commerce
For a while, I have held a conviction that social media is becoming more asocial. The trend of short-form video catalyzed by TikTok has nothing social at its core; an algo takes user-generated content (UGC) and recommends it to people. It’s algos and random strangers optimizing for attention.
As Web 3 aspires to revolutionize the social media game it’s worth considering to what extent it fits into the asocial trend booming online. The Web3 mission of owning your social graph seems like a niche proposition amidst the dopamine grab for which users optimize.
Although originally designed to facilitate social interaction, these applications took turns to fuel outrage culture, conflicts, and parasocial simping - all aspects of asocial behavior.
I was originally looking for an answer to how social media became asocial and how Web3 fits into the future of asocial media. But along the way, I realized that Web3 is the present and future of the new era of online social and commercial interaction.
From Social To Asocial
The mass adoption of social media emerged with Facebook. Its success started with the introduction of the newsfeed which started as a mini-talent competition among friends and later turned into a global gladiator arena of conflict.
Social media platforms are designed as a competition for likes, followers, subscribers, and other engagement metrics as an indirect measure of an individual's social capital. Through the years these platforms have become good at turning social capital into financial capital, giving rise to the content creator class aka influencers.
Eugene Wei describes a transformative moment for Twitter, referring to an introduction of ranking tweets by performance as Battle Royale:
“We are now in late-stage performative Twitter, where nearly every tweet is hungry as hell for favorites and retweets, and everyone is a trained pundit or comedian. It's hot takes and cool proverbs all the way down. The harmless status update Twitter was a less thirsty scene but also not much of a business. Still, sometimes I miss the halcyon days when not every tweet was a thirst trap.”
While still not the ultimate zero-sum game as Battle Royal, the ability to earn status and potentially monetize is mostly an asocial element. Think back to the boring early days of social media and its mundane life updates that did not optimize for likes. People said what they wanted to say while now people say what they think people want to hear or what the algo picks up.
Why is this an asocial element?
- it’s mostly a financial capital extraction game
- it’s an imitation game that’s by design leading to a conflict or outrage that captures more attention
- it’s governed by a non-human element - the algorithms
- performance is not social - there is a clear distinction between a performer and an audience (it’s parasocial at best)
The follower and the performer of social media platforms are getting more isolated from the social aspect, without even noticing, mostly locked in a self-desire feedback loop. Rene Girard would say that social media are designed to propagate unlimited desire. Social media has allowed new modes of behavior that we probably could not predict before.
That is why social media contributed to the transformation of the hipster culture into the hypebeast aspiration lifestyle. While the post-2008 millennials rejected aspirations and became baristas, Gen Z wants it all - the private jet and everything.
“The authenticity-driven culture of ironic detachment, so present in the early 2000s, has given way to a moment where people are genuinely open to being influenced, open to sincerely participating, even if it’s cringe.” (Life After Lifestyle)
TikTok introduced the next level of asocial. It’s devoid of most social elements, consisting of random UGI and an algo maximizing users’ dopamine extraction from the screen. There is mostly no intent in purposeful discovery, just a dopamine hit stemming from the next clip that potentially designates the next acquisition quest - the shoes, the watch, the disposable relationship, or other items.
We’re relentlessly heading towards a more asocial culture of financialized mirrors, that are the computer screens, creating a trap in the world of escapeic abundance. As Toby Shorin put it:
“Class mobility may be shot, but at least we can have nice things.”
In crypto culture we’re perpetuating a great myth of multigenerational wealth - the idea of rapid class mobility. Imagine if only one could build a product that marries both - the asocial perpetuation of desires with the hope of rapid class mobility.
Get-rich-quick Tik-Tok is already dabbling into crypto via token and NFT recommendations. With the advent of Ponzi Social, embodied in friend.tech, the prospects of Web3 swallowing profit-hungry influencers become real.
Buying Into The Culture
Volatility As A Service posits crypto products (and culture) as relying on volatility to be relevant. The most important takeaway is that volatility is a crypto's feature, not a bug.
While it expresses hope for speculation being a transitory feature, as crypto culture relies on moving money - it will hardly ever abandon speculation (at least as a means of user acquisition). That is why I would define Web3 as the state of mind of an internet user that “comes for the volatility but stays for the network.”
One might ask if you come for the volatility but stay for the network the essential part is missing. But somewhere in between there's a product - but it’s fluid and it is (in most cases) represented by a token.
People unsuccessfully try to understand crypto in terms of existing products but with crypto it’s something else, it's very fluid, and products change with narratives, but ultimately - the token is the product.
In this sense, you buy into the culture and the products become auxiliary. This is one of the theses of Life After Lifestyle I referenced above. The hypebeast aspiration culture has been about products first and brands inserting themselves into cultural relevance via memes and influencers.
Today, we’re heading into a new territory where culture becomes a product itself and tokens are cultural artifacts that are to be acquired.
Web3 Social = Ponzi Social
Crypto is mostly about money and financial instruments embedded into the networks. As Joel John put it; crypto culture relies on moving money. The social media influencer era is nested in monetizing the social capital (followers and engagement) and, as hinted above, this could be a match made in heaven.
