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A path to a breakthrough web3 social app

16 years ago MySpace felt invincible.
11 years ago Facebook felt invincible.
6 years ago Instagram felt invincible.
Last year TikTok felt invincible.

And TikTok, just like its competitors will eventually lose to the new thing.

This is the ruthless nature of social apps. One of the Internet’s main value propositions has been connecting people, and startups are always looking for ways to do it better. 

MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, Telegram, WhatsApp, Discord, Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, Threads. In the last 21 years, we had 12 social apps that reached over 100M users. And I don’t count local products like WeChat or VKontakte and smaller Western apps such as BeReal, Truth Social, or Gas.

So if there is an opening to build a successful social app, how can we - as a crypto community - respond to Ryan’s question?

I think there are two main problems with web3 social apps. Most of them either overfinancialize social interactions or are just straight-up clones of web2 apps.

To exit this unproductive maze, we need to look at social media from first principles. Understand how this design space looks, and what’s possible. And then we can come up with some fresh ideas. 

But first, let’s try to understand why people even try new social apps.

Why try a new social app

There have been many successful social apps so far. But why did it happen? Weren’t they supposed to be guarded by strong network effects, making it hard for competitors to come in? 

Apparently, there are more openings for new apps than people think. 

Here’s why I started using different apps:
- I wanted a place to hang out with tech people, so I started using Twitter.
- I wanted to add filters to my photos, so I started using Instagram.
- I wanted to have private conversations with my Facebook friends, so I started using Messenger.
- I wanted to passively watch online videos, so I started using YouTube.
- I wanted a more intimate app to chat with my closest friends and family, so I used WhatsApp.
- I wanted to learn more about some niches so I started using Reddit.
- I wanted to spend time in a dunk-free zone and hang out with fellow crypto builders, so I started using Farcaster.
- I wanted to start making money, so I started using Twitch. (Nah, I didn’t. But I would if I wanted to!)

Every single app I started using, satisfied one of my needs that other apps couldn’t satisfy. 

This line is so important, that I will say it rephrase it, and say it again. Every new app I tried made my life better in a very tangible way. So tangible that I can easily describe it (as I did above).

How do you translate these anecdotes into your social app mental model (a.k.a. Social App Canvas)?

A social app consists of a few levers such as:
- social graph: who you can interact with within the app (that’s why I started using Twitter),
- features: what you can do there (that’s why I started using Instagram),
- proof of work: how do you interact with other people (that’s why I started using Messenger),
- activity: how much work do I need to do to use the network (that's why I started YouTube),
- intimacy: how intimate is the app's experience (that’s why I started using WhatsApp),
- niche: what is the app focused on (that’s why I started using Reddit),
- vibes & culture: what it’s all about (that’s why I started using Farcaster),
- exchange: how can you convert social capital into other things (that’s why I have (not) started using Twitch).

Let’s analyze these 8 levers, one by one.

#1: Social Graph

Years ago, I spoke with a friend who used to run a few high-end clubs. I asked him what was the signal that the club’s popularity would fade. He explained that whenever the club became full of women with badly done botox lips, it became uncool in the next few months.

In other words, the club’s social graph has been dominated by people, that the “cool kids” didn’t want to spend time with. This club’s analogy also applies to social apps.

A Social Graph a.k.a. “what people you can meet there” is often as important as the app’s features. Imagine Twitter without tech CEOs, journalists, and politicians or Instagram without stars and influencers - these would be totally different apps.

We can divide the Social Graph into two sections.


Stars are people who are hard to reach, and the social app lets you interact with them.

Can you interact with Elon Musk there (Twitter)? Or Kardashians (Instagram)? Or maybe Donald Trump (Truth Social)?

Some of these apps are exclusive - you can’t chat with Musk on Facebook, you have to use Twitter. And some just offer a more intimate relationship with the star. This is why some people use AirChat to hear Naval, Farcaster to chat with Vitalik, or Lens to interact with Stani.

But of course, a Social Graph is not only about the stars.

Peers, Friends & Family:

On social apps, you want to have peers. These could be your friends with whom you share funny videos and discuss stuff in the comments. Or just cool potential friends you can meet online.

A rule of thumb is that the more your friends use a particular social app, the higher the chances that you are going to try it. Same with people who you might not know yet, but they seem to be cool.

Your social graph (people you meet online) can be built based on different vectors such as:
- interests: you discuss a subject you’re interested in (e.g., r/programming, r/GameofThrones or r/crypto) and meet people who share your hobbies,
- shared experience: you together live through a thing that’s happening (e.g., news on Twitter),
- identity: you feel connected because of your religion, geography, or worldview (e.g., Mastodon users who left Twitter because of Elon),

and a few more.

Social Graph is also about people who you won’t meet in the app, like the women with badly done botox lips from the high-end club anecdote.

