Urbit and the Telos of the Creator Economy

~hatryx-lastud
~hatryx-lastud

Urbit is a new kind of networked operating system that turns your computer into a “ship” that can network and exchange data and computation with any other person or group on the network (like the current internet), but without requiring any trusted third parties like Facebook or Google to mediate these exchanges (unlike the current internet). In a world where Urbit achieves mass adoption, all of your different login credentials would disappear, you could never be "deplatformed" from anyone that subscribes to you, and you’re welcome to enjoy robust pseudonymity with the benefits of a rigorous identity and reputation system. Furthermore, Urbit address space is scarce, so Urbit represents digital land in the same way that Bitcoin represents digital money. This means that owning Urbit address space makes one the internet equivalent of a real-estate investor. If you own Urbit land, you are incentivized to improve Urbit.

Some critics say Urbit will never scale, some say it’s just an art project, others say it’s too hard to learn, and still others say it’s just too crazy to take seriously.

I say it’s just crazy enough that it might work.

In the past few months, I’ve become fascinated with Urbit, particularly from my perspective as a so-called “content creator.” Some of my recent political theory fragments have been converging around a mental model where “content creators,” in the long run, become statesmen of new polities (1, 2). At the same time, I’ve also argued that the psychological problems of the current internet are increasingly apocalyptic, especially for people working on long-term intellectual work. Combining these ideas, the unique properties of the Urbit system become significantly more legible and compelling.

What follows is an attempt to summarize my own theory of Urbit, why I’ve become more bullish on Urbit, and specifically how I think Urbit could engineer a flywheel between its real estate network and the so-called creator economy.

To set the stage, I’ll begin by summarizing the key problem that Urbit solves, explore some reasons why I think Urbit is currently undervalued, and address some of the most common critiques I’ve encountered.

The second half explains why Urbit appears particularly bullish from the standpoint of the creator economy. Platform proliferation and the prestige-defection dynamic are two key phenomena that make Urbit feel ripe for creators already, but Urbit’s real-estate economics represent the really exciting and asymmetric opportunity. I discuss a hypothetical model where Urbit land owners pay an already active creator to create exclusive content and host their community on Urbit, akin to Substack Pro; the creator then creates a DAO with a governance token, which allows patrons to support the creator except, unlike Patreon, patrons now become stakeholders. The DAO treasury is used to expand the creator’s operations, which now funds more exclusive content and creators on Urbit, thus bringing the flywheel full circle.

This is not financial advice.

The politics of the client-server paradigm

The World Wide Web sits upon several protocols that emerged in a messy, arbitrary, and partially political process. Yet given network effects, this set of suboptimal protocols was quickly locked in.

To be clear, I’ll use the word "internet" in a simplistic way, to refer to this whole set of locked-in protocols as well as the user-facing technologies and patterns that are implied by it. The experience of the internet today is, for all intents and purposes, opening a browser and jumping between a few dozen websites with separate login credentials, rules, and interfaces designed by individual firms and hosted on servers.

The client-server relationship is arguably the crux of the worst problems with the contemporary internet. Examples include having to manage many different login credentials, being exploited by algorithms outside your control, the inability to own your data, the inability to customize interfaces, and constant political battles over what servers should and should not serve. For instance, “deplatforming" and "fact checking," typically seen as two distinct phenomena, are both only mystified proxy wars to control what centralized servers serve. Deplatforming can produce new websites, with new middlemen, and new login credentials, but the problem is only kicked down the road. As for fact-checking, it will never make sense on contemporary social media sites.

Urbit is the only serious project trying to solve all of the above problems, by routing around their shared root. Urbit obviates altogether the client-server relationship. On Urbit, everyone is a server and servers communicate and network directly, peer-to-peer. Even if you consider the probability of mass adoption low, the expected value of solving all these problems in one swoop strikes me as extraordinarily high—at least enough to warrant a serious theoretical examination.

I went through all the objections on Hacker News and many of them boil down to "So it's just a glorified personal server?" or "You can already do this with X, Y, or Z." I would reject all objections of this type because what's crucial is not particular technical affordances but a system that can link technical affordances and a brand that can channel collective social energy into a network effect. For this, Urbit is the only game in town, as far as I can tell.

