Dirt: Are we post-platform?
You could check out any time you like, and now you can also leave.
Eileen Isagon Skyers, on what comes next after Facebook and Twitter.
Platforms have boxed our social lives and creative endeavors into slick, hyper-designed perimeters, guiding users through algorithmically perfect scrolls. Encouraging self-gratification, they even reward us for using their templates, filters, hashtags, and stickers. As design theorist Yin Aiwen puts it, “joining a platform today is much like going to a new town; not only do you need to familiarize yourself with the interfacial environment, you also must adapt to a particular culture to communicate, exchange, and so on.”
Over the last two decades, platforms have risen to become the monolithic, centrally-managed household names that we are so familiar with—where we comfortably upload our memories and fantasies, our arguments and aspirations. Equal parts vague and ubiquitous, the word “platform” has become a catchall term for an entire generation of online spaces that supposedly “support” the work of creatives and content producers in the world of what is known as web2 (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and co).
In web2, basically anyone who posts any form of content surrenders it to a continuous feedback loop wherein the platform not only owns and controls your data—it also earns a vast majority of the revenue from what you’ve created. Consciously or not, everyone sharing content on a platform adds to the collective effort of making that very platform more compelling, more profitable. As users locked into various terms of service agreements, we’re deeply embedded in a platform’s construct without any ability to co-create it.
Influencers, now a slowly fading cliché in the Internet’s tableau vivant, found success articulating the cult of personality, and marketing themselves as direct-to-consumer-goods. The shift away from this algorithmic surrender can be traced to the macro and micro “creator economies” spawned by the likes of Patreon, Substack, OnlyFans and even Cameo–what they all share in common is a range of options for selling your personal brand to others.
Maybe the only meaningful action a user is entitled to perform on a platform is actually leaving it. But, borrowing from Yin Aiwen’s metaphor, deleting an account from a platform is like being exiled from town—it means severing ties with an entire community ecosystem. And because resource-sharing has become increasingly dependent on the digital, leaving a platform certainly doesn’t come without cost.
Enter: web3, where participants use a wallet application like MetaMask, or Rainbow, to interact directly with the blockchain. Rather than logging into each individual website with an email and password, only to upload your files over again, your wallet acts as your login. It’s almost like a digital backpack that stores all of your assets—such as NFTs, and crypto balances. You can swap wallet providers at any time, but your assets remain under your control, in your wallet, as you travel from online destination to destination. It’s virtually impossible for a dApp to deny you service or take custody of your data. And if you choose to abandon a profile, delete an account, or “leave town” (if we’re still following the metaphor), you theoretically bring all your objects with you. The ability to exit with your data intact is a core tenet of web3; web3 turns your data into your personal, programmable property.
Of course, our instincts have guided us to instigate, to pry, to project mental models from the digital attention economy onto the new and unfamiliar. Onslaughts of quasi-cultural e-commerce references abound, from online auction houses and digital marketplaces, to bazaars, town squares, stock exchanges, and Geocities. Every new advent of the web is baffling at first. Each comes with its own set of skeuomorphs, utopian aspirations, doubts, and healthy doses of skepticism.
All of this to say: there is no longer a single narrative, or aesthetic that necessarily bounds your artwork (or album, or video, or article) to the platform that originally hosted it. Sites that are decidedly post-platform can actually benefit from shared network effects. As Other Internet put it in their research on headless brands, brand credibility can even be bootstrapped by combining the brands of protocols on top of which new projects build! There is no need to compete with one another for user-bases, subscribers or follower counts when someone’s entire body of work can be ported from one destination to the next on cue (although some of this is false camaraderie, competition for traditional investment remains very real.)
Enthusiasts of web3 emphasize that it is migratory in nature. Examples of this interoperability between (post)-platforms include:
David Rudnick’s latest collection of NFTs, called Tombs, is divided into eight “Houses,” with each House constituting a distinct body of work. The Houses are launching with different contracts, behaviors, and marketplaces—with different mechanics activated for different apps or blockchains.
While Feral File, an online gallery initiated by Casey Reas, uses the Bitmark blockchain to host exhibitions of generative art NFTs, they introduced an Ethereum bridge so that collectors can migrate Feral File NFTs to Ethereum as ERC-721s.
Channel is a another decentralized offering that gives token-holders a voice in the project’s early development, along with a private bundled RSS of leading content from across para-institutional media: Interdependence (Mat Dryhurst, Holly Herndon), New Models (Caroline Busta, Daniel Keller, Lil Internet), and pods from Joshua Citarella.
The “right to leave” is the hallmark of the post-platform era. Platform-based interactions have comprised so much of our online experience for so long that it can be hard to envision anything different. But nothing about the Internet is fixed, permanent, or inevitable. It is malleable, shape-shifting, and constantly evolving. And it increasingly comes with more responsibility and risks for guarding our own data and taking charge of distributing our words and images.
If our primary urge when we go online is to avoid remaining static, why should our content be siloed within the enclosed walls of a proprietary platform? In a post-platform Internet, maybe we can finally beat out the zero-sum game of carefully perfecting an online persona on the Tumblr of yesteryear, only to be faced with the dilemma of whether to delete your account half a decade later. — Eileen Isagon Skyers