When boomers joined Facebook, Gen Z left. And that makes sense - who wants to stay at the party with their parents? When Instagram was about to ship an Android app, its users protested because they didn’t want people who were "not cool enough". When you join Farcaster or Lens, you know you won’t meet midwit crypto haters there. 

So the social graph is both about who is there as much as who is not there.

If you think about web3 social apps, most of them are primarily focused on the social graph: “Twitter but for crypto”, “Reddit but for crypto”, “Instagram but for crypto”. 

Ship the same features, and give access to different people. But there are more ways to build something fresh.

#2 & #3: Features & Proof of Work

Most successful social apps had some unique features. 

On YouTube, you could upload your video for free.
On Instagram, you could add filters to make your photos look cooler.
On TikTok, you had a database of songs to create a dance video. 

These features let users come for the tool and stay for the network. This means the app was useful even in the single-player mode, without its social features. The apps of course primed users to share their content and try the multi-player features as well.

These multi-player features were the apps' Proof of Work.

What is it? Think of each user as a node in the social network. To stay active, they produce content via posts, comments, and DMs - their Proof of Work. Sometimes the media they produce are photos. Sometimes tweets. And sometimes videos. 

But Proof of Work is not limited to that. It is a vast design space, and - together with a social graph - it impacts the nature of your social network.

If you give people 280 characters to express by default, you get Twitter. If you give them an unlimited amount of characters, you get Substack. 
If you give users the ability to send pictures, you get Instagram. If you make the pictures disappear, you get Snapchat. 
If you let users share videos you get YouTube. If you let them share only short, vertical videos, you get TikTok. 

So just like the most successful apps had unique single-player features, they also had unique multi-player features - Proofs of Work. 

It’s hard to overstate how important it is. 

New Proof of Work applied to the same social graph would generate completely different results. Imagine LinkedIn with 60s vertical videos only or Twitter with disappearing pictures. We already saw a glimpse of it in crypto, with alternative clients for Farcaster and Lens, where the same people (social graph) could express themselves through a different app. 

On the social network we run (Kiwi), the Proof of Work is finding a valuable, crypto-related link and sharing it with the community. It’s more demanding than e.g., posting a short tweet. But it’s also a natural filter for engaged users.

Since our Proof of Work is different than what you have on Twitter, Farcaster, or Lens, users from all these networks come to our app - we give them something they can't get anywhere else.

Of course, your Proof of Work can evolve. TikTok used to be about lib dubs and dances, and today it offers diverse content. But it started with a very specific Proof of Work, much different from other social networks (and been ridiculed for it!). 

All in all, features and Proof Work design spaces are huge and my soul crashes whenever I see another web3 social app just cloning Twitter or TikTok. There are hundreds of options here, and following the most boring one is probably not the way.

In crypto, killer features and Proofs of Work can also be explored by independent developers. Founders from the social protocol ecosystem can test hundreds of app and client ideas and see what sticks - something Facebook or Twitter couldn't do.

It already happened with Farcaster Frames - many ideas were tested, and most of these Frames are not used anymore. But a few - like Frames to claim airdrops - stuck and became a part of the web3 social experience.

#4: Activity

Another way to look at social networks is how much activity they demand from the user.

If most users just passively consume media, it’s social media (like e.g., TikTok, YouTube). If most users are active, it’s a social network (Telegram, Discord, Farcaster). Activity has a lot to do with Proof of Work. 

The easier the Proof of Work, the more active people will be. The harder the Proof of Work, the more passive most users stay. It’s easier to share your thoughts on Discord than to record a TikTok video, and that's why an average Discord user is more active than the average TikToker.

You can also lower the Proof-of-Work bar by design - this is what BeReal did by asking people to take a photo wherever they are. Or you can have multiple Proof of Works with different levels of difficulty.

On Facebook, people used to support posts by leaving comments. But typing a few sentences each time was a pretty demanding thing to do, and it also spammed the feed with comments such as “Congrats!”. So the FB team invented the Like Button which was a much smaller effort and it made people - and network - more active.

A rule of thumb is that people are busy, so you want to make it easy to engage with your network.

One interesting experiment in the crypto space is Interface, where Proof of Work is passive. To show up in the feed, your blockchain address has to do something onchain (swap/mint/transfer, etc).

#5: Intimacy

You can also look at your app through the lens of intimacy.

Is it about people you know, like WhatsApp? Or is it broadcast like Twitter? This is a mix of Social Graph & Proof of Work, and it further changes the behavior of your users.

Let's say you chat with your friend at their house. You are probably free to discuss whatever you want, however you want. Now let's say you meet at the cafe. Would your conversation change? And what if you met at work?

