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Do I need to become an attention farmer?

Why $DEGEN tip allocations on Farcaster lead to rampant attention farming, and what can be done about it

If you're following me on Farcaster you may have noticed that I've been less active there lately. I have been quite busy with my day job, but more importantly, I have been a bit burnt out by all the attention farming that has come with the $DEGEN airdrop 2. Originally I didn't want to write about it, as I think it's blatantly obvious what is happening and maybe set up this way by design, but now I'm no longer so certain so I'll put my thoughts into a post.

What prompted me to write this post is I just listened to the GM Farcaster interview with Jacek and attention farming didn't come up once, even though there were extensive conversations about other types of farming, about spam, about increasing the quality of tipping, and so on. So maybe people are not fully aware of the dynamic that has been playing out on Farcaster for the last couple of weeks. Therefore, let me describe what I mean by attention farming, why I think it's bad, and what can be done to reduce the incentive to engage in it.

What is attention farming?

I define attention farming as the behavior of deliberately using your $DEGEN tip allocation to increase interactions with your casts with the goal of increasing your $DEGEN tip allocation. This is different from regular $DEGEN farming as the primary goal here is not to receive more $DEGEN tips (though this may happen as a side-effect) but rather to receive more attention and a larger tip allocation. Almost everybody who has or has had a meaningful $DEGEN allocation has engaged in it, including myself.

These farming casts generally have the form of asking for a specific behavior in return for $DEGEN. A common example is a contest: "Reply with your best meme about coffee. 5000 $DEGEN for the tree top responses." Another common example is a cast that rewards all responses: "Reply with your current works in progress. 200 $DEGEN for all on-topic responses." It seems obvious to me that many people have figured out that these casts generate so much engagement that they meaningfully raise one's ranking and thus $DEGEN allocations, and therefore spending the $DEGEN allocation on this type of cast is the most rational thing anybody can do. Moreover, and this is particularly insidious, for somebody with a large daily allocation it can be difficult to give away the entire allocation every day. Therefore, farming casts may seem like the most fair or most constructive way of dealing with this situation.

Now you may wonder how attention farming differs from regular marketing. What's the difference if I run a contest and reward the best responses with, for example, USDC or ETH? I see at least two differences. First, marketing expenses come with a real opportunity cost. I have to decide whether I want to spend my USDC on marketing or on something else. Such opportunity costs make marketing efforts self-limiting. People are not going to give away thousands of dollars left and right for a few likes. Second, marketing expenses don't directly increase revenue unless there's an actual product in the middle that people want to buy and spend money on. I can't spend money to buy attention and immediately make more money on that attention. The real economy doesn't work this way. But in the context of an airdrop, where the tokens are made up and somebody else foots the bill, I can use my token allocation to generate attention to increase my token allocation and round and round it goes.

Why is attention farming a problem?

Attention farming is not airdrop farming in the traditional sense. It is also not typically spam. Some of it presents as desirable content for the platform, increasing overal platform engagement. Nevertheless, I believe it's not desirable when a large fraction of Farcaster traffic turns into attention farming fueled by $DEGEN.

What are the problems? First, it fills up the feed with tons of "do XYZ for $DEGEN" posts. I don't mind those in principle, but I would want to see them only occasionally. When they take over the feed then the site becomes useless for anybody who is not primarily interested in maximizing their $DEGEN tips. Second, in the same vein, the farming posts usually get the most attention in any channel in which they are posted, so it's difficult for other content to rise to the top. This makes Farcaster less attractive for other users to post their content. Why should I put effort into carefully crafting art or blogposts or videos or whatever it is I'm doing when I know my posts won't be visible against the backdrop of attention-farming posts? Third, sufficiently many accounts engage in farming that if you want to have a meaningful $DEGEN allocation for tipping you have to engage in the behavior as well. So again, this is a self-reinforcing mechanism that increases the amount of farming at the expense of other interesting content.

How could the airdrop parameters be changed to reduce the farming incentive?

I like the $DEGEN tipping mechanism and I would like to see it continue for some time, but without turning all of Farcaster into a useless morass of attention farming. So let me make two suggestions that are easy to implement and that I believe will lead to a meaningful improvement in tipping culture.

First, the tip allocation curve that determines who receives what allocation should be much flatter. People who are active members of the Farcaster community should not be given a strong incentive to use their $DEGEN tip allocation specifically to farm attention to get a larger allocation. For example, all accounts with the power badge could receive the same allocation. I know this suggestion will get push-back from the accounts that currently benefit the most from high $DEGEN allocations, but I am strongly convinced it's the best way to incentivize interesting content over attention farming.

The more the tip allocation increases for top-ranked accounts the more there is an incentive to use the tip allocation to farm for attention and thus ranking. A flat allocation distribution removes this incentive.

Second, I think the time window for allocations should be longer. Instead of turning over allocations every day, make them turn over only once week. (Everybody is given their tip allocation at the beginning of the week and then has the full week to give it out.) In part, this would counter-act one issue from my first point which is that nobody would have very large allocations. People who wanted to make larger tips could do so maybe once a week, rather than every day. I think this would be good for many reasons, including the previously mentioned difficulty of having to give away large amounts of $DEGEN on a daily basis. Doing this once a week is much more manageable and can still be very meaningful.

Summary

I'm sure this post will be contentious, and people will find all sorts of reasons why what I'm suggesting is bad and a strong culture of attention farming is good. Some may argue that channels can forbid this behavior. (This is correct, and /art does, for example.) I'm happy to listen to these arguments, and I'll keep an open mind, but I find it doubtful that I'll change my perspective. I would much rather see less incentive for farming overall than the majority of channels having to implement specific moderation policies. And I'd also rather see the occasional give away or contest than forbidding these types of posts outright.

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