Hypercuration: Digging Our Way Out
I’ve been thinking about and experiencing hypercuration in the wild more recently. I’m sure you have too.
Last August, I wrote about how hypercuration will be one part of what brings our onchain world out of the Irrelevancy Island™️, largely in response to Reggie James’ talk at FWB Fest.
While, yes, crypto is still moseying around in our puddle of irrelevancy; collectively, we’ve gathered the troops to aim ourselves in a relatively solid direction now. The builders have been building. The creatives have been pondering.
But here’s the thing: crypto isn’t taking advantage of hypercuration to lock in users. Not yet, anyway.
No, it’s big tech cashing in on their last-ditch efforts in the throughs of, as Cory Doctorow restates recently in ‘Enshittification’ is coming for absolutely everything via a Financial Times piece this week. Everybody loved this piece, and people who missed him coining the term last year have been sharing it around in my group chats.
I first came across the term enshittification when I watched his Defcon talk four months ago (you should definitely watch it, by the way). I shared it with a few community professionals who were fascinated by this perfect word to describe our current social and digital landscapes. Now, he’s laid out how it reverberates far past social media.
Anyway, when I first wrote about onchain hypercuration last year, I knew it would be necessary for 2024. But I didn’t realize that Spotify and YouTube would get this serious with their experiments so early in the year.
It’s nice that we have a framework for what this hyper-personalized, hyper-curated internet might look like and how it’ll grab our attention. However, I’m not convinced that any web2 enshittifactory will be healthy for our nervous systems in the long run, nor our economic futures.
Just this week, in a TikTok interview, Spotify’s Global Head of Editorial, Sulinna Ong, gave us the sauce on how the music industry will change a year from now. In it, she predicts that due to the busy nature of our lives, we’ll see lists of recommended media across all apps, not just music, that are hyper-personalized and curated to give us exactly what we need.
The music streaming app is already experimenting with an AI DJ that I tried out for a while, though I found it wasn’t that great at consistently solid recommendations.
Another feature emerged this past September called Daylight: a recommended playlist based on genres of music you’ve listened to that change throughout the day based on your mood.
The thinking is that if you liked this music previously, you’d probably keep enjoying it. And this one might have some sticking power.
There’s no annoying AI voiceover trying to be silly between songs, the playlist names are easily sharable, and the recommendations have been spot-on so far.
I mean this is totally cute, right?
On the flip side, you have sites like YouTube doing the absolute most trying to get users to tell them what their favorite color is… I don’t know the angle here but all I know is it’s weird. Like me, you might be scratching your head wondering what this even does. I’ll tell you, it quite literally analyzes recommended videos solely on thumbnail color palettes. Yes, that’s all.
I tested it out and choosing an option takes you to a tab that’s sorted videos you might want to watch, and it’s just a list of red, green, or blue thumbnail images with no real meaning of what you actually might want to watch.
this is just dumb. don’t do this.
After reading Cory Doctorow’s latest piece, I searched through Reddit comments to see what others were saying about it. Many complained about how it was published in the Financial Times, which charges $75/month to read articles. Surely it was a higher fee than of them wanted to pay nor could likely afford.
Their solution? Some wanted to make microtransactions to pay for single articles. Others had no idea about the quality of work published to FT, which is the presumed main reason for the higher-tier fee.
This all comes back to Irrelevancy Island and how crypto isn’t and hasn’t been ready to be recognized as an option for media enjoyers. But it’s slowly getting there.
The Only Way Out: Through, New, Change
Enshittification is undoubtedly affecting how we interact not just with media but with friends and loved ones in communities online and offline. Here’s what to do about it and where we go from here:
Onchain hypercuration gives us a hyper-personalized, hyper-curated social graph that is not only open source but immutable and interoperable. It enables curators and creators the permissionless option to earn from and own their labor in the form of luxury media.
Hypercuration is the blueprint for niche everything. I’ve seen the power of niche communities throughout my career as a community professional and social media hobbyist/enthusiast. Many of these communities have risen well above 100k members in short timespans due to having clearly stated goals and impact.
None of those communities could take advantage of grant mechanisms that verified and validated their impact until now.
This is why funding mechanisms like RetroPGF and Quadratic Funding make so much sense for the inevitability of hypercuration. They each account for the impact and profits measured by protocols that benefit an entire ecosystem.
However, let it be known that profit in a capitalistic structure is not guaranteed and impact cannot and shall not be measured solely on profit.
Curating a community capable of living to see the next 5, 15, 20 years will require significant patience, sure, but it’ll require much more foresight and adaptability from the outset to enable a foundation of trust that goes beyond the simple mechanisms we see today.
Thus, onchain hypercuration requires these primitives:
Identity: standardized measurement of connection to both the onchain and offchain worlds
Impact: values upheld that create value reverberating throughout a given ecosystem, both capitalistic, ecological, and humanistic
Interoperability: transferability and deterministic realities capable of crossing from one protocol to another, online and onchain
Interreflection: is impact widening the mean as well as the sense of self?
In a world that has fractured our communal experience, it is more important to understand and find the value(s) one seeks in community with others. Especially as it concerns a future where our relation to work is less than necessary.
It is more important to use onchain hypercuration to it’s earliest advantage in preparation for a time lived outside our current hyperfinancialized world.
When we peer into our collective, we understand there is a not-so-distant time when a crisis of meaning will necessitate hypercuration to preserve humanity while facilitating diverse but niche cities.
Being onchain, in this regard, is the tool we work toward integrating but not the answer to the problem in front of us. It is but just one piece of the puzzle and as we’ve seen in the last few months alone, can be useful for navigating impact.