Media Companies are Boring

Coinbase announced this week that they are — *gasp* — a “media” company now:

Traditional media has been a powerful source of accountability for centuries. In more recent years, social media has as well, as any individual can share what is actually happening. The power of both these institutions is staggering, and they serve an important function. But traditional media and social media each come with a healthy dose of misinformation, and I believe people’s trust in these institutions has been in decline in recent years.

Companies are now emerging as a third source of truth, and can create accountability when misinformation is spread via other channels.

Amazon and Netflix built their own studios, Hubspot acquired the Hustle, a16z is going direct, Stripe has Stripe Press, and many more tech companies are quickly ascending the stack from mere “content marketing” to full-on media arms, complete with editors-in-chief and original content. As Balaji Srinivasan points out, this is the mirror image of legacy media corporations hiring engineers and declaring their aspiration to become world-class tech companies. There is no distinction anymore between app, distribution, and content — everyone is going full stack.

via Brian Armstrong, May 2021

This was, of course, after they had written something the previous year which I interpreted to be a much more clear and honest depiction of what they were really all about:

We focus on the things that help us achieve our mission: Build great products: The vast majority of the impact we have will be from the products we create, which are used by millions of people.

via Brian Armstrong, Sep 2020

Media, technology, services, ice cream maker? Which one will it be next year? I bet they could probably pull a Mr. Beast on a physical coin burger.

Cool. Got it.

Wait, does it matter?

We, The People, are all Media Companies:

The problem is that people attempt to make an exact definition and distinction between media and technology when that’s a waste of time and energy. In the context of the internet they have always been ontologically the same; a pairing, a group, a collection that are far more transitive than transient.

It started with the first BBS and we saw the marriage of media / technology in its most-pure form: A singular console on one end connected through a mix of hardware / software, centralized and decentralized services, cable lines and physical artifacts like modems and complicated routers that would translate media into a technology and then back-again into a sysops console @ 300 baud — if you were lucky (300 baud is approximately the average reading speed of humans, which is both a marriage of technology and media).

You could email, participate in forums, play “door games” and build virtual worlds with folks that you had never, ever met. For a 13-year old kid with no friends, it was the real world. I spent every single moment in that small computer lab.

It was in the mid-90’s that I realized that it was all a (trans)media world and we were just trying to figure out our own, special place in it. And if you raise the taxonomic level from the individual to the group, then, you’d realize that we, as independent and creative artists — are the real media “companies”; we hold more power than we know (or are willing to admit). Maybe you were like me and you weren’t sure that these were “real” superpowers and found it simultaneously intoxicating while scary af.

Those were fun times; it’s time to take back our rightful place among the digital stars.

That’s why I laugh every single time I see a company say (loudly at times) that they are now freshly-minted as a “media company” as if they never were. I respect Brian and I am long Coinbase with a small but personally-significant post-IPO position (disclosure I guess? fuck?) with a 10-year horizon-line. I’m hodling until that benchmark and won’t even look at price-action until it’s complete.

Patience is the real currency in investing; your weak hands make me and all of the other true believers unbelievably rich — please keep selling as I’ve got room in my portfolio.

If you understood history then you’d see that it doesn’t repeat, it rhymes, and the closer you are to historical truth the more precisely you can not only bet on the future; you can actually build it.

YEN is the perfect combination of both technology and media. It is the purest form of Web 3.0 that anyone’s ever built because it follows the precise operating manual of a well-run, organized, and bespoke BBS; it’s “multiplayer mode” as default and we’ve simplified the process of booting up your own “portal” (we call them YENIVERSE) to your own community world easier than anything that’s ever been devised.

And the reason that we’ve been able to do this is because we don’t see a clear distinction between media and technology; the original pioneers of the internet never did because without both it would be incredibly-boring.

The internet was made for us to have more fun, full-stop. We lost something in the Web 2.0 era — no one argues this point — and decentralized technologies helped correct the larger scope and frame (but itself wasn’t the answer) but only a few of us survived until “Final Boss” — YEN is one of them.

Being just a “media” company is fundamentally-boring; that’s effectively the entire “Ad Tech” industry, which, is going to die in the coming decade by the growing metaverse. Why? Because no one wants that shit in the future; no one. Not even the marketers.

You must be both and you must be genuine about it; not corporate. The reason that the metaverse is so attractive is not because it’s novel but because it returns us to the right path, it gives us back the freedom to build and create and do our art without the performative part.

Artists ship art because that’s what we were designed to do — we are artists, first, capitalists second. But the toxic Web 2.0 culture made us, forced us, to care more about the latter than the former. It made us choose between being a “media” entity or a “technology” entity because they said we couldn’t be both.

The rise of the Full Stack Founder via cloud orchestration (centralized + decentralized innovations) gave us a platform for Web 3.0, but not before. It was just waiting for the proper introduction, the right confluence of events.

It’s kind of like Bitcoin.

Completely understated when it was first released it took a few years to reach “mainstream” attention and even then it was mocked and used as a punchline. The true believers never wavered; how could you when you already live in the future?

3 years later, Coinbase was born. Brian had seen the future and he wanted to not just live in it, he wanted to help build it. He became a transmedia storyteller, someone who was building both a technology, a movement, and never-ending, iterative story that would carry the project to it’s inevitable conclusion.

I know that Brian’s blog post comes from the same place but I think it’s positioned badly or slightly-off kilter; this is especially ironic since they are using the same post to talk about “truth” in a new “fact checking” spot on their corporate:

Fact Check: Coinbase publishes whatever the fuck they want? Check.

Rather, let’s just speak the truth, plainly. A Web 3.0 company is both / and; that’s why it’s Web 3.0. We’re the best of media and technology because the distinction is inseparable. The moment you try you’re building a “house on sand” and most contemporary arguments are going to sound really silly.

Try it. Really. Try to describe the every-increasing challenge of growing a (meta)business in the digital economy without a huge helping of both “technology” and “media” as you currently understand it? Impossible. So, stop fighting it.

We must be bolder in our approach if we’re going to totally win and take back what is rightfully ours: The internet was made for the individual, the real / pseudonymous / anonymous avatar that is truly, uniquely, you; not evil corp.

The internet is fun, not boring. Let’s honor that.