The future of art discovery is reputation signals: Introducing Community Pools and Curated Lists

This is part 1 in a series of deep dives on the proposed $RARE staking model and its benefits to artists, collectors, and curators:

Back in 2010, nearly a decade before artists conspired to eviscerate SEO rankings for the “Not For Tourists” guidebooks, two entrepreneurs in San Francisco unintentionally gave digital artists a paradigm-altering gift: Instagram.

“Not For Tourists” Guide to New York City, 2017
“Not For Tourists” Guide to New York City, 2017

At the time the product consisted mostly of brunch photos and vacation humblebrags, but Instagram quickly grew into the tool for digital creatives  looking to build an audience because the platform empowered users to curate their own feeds, highlighting each individual's unique design aesthetic.

“Instagram was the platform that really propelled digital art to the masses,” recalled Alessio De Vecchi, SuperRare’s Chief Curator, recently over more than a couple beers. “Suddenly, I had artwork with over 10 million views being broadcast all over the world, and so did many other artists. It was kind of like a big family of digital artists - all being discovered at scale for the very first time.”

But Instagram wasn’t a digital art marketplace. And as we’ve all come to appreciate over the last decade - it’s very rare that “likes” on web2 platforms get the rent paid. So when NFT platforms showed up and began turning  artists' portfolios into real world profits – profits that, often, could pay a lot more than just the rent – artists began flocking to web3 in droves.

Unfortunately, the revolutionary network effects around improved discovery, social networking, and curatorial reputation -  finally accessible to digital artists for the first time - remain locked inside the walled gardens of the silicon valley giants. And to this day, no NFT platform (including SuperRare) has been able to match the level of community development and connectivity tooling that web2 platforms can provide with their proprietary, centralized social graphs. This has left us with a gaping void in the web3 art world where everyone is forced to rely heavily on centralized platforms like Instagram and Twitter, whose core interests are aligned with advertisers - rather than their users, to solve their core business challenges around discovery & distribution.

Early on, this wasn’t much of a problem

On SuperRare’s first anniversary in 2019, there were just over 118 artists and 2,500 artworks on the platform. On this year’s fifth anniversary, those numbers had jumped to over 3,600 artists and nearly 74,000 artworks respectively.

NFTs have created a vibrant, new creative industry by solving digital art’s ownership and provenance problems, but as the space catapulted from a small group of artists and collectors who mostly knew one another (even informally / only by reputation) into a massive community of strangers, the continued reliance on web2 platforms for social connectivity and exploration has created a serious artwork discovery problem. Whenever we poll artists and collectors about their biggest gripes with the cryptoart ecosystem, this concern is always at the top of the list. It feels like there are thousands of us, together but alone, lost in a sea of our own creations; subservient to the whims of faceless algorithms locked inside their black boxes – the potential energy of a global creative class being warped and impeded, all for the mundane benefit of quarterly stock reports.

A web3 problem should have a web3 solution

As a curated marketplace, we at SuperRare Labs think about this problem a lot. Early on, our solution was to hire forward thinking, keen-eyed curators who could evaluate applications - searching for those diamonds in the digital rough whose styles we felt personified the movement we now know as cryptoart. Artists who could lend their own reputation to the validity of NFTs as a platform. Market growth, however, has outpaced our efforts to scale using humans alone. In 2021, we improved artwork discovery by adding personalized feeds to the platform, and in 2022 we majorly improved on-site search, added artwork categories, and launched SuperRare Spaces to expand our pool of curatorial talent. And yet, despite the excellent and essential work of our curation team, our small network of curators and engineers could never hope to keep pace with that which makes this ecosystem so special: the needs and tastes of a wildly diverse, ever-expanding global market.

Simply put, strategies for solving the NFT/art discovery problem remain trapped in web2 constructs designed for different purposes, and most strategies for solving the curation problem around NFTs remain reliant on the unscalable tastes of hand-vetted experts.

For organic and scalable artwork discovery, users both need the capacity to curate feeds (as on Instagram), and the capacity to browse and explore the feeds of others. For organic and scalable artwork curation, an on-chain mechanism is needed that can be used by anyone to elevate a curatorial reputation – and, in turn, the quality of their own feed – as well as allowing that value to be signaled publicly for anyone else searching for that new piece of art they might love.

After a great period of wrestling with this concept we had an epiphany: What if web3 could do for art discovery and curation what it did for art markets? What if we could design a system of on-chain, platform agnostic tools and incentives that anyone with an eye for art – and the willingness to prove it – could use to earn value as a curator? And what if we could channel that system into an art discovery engine that, at scale, would generate invaluable market signals?

That epiphany led to this whitepaper, and, because we believe that such an innovation should be community-owned, that whitepaper has led to this proposal we at SRL are making to the DAO – a proposal that we’ll now share here:

Introducing Community Pools and Curated Lists.

A decentralized reputation system: Community Pools

There are two main concepts in the system we’ve proposed to the DAO: Community Pools and Curated Lists. At a network level, the benefit of Community Pools is a decentralized reputation system. And the benefit of Curated Lists is that they can serve as a new discovery engine, in addition to being a decentralized curation system.

So, what are Community Pools?

A Community Pool is a smart contract in which a $RARE holder locks up tokens to signal support for another actor (artist, collector, or anyone else with an Ethereum address), in return for rewards from their future sales. The makeup of a Community Pool is based on how many users have staked $RARE, how much they’ve staked and how long they’ve been a participant in the pool. Any payouts to pool members are based on sales by the seller, or any other rewards that accrue to the pool target.

Each Community Pool is tied to the Ethereum address of a person or entity – artist, collector, curator, etc – who is actively engaged in selling or collecting NFTs. If a specific pool is sizable with known participants staking in it, one can assume that this address belongs to a known and/or reputable actor. If a pool has little or no stake, or is staked on only by unknown actors, then the social reputation of that address is significantly lower.

