When I saw that @jarvie had written a fairly long bit about the upcoming Community features on the Steem blockchain, there was a certain amount of interest and my original intention was to wait a few days and see if anyone raised the same issues that I want to and see if the discussion evolved organically in that direction.
A man needs dreams. Even futile ones.
I’m going to take on some of the points as we go, with a focus on aspects that are hugely important that, nevertheless, I think get short shrift too often.
Putting everyone from every walk of life with every different kind of expectation and motivation into one place and telling them... "everyone get along" ... It's a noble desire... but it just isn't gonna happen.
I'd like to open we use some very supportive commentary. This one paragraph is one of the most insightful things that I've seen written about the Steem blockchain and social media networking in general in quite some time. It encapsulates something that everyone who has ever dealt with human beings out in the world understands and has dealt with. Not everyone has the same expectations.
Not everyone is going to get along.
I will go one step further and say – nor should they.
The recognition that different social groups and social organizations need a way to define their own space which are amenable to their own rules shouldn't be an exotic thought. It just shouldn't. It should have been the first thought that someone had when they considered putting a bunch of different people online.
That we went from an environment which was so selectively siloed (early blogs, email lists, etc.) to giant fire hoses of undifferentiated content with no guidance for finding things you might like or people you might be interested in – I've always considered that to be institutional amnesia of a scale which borders on deliberate architectural suicide.
Instead of helping people find tools and resources which are useful to them, we have deliberately focused over simply burying them under ever more material which is ever less interesting to them. And then we wonder why social media users develop personal interactions and processes which aren't in line with what the developers intended, whether that be hyper-overreaction as a result of cyclic emotional amplification or an obsession with "reward" over all else to the point of using systemic automation in order to achieve that reward and not engage with the platform.
These are behaviors that we see on a regular basis all around us. All too often, behaviors which people expressed dismay about but then pretend not to understand how they happen.
So we're off to a good start.
Chatting with a friend who uses Reddit a lot I thought about: How is communities filling a need?
There are gonna be 3 different types of communities and the one we're already testing deals with the concept of OWNERSHIP. Meaning as opposed to sub-reddits or FB groups you don't have to trust a company or one particular website. You still trust some code (hivemind, steem blockchain) but no need to trust one particular site or company and that's a huge deal. You are so much less dependent and you have several companies with sites all creating tools and working to make the best product for you and your community of users.
In a way you actually own your audience
No and no and no and no, a thousand times no.
Remember when I was talking just above about being off to a good start because we've acknowledged that social media platforms have and require a purpose, and that they should express that purpose in ways which result in behavior which we find acceptable and desirable? We start off here well, by asking the most important question that you can ever put to yourself when working on a new project:
"How does this fulfill a need?"
Great. We have started in the right place. How communities fulfill a need for the user base is reflective of the opening which is all about individual people having individual expectations and individual needs which need to be seen to.
And then we turn around and piss all over it with:
"In a way, you actually own your audience."
No, you don't. Not only that, no, we don't want you to think about your audience that way. Nothing good comes out of thinking that members of a community own the other members of that community, creators own the people who generously give their money and attention to those creators, or any sort of possession of another individual is the "right way" to think about anything that goes on here. It's just not. Never has been, never will be, and that kind of thinking leads to behaviors which will be and have been toxic between individuals on this platform already.
We've already gone off the rails.
This is so close to being an idea that was useful. If you had said, "you actually own your content," that would be absolutely true. If you had said, "you own the things that you create," that would be absolutely true. If you had said, "we exist to help you share the things that you own with people who will be interested in help you get rewarded for it," that would be a desirable thing to have and cultivate behavior that we will.
You do not own your audience. You will never own your audience. You should never think of an audience as a thing you want to or can own – if you wish to continue having an audience.
It's that simple.
In particular, talking about communities, using the word "audience" is already wrong. Communities are made up of individual people. People who engage in a deliberate and conscious act and exertion of will to associate with one another around an idea, a place, a thing, a pastime. They are not owned. Places and things can be owned – communities can not be.
Communities grow and accrete. Communities have a purpose for being. Communities allow for self organization. Communities allow for personal isolation and protection. Communities represent a notional distance of separation from other communities. Communities manifest the idea of "location" in a digital frontier which has largely been driven by the idea of a single city where everybody lives, works, and plays – which doesn't really reflect how people want to live.
Which leads directly into that thing which you can always count on being first and foremost on people's minds on the Steem blockchain – "how does this affect my pocket?" "How can I make this into a financial instrument?" "How can I sell this as a product?" "How can I run money through this thing?"
Before even talking about what the thing actually does, why it exists, how anyone should interact with it, what the user experience is intended to create and provide – it's money. That's all it is. That is the only concern. It is, "how can I use this to affect the STEEM in my pocket?"
You want to know part and parcel of why the community, such as it is remaining on the Steem blockchain is toxic in the way it is? This thinking right here. Putting the money first. Putting the money where the thinking about "what service does this provide to users" should have an answer about content and process.
Monetization is more important to developers on the Steem blockchain than building a tool that helps people engage with content first and then figuring out how that can pay off. The question is always answered by saying "this is the way that money falls out" and avoiding/putting off answering "but why should money go in?"
This is the real problem.
Real innovation is driven by answering the question "what does a user need?" and then building something that fulfills that need. We're not answering that question here. We're just not.