The same effect can be found on social apps, where you interact differently with the same friend on WhatsApp, Discord channels, and Twitter. And that’s because intimacy guides your actions in the digital world just like it does in the physical one. 

The more intimate the app is, the less professionalized the content gets. This means that the bar to produce Proof of Work will stay low because users don’t need to compete with professional influencers to make their posts seen in the feed. This is why group chats can stay so engaging for years - you just need to send the reaction to people you know, a very small ask.

One way to make your app intimate is to gate it. To connect on WhatsApp, you need to know someone’s phone number. To join the Discord channel, you need to have an invite. To join Facebook AD 2004, you had to be a Harvard student.

In crypto many apps use allowlist, but you can also gate access with the paywall.

Thanks to Netflix, Substack, and Patreon, people learned that not everything on the Internet is free. So some social apps like Farcaster or Lens - ask you to pay $8 to join. This is a very simple way of gating access.

You can combine it with other methods. E.g., to use Kiwi you need to mint an NFT on Optimism Mainnet, which filters people who are OG enough to either have funds there or know how to bridge.

#6: Niche 

Is your app niche or mainstream?

Even if you want to go mainstream, it’s typically better to start with the niche (see: beachhead market). But some apps decide to stay in their cozy corners. Behance has 50M+ users and stays focused on creatives, contrary to a more universal LinkedIn. 

Discord historically was focused on gamers, but during COVID it expanded beyond that. Lately, it decided to return to its roots and bet more on gamers-focused features.

Niches are why Farcaster started by focusing on Ethereum builders, while Lens was closer to DeFi users, given their Aave provenance.

One interesting web2 social app case is Nikita Bier's Gas app. It relied on the US high schoolers (niche social graph) answering polls (proof of work optimized for activity) about their friends (intimacy). This hyper niche approach was one of the reasons why it has been growing so fast.

Your app can also try to become a home for different niches. This is what Reddit did with subreddits - everyone can run their own small kingdom. If you find niches interesting, I wrote an article diving deep into this subject.

#7: Vibes & Culture 

Another important point is what is your social app really about?

Is it about being natural like on BeReal? Or showing how cool you are, even if it’s staged like on Instagram? Is it a fun app like TikTok? Or an idea like Twitter (picrel)?

Your Vibes & Culture determine the way the Social Graph (creators and users) do the Proof of Work (posts, comments, DMs).

Farcaster did it with Twitter, where they cloned most of the features, had a similar Proof of Work, and some people from Crypto Twitter social graph. But they had different vibes and culture, which were more positive and welcoming than CT. That resulted in totally different types of content being shared there, compared to Crypto Twitter. 

Vibes & culture can also differ between clients. Orb is a Lens client focused on artists and visual content in general. and it’s more about discussing art and supporting people by minting their work, than the latest Bitcoin price swings.

#8: Exchange 

The last question to ask is “Can you exchange your social capital for something else?”

Instagram users can convert their popularity into dating opportunities.
Twitter users could convert popularity into money from Substack subscriptions.
LinkedIn users can convert their reach into job opportunities.

Sometimes this exchange is subtle. E.g., by joining a group chat you may one day get some job or investment opportunities. And sometimes it’s very straightforward - like on Twitch where streamers can easily convert their popularity into money. 

Having the opportunity to exchange your social capital for things you want is important. One Kiwi user told me that he’d be more prone to use our network if they could show their project’s banner on their profile page. And that's because he could justify being active on Kiwi as contributing to his project’s success. 

In crypto, there is a bias to make things too overfinancialized. This means a strong focus on exchanging social capital for financial capital (see: friend tech and its clones). I think it’s very short-sighted, especially since there are ways to integrate money in a smoother and more fun way - see what Unlonely is doing.


You can think of these 8 levers as a "Social App Canvas". It's a tool to help you analyze your social app ideas from different perspectives, and although I can't guarantee that you'd invent a breakthrough app thanks to that, your chances would be much higher.

And a great thing about social media is that it has a TAM of 5.45B people who are connected to the Internet. 

This means there's almost unlimited space for niches and sub-niches, and in turn, for new apps. There are always new people coming. Sometimes these are younger people looking for their digital home. Sometimes these are people who are looking for some new feature they can't get elsewhere. And sometimes these are people who feel like the game is rigged on the other apps, and they want to - like American pioneers - start fresh on a new land.

This is why - despite the powerful network effects of the Old Guard, I believe we will always see new social media emerging. There will always be an app that offers access to a new social graph or has some unique features, proof of work, makes it easier to stay active, keeps it more intimate, reaches a niche you want to reach, has better vibes & culture or just makes it easier to convert popularity into things you want.

That makes me confident that in the next 5 years, we are going to see a breakthrough web3 social app. And if you decide to follow this path please, don’t do another “Twitter but for crypto” app. You have so many dimensions to explore!

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