And how it mirrors early Twitter API excitement
Farcaster is one of the hottest decentralized social media apps with a loyal user base and a well-built protocol. And in the face of turbulent times at Twitter, Farcaster's developer ecosystem is booming like the early days of Twitter. In this article, we'll explore what makes Farcaster and its developer ecosystem unique, as well as how it’s leading the way for DeSo.
As its GitHub says, Farcaster is a protocol for building decentralized applications. Each user’s account is an Ethereum wallet, which means users can load their seed phrases into wallets like MetaMask or Rainbow to use community apps. In addition, users can add a connected address so that their NFTs show up in their profile. The main app, built by Merkle Manufactory(the team behind Farcaster), looks pretty similar to any other social media app: it has a feed sorted by Following, Highlights, and NFTs. But what’s really special is the community and the developer ecosystem.
Farcaster has about 1,500 weekly active users and everyone on the protocol has to go through its co-founder Dan Romero to get an invite. Because of this, most people on Farcaster are aligned around some of the same things(such as Ethereum) and everyone is focused on meaningful content instead of spam or super long threads.
Additionally, the fact that Farcaster is a protocol means that anyone can build their own app or tool without needing to go through an approval process. The team plans to take this a step further by releasing hubs — think of a hub as a node for the Farcaster network like the Ethereum network has nodes — that anyone can self-run, removing the need of going through Merkle’s API instance.
Twitter, the largest mainstream comparison to Farcaster, has been going through some tough times. After months of speculation and internal turmoil, Elon Musk finally completed his $44B purchase in October. And the promise of revitalizing the platform with new features and fast, quality builds has not yet been reached. The company’s headcount has been reduced significantly, there haven’t been as many innovative features launched as were anticipated, and the overall quality of the app seems to have dropped a bit — from server outages to bugs to the recent decision to change Twitter API access.
The state of Twitter is declining and it’s leading to people moving both to different social media apps, such as Instagram and TikTok, and to other decentralized Twitter-like apps, such as Farcaster. In tech and web3 in particular, Twitter can be a transformative tool both for consuming content and making connections. This makes people naturally inclined to want to find a similar tool they can continue using, with the added benefits of long-term trust and innovation.
Farcaster is just one of many new competitors that have emerged in the Decentralized Social(DeSo) space. Other than Farcaster, two main competitors in the space area:
Lens Protocol - a social media protocol built on top of Polygon. Every user profile and follower is an NFT and users can monetize their following. The protocol has a set of SDKs, solid DevRel, and a rather large userbase. However, there isn’t as active of a core userbase and as well as some of the docs might be, it’s yet to be seen how much community members will use third party apps and if those apps will be innovative.
Mastodon - Mastodon is a social network made up of individually hosted servers, with each one focusing on different topics. You can follow people on different servers, but can only see their following/followers list if they’re on your server. The tool has gained lots of mainstream popularity over the past few months. There are a few Mastodon clients but otherwise there aren’t a ton of apps built on top of it. Additionally, Mastodon has taken heat for its server structure model, where a server could fail if one person maintaining it doesn’t uphold their duties.
Lens and Mastodon have both gained a good amount of traction, especially considering the events at Twitter over the past few months, but I don’t think the innovation around the products themselves is as comparable to Farcaster’s. These tools offer ways for anyone to build their own apps or run their own servers, but opportunities for solutions to exist and the development/iteration of these solutions is a bit more lack-luster; it would all work out in theory, but it’s not quite there yet. Without trying to draw a conclusion too early on, it seems as though hype in some of these social apps gets in the way of community engagement and feedback, which is what ultimately drives the best apps forward.
On Farcaster, community members listen to each other and turn those conversations into products. Not only is the protocol permissionless but it’s driving real innovation. I’m not sure if it’s because the tool is still relatively small and rather well-vetted or because of how easy the Farcaster docs are to understand, but people genuinely want to use the protocol to drive innovation that wouldn’t happen, or be possible, elsewhere.
The combination of the Farcaster community and developers make the tool so exciting that it draws many parallels to early Twitter, especially as it relates to third-party apps. As Dan Romero mentioned during his interview on the Bankless podcast, Twitter’s early API was an open ecosystem with tons of innovation — they let people build what they wanted to and a lot of the resulting apps contained features that became integrated into the Twitter experience, such as Pull to Refresh and Quote Tweets. And because of the open nature of the API, developers weren’t afraid to try new ideas that pushed the bounds for how you could build on or interact with a social graph.
What started as tinkering out of excitement for what could be has turned into community members meeting co-founders, launching DAOs, and even starting venture-backed companies — all on top of Farcaster. Farcaster has become a new GTM both for tools on the protocol and for web3 alpha. These tools are not just new for Farcaster, but they’re pushing real social innovation and giving web3 use cases.
Some of my favorite projects on the protocol include:
Purple - a Nouns-style DAO focused on supporting Farcaster, with a once-a-day auction. They’ve already deployed grants, created a This Week in Farcaster newsletter, and more. In addition, DAO members and active voters are very involved in the community.
farcaster.network - an analytics dashboard for the protocol which lists stats such as weekly active casters(users), top casters, users with NFT avatar %, and average casts per day.
Unlonely - a web3 streaming service with a very loyal fanbase. Unlonely offers new and incentive-driven features such as using $BRIAN token to change the scene, clipping content as an NFT, and queuing videos to watch in a playlist. The tool has also gotten new opportunities through Farcaster.
Launchcaster - a site to discover the hottest projects in web3. Farcasters can tag
@launch to a thread and add it to the site, which features an upvoting system as well as a weekly newsletter. It’s already read by some of the most influential names in web3.