Social and cognitive biases underpricing Urbit

Dominant systems locked in by strong network effects always appear invulnerable to disruption, until they're suddenly not. The current internet is a particularly massive network lock-in, but given its technical debt and increasingly painful aspects (more on this below), there is no reason a disruptor at the full-stack level cannot or should not arise eventually. The perception that our current internet could never be supplanted with a novel, re-engineered paradigm leads me to believe that a working competitor such as Urbit is probably under-priced.

The architecture of the current internet is more severely stupid than we generally discuss. The value of the current internet, compared to having no internet, is so great that complaining seems ridiculous. Yet the sub-optimal aspects of our current internet are steadily rising in salience, as evidenced by recent moral panics around Russian meddling, corporate psychological manipulation at scale, and a new wave of privacy-first software startups. Therefore, the viability of an objectively superior networking paradigm is likely far greater than we are typically capable of appreciating.

The politically controversial reputation of Urbit's founder, Curtis Yarvin, is probably artificially dampening public interest in Urbit. Far dumber crypto projects receive far more positive attention in the news. If Urbit represents a correct thesis about an objectively superior way of running the internet, I do not believe any contingent details about its founders' personal opinions will prevent it from succeeding in the long run. If you think the stock price of woke politics is currently higher than it should be in equilibrium, then buying Urbit address space (i.e. Urbit "land") is a way to bet on this belief.

Sneer as a leading indicator

There is a distinct and particular kind of sneering that characterizes many of the critical blog posts and Hacker News comments about Urbit. I know this sneering well. In my experience, in the past few years of internet culture, this kind of sneering generally reflects that the object of analysis is onto something. Many of the people most active on the current public internet do not like when other people—who know how to disconnect and work on serious original projects over very long periods of time—have the gall to… successfully ship something that works. The quantity of sneering I’ve seen applied to Urbit is bullish for Urbit.

A related characteristic of Urbit critiques is that they are often contradictory. This will never work, also it is evil. This gives the impression of emotional reasoning. Again, the anxiety seems to rather reflect a fear on behalf of the author that some group of people other than the author dared to do something outrageously ambitious.

One might say it’s unfair to psychologize in this manner, that it violates the principle of charity. If this were a dinner party, sure. But mining the public internet for signal requires aggressive theory of mind, because so much of public internet communication is really optimizing for some type of immediate psychological gratification on behalf of the author. And let’s face it, a lot of dudes who write comments on Hacker News dream of constructing original, visionary systems that change the course of computing. Many of them have the horsepower to do so. But they are not constructing visionary systems, and they are not even trying, because they make good salaries working for megacorps, which they often hate. So when they hear about someone giving ten years of their life to rewrite the entire stack, and then they hear that some people are actually using the thing, and then they hear some people actually love the thing, something deep in their bodies says: “Absolutely not.” It can’t work, also it’s evil.

The difficulty of evaluating paradigm changes

At the end of the day, I do not have the technical sophistication to formulate an independent judgment on Urbit’s fundamental technical merits and demerits. I’ve encountered many engineering critiques which sound plausible, and are not sneering.

But what I can grok is that even the most plausible engineering critiques generally target specific details, whereas Urbit’s value proposition is so ambitious that—if Urbit even works at all—the payoff would be so massive that I just can’t imagine any specific detail could be such a deal-breaker.

Probably the best example of a detail-level critique, which would be nullified to the degree Urbit is in fact a superior paradigm, is perhaps the most common and plausible critique one encounters: Urbit’s programming language Hoon is too weird, you’ll never get developers to use it. It is true and well known that “developer-friendliness” is a crucial variable predicting the success of new projects—within a paradigm, aka the current internet. If you’re just building normal apps on the normal internet, you’re not going to switch into some new system if you have to learn a weird new language. The payoff wouldn’t justify it. But if there is a new f*cking internet, which works, which people are using, which would deliver a 1000x better user experience if mass adoption where achieved and developers learned Hoon? Well, then developers will learn Hoon.

The situation is very similar to Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions. As Kuhn argued, within any given paradigm of scientific research, there will be anomalies, which accumulate over time. A few anomalies don’t threaten the stability of a particular paradigm, because no paradigm can explain everything perfectly. What matters is the quantity of anomalies relative to the explanatory power of the paradigm. If anomalies accumulate, while explanatory power stagnates, eventually there will be a “scientific revolution” where the old paradigm gives way to a new paradigm. The new paradigm opens new avenues for explanatory progress, but always at the cost of new anomalies.

