The Novelty Machine
Do you actually own your account?
I have at least 250 accounts across the internet. I found this number by tallying up unique saved logins from my password manager and connected applications through those accounts. That number seems high considering my average usage of the internet falls down to 4 or 5 main websites. How do we accumulate so many logins, and where do we go from here?
The internet is a novelty machine. In essence it connects you to anyone else with an internet connection. In practice, the higher value links and content providers float to the service and the entirety of your online experience is directed by 4 or 5 main providers. Disney have stakes in everything from media platforms like ESPN, ABC, and Pixar to recording companies like GoPro. Creators like The Chainsmokers are influential in their own right, but are also investing in the future of social media with companies such as Fireside Chat and Public. Even Charli D'Amelio is getting in on it, being involved in a $50 Million Series B for Step. These creators are not just betting on being influential on their current platforms, but actively investing and shaping the landscape to benefit their continued growth across new social platforms. These creators understand that the internet is ephemeral.
Only a few years ago, the leading platforms were places like Myspace and 4chan. These platforms benefitted from a lack of structure. Consumers could turn them into whatever they wanted, and they had minimal moderation. As consumer knowledge of internet technology increased, so did their appetite for better indexing and moderation. Platforms like Facebook and Reddit came and overtook these platforms. They were slightly more structured but primarily brought deeper moderation and privacy controls. Their audiences expanded and continued to reach out to more and more niche interests due to both the greater volume of participants but also better controls around in-groups and out-groups. Now the internet is evolving past these platforms. Moderation is becoming commercialized, and privacy is now less sacred than reach. Facebook and Reddit are both attempting to pivot to more financial models as a result. It isn't enough to connect people anymore, content creators are realizing that their time is valuable and want to get a piece of the pie. Close collaborators of these creators also want their share.
With content creators getting greedy, more and more platforms are being created specifically in-service of those creators. Reach is a function of audience, but income is a function of mouths to feed. Content creators are realizing that going (as close to) direct to consumer is the best way to make money. This has caused creators like Mr. Beast to create a virtual kitchen company and others to seek out platforms like Patreon and OnlyFans which put a price on premium content.
All of this causes consumers to create more and more accounts to follow the creators they enjoy. These accounts grow stagnant as creators shift to new platforms. As a result, one-off accounts have littered the internet. These accounts do nothing but potentially expose consumers to additional security risk and are broadly non-transferrable to new platforms. This also means that if I am a contributor to a creator and I start new on another platform, my previous contributions and highlights do not carry over. This may further discourage new platforms which are inoperable with prior ones. You're probably thinking what I'm about to say, so here it is: the crypto case.
If I have a living, unbroken record of every contribution I have made, and my account can be brought to a new platform, that is immensely valuable for both consumer and producer. That is why .eth names have exploded in popularity across Twitter. The tradeoff with using something like this is the absolute lack of privacy, as anyone can browse to your specific namespace and see your entire history. On the other hand, operability with new platforms, a clear path to payment, and relatively secure standards make this a valuable alternative to traditional media.
Will your .eth name usher in a change to how we think about accounts? It's hard to say. The Ethereum blockchain aligns with some incentives and has decent adoption already. On the other hand, adoption is and will always be the largest roadblock to any new technology. Additionally, adversity from existing platforms will always go hand-in-hand with adoption. Investors seem to believe it's worth a chance, as billions of dollars are funneled into upstarts which both promise commercial value to creators and more streamlined content. Social is also changing actively into a many-to-many engagement, with platforms like Clubhouse and Discord. These platforms don't embrace crypto-fundamentals yet, but both have a path to payments and benefit from crypto conversations on their respective platforms. In the interim, they both provide alternative logins from other platforms.
If the future of the account is a one-to-many relationship, then the competition for being "the one" account will continue to be intense. Either way, for the type of consumption consumers maintain on the internet, having multiple accounts is not sustainable. It will be an artifact of the early internet in the same way floppy discs have become an artifact as a save button. The internet will also continue creating novelty to engage and amuse its users. The question then becomes who will own your account in the future, and as I've outlined I believe whoever answers that question will own a lot more than your account.