Our big hairy audacious goal is to become the first home for online content. When we describe Narrative, some people think of us as a social network. Even though there is a social component to it, though, we consider Narrative a content network.
Let's compare the two.
Social networks are focused on the connections between people and the primary purpose is sharing news/updates between friends and family. If I follow you on a social network, I am going to be following everything about you, even the things you post that are of no interest to me.
Social networks are a great way to stay in the loop about everything going on within your network of friends, family, and associates, but not so great about simply tracking or following specific subject areas. Tags are weak content funnels because they are not defined in any way; unless the tag is really unique and clearly targeted, the content associated with it is not likely to be focused on a singular subject.
Large social networks include Facebook, Instagram, and Snap.
Content networks, on the other hand, do not hinge on personal connections (though they may still support them). The personal connections are not the focal point. Whereas social content is a mix of public and private content, content networks are usually purely/primarily public. This makes sense because the fundamental idea is to allow people to discover content of interest to them.
Examples of established content networks are YouTube, Reddit, and Medium.
Even though social networks and content networks have different focal points, they still compete for audience attention. After all, each of us can only consume so much content. And, thus, Narrative will be competing against some big players in both realms.
How can we compete against such large, established players? Why should consumers even consider Narrative, given the wealth of options?
Social Becoming More Focused on the Ephemeral
The current trend for social networks is toward disposable conversation. If you look at usage amongst teens and young adults, they prefer the Snap model of posting in the moment, with those moments auto-deleting. For younger people, there is no social capital in archiving quick thoughts and conversations. The point is to interact (quickly) and move on.
And this correlates better to "real life", doesn't it?
Who amongst us wants to have a public transcript preserved forever of every random thought we shared, especially amongst friends? And the younger generation certainly also is fully aware that there are consequences associated with that public ledger. They've grown up in a world where social media stalkers and bullies have made headlines and, because they are the first generation born into a social media world, they also feel the pressure associated with social media much more than previous generations.
Rather than archive every picture they take on Instagram, many teens prefer to keep only a few, using the pictures they retain as badges that commemorate who they are, what they believe in the most, or how they are feeling in the moment. Less is more in this new social landscape. And sharing beyond your immediate network of friends is a much more foreign concept.
Facebook recently announced that it was going to start focusing on private conversations, including support for ephemeral messages that auto-expire. I doubt that Facebook will retire its current news feeds or public content altogether, but this major shift in focus is a recognition of the changing tide in social media consumption. It's a difficult, but likely smart, move by the social media titan.
But it also fundamentally moves them away from pure content to private dialog. Of course, there are major challenges for them in terms of how they monetize that model that will require reshaping their business models.
The differences between social networks and content networks will only become more distinct in the coming years. Social will be about privacy and disposability, while content will be about interests and discovery.
Existing Content Networks Have Control Issues
So, if social content is becoming more ephemeral, lasting content will depend on the content networks.
All of the major content networks have (different) fundamental flaws.
As a blogging platform, Medium is clean and elegant, but as an overall service it is a hot mess with no proven business model. As it grew in popularity, it changed its terms in an effort to drive revenue. While it once allowed separately branded publications to have some semblance of independence, it removed features (like custom domains) to exert more control over the network content. While it eschews ads, it has not found a business model that works.
It is currently offering a premium membership and shares that revenue with writers, and limits the amount of content that readers can consume, and does so in a weirdly non transparent way (see premium upsell below)... preventing content from being consumed after some unknown consumption threshold has been reached.
Thus, it is essentially a walled garden now, with no clarity on when or why a reader needs to pay. Further, there is no transparency on how it shares the revenue with writers. It touts itself a bastion of writing excellence, but it's just another middleman exerting undue influence on the content... and censoring its users.
YouTube is the most successful content network, and it DOES share ad revenue with its creators (up to 55%), but YouTube has a history of censoring content and closing accounts for political reasons. YouTube does many things right, including allowing its users to rate content. There is no reputation in YouTube, however, so the ratings have very little value and there is no overall scoring mechanism, based on community opinion, so it's not really possible to determine overall quality.
Reddit does a good job of categorizing content through its subreddit taxonomy, but there is no guaranteed uniqueness to subreddits and there is no way for creators to monetize their content. Thus, it scores points for having a massive catalog of organized content, but it fails to provide an economy where creators can thrive.
A Winning Content Model
While there will certainly be many content networks that thrive, the formula for long-term success is one that:
a) Does Not Promote Censorship
The problem with most content networks is that they are editorially controlled by one entity. Each company has its own set of standards that they enforce. And they also respond to pressure from special interest groups to remove content that they disagree with.
When the principles of free speech are eroded, even for "good causes", creative expression is compromised. Thus, as much as possible, any decision to remove content should reflect community standards, and not a unilateral decision by one body.
Even in a well-designed system, there will be tough calls about whether a piece of content should be removed, but the point is to make the process of removal as democratic as possible. That way, the community sets its own standards.
All of the current major companies mentioned above have poor records in this regard.
b) Fairly Compensates Its Creators
Straight up... content has value. Those creating the content are the lures that bring the audience to the network. Thus, the creators MUST be compensated.
YouTube has by far the best compensation system, but their propensity to disable accounts for less than transparent reasons is a negative. Medium, as mentioned above, shares its premium membership revenue with creators, but the payment model is vague. Reddit has no compensation package for creators.
One company, Patreon, has the clearest compensation model for creators, though it is strictly focused on premium memberships, which is limiting for creators that do not have large, established audiences.
(And of course none of the major social networks compensate their creators.)
c) Gives Users Control
Control can mean a lot of things, but control over your data and how you consume content are the two most important.
The members of a content network need to be protected from predatory practices, like monetizing their personal data. YouTube fails miserably here, but Medium gets high marks for privacy, since they do not even display ads in their site. It's unclear what Reddit is doing with its member data, but we'll assume that they are somewhere in between the two.
YouTube and Medium focus on using algorithms to choose the content you see when you visit. Reddit is much better about letting you consume based on your own self-defined interests.
What Narrative Offers
Narrative checks all of the boxes for a winning content network.
Its member governance model ensures that no middleman can censor content. In Narrative, all content is rated by the community, with reputation influencing the impact of each rating. Further, content is removed via a community voting system, ensuring that community-wide standards are enforced.
Narrative not only rewards content creators (60% of all network revenue is paid to creators), but has developed a complete economic incentive system that rewards everyone who contributes in a meaningful way. This includes elected moderators and members who rate and vote within the community. In fact, 85% of all network revenue is paid to the members.
Finally, Narrative honors the privacy of each member. It does not sell member data and gives it members control over their content. The "niche" taxonomy used by Narrative allows its members to follow the subjects that they are interested in and the community vets each subject for uniqueness. With Narrative, your content stream always reflects exactly what you are interested in.
If we compare Narrative to the major social networks, it's a no-brainer from a content standpoint, since no major social networks offer control or rewards. And, as I have argued, the differences between social and content networks will become more stark in the future.
If we compare Narrative to the major content networks, some of them have qualities that are similar, but none have all of the attributes that we think are critical.
Even better, once our niche system is established, Narrative can broaden its scope. YouTube is video. Medium is long-form content. Patreon is premium content. Narrative can eventually be the home for all types of content, including video, audio, premium, and more-- organized by unique niches for easy discoverability within a member-governed ecosystem that is fair and transparent.
There are numerous competitors, but none offer the unique combination of member governance, user control, rewards, and organization that Narrative does.
We welcome the challenge.