So long as one scientific paradigm is dominant, it’s not worthwhile for most researchers to switch paradigms. Attempting to change the internet’s paradigm in a way that’s “developer-friendly” for current internet developers does not make sense. So long as there’s still some fruit in the old internet paradigm, it makes sense for most developers to keep plucking it, even if doing so requires an increasing quantity of duct tape and platform risk. You see the same thing in terminal-stage scientific paradigms, where the duct tape is non-deductive and ad hoc explanations of the anomalies. It’s only when anomalies accumulate to such a degree that the time and energy spent handling them becomes so unbearable that switching to the new paradigm becomes rational for an increasing number of researchers. Once this process is triggered, eventually everyone is forced to learn the new paradigm, whether it’s “friendly” or not. What matters is only the expected value of the new paradigm (what progress will open if we assume that it’s correct?), and the anomaly/progress ratio of the current paradigm.

Thus, most detail-level critiques of Urbit seem to misunderstand the structure of paradigm-level technical innovations.

Yet, it’s still an open empirical question whether or not the current internet’s anomalies have accumulated to such a degree—and Urbit’s long-term expected value has been demonstrated to such a degree—that now is the time for paradigm change and also that Urbit should be the winner.

Such matters are always speculative but from my personal position in the internet economy, I see at least a plausible case for why both of these conditions might soon hold—especially for creators building businesses.

Platform proliferation and the Prestige-Defection dynamic

For at least a decade now, we have been observing what I call a prestige-defection dynamic (1, 2). The value of a prestigious affiliation is decreasing relative to the value of owning the authentic attention of an audience. Thus, New York Times journalists quit to write on Substack, professors quit academia to teach independent courses online, etc. In each of these cases, prestige is traded, like an asset declining in price, for authentic attention, an asset increasing in price.

Such defections consistently reveal other aspects of a structural process. The ones that succeed typically involve a decreasing degree of political correctness, because political correctness can be understood as a cognitive tax on prestige. As demand for prestige goes up, especially among people who cannot program computers and are therefore being squeezed by skill-biased technological change, institutions exact increasingly higher PC taxes. Prestige defection is escape from an increasingly onerous tax, at the same time that it's access to a new kind of resource: Greater intrinsic motivation and a kind of emotional specialization, as one is effectively seeking to monopolize the market for the personality and demographic factors that one authentically represents. Defectors are now the big winners in the cultural economy, whether they defected from a prestigious perch or pre-defected by never entering prestige games to begin with, such as many of the younger Youtubers.

If you believe these dynamics are a short-term blip, you may see no reason to be interested in Urbit. If you believe these are structural dynamics, you have to ask what the long-run equilibrium looks like.

So long as information processing power continues to increase, returns to authentic public communication will continue to rise as returns to prestige affiliations continue to decrease. Yet the firms that are capitalizing on the facilitation of defection—Substack, Patreon, etc.—sell a basket of features, not least of which is a kind of ersatz prestige. The Patreon brand converts the low-prestige activity of asking for donations into the higher-prestige activity of gracefully accepting the benefaction of noble supporters. The Substack brand takes the low-prestige activity of email marketing and converts it into the higher-prestige activity of professional writing. Now these are coveted, high-status gigs. But because the branded platforms are partially selling prestige and social acceptability, there must eventually come political correctness.

As these platforms grow, they must eventually reproduce the same political constraints that incentivized their current stars to defect from older prestige paths in the first place. Patreon has already removed some creators, and there is already visibly swelling political agitation around who or what should be promoted on Substack. We have yet to see a large social platform that is able to avoid submission to such pressures, beyond a certain scale—at least on the current internet. Thus, eventually there must emerge a disruptor of Patreon and Substack that will facilitate more freedom and more authenticity, and defection will continue to be incentivized, at some future margin.

