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Scenius Incubation: Open Source Creative Processes

Introducing Forms of Incubation, an extended study of context-building through creative incubation.

Welcome to Forms of Incubation, a web3-native project to open-source creative processes in the context of scenius.

Since this is a nascent project and I'm establishing a new home on Paragraph after years of publishing elsewhere, I'll begin with an intro.

I'm a writer, senior editor, music journalist, philosophy nerd, bibliophile, animist, polytheist, place-maker, and labor/commons/UBI advocate. Much of my background is in academia, including credentials in psychology, philosophy, and accounting.

I'm a GenX tech-nerd hobbyist: I signed up for my first email and Usenet accounts in 1993; launched my first website and started reading about open source principles in 1999; worked on PC hardware builds as a Free Geek volunteer in 2010; and finished a web dev bootcamp in 2014.

Professionally, I started working in web3 in early 2021 as a freelance copy editor, and today I do senior-level editorial work on contract for DAOs and DeFi clients.

Currently I'm in the process of winding down three separate Substack newsletters so I can shift my full focus as a writer and editor — personally and professionally — to web3 media.

Three Substacks?

I didn't set out with the intention of starting three Substacks. I didn't even plan to write newsletters per se. I started my first Substack in 2018, largely because it seemed to be the least objectionable funding possibility for the writing I'd been publishing elsewhere for 20+ years (covering three disparate topics: dark ambient music, paganism, and philosophy of work and leisure).

It didn't go well.

I mean, the writing and editing went well. But the funding? Not so much.

Much gnashing-of-teeth later, it became clear that with my sporadic publishing schedule, minimal marketing/sales skills, dwindling time on social media, and non-lucrative writing specialties, Substack's funding model would never be a good fit. I favor long-form deep dives, such as meditative blog pieces and extended musician interviews, and my stint on Patreon (2015-2017) had ended similarly.

For awhile I tried some contortionist moves to piece together a mutant Substack hybrid resembling what I wanted to accomplish, such as DIY retroactive income splits with the musicians I interviewed. Interviews are co-creations, after all. But without blockchain tools, it quickly became an administrative nightmare.

Eventually I concluded that in some cases, Patreon and Substack play out as variations on the old "exposure!" bait-and-switch, despite the best of intentions. But that's a story for another time.

Disillusioned, I discontinued the paid tiers entirely, and back-burnered the idea of monetizing any of the writing I did outside my "day job."

"It's probably for the better," I reasoned half-heartedly, "as the perils of turning an intrinsically motivated craft into an enterprise are legion."

True enough, but... is that the best possible outcome for these projects, or similar niche publications elsewhere? Hardly.

However, web3-native tools to release and fund my writing the way I wanted — and easily split income with all my collaborators — simply didn't exist.

Scenius in Context: Farcaster, Paragraph, and Zora

Ever the early adopter, in early 2023 I joined the Farcaster ecosystem and, shortly afterward, started the publication you're reading now in the form of a digital incubation space on Paragraph.

Farcaster quickly became my preferred online hangout. With its welcome-to-the-town-square atmosphere, well-articulated norms demonstrating acts of kindness, and high signal-to-noise ratio, Farcaster has raised the bar for web3 social media. Caster j4ck writes: "Where Twitter feels like a noisy stadium, Farcaster feels like a chill party full of interesting friends." My feelings exactly. (P.S. I have invites. Bonus points if you're a web3 writer/editor, especially if you enjoy shop talk in public).

Likewise, Paragraph quickly became my go-to option for web3 publishing. Among my favorite features: Paragraph automatically imports all Farcaster comments on the published work — a great way of building valuable context without requiring additional labor. And reducing the attention labor required for editing? Brilliant. For someone like me who edits for hours every day, those design details make a big difference.

I'm barely scratching the surface here, though. Want to know why I'm so excited about Paragraph and its roadmap, both as a media industry professional and as an avid reader of chronically underfunded niche publications? Listen to founder Colin Armstrong explain on the Web3 Academy podcast how blockchain can transform the newsletter industry. Think through the collective implications of the long-term vision he describes for Paragraph (interoperability, membership NFTs, customizable ways to monetize without paywalls... the list goes on). If you work in media and despair at the endless tales of layoffs and funding cuts (I do too), get thee to that interview pronto. It's a breath of fresh air. You're welcome.

As if all that weren't exciting enough, on the summer solstice, Zora — another of my favorite projects in all of web3 — launched its own chain and the Zora Network. I've followed Zora with keen interest and an abundance of Zorb-minting glee (my PFP on Farcaster is a goth Zorb) ever since I read their manifesto in late 2021. I'm also a big fan of the work Zora Zine is doing in onchain publishing. Again, I've hardly scratched the surface. Dive into the Zora rabbit holes; you won't regret it.

I'll go out on a limb: the launch of the Zora Network and L2 chain — especially when considered alongside the roadmaps for Farcaster and Paragraph — marks what will likely be seen, in hindsight, as a watershed moment for creators (including media teams) in web3. If you're building in the space, consider taking a page or two from their artist-friendly open source vision.

An Obligation to Contribute

I've kept a fairly low profile in this milieu so far, partly as a means of preserving a buffer zone between my intrinsically motivated writing and the ever-encroaching side-hustle squeeze. Since I do my best work backstage, I prefer to leave the spotlight roles to others.

