Discovery in web3 is powerful.
It’s also a fraught term in a decentralized world, where soft forks, hard forks, sub-DAOs, and product derivatives fight amongst each other to garner your attention, all within a swirling ocean of noise where sometimes, it feels impossible to find anything that matters.
What is the third Olympus fork to someone who’s already experienced the last two? Why buy into a NFT project that’s simply a spin-off of the original? At least, that’s what it feels like.
And that, too, is also the “downside” of decentralization—in a population where social media behemoths and enormous conglomerates have reshaped our behavior so powerfully that we rely on algorithms to feed us what we want at any moment, attention, not time, is our most powerful asset. Our second most powerful asset is curiosity.
While it may appear messy, decentralization in web3 allows our curiosity to flourish in a different way, because discovery is no longer just tied to your Instagram Explore Page, or within the boundaries of your algorithmically-defined online self.
From just the past decade, we’ve developed behaviors where our satisfaction with a platform is based on their ability to calculate what “we really want to see.” TikTok’s For You Page is so entertaining precisely because the endless doomscroll is supplemented by content that somehow fulfills your exact niche. We laugh at the precision of Instagram showing us an ad for a toothbrush that we were talking about in person just a day ago; if you’re interested in politics and Facebook or Twitter knows it, you’re probably viewing an entirely different set of information than what’s shown to the opposite end of the spectrum.
When what “we really want to see” becomes represented by finite data points held on centralized servers, it makes us complacent—and erases our curiosity to pursue uncomfortable things that aren’t targeted for us.
While web3 is not a perfect replacement for the centralized internet, its underlying ethos of decentralization and self-custody means that it is on the user to consent to what exactly they’re exposed to.
In this sense, web3’s embrace of concepts like forking, the public domain, and open-source code is a net positive, despite increasing the signal-to-noise ratio amongst newcomers in the space. Because in the long run, this also forces us to curate and discover things we like for ourselves, whether it be with others or on our own.
It feels daunting, because it forces us to question over a decade of learned digital behaviors, many of which are predicated on convenience—not discovery.
But within web2, everyone is feeling the churn of an algorithmically determined life: It’s why apps like BeReal have shot up to the top of the App Store, and why companies like Meta are facing intense blowback from implementing features that only optimize ad dollars, and imitate the revenue-generating short video algorithms of TikTok.
Put simply: we’re tired. We’re tired of products monopolizing our most valuable resources as a human race: attention and curiosity.
It’s hard to know exactly when Instagram became… like this. (Even Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner agree.) The platform I used to love now won’t let me scroll two thumbs without showing me a random melting burrata, flat renovation or dropshipped dress to buy. I don’t want it! I’m sorry but, at this rate, Instagram is headed for social media purgatory, joining MySpace, Facebook and… Ello.
So how do we get it back? Is there a way out of the cesspool?
Curation and discovery are the answer. These are the human elements to your “For You” page. It’s why we feel a tiny rush of excitement from discovering an amazing product simply through word-of-mouth, or searching hours for pictures to create a mood board that we feel like best represents our true selves.
And these are the behaviors that will never actually go away, even if all social media platforms were to instantly disappear overnight.
Curation used to be limited to the wealthy and powerful in the traditional collectors’ world, but in web3, it’s for everyone.
We’re already seeing powerful alternatives pop up in web3. No longer do influencers who play the algorithm right hold the sole reins in determine what you should and shouldn’t be watching/talking about/listening to. Using social graphs like Lens, you can create your own digital circles, and take your followers wherever you go. Projects like Showtime, Nouns, and Gallery enable new collective experiences for NFT enthusiasts where anyone can become a curator. Your experiences in DeFi aren’t limited to a pre-determined list of financial instruments that you’re able to access based on your financial history or credit score.
And the potential for discovery is far wider with engines like Layer3, Gitcoin, and Guild, or via digital credentials (Disco, POAP, and Noox).
When it comes down to it, web3 enables us to discover things beyond our reach through means of curation, and in the long run—it’ll make us infinitely more curious.
In the new age of the crypto consumer, the noise is there, but the signals are stronger than ever before.
Are you in?