Insofar as these political conflicts are proxy wars for access to privileged servers, it stands to reason that their terminus can only be defection from centralized servers as such. The greatest creators of any generation are in the business of maximizing the realization of intelligence, which means decoding and escaping control structures on the one hand, and creating novel control structures that increase their freedom and power on the other hand. The prestige-defection dynamic described above assumes the networking protocol is held constant. But if the benefits of an alternative networking paradigm were to increase over time, and the cost of joining decreases, then eventually the most intelligent and ambitious creators must find it in their interest to become their own server, exactly as Substack writers realized they could become their own publication (instead of working for one), Instagram models could become their own fashion brand (instead of advertising for one), and so on.

Why send your blog posts or videos to a middleman, asking them to kindly post it from their server, so that they can send it to people who signed up to hear from you? The main reason, frankly, is that even many smart creators don't understand the current internet's architecture. But people learn fast when there is a large degree of money and power to be gained from learning something. At a certain point, the gain from moving your shop to Urbit may far surpass the gain that journalists are currently enjoying from the switch to Substack.

The telos of the creator economy

It’s amazing I can work full-time as an independent writer on the internet, but to do so most powerfully I have to manage a sprawling empire of web platforms, desktop-only apps, iPhone-only apps, paid software tools, and even paid software tools to make my other paid software tools send data to each other.

I spend more than $1000/month on: Memberstack, Airtable, Circle.so, Zapier, Ulysses, Webflow, Transistor.fm, Evernote, Streamyard, Gumroad, Bonjoro, Buffer, Teachable, Typeform, Convertkit, and Zoom. The money is not even the greatest cost. It’s the time and energy of manually uploading, downloading, and splicing data from all of these silos. I use all of these tools and each has a positive ROI, but why do I need so many tools when the essence of what I do is so simple?

It is true that I am not your average “creator.” My little budding empire is not entirely representative of normal professional creators. But there will be many more like me, who see the longer-term avenues open to them, and then chafe badly at the current internet’s affordances.

Everything I do boils down to the following. I create work which I publish to public platforms (text, audio, and video files). People click some kind of button if they like my work and want to receive my future uploads (for free). I give this large pool of people various opportunities to click some other button, enter their debit/credit card, and then receive an additional private flow of my uploads. In summary:

  • I need to upload data into a public channel
  • People who like my uploads need a way to subscribe to them
  • I need a way to take an arbitrary number of different payment types
  • I need a way to provide a partitioned data channel per payment type

Pay me through this button and I should be able to deliver you some videos, a podcast feed, and a community forum all in one place—if that’s an offering I want to design. Pay me through a different button and I should be able to deliver you a private blog/newsletter that I generate by running machine-learning summarization algorithms on my preferred writing app. To do all of this myself, I should be able to copy and paste open-source code templates called “video feed,” “podcast feed”, “community forum”, and so on.

Like my videos but dislike my podcasts? You prefer reading newsletters on a custom app your friend designed instead of your email inbox? The followers of creators should have equally arbitrary control over how their subscribed data flows are handled, manipulated, and re-arranged. The difference would not be 10x better than the status quo. In a fully evolved Urbit ecosystem, the difference would be maybe 1000x better, or more. It’s hard to even imagine, which is why we generally don’t.

When you think about it, there is no good reason why there should be arbitrary constraints on what kind of data I can upload to any given channel. It’s data. This is the whole reason data is cool and powerful. The price we pay for apps on centralized servers is a kind of retrophysicalization of data. Instead of being infinitely fungible at near-zero marginal cost, some data files can only be uploaded and downloaded over here at the global Barnes and Noble, and some data files can only be uploaded and downloaded over there at the global Movie Theatre. I don’t want to go to your Movie Theatre. They screen so many movies that suck so bad it takes two hours just to find one that doesn’t completely suck, at which time my movie-watching time allotment is exhausted. I want my own planet, my own private but global biodome where only the smartest and funniest people I know can write texts, record videos, co-record podcasts, have threaded dialogues, and build apps all in one place with no limits to how they want to engineer the criss-crossing of their data flows. What I’m describing shouldn’t sound crazy and futuristic, it’s what the internet would already be, now decades after it’s arrival—if it hadn’t got stuck in its current equilibrium.

My friends and I waving to The Institutions from the bay window of my Urbit group, ~hatryx-lastud/other-life.
My friends and I waving to The Institutions from the bay window of my Urbit group, ~hatryx-lastud/other-life.

