Rich Tella Filmography

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Web3 Gatekeepers, Attention Seekers and Community as the Utility

When developing the idea for Indikin I spent a lot of time listening to those people I believe are set to benefit the most from harnessing the various web3 tools available. I listened back in 2017-2019 when the first real concrete wave of entertainment meets blockchain came onto the scene, and then again in 2021 -2023 when the second wave came through.

I interviewed many founders building solutions in the corner of web3 that came to be more broadly known as Film3, and as with the first wave of projects in 2017-2019, the 2021-2023 wave appears to have recently petered out, with discussions moving more in favour of the application of AI Video.

As with any new tech hype train when you spend enough time listening and observing you come to spot patterns in narratives and individuals behaviour, they develop a mantra, that Im sure they deeply believe, but over time it becomes clear they are not fully embracing.

This could be chalked up to people just throwing shit at the wall because nobody knows what the heck problem they’re actually able to (legally) solve with these web3 tools just yet, but equally it could also be attributed to the fact many of the individuals bringing these solutions to market appear to have fundamentally misunderstood how web3 solutions come into existence and go on to be broadly adopted.

I’ve gone deep many times on many projects, taking my time to listen and learn, even trial the solutions to see if they bring any additional benefits to my own challenges as a independent filmmaker. Nine times out of ten the solutions have not only provided little to no additional utility, they seem to forfeit the very ethos of web3 in favour of garnering social media attention in order to grow a community which more often than not is described as the utility, never quite going deep enough to highlight what they mean by that exactly.

In this post I’m going to share a few observations Ive had over recent years, and while not naming names, and aiming to remain objective in my thoughts shared, I will be extremely honest and at times a little harsh.

For clarity these observations are not limited to any subset of web3, but can be witnessed in Web3 more generally. I’m not a thought leader and have never wished to be an influencer so please do your own homework, I simply want to accurately document my experiences and observations to create a public record.

I will tackle the following:

  1. NFT Gated Content
  2. Community as the Utility
  3. Web3 Platform Centralisation
  4. Attention Seekers
  5. The New Gatekeepers
  6. What Utility?

NFT Gated Content

Almost everywhere you look in the content/Web3 sub-genre, you will see the content-gated NFT sales pitch, going to great lengths to educate you on why purchasing a given NFT will open up numerous benefits such as access to exclusive content, events, and other invaluable treasures not available to those poor sods not smart enough to “MINT TOKEN NOW.” 

This has, and continues to be, the primary value proposition toward audiences. Simply buying and holding their probably-unique-maybe-not-so-unique asset will ensure your future cinematic experience is a thousand times better because, well, they say so!

But who are these issuers of fantastical assets, purveyors of experiences not able to be enjoyed by regular cinema-loving audiences? And, more importantly, who actually buys them? More often than not, these assets are issued by an individual or corporate entity. If it bears some additional economic fruits to the holder, it will eventually be considered a security. Blockchain is entirely unnecessary for issuing such special access. Indeed, it seems that more emphasis is put on the access token itself, as opposed to the thing in which it grants access to, which is often vague and largely only perceived valuable to a select few fans that the issuer has managed to convince to buy.

This post assumes some prior knowledge of Web3 tools, and as I wrote earlier, I won’t be calling out specific projects here. But there are and will continue to be numerous examples of how NFT gated content is simply an exercise in raising funds prior to delivering any value. Indeed, in my own design of Indikin, I have had to navigate such difficult moral questions, making sure to provide absolute clarity as to the function and potential value of a given asset within the design of the Indikin ecosystem.

As we saw many times over the past few years, token-gated content when issued prior to any value being delivered is primarily a way for projects to raise funds so that they might attempt to deliver value in the future. However, as an independent producer or newcomer, you typically want your content to be seen as far and wide as possible. Putting content behind a paywall while claiming the token will deliver numerous additional benefits only works with those heavyweights that already have a considerable audience—an audience that is ready and willing to pay almost anything to get closer to the star of the show.

This value proposition continues to this day, over two years after the hype began, and with numerous stories of how it should work to the benefit of indie filmmakers and content creators, but for the majority, still doesn’t.

Community as the Utility

I personally despise this expression, as, for me, it conjures up images of people as faceless slaves to the machine. A machine someone else with a bigger microphone owns, that willing participants pay to grease the wheels of in order to enrich the person holding the mic.