The Community Pool token economics are as such that, the smaller a pool is when a new member stakes, the greater the rewards they’ll receive whenever that pool recognizes a sale. Thus, stakers are incentivized to search out undervalued or undiscovered actors for whom they can increase both reputation and pool rewards.

But the economic incentives for staking in Community Pools are just the tip of the iceberg, the real value that comes from staking in Community Pools is the decentralized social graph the data from this staking process generates as a result. As more participants begin staking on an address to signal reputation for a given actor, this raises that actors visibility to the entire network - sending an important signal regarding their legitimacy, talent, curatorial taste, or simply the value of their collection. It also creates a new connective tissue between stakers and those they stake on – adding a new way to connect with your audience and build community at a fraction of the cost typically associated with artwork collecting, while simultaneously boosting visibility for the individual behind a pool and further encouraging collecting activity from those with the means to do so.

Improved discovery for artists and collectors: Curated Lists

So what are Curated Lists? And how do they improve discovery for artists and collectors?

When a user stakes in one or more Community Pools, a beneficial side effect is the creation of a list of addresses on which the user has staked, known as a Curated List. These lists then become canonical, on-chain curated feeds - much like the list maintained by SuperRare Labs. These Curated Lists are a powerful new dataset that can reveal more nuanced structures within the web3 creator economy like reputation, social graphs, fleeting trends and larger macro-curation insights, all of which will aid in the discoverability of notable market participants.

By simply staking a few $RARE tokens, anyone can build their own Curated List – a universally observable, on-chain reference of all the wallets you support and vouch for. The Curated List of a prominent artist or collector – say, Jason Bailey, or Diewiththemostlikes – then becomes visible to all network participants and a source of insight for keen observers to browse. Which creators are they listing? Who have they added in the past week? And if you discover someone new and interesting from inspecting a list, who is on this new person’s list that might also blow your mind?

If the DAO ultimately decides to approve the proposal to adopt staking, SuperRare Labs can begin baking this list data into our UX and reinvent the curation and discovery process from the ground up. In place of chronological activity feeds, your art browsing experience will become a personalized, ever evolving journey that utilizes organic market signals, built atop the Curated Lists you actively choose to follow. By curating your own Curated List and then curating the lists you decide to follow, each user can have the ability to “curate the curators” who influence their feed – allowing as few or as many reputable community members to supercharge their own personal art discovery process.

As more people participate and reputation builds throughout the system, thousands of undervalued artists, keen eyed collectors, and amateur curators – whose creations and collections remain undiscovered or under-appreciated due to the endless inventory on aggregated marketplaces – will start rising to the surface. Reputable artists and collectors alike will experience the excitement felt by the cryptoart OGs of the early days – with an opportunity to make their mark on the larger space, and define their path to career fulfillment. And as each collector browses and follows specific Curated Lists, their discovery process will be personalized to reflect their own curatorial preferences.

A platform agnostic, community-driven approach

One of the most magical things about the whole NFT art space is the peer-to-peer connection between artist and collector. During a recent episode of SuperRare Sessions, well-renowned collector, Art On Internet, summed this up well:

Before NFTs, if you were looking to connect with an artist, good luck tracking them down. But with NFT art, after collecting my first piece, the artist reached out and said, “hello.” I thought, wow, this is unique. It wasn’t just the experience of buying the art, or the experience of its colors and forms. It was something deeper, like, oh my god, this is the artist, this is the person behind the artwork.

Yet, even when a sale takes place these social bonds forged between collector and artist remain relegated to, and intermediated by, web2 social platforms, available primarily to those with the means to purchase full artworks. Using Community Pools and Curated Lists, now both high profile and emerging collectors/artists can harness this energy by expanding their community, solidifying their on-chain reputation, offering a vastly lower entry price to participation, and sharing in the magic of creating, collecting, and curating digital art together as a tribe.

This is just the beginning. For now, as the DAO evaluates this proposal, participation is restricted to a test network where the community can experiment before sharing further ideas and feedback on how the system can be improved. Nonetheless, as we believe there is massive potential for this innovation, we can speculate on what is likely to come if this proposal is adopted:

As the Community Pool and Curated Lists ecosystem matures, it will create a decentralized mechanism for signaling reputation throughout the cryptoart ecosystem. And since Community Pools can be deployed for any Ethereum address, they can help create cross-platform curation signals. This will increase both the quality and ease of art discovery for collectors and artists across the entire NFT ecosystem - not just on a single platform such as SuperRare.

Staking data is valuable for everyone, and it becomes more valuable as more people use it. Led by the intuition of art lovers all over the world contributing reputation-based signal from millions of unique perspectives, collectors will be able to observe subtle changes in the ever-fluctuating curatorial winds, helping us all discover new artists, collectors, trends, ideas, and beauty from across the globe, and creating a healthier, more powerful cross-platform discovery experience for artists and collectors alike, at any price point.

So what’s next? Where can I learn more?

For $RARE staking to be a true model of decentralized governance, it must be approved, built, and owned collectively by the DAO. So bear in mind that SuperRare Labs is just a small group of DAO members who are proposing this idea as a framework for consideration and improvement by the larger community.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing a series of blog posts that dive into our thoughts regarding the potential of RARE staking. In the meantime, if staking excites you, or gives you pause for concern, we need your help:

  1. Follow this link to a “Request For Comment” post on the DAO forum and dive into the whitepaper

  2. Play around with the testnet $RARE Staking Alpha DApp

  3. Leave any feedback on the forum post for DAO members to consider

  4. Put your $RARE to work, cast your vote, and shape the future of digital art!

  5. Mint your commemorative NFT below!

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