from their about page:
What is a Relevant community?
Each Relevant community is similar to a subreddit. Users can upvote, downvote, and discuss links, only instead of using the number of upvotes to rank posts, we look at who upvoted posts to determine their value. That’s why on Relevant, one upvote from a trusted user is worth a lot more than a million votes from bot accounts.
What is Reputation?
Reputation is a metric for measuring quality and trust on the Relevant network.
Each user has a Reputation score. You earn Reputation when reputable community members upvote your comments. The higher your Reputation, the more impact your votes have. Reputation scores are community-specific and non-transferrable.
Earn coins by upvoting quality posts. You have 3 days to upvote a post after it goes live. If that post is upvoted by users with high-Reputation scores, you’ll earn rewards. You don’t earn coins from posting content, only from upvoting. You can also earn coins by inviting friends to join Relevant.
So basically Relevant's goal is to create a community-curated newsboard. They incentivize people to link high-quality articles with this coin / upvote mechanism. Right from the off, they're building on some UX patterns designed for web platforms that profit off of engagement, addiction, and surveillance.
But what is all this stuff about coins? Why not just use karma like reddit or hackernews?
Well let's check out their blog.
Ah it's because they're blockchain bros.
So why is the blockchain necessary for a link-sharing site?
Centralized social networks like Twitter and Facebook use information silos and unhealthy engagement algorithms to exploit users and extract value they create on the network’s “property.”
ok cool yes
It *is* little bit ironic that this is posted to a Medium blog, a platform fraught with the issues they literally just mentioned.
[why medium sucks]
But let's keep going.
But in order to build a healthy and sustainable social network, we need to create an economy that can compensate users and developers for their contributions.
umm I guess so? I'm not totally sure I need to be paid to post links to articles I didn't write. I feel like people do that for free just because they want to participate in the community.
That’s why we’re launching the Relevant Token, an Ethereum-based cryptocurrency that represents both the value created by users on the Relevant network, and ownership in the platform itself.
So evil capitalists are creating addictive platforms that are designed to occupy users for as long as possible to show them as many ads as possible. The Relevant *tm* solution to this is a platform that works in almost the same way, except it doesn't show ads and it uses the blockchain to give you a cut of the profits.
I have a few problems with this.
First, they don't interrogate the underlying UX of a site like reddit.
I'd rather see them start from scratch than reuse addictive design patterns like upvotes and coins.
Instead they replicate it almost exactly, but swap out a central company with shareholders for "the blockchain". And that's where the real problems begin.
So what does that blockchain do for them?
The Relevant Token allows us to build an economy around the information we value. Instead of manipulating user behavior to extract capital, we’ve created economic incentives that reward the creation and dissemination of quality content. By keeping the Token decentralized and in the hands of the users, we can ensure that those who create value reap its economic benefits.
As the network matures, the Relevant Token will also play a role in the governance of the platform. Users will be the ones who decide what kind of features and policies will be implemented on Relevant.
So we're about to build an economy on "information" aka links to external articles. How is this a business model? It only works for Facebook and Reddit because they harvest your data and show you ads.
It looks like people who post good links get coins that are worth real money. and eventually those coins will also be worth votes in the governance of this thing. But where is this money even coming from?
One more thing:
Relevant Tokens are called Coins in the Relevant App and can be found in the Relevant Wallet. Relevant Coins are distributed to users via a zero-stakes betting game where users are encouraged to predict the Relevance of posts.
Each time a you upvote an article on the Relevant network you automatically bet 10% of their available coins on the future Relevance of the post. Three days after a post goes live, all coins bet are returned to users. If the post achieved a high Relevance score, rewards are distributed to upvoters.
Wait what?? We started off with a news app and now we have a whole ass wallet and some betting game? Betting. Literally like the definition of addictive evil UX. And now it's in our "socialist" news app. ok. There's way more about betting but basically they pitch it as allowing "expert" users to profit off that expertise. Remember that the expertise is just being able to predict which articles people will like. Unclear why anyone needs this (except Relevant itself, as we'll soon see).