Be that as it may, the daily rhythms on Farcaster are emblematic of early-stage scenius — musician Brian Eno's term for "the communal form of genius," or swarm intelligence. Many writers, including Visakan Veerasamy (thanks, grin) and Packy McCormick (thanks, Cameron), have written great takes on the concept.

In this context I want to highlight the words of fellow GenX casters Nounishprof, whose beautifully written take on the "brave" women attending FarCon spawned a thread worth revisiting, and Adrienne, who called Farcaster the ultimate scenius: "if you find yourself lucky enough to stumble into a scenius, you have an obligation to contribute."

I agree wholeheartedly.

So as momentum continues to build in web3, bear market notwithstanding, I've been asking myself some questions:

How might I help advance open source principles and help this particular scenius unfold in positive-sum ways?

What's needed here for appropriate context-building?

What is "mine" to write about?

Where can I put my editing skills to best use at this pivotal time?

Since discussions in many blockchain spaces focus heavily on business, tech, and DeFi, it took awhile for me to thread my way into the right nooks and crannies. I enjoy reading, learning, and thinking about those topics, and I enjoy editing business/tech/DeFi writing. There's a need for my professional skills. However, I rarely write about these topics on my own.

Even my fixation on studying things like "MEV as a public good" or "philosophy of public finance" (e.g., hyperstructures, plus critiques and fascinating conversations about them — thanks Jacob, Connor, and Kevin) is mostly driven by insatiable curiosity about possibilities for sustainably funding media teams, artists, open source efforts, and other underfunded types of labor.

After following many fascinating discussions and product launches amidst the Farcaster gigabrains, finally I've started to organize some thoughts in the interest of contributing something, however tentative it may be, to this corner of the "public finance" conversation. I'm leaning a bit more into writing-as-conversation. Nothing ready to share yet, but I'll keep working.

After all, as the Zora manifesto points out: "The big brands that think exposure is cash.... have been robbing us of the value we create for as long as there’s been a creative industry."

Indeed they have. Maddening. But now we're building staging grounds for scenius, and we've got our sights set on returning more of this long-extracted value back into the hands of those who create it.

So we need all hands on deck.

Open Source Creative Processes

In the process of thinking through all this, I wrote a note-to-self that somehow morphed mid-sentence into an ambitious answer to my how-to-contribute questions. To wit:

Forms of Incubation is an extended study of context-building through creative incubation.

You can double down on the open source ethos. No doubt there are other web3 writers/editors who could make use of your process notes not only the editorial style guide, but lesser-known aspects of creative processes such as incubation, which can take many forms.

Write not so much on "topics," but on patterns you care about across multiple contexts: creativity; infrastructure; value flows; attention; non-coercion; reciprocity; place-making; atmospheres; contemplative practice; kindness; appreciation; earnestness; critical thinking; spiritual life; deep ecology; language; art; music; pattern languages; insight.

Write about funding and lack thereof for artists, media teams, and maintenance efforts. Underrated creative and open source work gets overlooked every day; help others discover and appreciate it when you can. Make unseen labor (including "scenius labor") visible, and help contextualize it. Creative work always arises within a specific context, and it should be considered in that light. Funding infrastructure is a crucial element of that context.

Patiently get to know the elephant in the room, one section at a time. Give voice to what you find, and keep thinking about what you do not find, especially when your best instincts tell you it should be there.

Plant the seeds you're given, in the form of your favorite artistic medium: the written word. Let the seeds incubate. Let them gestate, take root, and ripen. Witness the early-stage development of web3 from where you sit. Take good notes, share them when appropriate, and create more space for incubation processes to unfold fruitfully. Always give proper credit where it's due.

Finally, open-source creative processes when you can. Write about the role of incubation in major creative breakthroughs. Maybe one day your work could even help ease the way for others to contribute their gifts and talents to building the renaissance (based on blockchain tech) that you want to see: UBI for all, sustainably funded open source/creative work, and thriving onchain media.


So there you have it.

That's what Forms of Incubation is about, as of this writing.

Casting far beyond my comfort zone here. But I'm going to lean into it.

At the risk of stating the obvious: plugging into a scenius comes with no guarantees whatsoever about what to expect. Not-knowing seems to be how the magic works.

Typically I avoid social media as much as possible while working on intrinsically motivated projects. It's a way of protecting my best deep-work time from interruptions through micro-dispersals of attention. But there's something special about a well-curated Farcaster feed. At its best, it can actually enhance my creative flow states. (!?) Surely the pervasive norms of kindness have something to do with that.

Case in point: a fellow caster I'd followed but never interacted with sent little notes of encouragement as I wrote this essay. (Thanks, Phil!)

Scenius intelligence is fundamentally collective, so this may shapeshift into a more interactive project involving riffs or collaborations or who-knows-what-else.

Then again, it may not. There's no way to know in advance.

Either way, I'll keep writing and editing.

I'll proceed with Forms of Incubation as a learning-in-public endeavor that's subject to revision at any time — a way of cultivating healthy respect for the wisdom of not-knowing.

Let's see where this leads next.

*image by Tumisu

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