From an Attention Economy to a Values-Driven Economy

Cryptocurrencies, NFTs and DAOs are powerful tools for an increasingly interconnected world. This article is part of CoinDesk's Future of Work Week.

AccessTimeIconJun 28, 2022 at 5:49 p.m. UTC
Updated Jun 21, 2023 at 11:20 a.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJun 28, 2022 at 5:49 p.m. UTCUpdated Jun 21, 2023 at 11:20 a.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconJun 28, 2022 at 5:49 p.m. UTCUpdated Jun 21, 2023 at 11:20 a.m. UTC

If a non-fungible token (NFT) community that is organized as a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) has thousands of community members, each contributing and earning rewards, claiming bounties and building – are participants engaging in a new form of work? What if they share a common cause?

As counterintuitive as it sounds at the end of a NFT hype-cycle, the success of digital communities will hinge on affinity and values over attention and control. This is the type of value – and community-driven work Web3 excels at.

Tara Fung is co-founder of Co:Create and the CEO of Gesso Labs. This article is part of CoinDesk's Future of Work Week.

From attention markets to institutions

Yes, the current version of the web has fostered digital communities and other forms of social organization unconstrained by geographical limitation. Social media platforms, especially, have extended our capacity to connect with others who share our views, interests and goals via attention markets and matchmaking algorithms.

However, incumbent technology platforms – like Twitter and Facebook – have scaled us past Dunbar’s number in terms of coordination but not for cooperation. (This is to say nothing of how "platform capitalists" generate revenue from our attention and data, rather than letting it accrue to individuals or groups.)

The inventor of smart contracts, Nick Szabo, also had interesting ideas about social scalability: Institutions have to “overcome shortcomings in human minds ... that limit who or how many can successfully participate." If DAOs could get social scalability right, it could be a significant step for the internet era.

Cryptocurrencies, NFTs and DAOs enable us to take a step further in social scalability. They allow digital communities to define themselves autonomously and become digital institutions with real and independent economic power.

Communities now have the ability to create their own money, their own rules of cooperation and their own forms of labor. By defining these components for themselves – quite literally in code – they are also defining their own values.

What’s changing?

Most online work and economic activity is still managed offline by brick-and-mortar institutions that have products to sell as well as social norms and laws to follow, all largely defined by their geographic location. Our online interactions are like an additional coordination layer for IRL economic operations of companies.

Moreover, online interactions between groups of people are still mediated by centralized companies and platforms. And so the online economy is more like a mirror – though increasingly an augmentation – of the physical-world economy because the web has only had read and write capabilities and the full range of economic interaction is limited.

This all changes when digital communities can leverage tools that go beyond the capability to receive, sort and relay external information to the new capabilities for distributed ownership, value creation and transfer brought by Web3. These technical changes are extremely important and introduce a whole new design space for the economics of work and cooperation.

These new types of institutions will form between stakeholders and live natively online.

From branding to affinity

There’s definitely room for speculation around what these new institutions could end up looking like and what will work for them. While the potential is great, the current status is a work in progress. Exploration and innovation are needed to increase social scalability beyond current breaking points.

When it comes to organizing online and the current Web3 culture, it is clear traditional corporate branding is not effective. In fact, it is often the cause of ridicule by organically engaged digital communities. Meme culture is favored instead, and more importantly, affinity with a project’s values and ideologies.

In the future, talent and human capital will gather around the ideas, values and virtues of these new institutions rather than simply around products and companies. A shared mission is already the strongest common attractor for many Web3 communities, innovative blockchain protocols and NFT projects.

If we believe in the future of Web3 as builders, this gathering will take shape as the new platform for our social and professional lives where workforces organize around affinities and interests.

Take NFT projects as an example. The largest NFT communities have huge potential to harness an already engaged, diverse and passionate group of people to continue creating value and building economies around collections.

Will these NFT projects branch into other forms of creative output and become influential ecosystems or brands outside of crypto? Could an NFT group become a large "employer" in the future? It’s an open question.

This idea of affinity over branding is changing how work is done. Web3 communities and institutions now have the special opportunity to hard code what it will look like. Going forward, they could even benefit from a foundational Web3 layer that eases their development. Call it a community of communities.

More from CoinDesk’s Future of Work Week

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Tara Fung

Tara Fung is the Co-Founder and CEO of Co:Create.