The average social media user today engages with multiple platforms: TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Discord, YouTube and more. In each of these platforms, users and creators form a marketplace, where one needs the other to thrive. The strength of any Web 2 social network is dependent on the investment of time and energy that people put in: You only get the exponential benefits of having, say, an Instagram account when all your friends (and potential fans) want to be there too.
Kinjal Shah is an early-stage investor at Blockchain Capital, working with founders building the future of crypto.
In the past two decades, the path from user to creator has been carved across every industry. Users document their daily life in Web 2 – everything from morning routines to daily s**tposting is commoditized by social platforms. Users shift to creators as they produce content and grow their audience. TikTok, in particular, has made it so anyone can become famous overnight.
Platforms have benefited from network effects, providing critical distribution over time to users. Social media amassed billions of users and their data profited generously off our attention, time and wallets.
Web 3 is built on the notion that this way of value capture is broken. Instead of only early investors and teams benefiting from these network effects, in the new era all users who play a role in the success of platforms should benefit. In doing so, users become partial owners of these networks.
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But ownership has serious implications. You are taught to take care of your possessions at a young age. You are told to “take ownership over your actions.” As we get older, the weight of ownership comes with long-term responsibility – your first car, your first home and so on. There are only so many items a person owns where a successful outcome is entirely dependent on their actions. You take care of your house, your car and other high value items with a sense of great responsibility. In theory, this is an exciting proposition.
The reality, though, is a bit more complicated than that.
Defining different types of owners
There are three types of token holders in the market today: long-term investors, short-term speculators and builders. Long-term investors have decided to invest in a project due to the long-term potential and vision. Often, these investors are locked up with their capital and are better aligned with the end user.
Short-term speculators are users who may or may not have conviction but believe in the interim that there is an investment opportunity to be had. These investors trade on sentiment, arbitrage opportunities and siloed market information.
Lastly are the builders. These are the token holders building the projects themselves and investing through their working capital and time. This could be a full-time employee of a protocol, an active community member, an industry advocate and more. Their role creates a unique value proposition. Their commitment and effort spent in a community can directly relate to financial (and social) capital.
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The downside here, of course, is that ownership comes with responsibility: They need to commit to the project and see it through to the end to gain their rewards.
Users can't own hundreds of assets
With Web 2 users have benefited by being able to put in the effort they choose at a limited cost. Do you want to scroll TikTok passively? Great. Do you want to put out video content weekly? Awesome. The platform rewards you for trying, but it does not inherently ding you for not trying.
In Web 3, it’s the opposite. With every new user who doesn’t actively participate, there is potential to detract from the value of the network and, therefore, your direct financial incentive. If you don’t stake your tokens, you lose potential annual percentage yield. You miss rewards if you don’t create an NFT on the network. The more users you onboard – the better you will do.
This is a feature, not a bug.
As a result, users are much more likely only to invest their assets where they are willing to contribute to the overall network or in a network that has achieved a scale whereby each additional token holder requires less effort. In many ways, this means that early users subsidize future users’ costs while they bootstrap the network and take on early growth risk.
Rather than holding hundreds of assets, genuine users will reach a new version of “Dunbar’s number” (the idea that there is a limit to sustainable group size) where each incremental asset they own results in a depreciating impact on their finances.
Ultimately, the thesis that users will want to own hundreds of assets just doesn’t pan out. There isn’t enough time to commit to everything.
Tokenize everything? Sure. But you become what you own.
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