Let’s break it down because whenever I hear it uttered by a self-proclaimed influencer, I’m conflicted in my response, dependent on the context. At its most distasteful end, it describes the exit liquidity so prominent in Web3 projects, where those that come in late pay those that get in early—a type of wealth transfer from the uninformed to the informed. A slow rug you can see playing out in many projects in Web3, and one I find especially saddening, given I know there are genuine project owners that have to compete in this arena alongside such projects.

Indeed, right now in early 2024, widely viewed as the start of a new cycle, I can see new narratives from old supposedly dead projects starting to be spun up again as the megaphone gets passed to the next guy instructed to fire up the hype train. These sorts of patterns usually only get observed and understood through painstaking obsession and observation, typically seen with a day trader’s attention to the details. Day traders that understand the true meaning of the expression – the community is the utility.

At the lighter end, if the community’s utility is not the money they bring in, it’s the time they spend marketing, even building aspects of the product itself. Being offered to get compensated for your labor in an obscure token or coin that may or may not be worth 90% less or 1200% more in a year’s time is a true gamble. Even if you read the white paper, DYOR, and wholeheartedly believe in the project, most people know it’s a clear gamble. But the thinking goes, if I hold a bag, and the block explorer says 10,000 other people wallets hold a bag, just imagine all that organic marketing we will do together.

This results in the sole purpose of the marketing activity eventually prioritizing not the vision and ambitions of the project, but only “number go up.” This has the added effect of bringing in more community members, even if the initial 10,000 holders shown on the block explorer is just one person.

So when you hear someone say the community is the utility, make sure you press them on what exactly they mean. Do they mean the community gambles their time for “number-go-up”? Or do they mean the community gambles their money for “number-go-up”?

Platform Centralisation

Last time I checked, circa the end of 2023, there were over 100 projects in the Film3 subcategory, with the majority coming out of the U.S. This implies they have a regulatory framework to operate within, or they risk being classified as the type of entity that illegally issues securities. From what I’ve understood, this is prohibitively expensive to do in the U.S. Hence, the rise of the Platform DAO, that mutant entity not quite sure what it wants to be but more than happy to ride on the decentralization bandwagon if it helps appear cool and trendy in the eyes of uneducated consumers of cool tech.

So, what we have ended up with is de facto centralized solutions riding on a decentralized infrastructure. You can easily identify such projects by scrolling to the bottom of their website or white paper and seeing where the “DAO” is incorporated. More often than not, it’s not where you might think, and not by an identifiable person or persons.

Now, I understand the need to operate within a regulated framework, even if said framework is dated and often not able to achieve its sole purpose for existing. What gripes me is the brazen misuse of DAO in the marketing of these platforms towards consumers. It’s unnecessary and, for the less competent consumer, should be considered false advertising, which coincidentally is regulated and considered an offense in the United States.

Once again, it is through years-long observations that I have had to grapple with similar challenges as I attempt to bring Indikin to market in the best possible way so that consumers can feel protected. Even when we all know there are few true protections realized even in old-fashioned investing, let alone in Web3.

There’s always going to be risk in investing, especially in the film industry. Through my own filmmaking experiences in Web3, coupled with my personal decade-long observations, I have arrived at what I believe the solution should be. Quick shill: join us at b250.org to find out more about that 🙂

Attention Seekers

How can you tell if someone is an attention seeker? Those of you with kids will know exactly the techniques used because the methods for garnering attention are the same in adulthood, and exacerbated in the digital realm. This hunger for attention, or being attributed with something perceived as great or even revolutionary, persists heavily in both the Web2 and Web3 tech realms, where founders are held up with great fanfare as if all-knowing, all-seeing, branding themselves as stewards of a free people.

Sometimes they actually really are benevolent leaders with good interpersonal skills and the capacity to consistently deliver on what they promise. These leaders are far and few between in Web3. They are there, but they speak so softly you actively have to seek them out among all the larger voices whose promises are parroted by bag holders and paid sponsors. Let’s hope this type of benevolent leader doesn’t put themselves behind a paywall in the future; we need them to be out in the open to set an example for the rest of us.

While clearly the film industry is all about attention, in recent times, the idea of celebrity has more or less withered out, in favor of what was once called the influencer, now rebranded as the creator. The all-doing, all-skillful videographer, public speaker, thought leader, post-production editor, writer, director, and, to some, still very much an influencer.

These individuals build their brand within an attention economy where each and every moment must be packaged and presented in a way that they are de facto first practicing public relations, in an effort to create stronger lasting bonds with their audiences. Indeed many of these individuals, once big enough, are invited to star in films or advertisements alongside real actors.

