NFT Metadata standards could make decentralized (social) media networks relevant


  • (Social) media networks are growing in power; it is important to decentralize that power and make the networks more transparent.

  • Because of network effects, it is hard to engage the wide public with new media networks and decentralized alternatives able to compete with current networks.

  • Instead of creating new protocols that silo each platform’s content, we suggest that it would be beneficial to create common standards for media content that can be stored in a decentralized way and could be interoperable across projects.

  • Projects with interoperable content would create common network effects and have a higher rate of adoption.

  • In general, we believe that NFT Metadata standards could be an important building block for Web3, allowing for an interoperable content layer.

2. Background - The importance of decentralized media networks

Most social and technological developments of humankind are strongly correlated with our ability to share information. The importance of communication can be seen in our heavy focus on improving communication technologies in the past decades; as the influential entrepreneur Peter Thiel pointed out, “we got 140 characters” instead of “flying cars.”

The power of centralized, privately owned (social) media networks that facilitate much of public communication has grown exponentially over the years. Through the administration of the information shared in these networks, the owners have the power to influence collective beliefs, actions, and discourses. Users of privately owned networks can be excluded without explanation, and details about what content gets shown to whom under what circumstances remain opaque to the public.

As British politician Lord Acton’s saying goes, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." Thus, we might have reached the point where we need to rethink the structure of media networks in light of their vast influence on us.

There are decentralized alternatives that share information through transparent networks without the dependency on central decision-makers, but they lack user adoption and can't counter the strong network effects of existing centralized Web2 media networks.

3. Focusing on NFT metadata standards to create a shared content layer for decentralized media networks

We think the interoperability of shared content in decentralized media networks could improve their adoption and help to facilitate migration from Web2 to Web3 networks.

Web2 puts an identity layer over the web, making it easy for users to identify themselves across different services (e.g., Facebook and Google login). For users it would have been much harder to engage with new Web2 services had they had to create a new identity for every different service. As Web2 made access to identity interoperable, Web3 could do this for content.

Web3’s immutable storage layer (blockchain) is publicly accessible and is, among other things, used to record ownership, which is represented by tokens. These tokens are managed by smart contracts; computer programs stored on blockchains that are developed under certain standards (e.g., ERC721/NFT) to ensure their interoperability across the ecosystems. Their descriptive qualities, like written and visual representations, are typically stored off-chain in their so-called metadata.

We think that using non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to manage the content of decentralized media networks and develop new NFT metadata standards for different types of content (e.g., microblogging, articles, music, photos, educational certificates) could be a great solution to make content interoperable across projects, protocols, and even blockchains (e.g., Ethereum, Polygon, Tezos).

This way, new projects wouldn't need to start without content and create content that is only focused on their protocol or platform but could have interoperable content that anybody can produce and access. To make these ideas more concrete and understandable, let's look at an example.

4. Tweet metadata standard example

Mastodon and Peepeth are one of the many attempts to create a decentralized alternative to Twitter. Despite the improvements these decentralized alternatives offer regarding power distribution, data privacy, and security, it is not easy for them to build a user base due to Twitter's strong network effects. On Twitter, writers and readers have already built their networks, which makes it hard for a new service to offer a comparative alternative because users need to start such a process from scratch.

It would be easier for these decentralized services to get audience engagement if, instead of using their own data structures showing only content produced by them, they would agree on a metadata standard representing a common alternative to Tweets, storing them as NFTs on blockchains, available to be used and shared by anybody.

To publish a new tweet that is stored on-chain and is compatible with that standard, the user would need to use a client that would mint the tweet NFT on a blockchain via their blockchain account, associated with its corresponding address.

These clients could behave similarly to email clients. While emails are exchanged via the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) in the background, most users use web email clients like Apple Mail, Gmail, or Outlook to send and read emails. Similarly, users would use a client to send and read tweet NFTs. Switching clients in this case would be even easier since users would just need to log into clients via their wallets.

The specifics of the contract and blockchain that are used to mint the tweet are not important as long as it uses the standard for the metadata. Once the tweet is minted, a reader can query the author's address and look for NFTs that have been created under the standard and display them. Thus, a client that displays tweets under the meta standard would not need to be tied to one particular blockchain but could display content from various blockchains and different contracts.

To better illustrate what we are talking about when we say metadata standard of NFTs, we will look at the data structures of the metadata of an NFT, a Twitter API response, and an example of what a potential NFT Metadata standard for Tweets could look like.