Discove - Discove is a Farcaster client with a set of new features, such as using SQL to search content, building plugins(eg. a graph viewing mentions of a word), and a community lists feature called coves. The client has been one of the most innovative and promises to offer some new ideas that haven’t been seen on Farcaster, let alone in social.
The most exciting part for me isn’t just how these tools will help the Farcaster ecosystem as we know it today, but how this will add lots of innovation to well-needed areas of web3 in ways it couldn’t before. Founders are betting on the protocol very early to do things they would otherwise do more generally in web3, but are finding that the adoption of this community means so much for so many reasons.
While one might argue that the exclusivity of these apps could hinder mainstream success, you could also conversely say that these tools being tested in the right environments will lead to even more success when decentralized protocols like Farcaster gain wider adoption — or even that the success of the apps built on Farcaster will make people want to use the protocol more. As Dan famously once said, people use apps, not protocols.
As I mentioned earlier, many people are taking huge and early bets on Farcaster, even though the team prioritizes building for the long run and there can be good reason to stick with the protocol. However, what if things don’t work out and people have spent large amounts of time and resources to build on a protocol that isn’t going where they’re headed?
Well for one, the upside of a protocol is credible exit — if a company were to build entirely on top of Farcaster and wanted to leave, their community and content will be exportable, or they could just focus on their own client with their own rules. And as I mentioned earlier, Farcaster hubs give anyone the ability to fetch data from the protocol without a centralized authority.
But put all of that to the side — what if Farcaster as a protocol doesn’t expand as it’s envisioned to? At the very least, the ideas and communities that have already formed will either set a great example or lead the way towards the future of crypo and of social. The amount of purposeful engagement on the protocol has led to the rise and growth of some of the most exciting products in web3, from Daylight to Spindl to Highlight to Paragraph — and that’s only naming a few. As much as I have faith that Farcaster can continue to grow and become something much bigger than it is right now, I also believe that if that were not to happen, that what has already happened on Farcaster is enough of a statement that it will benefit web3 broadly.
So what’s up next for Farcaster? Members of the Farcaster community are hosting a meetup at ETH Denver, which will reportedly be the largest ever community meetup. With all of the protocol’s growth over the past year, I’m sure this meetup will spark new friendships and products for the ecosystem to benefit from over the next few months. In addition, the Merkle team is pushing along on their roadmap(seen below). Over the past month, two of the largest launches for the team have been QR Login, where users can scan a QR code in the client to connect to other clients instead of copy-pasting their seed phrases, and App Store Launch, which is live for both iOS and Android.
Coming up over the next few months, a few key releases to look out for include:
Web Client: The team has been working on a web client that could potentially be previewed in the next month with a focus at first on read-only support for sharing, according to Farcaster co-founder Varun Srinivasan.
AMPs: A way to boost a user for a given period of time — a different type of following system.
Rebrand: The team is looking to change the name of their clients so that it is different than the name of the protocol. The new name has yet to be announced.
Hubs & Mainnet: Two of the largest releases are the release of hubs, Farcaster’s network nodes, and mainnet integration. Hubs could launch in Q2 and mainnet contracts could launch in H2(source).
Looking beyond the horizon, if all goes well for the protocol then you can imagine Farcaster as an identity layer that can be plugged into different types of social apps. As you go to do different things in different apps, say you’re looking for music or writing articles or following a particular sport, your friends move with you. And when you go back to other apps, you can even see content from other apps without leaving where you are. What if a Farcaster client could embed an Unlonely clip UI every time you posted an Unlonely link? What if a web3 Spotify showed you what your closest friends on Farcaster were listening to, or if a Farcaster-powered Venmo alternative let you send money to friends — even to DAOs?
The closest example you could make to Farcaster as it relates to its structure as a protocol might be email. Anyone can run an email server, different clients can have their own rules, and you can import/export your data — the protocol itself doesn’t lock you out of those options. This is the true promise of interoperability, which could be one of web3’s largest and most presently available use cases. You own your following, data moves where you do, and you can choose the experience that you want. If even a fraction of that vision is realized, Farcaster is in for an exciting future.
This is only the beginning of decentralized social platforms and the innovation that Farcaster brings to the ecosystem will no doubt impact other teams. Other protocols will grow and other tools built on Farcaster might even expand to connect with other platforms like Lens, ENS, and Lit Protocol(more listed below). One thing I’m curious to see if teams building on other platforms add Farcaster to their strategy, and if so how deeply the integration is or for what purpose. An example I’ve seen of this has been Yup, a social feed that aggregates articles, NFTs, Farcaster content, and Lens content into one feed.
I’m also curious to see what sort of communities form on these apps. Farcaster’s userbase is a bit smaller than Lens’, but you could argue that Farcaster members are much more active, the platform has less spam, and because of community engagement apps that fit real needs are built. I wonder if apps built on Farcaster will become larger decentralized social apps and if they stay solely on Farcaster or move to their own protocols. Maybe likeminded developers across different protocols will come together to fill needs they see across the board.
In addition, I think Farcaster has an opportunity to influence broader social, not just the fact that it’s decentralized. One example I see of this is Absorb, a Vine-inspired client built on top of Farcaster and IPFS pinning service Pinata, which hosts the video content(Merkle’s clients don’t natively support video). I’m sure Absorb is only the first of many clients that will experiment with UI features that other top social companies aren’t focused on. It would be interesting to see if new features make web2 social companies look at DeSo features as inspiration, or if they become so convinced by the power of DeSo that the build on/build their own protocols.
It's exciting to think about the new possibilities and the teams that have committed to Farcaster have shown that it is possible to unchain oneself from the web2 world and build something new, but more importantly sustainable. Farcaster is still in its infancy, but I'm hopeful that this is only the beginning of their journey and I can’t wait to see what the team has in store for us next.