Blockchain is one of the most intriguing technologies out there in 2017, in no small part due to its open nature. Open in the sense that there’s a lot of open source work happening (in particular, its two largest projects: Bitcoin and Ethereum). But also ‘open’ in the sense that blockchain is the epitome of a decentralized platform. For this reason, many see blockchain as a potentially huge disrupting force on the Internet. Think about what a decentralized eBay, or a decentralized Uber, would mean for the economy. Essentially, a blockchain version of eBay or Uber cuts out the middleman – meaning the buyer/passenger gets to liaise directly with the seller/driver.
I’ve become fascinated with blockchain this year, although I’m still wary of the complexity behind some of the new ICOs coming out. If you can’t understand what’s really happening behind the scenes, it doesn’t matter how “transparent” the blockchain is. For this reason, I don’t trust some of the latest ICOs. But there will undoubtedly be some gold nuggets amongst the stones.
I’m not sure yet if Steem is a jewel or a stone, but it seems to be growing rapidly. Steem is the name of a blockchain and its associated cryptocurrency, but the product I’m going to review here is called Steemit. It’s a social media website, built on the Steem blockchain, that is part blogging platform and part Reddit. What’s fascinating about it is that Steemit users can get paid for blogging and curating content. So essentially it’s a micropayments platform, which has been a pipe dream for Web publishers for many years.
So how do Steemit users get paid? In Steem, of course. Steem is a digital token, much like Bitcoin. Also like Bitcoin, a new batch of Steem is ‘minted’ daily. A portion of the newly minted coin is “distributed to content producers according to the votes they get.” There are also Steem rewards for curating content. This video from the company explains it well:
What is Steem worth? According to CoinMarketCap, Steem is currently worth US$1.19 per coin. It’s been as high as $4.50, in July last year, but has also dipped down below 0.10 as recently as March of this year. So, like Bitcoin and all the other “alt coins,” Steem is very volatile at the present time.
Steemit seems like an excellent implementation of blockchain, and the payments to bloggers and curators are obviously appealing. If you spend a lot of time curating content on Reddit every day, you’d no doubt prefer to earn some coin rather than simply line the pockets of its owner Advance Publications (the parent company of Condé Nast). As for bloggers, well you know we’re all searching for a business model in 2017! The value of Steem may be up and down like a yo-yo, but it’s still better than earning pennies from Google Adsense or busting the eyeballs of readers with intrusive ads.
So what’s the content like on Steemit? Well as to be expected with any new social media platform, a lot of the early blog posts are about Steem itself. But there are a growing number of posts about food, travel, memes, … all the kinds of stuff you find on Reddit too.
I discovered Steemit through a message on the Blockchain Wellington Meetup, by Deb Gully. She goes by the handle @kiwideb on Steemit and posts pretty much daily on the site. She has 586 followers currently and seems to earn $10-20 for every post. Many of her posts are food related, since she works as a nutritionist. But she also posts about books, music, health and any other subject that strikes her fancy. She even wrote a post about the meetup I attended, which I found very informative. Turns out Deb is keeping a running list of kiwi “Steemians”; and it’s a decent sized list for such an early stage social media platform. (btw please add me to the list, Deb)
I’m sure there is a lot of similarly fine content on Steemit, like Deb’s excellent blog. However, I do have a couple of concerns about the site.
The first is similar to the concern I have with any social network: the ability of power users to dominate. If you know the right people, you can position yourself quite nicely to earn a tidy sum every day. But for the vast majority of new users, it’ll take a lot of effort to even earn $10-20 per post (the kind of effort Deb is clearly putting in). But power users can easily earn over $100 per post, for what often seems like little effort put into their content.
That’s my second concern: the quality of content, especially from some power users. One such person, who I won’t name because I don’t want to embarrass anyone, has over well over 3,000 followers and regularly earns over $100 for each post. As far as I can see, most of his posts are conspiracy theory rants. One recent post is about how the moon landing was faked. That post has already earned three figures.
Now, I’m not saying people don’t have the right to post stuff like that. I’m all for freedom of expression and clearly the guy who posted it has a bunch of fans. But if Steem wants to emphasize quality content (and that’s what it claims in the video above), then it needs to find ways to boost content that is more meaningful than moon landing conspiracy theories.
A scroll down the Steemit ‘hot’ page shows mostly Steem or blockchain-related content. Frankly none of it looked very interesting or informative. I also tried some of the topics on the right-hand menu, such as Science and Art, but again I struggled to find anything worth clicking on.
Of course this may just be the usual growing pains when a new social media site ramps up. The early professional bloggers of around 2004-05, of which I was one, spent way too much time blogging about blogging!
Overall, there is a lot to like about Steemit. I applaud Steem for creating a useful app with its token (which is more than most ICOs have done). It shows that Steem is at least a real product. Also I really like the idea of being able to earn tokens / money by blogging or curating. So I am hopeful that Steemit takes off and draws in a massive user base.
The caveat is: Steem really needs to find ways to encourage and reward better content, like Deb’s posts on nutrition. The sooner it moves away from self-referential content and scammy stuff like conspiracy theories, the better for its long-term prospects.