Today’s retrophysicalization of data is the neutering of its essential characteristic, the only thing that makes it attractive in the first place, which is it’s cheap fungibility. The current internet is so deeply and bizarrely sub-optimal that most of us don’t even have the words to describe why, hence the many epiphenomenal scapegoats (“privacy,” “addiction,” Russian troll farms, Cambridge Analytica, etc.)

So why do I need ten distinct but architecturally redundant CRUD apps to do the same essential activities across all of them (create, read, update, delete)? It’s because of the client-server paradigm, as I explained above. This paradigm produces economic incentives for teams of engineers to capture and lock-in users on specific websites. Each app does solve a problem for me, and it’s cheaper than coding something custom, so that’s fair; I’m not complaining so much as suggesting that it must eventually give way for the same reason that scientific paradigms give way. The most ambitious and successful creators will have the resources and the incentives to exit this archipelago of rented servers with arbitrary constraints and increasing platform risk, even just on a greater-than-zero probability of a new paradigm offering them their very own Biodome. The Copernican model did not actually provide superior results in the first instance; it mostly solved certain accumulated anomalies, and produced a research agenda that only offered a way out of the stagnating Ptolemaic model. If the realized value of Urbit, for a creator, would be 1000x higher than the status quo, you only need a glimmer of plausibility for ambitious content creators to invest in it.

Not to mention the social welfare loss of so many brilliant engineers duplicating effort by perpetually re-engineering the same basic application structures, all managing databases, user login credentials, etc. Urbit obsolesces all of these tasks with a novel structure that alleviates engineers from having to manage identities and separate databases. People cry about the energy consumed by Bitcoin mining, wait until they learn about the energy consumed by megacorp human resource mining.

Additional factors related to the prospect of mass adoption

The big question remains: What are the conditions necessary to see growth in Urbit adoption, and what is the likelihood that such conditions will arrive?

One factor that’s bullish for Urbit is the increasing prevalence of cryptocurrency, probably an epochal vector of social and technical change. If Bitcoin continues to see institutional adoption as a leading inflation-hedge asset, and Ethereum continues to generate impressive use-cases for the creator economy—both of which seem increasingly likely—then crypto could very well be the vector through which Urbit becomes more profitable for creators than the current internet. Using cryptocurrency on the current internet is quite clunky and limited, and it will probably remain that way for some time. If crypto continues to penetrate society and Urbit is able to offer smoother, crypto-native networking and communication, this strikes me as a very plausible pathway to a sudden adoption cascade. The Urbit network features extremely interesting economics, which we'll explore in more detail at the very end of this essay.

An under-appreciated aspect of the crypto-economy's flourishing is that it's a massive redistribution of wealth from old, mainstream institutions toward independent thinkers. There are now about 100,000 Bitcoin millionaires, and there will soon be quite a few crypto billionaires. We’re going to have a new financial elite, competing with the old, and these are fundamentally different types of people. They are, by definition, weird people who make big bets on unpopular truths they judged to be true by their own independent cognitive effort (plus a few drug dealers and gun runners, it's true, but these will not be the biggest winners). Where do you think they'll want to invest their money? The "creator economy" is now a well-known niche in the VC world, with a few VC funds specializing in creator platforms. But when crypto wealth comes to investing in the creator economy, do you think they'll want to build crypto into Substack and Patreon, working through mounds of technical debt to further entrench "trusted third parties"? I doubt it. I think they'll want to invest in a whole new paradigm that's crypto-native, which shares the same philosophical and political presuppositions as crypto.

We are living in a context of mass preference falsification, where people are constantly misleading each other and underlying truths emerge non-linearly, like bats out of hell. Like the later stages of the Soviet Union, most people today will profess certain viewpoints in public, which they explicitly disavow in private. But if you study this closely, mass preference falsification does not give way gradually—it collapses suddenly (Kuran 1995).

Stacy and Becky pay a visit to ~hatryx-lastud/other-life.
Stacy and Becky pay a visit to ~hatryx-lastud/other-life.

More generally, we are living in a context where power laws and non-linear takeoffs already reign supreme. NFTs were close to nothing a few months ago, now Beeple is worth more than most fine artists in the world. Redditors were never able to manipulate stock prices even slightly, until they were suddenly able to overpower a whole hedge fund. In general, I think these facts should make us especially interested in logical, functional outsider projects with strong fundamentals but seemingly implausible adoption pathways. The seemingly implausible adoption pathway just makes the underlying assets under-priced, until the global neural net identifies the hidden value and suddenly throws it into the stratosphere, as all the normie conformists change their tune and walk like sheep into whatever they thought was impossible the day before.

