Misuse of Community is Endemic in Web3

By now, even if you’re not super well-versed in the terminology of Web3, you’ve probably encountered some of the conversation around its relationship with community.

Like with any innovation or change in technology, there can and should be conversations about how Web3 will empower communities. However, we should also ask questions and think about how such change will impact communities, whether they embrace Web3 or not. For example, as Patrick and our guest, staff writer with The New Republic, Jacob Silverman discuss, NFTs may be empowering some artists, but for the DeviantArt community, it’s another way that they’re seeing their art exploited. And even for NFTs that are becoming ubiquitous, like Bored Apes Yacht Club, how much of the conversation or credit is given back to the artists?

This conversation will give you a great primer on Web3 terminology, but perhaps more importantly, it will equip you with questions and examples to understand the true role of community in the current iteration of Web3.

Jacob and Patrick also discuss:

  • The basics of Web3, including cryptocurrency, NFTs, and DAOs
  • Reasons why Web3 may not be as egalitarian as it seems
  • Why celebrity cryptocurrency clubs of today may not have the same permanence as online fan clubs that already exist

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Big Quotes

Misuse of community in Web3 (1:35): “In Web3 … there’s a lot of use of this idea of community, but honestly, I find it’s often disingenuous when it’s coming from say a DAO that controls $300 million dollars worth of cryptocurrency or a crypto startup that has a lot of venture capitalist financing, and it has its own crypto token and an exchange. There’s just this appeal to this idea of community within Web3 that, if it were coming from a more traditional corporate setting, would ring very false to people.” –@SilvermanJacob

Disguising Web3 under the term “community” may get people to look past the risks (4:24): “[The use of ‘community’ in Web3] obscures the idea that these are, first and foremost, financial relationships, that there’s a lot of risk involved, and that the power relations may not be as egalitarian as the word ‘community’ implies.” –@SilvermanJacob

The supposed Bored Ape Yacht Club community (4:58): “[Bored Ape Yacht Club] is a billion-dollar company that employs several dozen people, is very well connected in Hollywood, whose own financial transactions and behaviors deserve some scrutiny. … If you just call it a community, you’re not going to really think about that. You’re not going to think about where are the conflicts of interests, who’s driving these markets, and what kind of power do I have as a member of the supposed community?” –@SilvermanJacob

What protections will Web3 offer for artists? (11:24): “OpenSea, for example, does not seem to be built to support artists and incentivize the small craftsmen type. Instead, OpenSea is meant to attract as many people as possible to mint NFTs, and it has very few guards against copyright theft.” –@SilvermanJacob

The utility of NFTs (45:00): “Maybe the utility of [NFTs] will grow, but right now you’re buying into a very hollow idea of community and connection for the promise of future rewards. Whether those rewards will even be worth it is an open question.” –@SilvermanJacob

The potential impermanence of NFTs (47:32): “There’s going to be some equivalent of link rot with NFTs and with some of these online communities. They’re going to break apart. They’re not going to be necessarily sustainable or haven’t proven themselves sustainable over the long haul, whereas the Dave Matthews Band message board that my college roommate used to post on is probably still around.” –@SilvermanJacob

About Jacob Silverman

Jacob Silverman is a staff writer with The New Republic. He’s the author of Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection, and is currently working on a book with Ben McKenzie about crypto and fraud.


Your Thoughts

If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.


    Great conversation.

    One thing worth considering, I think, is how finances have long played a role in managing communities.

    E.g., take a community of interest, like an online forum, or a local meetup group. They cost money to run. Leaders/organizers usually cover the costs with advertising, sponsorship, maybe membership fees, or merchandise, or donations.

    So it goes with web3, and with services like Unlock Protocol (https://unlock-protocol.com/), there’s practical utility/application, beyond buying and flipping them as speculative assets.

    As folks learn how to spot and avoid scams, they’ll increasingly look at the communities first, then to the tokens as a virtual item, whether that’s buying the equivalent of a virtual membership card, or a stake in ownership/governance.

    The thing I tend to ask is: What does it actually make better? Why introduce these additional layers, with these known risks, to systems where this action is already possible, where the site would still need to authenticate that the person is a member (or whatever), as it already does without the added points of failure?

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