But how much of it was to grow attention for attention’s sake? Sponsorships, product partnerships, etc., and how much of it was because of the love of the craft? Take note when listening to people who command large audiences online. What do they talk about primarily? The project? Themselves? Are they good at listening? Are they open to new information?

While it’s easy to create drama or feign enthusiasm through text and voice channels, it’s not always so easy on camera. Not without the right training at least.

The New Gatekeepers

It’s often claimed by Web3 platforms that they remove industry gatekeepers. Never is this claim more prevalent than in the Film3/Media3 landscape. “We will bring power back to the creators!” is the motto, and while this is a great way to attract the attention of disenchanted young artists and filmmakers, a closer look reveals the frequent use of the word “We,” even “Our,” in reference to who is delivering this new shiny power to creatives.

These are the new gatekeepers—the platforms and service providers that actually decide who gets “the power back,” which arguably was never really taken away in the first place. Over the past years, artists have been repeatedly sold a lie through various NFT narratives, and many of those stories continue to be told today. As we gear up for a new cycle, these stories are once again being aimed directly at the creator economy folks, with promises of empowerment and revolution, as long as they use “our service” and abide by “our terms and conditions.”

This, of course, is not bringing true power to anyone; it’s simply a fight for market share in an industry that has way too many solutions chasing too few problems. It only exists for a select few people that the service or platform operators deem to be the target audience for their business model to achieve success.

To be crystal clear, these services and platforms are good in the sense that they provide alternative paths to distribution or even production, but they, in no way, remove gatekeepers. Connecting to such websites via MetaMask doesn’t change that. I speak from direct experience, as my work doesn’t fall into a very commercial category, and the platforms know that, as it’s reflected in their interactions with me, or lack there of.

They view the community as the utility and will bang on about it to no end, describing the community as one homogeneous mass to be rewarded for behaving in favorable ways toward the platform, all while providing next to no additional assistance outside running competitions or branded hype marketing events. Platform operators cannot be blamed indefinitely for their approach to the Web3 user. They are still operating largely under Web2 business models and, due to the way they are financed, often have investors or shareholders to appease first and foremost, not some digital artists in a faraway land.

What’s more is these new gatekeepers actually seem to want to turn all of their individual community members into mini gatekeepers of their own creations, encouraging making sure to charge anyone that may want to interact with their work and of course skimming a commission off the top, even before anything is created.

What Utility?

After witnessing the many ups and downs over the past years—the waves of excitement followed by waves of disenchantment—I decided to take what I had learned through persistent listening, coupled with my own experiences in indie filmmaking, and see if I could reflect on what I had learned to a degree that I might be able to formulate a coherent response and turn that into a viable solution.

I blogged and vlogged, trialed and errored along the way, and those experiences and thought experiments are well-documented in the public domain. What I came to see was among all the rug pulls and scams, fraud, and deceit found in Web3, there are also well-intentioned individuals just throwing ideas at the wall in an effort to see what sticks. More often than not, these well-intentioned individuals appear to be trying to sell the traditional Web2 capitalist approach to a growing user base that fundamentally rejects and often despises it.

That is, the control and accumulation of wealth creation and distribution. Regardless of the Web3 niche you are operating in—whether it’s film, gaming, real estate, or JPEGs of cats—the first and foremost objective from a user perspective is to make and control their wealth. No amount of promises made in regards to future utility or additional features provided by a Web3 platform outside of its fundamental value proposition of empowering and enriching the user will change that.

Experienced users know that when a platform rolls out additional token utility, it is first to create increased loyalty to the platform. But loyalty in Web3 doesn’t work the same as in Web2 because of the power afforded to users via open liquid markets and their self-sovereign wallet connection.

The user is first loyal to themselves and a distant second loyal to the vibes within their chosen community. Add a users multiple community connections, and that distance in loyalty increases even further. Hence, platforms continue falling over themselves to try to increase loyalty among their user base. With this in mind, I believe the fragmented and often ephemeral nature of Web3 communities should be embraced in the design of future Web3 protocols, perhaps coupled with loyalty schemes that users themselves generate through genuine shared value creation.

As with the most successful Web3 protocols in the space, they do just one thing very efficiently—they provide real utility that’s actually needed by market participants, and they don’t try to be anything more unless the market communicates its desires to them.

If you have strong opinions on anything mentioned in this post, or are simply curious please feel free to share your thoughts with me by entering the group chat via indikin.com or b250.org