Boris Mann

Open Source. Community. Decentralized Web. Building dev tools at Fission. Cooks & eats.


Come for the Network, Pay for the Tool

As high quality content and effective brand strategy move down the long tail, “community” has become an important concept for every post-Web 2.0 player. Crypto token holders, influencer fanbases, DTC brand customers, creator audiences, and new social networks are all often referred to as communities, and each has a stake in developing community for itself.

A new business type here is the paid community: a direct subscription to join in. Today, most paid communities live on the outskirts of existing social platforms. But as they become normalized, paid communities are becoming a viable business model for smaller-scale social networks aiming to be both profitable and socially sustainable.

Toby Shorin, July 15, 2020

Bloomberg is an example of the classic Web 2.0 business maxim “come for the tool, stay for the network.” But the inverse trajectory, from which this essay takes its name, is now equally viable: “come for the network, pay for the tool.” Just as built-in social networks are a moat for information products, customized tooling is a moat for social networks.

This speaks to identity / permission integration across tooling.

The inevitable failures, however, should not discredit the entire project of bespoke social networks designed around specific community needs. Prospective entrepreneurs, operators, content creators, and designers are the “social engineers” of these spaces, and here is found the transformative potential of the model. Here, design, development, and content creation are no longer merely tools for generating revenue; they are also tools of community organizing. Here, design and engineering take on the valence of care, and the emotional involvement of being a contributor, moderator, and member. Where does “design” end and “moderation” begin? Because the mainstream social networks have been designed by a tiny number of people, we have been prevented from experimenting and creating new knowledge about what sustainable community management online looks like. Start erasing the line between operators, customers, and community members disappears, and squint; you begin make out the shape of a group of people who can build for themselves and determine their own path of development.