A lot of people complain about the (un)user friendliness of the Steemit.com website, citing dated design, overly simplified interface, its spartan straight to the point mechanics as well as a whole litany of other shortfalls when compared to traditional social media platforms.
I want to discuss a couple of reasons why I think this is the case and possibly why it might not matter.
From the simplest of actions, such as up-voting a post. You are presented with a decision. How much should I upvote for? This is problematic in a sense in that it introduces a cognitive barrier to conducting an otherwise trivial action of expressing support for the post.
You'll likely be thinking of these things..
- How much power do I have to spare?
- How much does the post deserve?
- Is it already voted sufficiently?
.. the list could go on.
Now, understandably, the Steem/it ecosystem relies on this kind of action to determine at the very least, the eventual payout of the post, and when it comes to money, - particularly at this point where the reward pool is woefully low, every payout should be scrutinised to try spread the reward to the most "valued" content.
But this is also part of the problem. The fact that this simplest atomic action of engagement recruits the subjective opinion of reward in terms of money to the "curator" and suddenly, our most basic intuition is challenged. "Maybe I can't vote because I don't have enough resource credits, maybe I can't vote because I've used up my power for the day" etc.
It's a strange concept when compared to traditional social media because it doesn't abstract the reality of this atomic action we call the bare knuckle "engagement" away from the most direct consequence of it - which is some sort of financial attribution to the activity conducted.
Of course, this is due to every aspect of "value" determined by voting behaviour on the platform. When striving for a censorship resistant, decentralised, sybil attack resistant platform, we have to do away with other value determining metrics such as number of views or no. of likes (not upvotes).
But is all this spartan bare metal design really the only way about it?
People seem to forget but Steem Inc is first a blockchain development company, and secondly a social media company. They set out to design something that fits on their protocol as closely as possible to show-case the bare metal design as well as what is initially possible. They have made sure that almost all of the user activity on the website is a distributed cost to the stakeholders on the blockchain and to that end, I think they have held up their mission. But we need to think of ways to move on from being the netscape of blockchain decentralised social media. Let's start with costing.
Cost is cost, not matter how small.
It doesn't matter how small of an activity you conduct on a centralised platform, be it sending a single character on chat, message, wall, or even a "react" to a message, post or picture, there is an inherent if negligible cost associated which goes back to the cost centre of the platform as a whole. Sending data, no matter how small over the internet introduces bandwidth cost, and if these small costs are run up from millions, or billions of users, it can add up to quite a large sum of money, all charged back to the single centralised social media entity.
What traditional social media has done very well, is abstract these costs. In-fact, Dan Larimer pointed out very early on that the majority of the "content" on Facebook would be valueless in the sense that no one would pay to view it. Much less pay the associated cost of small atomic actions like "liking" or "upvoting" a post, showing your name in the list of people who express support. However, the platform believes that the value gained from having the users attention (and hence attention economy) is worth it due to the value gained from having the user fixate their attention on the platform consistently over a long period of time. They expect this to derive more value overall than all of the micro costs associated with their activity.
Daily expenditure of advertising on traditional social media websites exceed the total market cap of Steem. That says something. We don't need to re-invent how advertisers see value, we need to CAPTURE what they see value in and offer it to them. Dan was right in that the value isn't in the individual posts. It's the fact that everyone is participating in the same place. Ironically, that is one of the hardest aspects of building something new and innovative - it's convincing the world to all take part.
Engagement isn't always about determining the financial value of something
Social networks like Facebook do not put a limiter on the amount of activity a user can conduct in a day, especially with respect to liking posts. Though, even the small action of liking a post incurs a minute cost to the platform, it is absorbed and written off as an expense to the cost centre of facilitating and captively holding it's user's attention to the platform.
What needs to be done, is further abstraction of immeasurable value of engagement activities off the chain, to boost natural low cognitive activities such as "liking" or "reacting." As of right now, every action we perform bar "resteeming" is captured on chain, and with that, the cost is balanced across the blockchain.
There is no reason for activities that do not concern financial scrutiny to be passed onto the blockchain, in-fact, I argue that Steemit.com and any platform built on top of Steem can replicate in a hybrid-centralised-decentralised fashion, many of the micro atomic actions we see on other social networks with negligible surplus in costs. Certainly, the costs associated with this central point of failure and potential catastrophic over spending if the marginal costs of these off-chain activities accrue to something un-sustainable, can kill the platform, but that is why introducing little features that capture modern social engagement such as "likes" and "reacts" are the starting point.
Liking and Reacting should be encouraged to boost user retention and re-engagement
As of right now, the Steemit platform enforces the blockchain protocol very closely. It does not include features such as "likes" or "reacts" because they would be off-chain. But this leaves us with few opportunities to rapidly engage as well as build vibrant communities where people can interact with a much larger audience.
There remains a large gap between user experience afforded on Steemit vs other traditional social media networks. The self sovereign properties of Steemit.com are not going to be enough to retain users if they are :
- Given too much cognitive load to perform the most menial trivial actions
- Limited by how frequent they are able to perform these basic actions (voting, commenting, posting, replying etc.)
Off the cuff solution
Introduce more centralised off-chain features to align with current social media engagement trends and make the cost centre of these new features, the team, or entity running the platform, and not the blockchain and it's users.
Introduce "likes" which are purely for expressing well.. "likes", and "reactions" to allow for more emotive expressions. Curators can then look at these kinds of metrics to gauge the engagement level or popularity of the post, and assign a monetary voting decision to the post.
We need not make every single participant on the platform a curator for value. We need every single person on the platform to engage as much or as little as they want, as freely as they want, without the cognitive burden of deciding how much financial reward a post should have. That's not what the majority of users on social media want out of the platform.
A platform needs to appeal to users for it's utility, ease of use BEFORE it's financial incentive and Steem/it is full of people who want the latter and not the former.
It's time to change that!
Remember, it's okay to decentralised the parts that matter, and centralise the rest. If on the quest to decentralise absolutely everything, we end up with nobody using it, then our quest is pointless and we have failed.