An example of an NFTs metadata JSON created under the ERC721 standard looks like this:

  "name": "Thor's hammer",
  "description": "Mjölnir, the legendary hammer of the Norse god of thunder.",
  "image": "https://game.example/item-id-8u5h2m.png",
  "strength": 20

Here is an example response from the Twitter API for a tweet:

  "id": "1460323737035677698",
  "text": "Introducing a new era for the Twitter Developer Platform! nn📣The Twitter API v2 is now the primary API and full of new featuresn⏱Immediate access for most use cases, or apply to get more access for freen📖Removed certain restrictions in the Policy",
  "edit_history_tweet_ids": ["1460323737035677698"]

This is a simplified example of a potential NFT Metadata standard for Tweets only for illustration purposes:

  "name": "NMS Tweet",
  "description": "Tweet via NFT Metadata Standard",
  "image": "",
  "tweetNMS": {
    "id": "1460323737035677698",
    "text": "Introducing a new era for the Twitter Developer Platform! nn📣The Twitter API v2 is now the primary API and full of new featuresn⏱Immediate access for most use cases, or apply to get more access for freen📖Removed certain restrictions in the Policy",
    "edit_history_tweet_ids": ["1460323737035677698"]

*This is just a very simple example. How to create a proper id and adapt other relevant fields for the standard would need extensive discussions.

We have seen how ecosystems form around NFTs and their specific metadata with projects like Loot or BAYC. The community created games, virtual worlds, upgrade possibilities, and coins around the interoperable NFTs.

Similarly, a community could create an ecosystem around the Tweet microblogging NFT alternative. This way, the current Twitter experience could be unbundled, and projects could focus on specific aspects of the experience or explore new ones. Some projects could just focus on the writing, publishing, and minting experience of the alternative Tweets. Other projects could concentrate on how to curate and distribute the content (maybe a marketplace for feed algorithms), how to collect and buy Tweets, or on identity and profiles.

We believe that unbundling the current Twitter experience and creating an open ecosystem around microblogging could generate much innovation. In contrast to the current Web2 practices, there would be no technical restrictions on what could be built, only a common data standard for the content that could unite efforts and create network effects.

In this example, we chose Twitter as it is one of the most important public communication platforms, but because NFT metadata standards could store all kinds of media content, they could also pose alternatives to other media platforms like Instagram, Youtube, Spotify, etc.

5. Conclusions - How NFT metadata standards could help us create a more productive global discourse

We believe that media and communication networks are extremely important to coordinate our joint global progress as a society in our best interests. If we delegate power to single gatekeepers (individuals, companies, governments) who moderate communication, they will tend to put their interests first. Therefore, it is relevant to create systems that take power away from single entities to create discourses that optimize for the best outcome for all.

Furthermore, the flow of information online is heavily influenced by advertisement-based business models that optimize content distribution in order to gain short-term attention, instead of long-term value for the content consumer. This model doesn't seem to enable a productive global discourse. Web3, which makes content on the internet ownable, could introduce new business models that optimize for value and not attention.

Web3 is a user-owned internet, where projects aren't run by single central decision-makers, but as collaborative initiatives among peers. At the moment, Web3 projects struggle to gain mainstream adoption with use cases that are outside of financial applications, but besides its immutability which is important for financial applications, open collaboration is its secret superpower. We have seen this power being unleashed in the Defi space, where unrelated smart contracts have been put together like Lego blocks to form new applications. Creating NFT metadata standards is one idea to make use of Web3's strength of interoperability outside the finance space.

We believe that NFT metadata standards could be an important building block for Web3, allowing for an interoperable content layer that makes it easier for builders to create connected projects that, strengthened by network effects, could pose alternatives to existing Web2 projects.

Finding new solutions to facilitate more efficient, democratic, and global communication seems to be crucial in times when we seem to be facing global challenges at an increasing rate. Creating NFT metadata standards is just one idea, but we think it is fundamental to explore, experiment, and exchange on this topic if we want to progress as a society.

6. FAQ

What is the difference between creating an open protocol instead of a data standard?
There are great initiatives like the Lens Protocol, but we believe just having a data standard without a specific protocol allows for more freedom for builders. They are not dependent on the development of the protocol and the blockchains they use.

Wouldn't it be easy to manipulate the metadata since it's stored off-chain?
Yes. Depending on where the metadata is stored it could be easy to manipulate the stored content. That's why we would suggest creating contracts that store a hash of the content on-chain.

Isn't it very expensive to store all content as NFTs on blockchains?
Depending on the blockchain used, it could be initially expensive; L2s and other scaling solutions should drive the prices down in the coming years. However, users might need to get accustomed to paying a fraction of a cent to post content on these networks. Expenses in creating content could also reduce spam by bots in the networks.

What would be the business model on this platform?
We believe that the current advertisement-based business model of most media networks is not a good value distribution mechanism. Just optimizing for clicks and attention but not measuring the value that the delivered content brings, makes for fast food-like content consumption.
Web3 makes content ownable, users could buy content they like and support creators, recommendation engines could earn via referrals, and platforms could take a small cut from publishing fees. These are only initial ideas, but further innovation is possible.

If the content were stored uncensored on a blockchain, who would be responsible for moderation?
The moderation would be in the hands of the client, and users could choose clients that have terms of service that support their values. Similarly, everybody can publish everything on the internet, but internet service providers, browsers, and platforms moderate the content that is accessible to their users.

Thank you for taking the time to read through our thoughts; we would love further discussions on this topic. Just drop us a message with your thoughts on Twitter: @moritzfelipe @pedegris

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