Focus On What Doesn't Scale
This is an opinion piece for the SayMore + FarCon Essay Contest on what I believe the future of the Farcaster protocol should be.
With the protocol being at 14k users(according to farcaster.network), multiple clients and apps building on the protocol, and an active FIP ecosystem, it's clear that Farcaster has grown to a significant size over the past year or two, especially over the past year. The past month or two specifically has been pretty busy, with many updates from the Merkle team as well as many debates from the community both about how to move the protocol forward and how to best operate as a community, as seen with recent PurpleDAO proposals.
While Farcaster has grown and the protocol itself keeps getting better with every new release, the ecosystem is in a divisive place that might decide its future. The main thing I think the ecosystem needs to decide about its future is what community it wants to serve and how it can best serve that community.
Right now Farcaster's community is rather crypto-oriented, and while many of the features in Warpcast take advantage of ETH-native capabilities, there are plans to scale the protocol to more users -- users that presumably are not nearly as crypto-oriented. In my opinion, while it's great to upgrade the protocol itself so it can handle more activity, it might be more worth-while -- at least for Warpcast -- to focus on building the best app for crypto natives, instead of the social app for everyone.
I think building a more general purposed social app requires a different feature set than the features that make Farcaster, especially Warpcast, special for the crypto community. In addition, for many social apps the community is the product. After all, there is no protocol without a product that people use. I would much rather there be a focus around retaining and strengthening the community that's on Farcaster, even if it doesn't become the next Twitter/TikTok. And if some large social app wants to use the protocol to build a larger consumer app, they can do it on their own or fork the protocol to do so.
With metrics like weekly active casters seeming to stay the same & new Ethereum-native features rolling out, I think it would be best for the protocol's growth to continue building use-cases for its existing audience. For example, the addition of PurpleDAO vote reminders in Warpcast has significantly increased voter engagement and turnout. This is a feature Warpcast offers that both adds to its feature set and allows Purple members to get notified of upcoming proposals -- something that they can't do in other apps.
Another protocol-level advancement I'd love to see expanded on is FIP-2, which allows for casts to be direct responses to URLs or even smart contracts. This feature could be used to, for example, create a Purple-only chat that responds directly to the NFT's smart contract. By finding other features that activate the pre-existing user-base, the protocol & its leading apps can be the go-to destination in the Ethereum ecosystem.
This doesn't mean that Farcaster can't scale to a non-crypto native userbase, but I personally don't think that should be the focus of developers and teams that want to proliferate the ecosystem. I think that sort of growth can come a bit further down the line when other apps use or are inspired by the protocol to build experiences that feel fully web2, but that use Farcaster and other crypto rails to power interactions. What if the next big consumer social app was, say a social tickets app, where the messages and relationships were all stored on hubs?
This is all to say that if the protocol were to scale to a much larger audience, it would have to be through an app that isn't trying to be a Twitter clone and that is using protocols like Farcaster in a more abstracted manner. One day a new, mainstream consumer app could use the protocol in a completely different way and expand how many people are on it, but I think it would require a different feature set than the types of things Farcaster's most popular clients lean into that make people want to use them.
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