Cover photo

Commerce in a Frame

New content formats enable new social and commerce experiences. Finally, web3 brings its own format to the table.

Key Takeaways:

  • Farcaster is a decentralized social network allowing users to own their social graph.

  • Frames, a new feature on Farcaster, lets developers run apps inside social posts.

  • This innovation blends social interaction with commerce and gaming.

  • Frames could simplify actions like newsletter subscriptions directly from the feed.

  • The web3 foundation of Frames enables unique commerce experiences based on user identity and wallet activity.

Occasionally, a web3-powered product gains momentum and crosses the chasm into the mainstream. There’s a transition like that happening in real-time now, introducing an important invention that showcases the power of web3 technology and hints at the future of ecommerce.

Let’s dive in.

Setting the Stage

Have you heard about Farcaster? It’s a sufficiently decentralized social network. Huh? Let me explain.

Imagine you’ve built a network of followers and people you follow on Twitter/X. You grow tired of the Elon Musk antics, and want to move on, but you can’t because all your data and followers are locked in. You can’t bring them with you.

Farcaster (in its current iteration) is like Twitter/X in content and format. The big difference is that the social network and the client(s) you use to interact with the network are separated.

Farcaster is an open protocol where users retain ownership of their social graph.

Warpcast is a client for consuming and posting content. It’s built by the same team, but there are other clients, too. If you want to switch from Warpcast to Supercast (a different client) you…just do it.

Your username and follower graph moves with you. From one client to the next. Because that data is yours. You own it.

The Farcaster protocol achieves this through onchain (blockchain-based) systems and off-chain data hubs.

In the illustration, Farcaster seems more complicated. Twitter/X bundles data and client interfaces in one box (controlled by one company). The Farcaster protocol decouples the pieces. Yet, it’s not more complex from a user experience perspective. Users interact with the client interface(s). Everything below that is infrastructure users don’t have to interact with directly.

The Farcaster protocol isn't free. You pay an annual protocol fee of $5 and pay for data storage. One unit of storage (covers 5k posts, 2.5k likes, and 2.5k follows) costs $7. When you run out, you buy more. Farcaster is currently subsidizing onboarding costs for users in many countries.

I assume the fees are to discourage bots, prevent spamming of the network, and to not become reliant on ads for revenue.

(Read more about sufficient decentralization in the Farcaster founder’s own words here)

Let’s move on. This isn’t meant to be a technical post about Farcaster (there are many others). But it’s necessary to understand the basics of what makes Farcaster different to follow our later discussion.

Farcaster has been around for a few years. I’ve had many interesting conversations there, but it’s generally been a niche hangout for crypto people.

A few weeks ago that all changed. The team released a new feature that attracted a lot of attention, and now the daily user graph looks like this:

What happened?

Frames on Frames on Frames

The Farcaster team released a new feature: Frames. It enables developers to run small applications inside content posts on the social network.

Every popular social network introduced a novel content format to rise: Twitter (140 character text), Instagram (video), Snapchat (ephemeral messages), TikTok (short form video).

Farcaster just introduced a new content format that can be described as anything.

An app runs inside a frame in a post on Farcaster. It can present visuals and actions (buttons) to the user, who can interact without leaving the Farcaster experience.

Incumbent social networks have attempted to make deep platform integrations to enable similar cross-platform actions (Spotify and Facebook comes to mind). Most of these attempts have failed for a few reasons.

  • They require trust between the two integrating parties

  • It’s selective; Facebook decides who can build a plug-in or gets access to specific APIs.

With web3 technology, it’s different. Software that runs on blockchain networks is open (everyone can access), trustless (not dependent on multi-party trust), composable (build software on top of software), and enables users to own digital objects (like data).

The Farcaster team introduced a new format, but it's the developer community that will experiment to figure out its usefulness.

Frames ignited massive attention and user growth lately; a new technical unlock is like a moth to a flame for devs.

And people are building a lot of things. Fast.

Among the Frames seen so far, there’s an instant check out for girl scout cookies, and a Frame where users can play Pokemon together.

The current state of Frames (it’s only been a couple of weeks) makes me think about this Chris Dixon quote:

The next big thing will start out looking like a toy.

What Can Frames Do?

Consider the current state of social networks. There's a clear distinction between what happens on the platform and off the platform. Frames blurs this line. And it blurs without intermediaries deciding what goes and what doesn’t.

Imagine that you want people to signup for your newsletter. On Twitter/X/LinkedIn, you need users to click a link, open a page and input their email address. With Frames, it could be a "Subscribe" button in the feed. One click, right from the feed. Done.

Let’s consider what Frames could unlock beyond the toy-phase.

Last year I wrote an essay about the blurring lines between content and commerce (You can read it here if you want). From the essay:

Consuming content from creators online is like a proxy for vertical product discovery for consumers.

And further:

Consuming content and engaging in commerce are decoupled, siloed online activities. At the same time, content is becoming an increasingly important top-of-funnel for commerce.

Finally, making this point towards the end:

In the next few years, we’ll see a shift towards headless online stores, as the focus shifts to products as the atomic unit of importance. And that unit will be distributed through a fragmented set of creator channels.

Frames is a new lego block that the web3 space has been waiting for. In a recent podcast, the same Chris Dixon referred to cannon events - events so powerful that they happen in all the different universes in a multiverse, like Peter Parker being bitten by the spider. The launch of Frames is a web3 cannon event.

It’s Cool Because it Works Together

Frames are capable because of the context they exist in. It's a primitive on top of Farcaster, a blockchain-based protocol. Users connect to Farcaster with a wallet, making digital value, identity and reputation/activity available.

This could enable one-click checkout directly from a social feed; Value flows from your wallet to the Frame creator as payment, an identity object in your wallet is shared to reveal the information necessary for the merchant to process the order, and so on.

And there’s more. The price or availability of a product in a Frame can be tailored based on the consumer and her wallet activity. For instance, a Frame serving pre-sale tickets to a popular show can activate only for consumers with a certain membership NFT in their wallet.

This stack can also solve affiliation and attribution challenges in marketing. A product sold through a Frame could automatically split that payment and send a fee to the users that shared the Frame and the client interface that displayed it (Something that should be especially relevant for marketers as third-party cookies are fading).

Again, Frames alone do not enable all of this. Frames are a new distribution channel that leverage all of these other capabilities of web3. The sum is a new commerce stack.

It will be very interesting to see how this evolves over the next weeks and months. What Frame-based products are built, and how fast it moves. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Frames becoming a content standard supported across various products and services powered by web3 where the same capabilities and context are available.

Until next time.

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