Traditional social networks have always made money from targeted ads. But this has become difficult in lieu of Apple’s iOS changes. Add in economic slowdown and emerging web3 and metaverse technologies, and what you get is a turbulent and strange social media landscape.
Long-established contenders like Facebook and Snap are hurting due to targeting issues; Instagram is being criticized by its user base while floundering to reinvent itself; Twitter faces damning accusation in the middle of a heated lawsuit with Elon Musk; and TikTok, which capitalized on short-form video is, well, killing it.
But instead of adopting, or copying TikTok’s model, some new social networks are rethinking the space entirely. Recently, I covered BeReal, which offers users the chance to forget filters while showcasing their daily lives. Then there’s Stimulus, a social site that redistributes ad dollars to individual users.
I want to look now at Niche, a social network built by a co-founder of Bumble and a senior engineering manager from Facebook who believe in small communities and decentralization.
Niche, which is in beta, is a social app run on the NEAR blockchain. It’s designed to promote online communities based on hobbies or creator businesses and redistribute ownership of the network to its members and content creators via “ownership tokens.”
These tokens are issued to people who join a specific community––whether it be dedicated to skateboarding or coding––and represent ownership of a fraction of the group. Tokens are free and stored in a free crypto wallet the app automatically creates.
In general, Niche is ad-free. It doesn’t try to addict people so they will see more ads, but instead makes money when helping users find valuable content or when creators make money.
“The idea is you bootstrap these groups and then as they get more popular or more in demand, the value goes up, especially if there’s a fixed supply,” CTO Zaven Nahapetyan recently told Forbes. “And so maybe this 200-person rock climbing group becomes really hot, and everyone wants to join—then the people who got in early can go on the open market and sell their tokens for a higher price.”
Creators can also issue NFTs representing their work and group members can buy and resell them. Niche then takes a small cut of those sales. This effectively creates an economic system that lets members own, control, and monetize the content they create.
When asked by Wunderman Thompson what brands can gain by being on a platform like Niche, CEO Christopher Gulczynski said he thinks Niche “democratizes access and levels the playing field for everyone.”
He continued, “It gives them equal platform ownership over what they’re posting so they can recognize the full value of the content they’re posting and the communities that they’re in, too.”
“People in these communities or clubs are owners in the same way that someone that has stock in a company is an owner,” added Nahapetyan. “People are incentivized by the actions they take to make the platform better because it also benefits them” instead of a major corporation.
The hope is that on Niche, creativity will flourish, the propagation of misinformation won’t be as common or widespread, data privacy will be upheld, and users won’t show signs of addiction.
While Niche will invite users to scroll, like, and post, just like on traditional social networks, it will not allow friending or following. The founders believe people will share deeper bonds around a community or shared purpose.
Most emerging social platforms I’ve covered are either in beta, or are ad-free (for now), or both. It’s too early to tell what will come, and how innovators in the space will grow and maintain a steady revenue stream. What will people grab onto? Will blockchain technology become commonplace in social? If so, when?