On the merging of intellectual, political, and financial activity

Social theory, social activism, and financial investments are increasingly blurred into one activity. It's really interesting, and incredibly under-appreciated. Look at Michael Saylor, the CEO of MicroStrategy, who has been buying billions of dollars of Bitcoin while also establishing himself as an influential thinker and speaker. He creates content that is erudite and reflects an original theoretical perspective, and he is probably the person who convinced Musk to buy Bitcoin with the Tesla the balance sheet. In the act of expressing and betting on his own theoretical perspective, he is increasing the probability that his perspective comes to fruition, and getting rich in the process.

This is an extreme example, but I think it's fractal and you'll see this structure at all levels: Good social theorists will increasingly be influencers, and influencers will increasingly be investors, and the returns will be a function of how good is your judgment, how distant you are from conventional beliefs, and how effectively you can allocate resources to the production of what you think is true. In some sense, this is what the indie thinker model captures. What this basically boils down to is, if you see something that looks more true than others generally express, you should research it, and make content about what you see, which will earn you respect and an audience if you turn out to be right or at least interesting; but if you really believe what you're saying, you can also try to produce the future you think is under-priced. This means that I think we should be particularly interested in under-priced truths that we can also participate in and contribute to. So I'm interested in Urbit for this additional reason, that if it's really an under-priced project, it's a prime candidate for this kind of triple opportunity—an intellectually, financially, and practically attractive project.

Steps forward

For the reasons outlined above, there is a straightforward case to be made that any serious and ambitious creator should, at the very least, obtain a planet on Urbit. Check it out, kick the wheels, consider starting a group and let your more technically intrepid followers find you there. Why not? Think of it is a nuclear bunker for systemic platform risk on the clearweb. A planet is not expensive and it’s not a speculative asset, it’s just a ship for exploring the network.

For my own part, I’m more bullish—on Urbit, but also on myself. I have been personally suffering from platform proliferation, so I just personally want to see a world where Urbit wins. So I’d like to help it happen.

I need to reduce the number of sites I manage.

I don’t really want “donations” from “fans," I want contributions from stakeholders in the Other Life mission, and I want those stakeholders to see upside in the continued growth and success of Other Life. Some people are already doing this with token-permissioned Discord servers, but Discord is obviously not the endgame.

Why build on Discord when you know with near certainty that within a few years you’ll have to move to the next hot platform? Or worse, get kicked off as soon as you become powerful, as happened to WallStreetBets. I’d rather be early on the platform aiming to be the platform-to-end-all-platforms—where the probability of mass adoption is unclear but the payoff would be stupendous—than toil on rented land where one knows with certainty that it’s not supposed to be like this. Skate to where the puck is going, not where it is at this moment. And even if Urbit is not the future, I’ll still be farther into the future than I will be if I dedicate myself to being a… Discord moderator.

In addition to feeling intrinsically aligned, I’m also attracted to Urbit land as an investment asset, for all of the reasons enumerated above. When intrinsic motivations intersect with unpopular perceptions of future value, what better omen is there to invest oneself decisively? All of the big economic gains are going to weird people correctly seeing value in weird projects before they gain status. If you’re not looking to invest yourself into something weird, you probably don’t stand to win in the 21st century.

Step 1: Platform consolidation

By this time next week, I will have officially shut down my Patreon and my Discord server, in favor of hosting a an Urbit group. Instead of marshaling my supporters toward Patreon, then marshaling them onto a Discord, they can join my group and throw me some sats with the new Urbit-native Bitcoin wallet—all in one place. This is my own little gesture toward one of the use-cases that a fully fledged Urbit would provide: personal API aggregation (or at least, for now, for me, consolidation).

Over the past two weeks, I’ve given one free Urbit planet to each of my past and present patrons. The Urbit group ~hatryx-lastud/other-life is now the exclusive home of the Other Life community. All of the paywalled content on Patreon will now be archived in the Urbit group.

