Progressive Decentralization for Media
Building a creative community starts with great content, before layering in community ownership
The following was originally published on my Twitter.
One of the most significant trends in web3 is the rise of community-generated media. Fans are becoming co-creators in developing media or applications on top of a character universe, or influencing the direction of content creation. Various examples are playing out across creative verticals, ranging from fans influencing the plot progression of animated films in the case of Shibuya; to NFT holders submitting storylines for their characters for inclusion in a novel. On the extreme end of decentralized co-creation, these models can be entirely open-ended; for instance Loot, a collection of NFTs representing adventure gear items, was left entirely to community interpretation and development post-launch, with a resulting ecosystem of guilds, tools, games, and other applications.
A hypothesis I have is that progressive decentralization is not only an effective playbook for building crypto applications, but also for this kind of community-driven content creation. In other words, building a creative community ought to start with great content made by a small team, before relinquishing control and layering in community ownership.
The playbook mirrors that of progressive decentralization for crypto apps, which my partner Jesse Walden originally wrote about, which consists first in finding product-market fit for an application, then fostering the community of users, then distributing ownership to users in the form of tokens. In the media world, the counterpart is:
Content-market fit, i.e. making something that people want
Community participation, i.e. fostering engagement and participation by an audience
Community ownership, i.e. ceding ownership and control to a community
This step-by-step sequencing creates a path for creating content that is resonant with an engaged community, before relinquishing greater control and ownership to fans.
Initial content is created by a core creator/team, who kickstarts a cohesive, compelling piece of media that finds content-market fit. That's hard to do by committee/community given creative work is so often led by the vision of a single creator or a small team — so this initial phase parallels the traditional media creation model.
That initial work serves as a lightning rod for a community to form, who become emotionally attached to that cast of characters/storyline and intrinsically motivated to participate. Over time, they can increasingly engage in decision-making for additional IP creation. Eventually, tokens and fan ownership can turbo-charge this community participation — for instance incentivizing fans to create derivative works and stories.
This “progressive decentralization for media” has its parallel in the fanfic world, where thriving communities create derivatives inspired by original creations that served as Schelling points for audience participation. E.g. Harry Potter or Twilight fanfiction arose only after an original creator made something around which a community rallied. Flipping this ordering and expecting a community to generate those initial stories & characters would be tremendously challenging.
What are examples of this progressive decentralization in the web3 world? Forgotten Runes, Tally Labs, Shibuya, Bored Ape, and Mad Realities are creating content under the guidance of core creative teams, and have scoped parameters for fan participation, with an eye towards greater fan ownership over time.
The contrast to this model is decentralized creation from the beginning, e.g. Loot Project. That path is also possible — but perhaps more challenging given the need for communities to start from a blank slate. As outlined in Jesse’s original piece, that path runs the risk of creating a community of speculators without sufficient intrinsic interest to participate, rather than real fans. What we’ve seen in many NFT communities is exactly that: without a foundation of intrinsic motivation among members to build upon and extend a core narrative, these communities of token holders can be fragile and speculative, with people churning out in search of the next thing to bet on before a longer-term roadmap is realized.