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Why niches matter

In the last post, I explored the history and future of the Niche Internet. I was happy to see that it resonated with so many people, and some even shared their Niche Internet writings.

But why do Niches even matter? What makes them so special that they are worth our time? I hinted at my perspective at the end of the last essay, but here’s a more elaborate answer.

Niches move the world forward

What XV century Florence, the Manhattan Project, and Silicon Valley have in common? 

The main idea behind all of them was simple:

- Get all these niche-obsessed (art, physics, and tech) people in one place.
- Create an environment where they can cooperate and compete.
- Let them bounce off their ideas, build on top of each other’s projects, and move the domain forward.

In other words, these projects created spaces for niche communities to flourish. In return, these communities helped to take humanity to new heights.

Connecting people interested in a particular niche is, of course, not limited to history-defining projects.

Every university degree is a Schelling point for people interested in a particular subject. Schools use tough admission criteria to filter for students who are the most passionate about domains such as computer science, literature, or medicine. Then, they put these carefully selected students in an environment where they live, learn, and do projects together. And although undergrad students rarely move science forward, some of them later stay in academia and compete for the Nobel Prize.

The same idea fuels events such as conferences, meetups, and festivals. It’s typically much easier to get into an event than into a top university, so you can just buy a ticket and get access to thousands of like-minded individuals. 

All these niche environments can be the beginning of something big - most professional friendships start at the university, and some big companies can track their origins to small meetups - like Apple, which began at a small Homebrew Computer Club. Bringing niche-obsessed people together can have a huge impact on the world.

And sometimes, we don’t even need to bring the people physically together.

Niches work even if they are distributed

Some niche communities have been distributed from Day 1, long before we had video calls and group chats.

A few hundred years ago, one such community started in Europe. It was focused on building things in stone, which, in the era of castles and cathedrals, was a very valuable skill. Members of this organization traveled across Europe offering their services, guarding their craft's secrets, and teaching new apprentices. 

This movement was called Freemasonry and, through the years, evolved into a powerful organization, with 15 US Presidents having ties to this group.

Most religions and trade organizations evolved in a similar manner. Although their members were distributed around the world, they managed to keep the group together by focusing on things they had in common.

So, when the Internet came, it made it easier to build and connect a distributed community. This is how the Niche Internet was born.

And a few of these Internet-first groups have already made a lasting impact on the world.

One of the most famous ones is Cypherpunk mailing list. Their niche (700 subscribers in 1994) list was a world-class forum for cryptography, mathematics, and computer science enthusiasts, and we can thank them for making the Internet more private. Among their subscribers were people like Marc Andreessen, Julian Assange, and Satoshi Nakamoto.

An even more impactful group that got connected via the Internet is the open software community. The movement can be traced back to the floppy disk era, years before the Internet became a thing. But with the extra connectivity (like Usenet, mailing lists, forums, and blogs) and tools (like SourceForge and later GitHub), the once niche group of coders made a real dent in the universe - today, 99% of new software projects rely on open source components.

The online-first group that might be the most recognizable by the non-tech reader is the crypto community. Bitcoin whitepaper nerdsniped tech, cryptography, and economics experts, and that eventually led to building a $2T+ industry that’s challenging the world’s finance and tech. 

And these are just a few tech examples. There are countless others - from DeviantArt, which connected artists, through, which connected gym fans, up to Raverly, which helped to educate thousands of people about knitting.

So, niches can have a huge impact on our world. And they also work if people are distributed and connected via the Internet. But they’re not only useful. They’re also pleasant to be in.

Niches are natural

We evolved in tribes. This means that we like to belong, have some common background, and bond over shared experiences.

In the early homo sapiens days, we didn’t have many hobbies other than hunting, eating, sleeping, and procreating, and most groups were just tied by their blood or geography. 

Today, there are many ways to spend our free time, so we started forming mini-tribes based on our interests and passions. This process got accelerated with the Internet, as we are always just three clicks away from finding “our people,” and we might have more in common with a League of Legends player from Hong Kong than our cousins.

Satisfying this need of belonging is even more important in the era of the Mainstream Internet.

Mainstream Internet is like a noisy, crowded club - it's hard to get noticed here. And even if you become the center of attention, you might not like it because it can be overwhelming.

Niche Internet, on the other hand, is like a house party. It has many cozy spaces where you can be heard, build your reputation, and - if your content is good enough - you might even move this micro-domain forward.

Our interest-based tribes trigger tribal behaviors

Also, you are free to nerd out about your favorite domain. Your friends and wife might not want to listen to another rant about cars, cooking, or fantasy, but there are people out there on the Internet who would love to hear your thoughts!  

I experienced it firsthand as I joined Farcaster in 2022, when it was a niche community for crypto builders. It was the first space where I could discuss crypto all day long. And this niche community was really impactful - this is where I met Tim in 2023 and joined him to build Kiwi

So, niches are naturally pleasant to be in. And they are also easier to shine in.

Niches are easier

The business cliche says that “riches are in the niches.” It’s true that it’s easier to build a business that’s a big fish in a small pond than vice versa. And it’s also true for our passions, where we can stand out if we choose the niche carefully.

Some niches are based on scope. For example, you might not become the best programmer in the world because there are 20 million other programmers competing for this title. But… you can be the world’s best expert in a particular open-source library.

Some niches are based on tribes. For example, you might not become the world’s best biologist, but you can be the best biologist among your friends or in r/BiologiaBrasil.

Some niches are also based on intersections of different domains. For example, it’s hard to be the world’s electronic music DJ. But you can become the world’s best person who combines the love of anime, music, and podcasts like Akira The Don

Finding your niche means you can focus on what you do best and stand out easier. You'll face less competition, become a part of a more cozy environment, and really make a mark in a specific area or community. 

And yes, you might not become the leader of the next Project Manhattan. But your expertise in programming, parenting, or woodwork can help people solve their real problems. And it’s a valuable contribution to our society, that gives people a sense of belonging and pride. 

And I think that in the era of algorithmic feeds where everyone consumes a different content, this kind of connection is particularly important.

Come and explore niches

So, to sum up, niches are important. They move the world forward and give people a sense of belonging and pride. 

The power of niches is one of the reasons why we built Kiwi News

We’ve been in crypto for some time, but we longed for quality content and conversations. So we decided to build a tool that helps to find and discuss content about crypto tech, products and culture. And also build a community around it. If you’d like to learn more about our project, the best place to go is our Docs.

Also, if you want to dive into Niche internet, we started a Farcaster channel where you're welcome to join.

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