"Fine, if you want to manage 10 different web apps doing the same thing, do whatever you want. But don't ask me to follow you on Clubhouse also. Oh, and if your Discord gets shut down one more time, I'm leaving you and investing in a creator who provides me permanent and censor-proof digital land on Urbit."
"Fine, if you want to manage 10 different web apps doing the same thing, do whatever you want. But don't ask me to follow you on Clubhouse also. Oh, and if your Discord gets shut down one more time, I'm leaving you and investing in a creator who provides me permanent and censor-proof digital land on Urbit."

In the short term, it’s true that I’m suddenly losing a non-trivial monthly cashflow and making it harder for normal people to enter the Other Life universe. But in the long term, I see some ways to unlock ridiculously greater value for myself and members of my community. This is where things get really interesting. I haven’t ironed out the details, but I’d like to sketch my current thinking. In part to solicit feedback and involvement from anyone interested in joining the project, but also possibly to inspire other creators who might want to start thinking about such possibilities for themselves.

Step 2: The Other Life DAO

The unique economics of the Urbit network are jet fuel for a public-goods DAO. Currently, for-profit DAOs such as MetaCartel Ventures are legally complicated given the regulation of securities. Public-goods DAOs, like Moloch DAO, are significantly more straightforward since they just give grants. But owners of Urbit address space are more incentivized than usual to give grants, because they stand to gain indirectly over the long term, as the value of their land increases.

I think I see a way to accelerate Urbit and make long-term intellectual work financially sustainable for discerning creators looking to exit the social media hustle.

I’ve created an ERC-20 token, $LIFE (contract), with help from my friends at Roll. This token will be a utility token and a governance token. The token provides utility insofar as exclusive Other Life content on Urbit will be accessible only to $LIFE holders (via Mintgate). Then, my intention is to create a DAO, probably a Moloch DAO via Daohaus.club, which will give $LIFE holders collective control over a $LIFE treasury.

There is a max supply of 10M $LIFE. The DAO will be launched with something like the following splits, to be discussed and finalized. This is just a first public brainstorm.

  • Treasury: 60%
  • Past patrons: 10%
  • Select aligned Urbit devs: 15%
  • Core team: 15%

What the DAO seeks to do is for the DAO to decide, but given the nature of its construction and its members, the DAO will be highly motivated to increase the value created within ~hatryx-lastud/other-life. This could mean funding creators to produce exclusive content in the group, funding someone to produce public content for the Other Life brand, it could even mean funding Urbit developers to improve Urbit faster, or in a direction that prioritizes the needs of creators. Incentives could not be better aligned among myself, the Other Life brand, Urbit, and the individual members of the DAO.

Step 3: The Urbit creator flywheel

Where things really get interesting will be the demonstration effect. If I pull off something like this, with good results, I currently work with about 400 other creators who will be asking me how they can do the same. In this scenario, we could imagine hundreds or thousands of creators siphoning their fans from the clearweb onto Urbit.

In short, the unique economics of the Urbit network allow for a flywheel between high-quality, long-term content creators and Urbit “real estate developers.” The long-term nature of value accrual on Urbit aligns with the long-term nature of higher-quality content creators who don’t want to chase algorithmic growth on large social platforms. Urbit land owners are incentivized to pay creators to create exclusive content and community on Urbit, the new creators attract an increasing number of Urbit users, and the new users (DAOified) spend their money to fund… more content and community on Urbit, or even, potentially Urbit development. The Urbit land owners initiating this flywheel are remunerated by the value of their land increasing. The creators gain from their initial grants and for all of the general reasons I outline; they may also become land owners, which redoubles the flywheel. Creators’ patrons benefit substantially insofar as they spend the same amount of money, or less, to support their favorite creators but now receive a censor-proof identity and a share of governance tokens.

Leave the internet for a new one at https://exit.otherlife.co
Leave the internet for a new one at https://exit.otherlife.co

exit.otherlife.co

Disclosures: This is not financial advice. A draft of this essay was first circulated privately around March 16, on the IndieThinkers.org forum. I drafted it about a week after recording an episode of the Other Life podcast, where we discussed the bull case for Urbit. At the time I wrote that draft, I had no relationship with anyone at the Urbit Foundation or Tlon. Since then the Urbit Foundation has provided some material support to help me onboard interested people from my audience. I do not currently own any Urbit address space, but for the reasons I’ve outlined I am in the process of securing some and expect to possess some shortly.