The most important thing about communities on the Steem blockchain doesn't show up until the last third of the post, and it's dealt with as a single tossed-off line:
"Obviously we are thinking about the look and design"
No, I don't think you are. Or rather, I don't think it's a priority – and it should be number one with a bullet. It should be top of the list. There should be vast amounts of discussion about "the look and design," because that is the product. How do people use it? How do they get value out of it? Why should it be something that they do?
There are no bigger picture elements. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nothing is more important than the design of how people on a social media platform will use the self organization tools you intend to provide in order to do just that. Understanding how to navigate and find communities is elemental to their existence. In fact, they have no existence beyond the ability that they can be discovered, joined, and have an impact in the user experience. There is nothing else to them.
That these things aren't what this post is about is damning. It goes to the heart of so many of the problems on the Steem blockchain both for content creators and for the people who would like to consume that content, if only they could find it. It speaks to the obsession with cryptocurrency-uber-alles which makes the focus of interaction purely masturbatory. It's all about playing with funny numbers and has nothing to do with content or users.
This is the way to fail in an ever grander way, and frankly Steemit Inc. doesn't need help. They seem to have failing grandly down pat.
What do we really need?
The barest bones implementation of community organization can be found in the social media platform that Steemit Inc. started off well by ripping off: Reddit.
What are the basic components of a Reddit subReddit?
The name of the subReddit. There needs to be a clear, Unicode string which identifies the subReddit. It can't be arbitrarily long because it's intended to be a notional hook for people to find. It needs to be searchable, so it needs to be type-able. Because the name resolution is effectively decentralized, the name of the community can't be required to be unique; it needs to simply be a shorthand identifier.
The second thing it needs is a description. This description needs to be a longer Unicode string, probably involving Markdown because that makes it easy to store and easy to render with decorators. The description primarily exists so that individuals who are searching for content have something that they can stumble on and feel their interest piqued. The description also serves as a sort of vision statement so that members have a common reminder of what they're there to do.
The third thing it needs are posts. Content. Individual means of reference which those involved in the community have chosen to receive. That content is not owned by the community. It has been bequeathed, either wholly or in part to that community, but it is the property of the original creator.
The fourth thing that it requires is the most important thing of all: people. There are the people who decided to set it up so that others could share in the opportunity. There are those who are even more important, who engage in creation of content and commentary within the community and who truly define what's going on and why people are there. This is the core of the experience. This is what the whole thing is for.
Everything else exists to provide a framework for the people who are engaged with that community to engage with each other.
Everything else is implementation detail.
URLs should probably not be derived from the name of the community. Since we don't really care about name collisions, the unique ID should definitely be part of the URL. No matter where on the blockchain that ID is read, it should refer to the same conceptual entity – and to do that, it cannot be reified via single interface nailed down to a particular front end. The smart thing to do would be to let individual developers/providers create websites which are intended to be curated groups of name-association references, allowing, say, Utopian to focus on collecting what they think of as "the best groups for STEM-interested people" and evolved the issue of how to deal with short name collisions to those curators.
Because communities don't own content, the question of whether an individual post should be seen by everyone who follows the creator or only the community to which it is being submitted is not an issue for the community to determine, but for the user – and they should be able to make that determination on a community by community basis. After all, you might be interested in sharing every post about RPG is that you make to three or four different RPG-focus groups with anyone who is interested in your work, but more interested in keeping your-torture-and-incest-porn fanfic only visible to the community which is closed.
Which brings up another piece of information which needs to be associated with individual communities: open/public status versus closed/private/invite only status. There are a dozen different ways to handle that, but effectively they all hinge on being able to associate a user as an individual identifier with access. How to propagate that information through the blockchain is left as an exercise for the reader, but it brings up the question of whether or not content should be inherently unreadable at a public level on the Steem blockchain and since we've never had a really good answer to that, it must be answered first. If encrypted private content is impossible or undesirable on the Steem blockchain, that all groups must be, inevitably, "open readable" even if not "open post-able."
And this is just the bare minimum viable representation required for a community. If SteemPeak really wants me and theoretically people like me (if any such creatures exist) to believe that there interested in creating an implementation of communities which will be a net boon, these are the questions that have to be answered first before we start wondering about whether communities can choose to build their own reward pools.
First there needs to be communities worth being involved in.
- Stop obsessing over how to throw tokens around before anything and everything else.
- Focus on the minimum viable architecture for what communities are intended to be.
- Define, up front, what the intended user experience is. Decide, "why would anyone bother?”
- Drive directly into deconstruction of how other platforms implement communities and decide what things they do well and where they’re lacking.
- At every point, have a sketch of how the user experience should look like at the major phases of interaction:
- Creating the Community
- Don’t get eaten by thinking about "how is this going to be a financial instrument?
- Build communities. Real communities. Of people who want to do things together. Then help them do that.
Do this, give people a reason to use the platform as a platform, and the rest does itself. If Steemit Inc. had done this over the last two years instead of obsessing about SMTs, fiddling with reward curves, and doing everything except building a social media platform that serves what people want to do on a social media platform – that have a social media platform that people wanted to use.
That could, in theory, still happen. But we have to stop obsessing about jingle in pockets and start obsessing about the user and what they get out of being here. First. Only.