Plans to improve on today’s ‘free’ social media business model — in which services are paid for by selling users’ information to advertisers — have always raised a difficult question: how can you get people to start paying for something which they think of as free at the moment?
Many ideas involve users being rewarded for content that they post. No doubt those users would be happy. But without selling their data to advertisers, the audience would have to pay, somehow, to use the network. Bitcoin could make those transactions technically easier and cheaper, but is that enough? It looks like Bitcoin SV (BSV) entrepreneurs are starting to provide some real solutions.
A panel at a recent London Bitcoin Meetup was produced and chaired by Darren Kellenschwiler, an entrepreneur who’s working on his own BSV startup Probat.us which will connect ID and content, but independent of any particular platform. During Darren’s session, advocates of BSV-supported social media came up with some plausible answers to the question of why users would want to pay.
Twetch is a social media startup — a kind of homage to Twitter — where users have to pay BSV with Money Button to add content. But don’t think of that as paying for what you could get free on Twitter, said CTO Ben Izvirni. Instead, you’re paying a little — the BSV equivalent of maybe just a couple of pence or cents — to have your information stored on the blockchain immutably.
What’s more, even if you have to ‘pay to play,’ said Jonathan Aird another BSV entrepreneur and the founder of BSVnews.today, there’s an incentive to do so, because you can make some money back when people reward you for good content. Jonathan had already made about $2 on Twetch, he revealed proudly. “On the chain, the content is king and you are the content,” he said.
Finally, Maria Eugenia Lopez of Yours.org, another platform that rewards content creators, said that the quality of engagement was different when social media is powered by Bitcoin: as a user, you pay attention because you’re paying.
Ben was outspoken in his critique of current social media. The companies behind them “rarely give something back to society”. There are “too many clickbait articles” and “people are wasting their time”. What’s more, people “want to own their own data”, which a BSV-rewarded system makes possible.
So how to get from here to there? Ben said that Twetch is working on features that are common in existing social media, implying that new users should find themselves in a relatively familiar environment. And Twetch is thinking about encouraging new users by offering them a small amount of credit to start using the system, or offering credit to people for referring new users.
Jonathan Aird said he’s looking forward to a time when even high quality video can be stored on the BSV blockchain, and predicted “there’s going to be a goldrush in onchain social content.”
For Darren Kellenschwiler, the possibilities for BSV-powered social media are exciting because they mean that by requiring a small payment, “you’re paying for people’s attention”. The new platforms should succeed because their business models ”better reflect the reality that people’s time is worth something”. But Darren admits that when content-originators are rewarded when someone comments on their post, they are incentivised to create “call and response” posts, “baiting you into commenting.”
It’s too early to say how the new business models will evolve as they learn what users are prepared to create for the new generation of BSV social media startups. No doubt there will be a process of trial and error before the right mix of editorial costs and rewards is found. But in an echo of a familiar call in relation to Bitcoin from Jimmy Nguyen, Founding President of the Bitcoin Association, Ben insisted that it’s time for social media “to start growing up.”