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The Art of Channel Construction
Ever since Elon took over Twitter there has been a ton of chatter about leaving Twitter and building alternatives to Twitter. So far, the exodus has not happened in a way that people expected or hoped but some alternatives to Twitter have emerged. In the past year we’ve gotten Bluesky, Post.News, and Warpcast, a client of the Farcaster protocol.
I love that people are building these but my beef with many of these alternatives is that they are all so similar to Twitter. There are some differences when it comes to interoperability, community, and content moderation but the core is the same. You sign up, you follow people, and you get a For You page controlled by an algorithm.
The For You model works for the platforms and can be convenient for the user but it can be frustrating for creators who are publishing their work into a noisy space ruled by an algorithm that’s always changing. It’s no wonder that a major trend among creators in the past few years is to use social to bring a portion of their audience into a space they control. They create a Patreon, which unlocks a Discord, and that Discord has a starkly different structure and focus.
When it works, it’s beautiful. You get people like Alt Shift X who are able to stream for hours about GoT or Dune where users are submitting insightful questions and he’s riffing with them in a way that makes the space better (my term for this is conductor social networks). There are problems though, even when creators exit a social network like Twitter, they are still going to other platforms where there is friction for their audience to get there and the creator is limited in their ability to make the space unique.
A Channel Experiment on Warpcast
This week, we got a taste of how this could go differently. Dan, the creator of Farcaster and Warpcast, tweeted this:
My response was immediate as this filled a real need. I’m a Nuggets fan, this was the most important game of the year, and I was seeking a space where I could talk about the game outside of group chats with friends. No one follows me on Twitter for my basketball insight so I craved someplace different.
There was an explicit goal for this channel and the experience was about what you’d expect. It was a group chat about a basketball game from a cohort who also is interested in crypto. There were memes, predictions, and some trash talking. The exciting part about it had to do with how it felt to be inside of it and how it could be developed further because of Farcaster’s interoperable design. Some thoughts:
Even thought the space was technically open for anyone to see and write to, it felt more like a viewing party at a friend of a friend’s house.
I may have casted more in one night on this channel than I’ve casted on the app in total. The focus and ephemerality of the event was clarifying.
Things get interesting when you realize that every surface in the channel was customizable. The moderation, the algorithm for displaying posts, everything could be reworked. Including bigger pieces of the design:
That an NFT unlocked it made it even more interesting and opened another surface.
The business model for creators/conductors is clear and compelling here. The NFT for Game 5 was minted 279 times. When you include gas and Zora’s fee, this means people collectively spent $1395 for this experience. And also felt good doing it:
Channels on Twitter
Compare the Warpcast Game 5 space to the For Us page that Twitter automatically generated for the game.
The feed is sterile. A bunch of pre-approved accounts sharing clips from the game and little else. Even the “Top commentary” tab is accounts that have all been pre-approved. The “Latest” tab just gives a random set of tweets that use the #Nuggets hash tag.
And outside of a sports context, what about the communal “For Us” feeds Twitter automates 24-7? For topics like:
Twitter’s channels aren’t just bad because they are designed to be rage bait that extends your session time, they are bad because they are deeply mid.
Take an example from today when “Tenderloin” started trending.
When you click into the feed you get raw videos of people on the streets of SF overdosing on fentanyl, people screaming at each other calling each other racist, and images of someone’s dinner (they made a pork tenderloin).
What’s Next For Channels
There’s been an assumption for years that these Twitter channels would eventually improve as AI gets better but it just hasn’t happened. Twitter might be able to juice more session time out of the user but there’s an inevitable context collapse. I’ve rarely left a Twitter channel and felt satisfied in the way I did with this small experiment from Warpcast. Or I have with other creator owned channels/spaces in Discord in the past few years.
There is an art to creating a quality channel. And one of the prerequisites is to give creators the raw materials to make it their own. One where they can set a context, bring in a targeted group of people, and make money doing it.
This kind of control is what the major social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Reddit are hesitant to give to any of their users. Their entire model is about driving people to their own apps and feeds so they can sell more ads.
The beauty of Farcaster is that it’s an open protocol. Anyone can make a client. Anyone can radically customize that client to fit the needs of the communal space they want to build. Anyone can make an NFT that serves as your key to that space. You can do it for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, for your favorite DAO, or you can take on a larger target like making a channel for your city.
The tech to do this has been here for sometime but the audience and financial incentives might finally be starting to click.