Mention the word “blockchain” in a room and you’re likely to find more than a few pairs of eyes looking back up at you. Blockchain’s first and most well-known usage to date has been Bitcoin, a form of cryptocurrency introduced in 2009 by a person or group of people under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Since then, blockchain has found its uses in a variety of other contexts, including social media.

Bitcoin with share graphs in the background
Photo: David McBee via Pexels

Over the years, blockchain has gained its own fanbase in Singapore, with the Blockchain Summit being held at Suntec City on the 28th of August this year. Startups here are certainly no stranger to blockchain either, with companies like TenX having raised USD$81 million in funds to date.

Blockchain: a Quick Introduction

For the uninitiated or those still confused about what a blockchain is, this video below explains the concept in simple terms.

You can also find out more about blockchains by reading this comprehensive beginner’s guide.

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Can Blockchain Incentivize Content Creation?

People creating a moodboard
Photo: Kaboompics.com via Pexels

The life of a social media platform and its ability to thrive depends on the type of content its users produce, the consistency at which it is produced and whether the content can be monetised.

The death of Vine, a social media platform that allowed users to upload 6-second long looping videos, can partially be attributed to its inability to keep its biggest content creators on the platform. This is the same reason Snapchat’s stock dropped by an estimated $1 billion USD when social media superstar Kylie Jenner tweeted about how she no longer used the application.

To monetise content, traditional social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat depend on advertisements. These platforms charge brands to advertise to their users, sell personal user information to brands while users get to view and post content for “free”.

Users who wish to earn money from the content they produce have a few options. Content creators on YouTube who meet a minimum criteria can earn money for their productions directly through Google AdSense. Those who have a significant and engaged following on any one of the other social media platforms can also work with businesses who wish to promote their products or services to the influencers’ audience.

The problem with this model is that it does not prioritise content creators or their creations. What creators of blockchain-based social media platforms like Steemit hope to do is to give greater priority to such content creators and their content.

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Screenshot of the Steemit homepage
The Steemit homepage. Photo: Steemit.

Users are incentivised to post content in exchange for monetary rewards, which are credited to them in the form of STEEM tokens weekly based on the number of upvotes they have received for their content. STEEM token-enabled equivalents for each of the biggest social media platforms have since been created, such as Steepshot for Instagram and DTube for YouTube. Other blockchain-based and cryptocurrency-enabled platforms, such as Sola and Gab, also aim to do the same.

Other blockchain-based services like Synereo do not even require users to post on their platform. Users are instead provided with a tool (WildSpark) that they can use on top of the social media platforms where they are currently already posting content and are encouraged to reward content creators and curators with their coin directly.

So What Stands in the Way?

So what stands in the way of a blockchain-enhanced social media landscape? Isn’t the idea of being paid based on the popularity of one’s content attractive enough? Given the convenience of these blockchain-based solutions, one might imagine them to be more popular than they have proven to be so far.

I. Not Social Enough

Bird's eye view of a large crowd
Photo: San Fermin Pamplona via Pexels

Social media platforms require mass participation from users in a locality to be successful–a large part of the appeal of being on Instagram is getting to see what your friends are up to, interacting with their posts and having them interact with yours in return. Steepshot and Sola may pay you a token sum for each post you make, based on the engagement you receive from strangers, but how many of your friends will see what you have to say?

II. Not Attractive to Big-Time Content Creators

What about those who are largely on social media platforms not to interact with friends but to post content or to view content being produced by content creators? Being paid for the content one produces sounds like a wonderful idea, and anyone who makes a living from content creation is likely to see the merits of this.

Unfortunately, it is those who do not already have large followings on traditional social media platforms that are most likely to benefit from the small sums of money they could earn from uploading their content onto blockchain-based platforms.

Small-time content creators on YouTube who do not meet the platform’s monetisation requirements (4000 hours of watch time and 1000 subscribers) could benefit from moving their operations. Content creators who have millions of subscribers on YouTube, on the other hand, may complain regularly about the platform’s policy changes in advertising and monetisation, but are likely to continue using the platform as they stand to lose a massive proportion of their viewers if they switch platforms.

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Screenshot of content creator Pewdiepie
Popular content creator Pewdiepie, who has over 65 million subscribers. Photo: Pewdiepie via YouTube

In order for blockchain-based social media networks to be taken seriously, they have to convince a critical mass of existing mega-influencers and celebrities on traditional social media networks to switch over, or at the very least, to begin using their services.

III. Existing Content Does Not Appeal to the Masses

Take a look at any one of the blockchain-based social media platforms mentioned above, and you’ll find that a significant portion of content is unsuited to mass consumption. Of the top ten “Trending” articles on Steemit today, 5 are about or closely related to the Steem blockchain and community and 2 are about cryptocurrencies and other blockchains.

 

This suggests that the most popular content on the website is about the website itself. Imagine 50% of the articles on WordPress being about the WordPress site or the WordPress community and 20% of the articles being about other blogs, written by blog enthusiasts.

For a blockchain-based social media platform to be as successful as its traditional counterpart, most of the content produced on the site has to be of readily consumable nature. If the average individual is not persuaded to produce content, blockchain-based social media platforms that largely contain posts about blockchain and cryptocurrency will naturally only continue to attract other blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts.

With the regular user sticking to traditional social media platforms for its “social” function, big-time content creators remaining on these same platforms so as to stay close to their fanbase, and existing content on blockchain-based social media platforms being unappealing to the average user, the latter type social media platforms will continue to remain relevant only to a niche group of users for some time to come.


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