In today's digital age, the concept of community has taken on a new form, often reduced to online followings driven by corporate interests. However, it's important to remember that genuine communities have always been an integral part of human existence––and they have thrived because of participation with purpose, not simply consumption. This article discusses how purpose, revenue sharing, and digital property rights form the foundation of a multiplayer digital economy.
Music is like a hyper-aggressive microcosm of society.
The incentives are misaligned, the problems are hard to solve, and the upside to solving them, unless you can solve the entire puzzle, is relatively small. Because of that, music is a breeding ground for innovation (see the world's most dominant social network TikTok evolving from Musical.ly).
My journey in artistry tracks what I call the Life and Death of an Artist. It's a simple model in which a person becomes good enough at their craft to create recognition (me pictured signing with Grammy Award Winner Dallas Austin) but not widely known enough to economically sustain.
This leads to getting another job and the competition between that job and creativity is ultimately a death spiral that most artists never escape from. This is 99% of creators.
What I've learned in the past year and a half of trying to solve this problem is that it's not unique to music. The power law––1% of the people extracting 99% of the value, is everywhere.
It's an extremely difficult problem to solve and most systems unknowingly trend toward this curve (see virtually all social media platforms and virtually all countries).
Emerging creators want broader distribution and larger creators want a non-trivial jump in revenue ($100M → $1B without 24/7 active personal engagement) to gain generational wealth more comparable to global brands.
Fans seemingly don't need anything except lower prices––tech has commoditized digital experiences so well that most fans are pretty satisfied with the way things are.
In the industry this is called "existing consumer behavior", we're told to never go against it. The one thing we do see fans wanting more and more though, is to be recognized. To exist in the digital world.
One-way fan relationships and the 1000 true fans theory are pretty new in the history of the planet and have largely broken down at scale with the creator economy's rapid growth. With 300 million creators and 8 billion people in the world, there simply aren't enough true fans to go around.
Conversely, in the physical world, we've lived in multidirectional communities that worked together toward shared purpose and survival. What I find really interesting about these kinds of networks is that there's no cost to be in one––arguably, it's just human nature.
I saw this in Los Angeles over the summer waking up in the mornings to run in Venice. People without homes, every morning, taking care of each other. Lighting a cigarette, buying a coffee.
Community is how we've always managed to survive. But most communities on the internet aren't really communities. They're followings built on corporate networks, with corporate incentives driving interactions.
Having moved from Boston to Atlanta to Los Angeles and back, I've started to realize that my identity and perception of myself in the world are pretty much built on the bedrock of the communities I choose to be a part of.
That means if corporate networks control digital communities, corporate networks to some extent control my perception of who I am and what value I bring to the digital world, which is increasingly becoming the world we live in.
My personal struggle with this identity issue is why I chose to call myself Formless as a teenager, rejecting the options society gave me to choose from.
I think this desire to participate meaningfully in a new digital society is the need that today's consumers (e.g. fans) may not realize they have. Participation with purpose, not simply consumption.
I've concluded that no matter how cool the technology is as a place to communicate and exchange value, what matters most is what we're talking about, and who's truly benefiting from the value generated.
Without that purpose, communication fades even among the closest friends.
I think we're in the early days of a pretty massive shift in consumer behavior that at Formless we call the multiplayer digital economy.
The idea is that if you want to solve the 99:1 problem, you can decentralize your distribution of any product or service by sharing revenue with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people, who then enjoy the upside and can do with those revenue streams whatever they choose.
Sharing, like in the physical world, requires no investment and no promise of labor. Instead, the boosted network effect is where the cost goes.
The multiplayer digital economy empowers smaller players to unite––inviting would-be consumers to become participants and bigger players to become powerful platforms.
It's the digital equivalent of the common property rights that form corporations, but without the government contracts or physical property rights enforcement that make corporations possible.
Property rights have underpinned the freedom of society for a long time. Common property rights give us shared purpose and the ability to coordinate with each other around shared benefits.
In the physical world, we need governments to grant these, but in the digital world, we can do this using electronic smart contracts and a sovereign layer spanning the internet. Rights like:
When these rights are codified outside of centralized technology platforms, but instead within self-governing property primitives, the bedrock for authentic identity and community in the digital world has been established.
This is the beginning of a multiplayer digital economy.
To learn more about Formless and our SHARE protocol smart contracts empowering multiplayer digital property rights, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.