Why Farcaster Frames are important
How a failed Facebook bet is coming to fruition in Web 3
Spindl has jumped on the Farcaster bandwagon bigly.
Here is our Frames dashboard, with stats on the ecosystem and every shipped Frame.
Here is our map of every Farcaster node worldwide (it’s growing!).
The year is 2011, Facebook is still a private company many doubt will be a viable business, and the ads system is an embarrassment only good at convincing brands to spend money to collect Facebook ‘Likes’ they don’t know what to do with. At the time, I was among a handful of Facebook product managers trying (and failing) to change that.
In the middle of that pre-IPO revenue crisis, the core Facebook team, of which Ads was but a distant and un-influential part, decided to make a huge bet. From my memoir Chaos Monkeys:
It involved a nebulously titled product called Open Graph, the first version of which had launched at Facebook’s developer conference F8 … it added the verbal dictionary that accompanied the “Like” button, expanding the Facebook vocabulary to things like “play,” “listen,” “watch,” or “buy.” It was the new subject-verb-object language of everything you did online.
Antonio García Martínez listened to Wax Tailor’s ‘Only Once’ on Spotify.
Rather than merely express some vague approval via Like, Facebook users could now broadcast everything they were doing, with the aid of outside developers who built Facebook’s new grammar into their products. By doing so, these developers made their products “social,” and potentially viral. In exchange for pumping their data full-throttle into Facebook, those outside developers—music players like Spotify, or publishers like the Washington Post—got News Feed distribution, driving yet more users to their content and services. That was the dream, anyhow.
The idea was a good one: why center the Internet user experience around the rapidly fragmenting networks of Facebook, Twitter and every other network? Standalone media apps like Spotify and Netflix were growing rapidly: why not tie together all the consumer experiences together with the social network, benefitting both?
In practice, the entire effort and its accompanying ads product was a monumental flop, threatening the company’s looming IPO. Only a frantic product-building scramble in the following year shipped most of the ads product that made Facebook the trillion-dollar company it is today.
Ironically, the somewhat-forgotten Open Graph Protocol has recently been resurrected to power the hottest new feature of Web 3: so-called Frames inside onchain social network protocol Farcaster. For those unfamiliar with Farcaster, think of it as a kind of Twitter/X product, but built on the blockchain. Farcaster is just the underlying protocol (like SMTP is the underlying protocol to email): To actually use it, you need a client like Warpcast to ‘see’ the actual social network.
What we have in Frames is a new Web 3 primitive that Web 2 could never really power: an easy way to run app X while a user is still inside app Y, with little coordination between X and Y. The interoperable identity and transaction record of the blockchain, along with the seamless handling of money and digital ownership, makes it possible to have a real and universal graph of user actions across consumer apps, something even Facebook at the height of its popularity couldn’t manage.
Frames is a deceptively simple experience: a user simply shares a link to a website which, under the hood, is festooned with the OG tags defined by the Open Graph Protocol1 lo these many years ago. A Frame opens like a portal to another app, allowing that other app direct access to the user. From the Web 2 perspective, it doesn’t seem much different than the <iframe> a website routinely opens to another piece of the Web: the difference is that the shared state of the blockchain makes the embedded experience as native as that of the app itself.
Since Frames launched Friday, Farcaster’s DAU has spiked, and developers have rushed to build the sort of native crypto functionality—claim or mint NFTs, play games—that until now happened in separate, silo-ed experiences (as it does in Web 2). By Spindl’s count, 313 apps launched 526 Frames since the product launched last Friday. Amusingly, someone even shipped a way to run a Doom game inside Farcaster (see cover photo above), displaying just how far this Frames business could go2.
What we have in Frames is a new Web 3 primitive that Web 2 could never really power: an easy way to run app X while a user is still inside app Y, with little coordination between X and Y. The interoperable identity and decentralized transaction record of the blockchain, along with the seamless handling of money and digital ownership, makes it possible to have a real and universal graph of user actions across consumer apps, something even Facebook at the height of its popularity couldn’t manage. It is the Open Graph vision, even if all that remains of the original protocol is the <meta> tags that make the initial connection possible (while the blockchain does the rest).
This changes everything about the consumer experience.
The entire user funnel of Web 2 is predicated on a user clicking through to another app’s landing page, going through a login and/or conversion sub-funnel (remember: identity and payment are hard in Web 2), and finally ending up on a confirmation or experience page. Web 3 compresses all that needless clicking and logging-in into a single inline experience, replacing the lengthy funnel with a user-publisher-developer nexus operating with the user experience (and user control) at the very center. There’s no Facebook giant in the middle; there’s no hacked-together waterfall of cookies and logins and credit-card payments tying it all together.
Imagine these user stories:
You share a selfie with a new Uniqlo sweater you just bought, sharing a link to the product page, which generates a preview card and a 10% off coupon for the same garment. You go ahead and buy with one-click purchasing: the influencer gets a kickback, the publisher gets a bounty, and you get a deal on a sweater. It all happens seamlessly.
Someone shares a song they’re vibing to: a player widget appears offering to stream it from your favorite music-streaming service embedded alongside your friend’s post. It all just works.
You’re reading an announcement on a media site about a new protocol and token that just launched: right next to the text is an intuitive buying interface that lets you effortlessly analyze and buy some of the booming token. Nothing like this experience exists in the traditional finance world.
Someone writes a long take on a viral blog post, sharing a link to the content: With one click you reveal the article of interest, pay the writer (with referral credit going to the original sharer). It costs you pennies and you don’t think about it.
The technical and multi-party coordination problems to make these user stories happen in Web 2 were insurmountable, which is why Facebook’s platform play (and others like it) failed, but it’s almost automatic in Web 3. This isn’t just a feature of Warpcast and the Farcaster protocol of course. Embedded trading widgets, Telegram bots with inline actions, the aggregator/marketplace combo where front-ends seamlessly use protocol back-ends; this sort of permissionless coupling of consumer experience with onchain machinery comes very naturally to Web 3. By creating Frames, Farcaster has slapped a social-network experience on top of the blockchain that for too long has been buried under layers of unfriendly UX like wallet transaction flows.
For Web 3 to succeed it needs to do two things: Enable cool functionality unable through traditional Web 2, and make the user largely unaware that they’re even on the blockchain. With Frames, we’re finally doing both.
For more incendiary takes on marketing, crypto, and much else besides:
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