The rise of web3 social (ROWS) #1 - mapping the space

What is Web3 Social? How do Web3 social apps differ from Web2? Are the early promises of decentralization, ownership, and trustlessness on track, or are they faltering under the myriad trade-offs that come with building complex technology? What changes are in store for users, creators, and their communities?

These are some of the questions we'll delve into in this series on Web3 social. I’m not technical nor am I an expert on web3 social so I’ll be learning as I write! The first few posts will be dedicated to a rapid overview of things that define ‘web3 social’ including the types of projects, primary personas, dominant narratives, and so forth. Just to make sure that we have a general idea of what we’re looking at.

To kick this off I’ll share the WIP mapping that I’ve been working on in parallel of a database of web3 social projects. I’ll keep updating this mapping as we go with your help!! But first here is some context on why this series exists.𓀤 𓀥 𓀦 𓀧

Mint the series genesis NFT on Zora 👇

The series’ backstory and intentions

After spending all of 2022 working on a mental health project, I returned to focus entirely on Web3, aiming to work with various projects and their communities as a consultant and creator. I was seeking new clients when a good friend introduced me to Hadrien, founder and CEO at Sismo, a Paris based company applying ZK for privacy and user data aggregation.

My best case scenario was to assist Sismo with growth and marketing, but what emerged from conversations was much more exciting. Hadrien proposed sponsor me to write an educational series on web3 social. As someone who loves to investigate, learn, and share what I learn, it was an opportunity I wouldn't have found even if I had tried.

So here I am, diving deep into web3 social, trying to understand concepts and pull the work of many smart builders into digestible pieces.

I’ve already learned from many builders and thinkers and will keep doing so. Some are Nir from Yup, Dan and Varun from Farcaster, Bradley from Lens, Jacob from Zora, Raz & Reka from Guild, Jakub from SGV, Peter and Nich from 1kx, Diana from Rehash, Pol from Converse, Matt from XMTP, Adam from Bello and many more.

Thanks to Limone.eth and David for providing feedback on some of the content. And now back to the mapping.

The State of Web3 Social v0, July 2023

I thought that a good old mapping would be entertaining to start with. The plan is to upgrade and revise this mapping and corresponding database over the next few months as we explore the space in more detail.

Please DM me on Twitter/Lens/Farcaster @albiverse for any comments updates to this mapping.

Let’s quickly describe each category of this State of web3 social (v0).

Protocol layer

protocol layer
protocol layer

Protocols provide developers with essential building blocks (or primitives) for Web3 social applications: posting, commenting, following, messaging, and more. As such, protocols target developers as their end users.

There are multiple properties that make web3 social more appealing to developers than their web2 counterparts:

  • Web3 protocols aim for decentralization and ‘credible neutrality’ meaning than no central party will be able to shut off developers from using a web3 tool. This is to be put in parallel with the recent situation with Reddit, where Reddit significantly increased the cost to use its API. As a result, most third-party developers had to shut down their apps.

  • Web3 social graphs -the history of transactions and user data- are openly accessible and can be leveraged by developers who do not have to bootstrap their own social graph. Something that is notoriously very hard to do.

  • Web3 builders can leverage the body of existing building blocks and open source code, increasing the ease of execution of an idea from zero to an MVP.

The degree of decentralization can fluctuate over time for protocols, as their teams have to make short-to-medium-term trade-offs. Some projects are choosing different approaches, including progressive decentralization or 'sufficient decentralization.' The latter is based on the idea that protocols only need to be decentralized to the extent necessary to fulfill their original value proposition, and that non-essential features don't have to be decentralized.

Web3 social is in its early stages, with key protocols still in the initial phases of development. Some, like Farcaster and Lens, have been partially focusing on building web3 versions of web2 features like posting, commenting, and following. Now the more novel primitives of Web3 - such as minting, collecting, and granting access to services based on NFTs - are being added to this mix. Collectively, these elements will enable new use cases at the app layer.

XMTP is an example of a web3 protocol that solves for the messaging primitive and allowing users to receive message accross different apps directly on their blockchain account through clients like Lenster and Converse.

Identity layer

identity layer
identity layer

The identity layer enables for a richer experience of web3 social applications through the creation and aggregation of data under decentralized identifiers owner by directly by users. This includes the creation of a dencentralized identity, name and avatar, profile, txn history, data privacy & selective information sharing and providing access to various digital social spaces.

Some projects at this layer are protocols too but given the breadth of projects working on identity and social data I thought that they deserved their own layer in the stack. I feel like the innovations at the identity layer will deeply shape experiences created at the apps & clients layer.

One of the expectations around Web3 social is that users will control their own data and should be able to have customized experiences across the applications they use even for the first time in their life. To make this happen, builders need identity layer projects to provide rich and diverse date.

POAP is an example of an identity layer project that is being used to enrich user experience in Salsa, a chat application.

Clients & apps layer

Clients & apps layer
Clients & apps layer

Clients & apps are the user facing interfaces and products built on top of web3 social protocols. They leverage the breadth protocols and identities available to elaborate valuable and novel use cases for end users like collectors, creators and regular consumers.

My initial idea was to segment apps according to their focus on different web3 social personas like collectors, curators and creator. I eventually went for a simpler categorization of apps according to their main function. It is sometimes pretty hard to categorize the most out of the box experiences like Stealcam.

An example of web3 social app is PartyBid which enables people to easily purchase things together with crypto through a truly novel experience. The Partybid app leverages the Party protocol.

Key enablers

These are a list of technologies without which protocols, tools and apps would not be able to exist. Some examples are ERC 721/1155/6551 standards around which so many projects are designed.

In this category I also want to include key enablers like the ability to build multiple clients on top of web3 social protocols.

Where are we going next?

I expect this mapping to evolve a lot as I refine my understanding of the space.

Here are some of the topics I’d like to research and write about next:

  • how projects at different layers of the stack are approaching decentralization

  • who are the main web3 social personas

  • what are dominant web3 social narratives

Big thanks to Sismo for supporting this series!

The rise of web3 social x Sismo
The rise of web3 social x Sismo
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