Friendtech, a speculative social game, is a proof of concept and potentially an innovation trigger for similar experimentation in Web3. While the grand intention of Web3 social media was lofty ambitions of users owning their data and graphs, we might just get a better financial capital extraction game.
Although friend.tech is a remnant of the lifestyle era as it primarily enables individuals with established social capital to extract more financial capital, it also allows followers to get a part of that upside. The personal influencer-owned casinos are how it begins but there is a way out of the simp casino. Perhaps there is a silver lining to this dystopian vision.
While friend.tech is one of the first successful primitives of Web3 social, unsurprisingly its early wedge relying on casino mechanics, it’s an interesting experiment that could introduce more social rather than asocial behavior.
As influencers became brands themselves they were able to launch white-labeled products top-down - dumping merch on their followers. As explained above, the brands’ way into cultural relevance was via influencer partnerships and memes. But what if we could own the memes collectively? Enter the era of tribesmen.
In the last 10 years or so, social media inserted an aspiration layer between the observer and the product. Web3 can transform this by layering on the attribution. While the former was represented by an influencer, the hallmark of the latter will be tokenized culture.
Welcome to bottom-up user-generated products, token-based loyalties, collectively owned brands, coordination and attribution of collaborative creation, or simple social ponzi. As people are able to create and disseminate information freely in the last twenty years, in the future they will be able to own and monetize culture and its fruits.
“Tokens enable brands to not only attribute social recognition, through the recording of provenance and thus the origination point of ideas and more, but to route financial value to those who own these ideas as well.” (Aleksia Vujicic’s piece on co-creation)
This plays exactly into the main thesis of Life After Lifestyle; whereas before products were the main thing, today the (sub)culture is the product and products are auxiliary. The subcultures that arise from online tribes are somewhat of a polytheistic return to the ultra-mimetic internet; inheriting the Christian tradition of indulgences through a gamified marketplace.
David Phelps wrote that “unserious games can be very serious belief systems" and Shorin doubled down:
“The customer lifetime value of a believer is potentially far greater than a user. Founders could easily design a culture with bells and whistles, upsell opportunities, and a permanent model of extraction.”
Web3 creates tools for rapid global capital formation and has the ability to give ownership - a stake in an idea or a product. As new tribes, or cults, are forming online; they share an idea and a willingness to deliver on it. They do not have to rely on anyone to give products to them.
Especially if they can natively integrate products coupled with ideology allegiance with a token. The only thing more powerful than a cult is a cult with its own forms of money.
Whether it’s OlympusDAO, BAYC, or all the meme coins, these all point to a culture being bootstrapped bottom-up with participants having a stake in its success. The volatility was a successful user acquisition strategy. The strength of the cult(ure) determines how long the game lasts and how sustainable the microeconomics can become.
Brands are a form of cults and these days they begin to be built bottom-up; subculture is product– and not top-down; pointing to subculture to justify the product. European football clubs are an archetypical PoC of this model (maybe that’s why more private capital seeks to enter and monetize commercially).
If you don’t see the product then probably you are the product. In Web3 this is usually the case. Here and there products appear, tokens rise and fall, some make a comeback, and some are forgotten forever. In the meantime, we are mostly in the entertainment business.
Memes are the most traded asset class on Uniswap but your boomer overlords want you to spend money on sugar water.
Web3 Is Commerce
Ethereum itself is a brand with its blockspace a Veblen good. Ethereum’s brand is the most powerful moat. On the abstract level, owning ETH is a bet on the increasingly conspicuous consumption of Web3. And perhaps in the future, we will understand that ETH is Nike and SOL Adidas - it’s all a consumer choice rather than a fundamental difference.
Might not be intuitive but cultural relevance will be traded
Friend.tech demonstrates that we, in fact, can tokenize pretty much anything without adhering to the legal agreements that would make this open relationship more formal. Consumer brands sell the idea that you will be admired for owning the good, but they will never guarantee that; it’s the silent promise of status that purchasers seek.
Creator shares sell the idea that you will belong to the inner circle of your idol, but we shouldn’t demand immutable on-chain track records of creators dutifully entertaining their fans because they own a share or two. In other words – status is more important than utility.
Speculative social or SocialFi could be the start of RWA we didn’t think of before. Instead of asking how we can put treasury bonds on-chain, we should ask how we can onboard and grow consumer culture while giving it new forms of product - status embedded in the token ownership.
Perhaps we are still failing to recognize that Web3 is commerce, but a novel form consisting of new types of products - tokens. Tokens are bundling the concept of culture and a product in one. The product is a subject of reflexive narrative that can change forms over time. In the same way conspicuous consumption is on a fundamental level a means to achieve something (status, pleasure, thrill, etc.), so are the tokens.
But there are also more social tribes with specific goals in mind. Today we see them also in DeSci (Degen Science) with VitaDAO or HairDAO being mission-driven brands with various products and future monetization flowing back to the token holders.
We have been ushered into the next level of asocial with simp casino of friend.tech - we are also transforming online commerce into a more bottom-up culture of attribution built around token networks. To me, this is an optimistic endeavor that challenges the conventional view of commerce and translates the memetic premium of tokens into a brand buy-in.
Disclosure: Zee Prime has invested in HairDAO