Let's think about the consequences of this entire model– what behavior does it encourage? To me, it seems the ideal user would first figure out what type of article each community upvotes most. i.e. You could probably find a few blogs that people from a given community will always upvote. Or articles about a certain niche topic. Then this user has to race to post the article before anyone else, so that they can collect the rewards. Maybe they even set up alerts (easy to do on google news) that let them know when certain sites publish so they can beat everyone to the punch. Then $$profit$$ (and also these people now control the platform) (and also none of that money goes to the person who wrote the article, just the poster). The other ideal user is just spending all day on there betting tokens to try to guess which articles the community will upvote most. Seems kinda bad to me?
Even if it's not taken to these extremes, this is a model built to encourage *engagement* over everything. Relevant again fails to question the mechanics that underlie sites like Facebook and Reddit. Even as they rail against them.
They also claim that this model will allow users (+ developers) to be fairly compensated for their use of the platform. But wait if they're not serving ads, how does the platform even make money? This is where it gets tricky.
At this point you may be a little confused– it seems like Relevant is employing all sorts of shady tactics that run counter to their professed goals. Why even bother with the coins and the betting and the tokens and everything?
Let's start from their point of view. Ok social media = bad. But we like talking to people and sharing stuff online. Ok how do we make a platform like reddit where communities can organically curate and discuss articles, without being evil like reddit? Well we absolutely need upvotes to send the best stories to the top and filter out low-quality content. Cool. done. add upvotes.
But we also need some way to fund this whole thing. We can't serve ads since the whole point is that we're not evil. But how else can we turn users into money? Well it seems weird to ask people to pay for a site that only has value because they use it. Oh I know! The blockchain will save us!
The blockchain was originally designed as a way to move money around without trusting banks or a central state to make sure that all happens fairly. Instead you are supposed to trust a network of miners bound by the laws of math + game theory. Because miners are able to operate independently, we don't have to tust any single one of them, we just have to trust the way the rules of their game were designed. In practice you're really trusting your wallet provider and a handful of "mining pools"– so much for the decentralized blockchain network.
here's a pretty good intro to blockchains and their issues, if you need it
But leaving the fundamental problems with blockchain aside, let's look at why Relevant even wants to use it.
Basically their business has no revenue right? They can't profit from their users or the content that they post, so what can they sell? Radical aesthetics. They're selling a rejection of Google and Facebook, and to a lesser extent, an embrace of the blockchain and it's token economics. And how do you pay for radical aesthetics? By interacting with the Relevant token and increasing its value.
The more people they can get on the Relevant site, the more people will use their tokens and coins. Ever since the crypto boom of 2017 (? I think?), more people using a token tends to make their value go up. Basically the entire market is built on hype bubbles, so it's a good bet to invest in tokens which have lots of activity. Their are limited quantities of each token, so it doesn't matter what that token is used for, it just matters that people want to use it.
So the goal of Relevant is to maximize activity on the Relevant token. Which in turn makes the Relevant organization richer, since they control the majority of the tokens. So now the entire goal of the site is to motivate people to spend, bet, and transfer these tokens. Now the betting mechanic makes total sense! We need people to be moving these tokens around so that those transactions appear on the public list of blockchain transactions, so that we can increase the value of the token which we can then cash out for real-world money.
How did we end up here? I think they started with some flawed assumptions.
First is that we need a link aggregator built around sharing and engagement. Much like the blockchain attempts to replace trust in banks with trust in algorithms, they replace trust in the curators of links with trust in an upvote algorightm.
One could imagine a link aggregator run by your friends where you all trust each other not to spam or post low quality content. Bam that site just got a million times simpler to build, and now you get to discuss the content with people you already trust rather than beefing with random strangers online. Maybe you lose volume– fewer links are posted and people don't use it as much. Is that a bad thing? I'd argue we don't need to be sitting around reading articles all day (I, for one, know that I read way too much and create way too little). And if we want more articles, maybe it's a good thing that we have to go down hyperlink-rabbit-holes to find new authors to follow. Relevant wants to get everyone on their platform, rather than helping everyone build their own platform with people they already trust.
Secondly, they decided to fund it with a blockchain. I get it, it's hard to make money online without ads. But blockchain business models almost inevitably lead to scammy attempts to increase the value of your token. And lo and behold you invented a link sharing site that now also functions as a casino for would-be "thought-leaders".
In conclusion, I would file Relevant under "well-intentioned but misses the point". We don't need to rebuild the big addictive platforms of today, but replacing ads with blockchain hype-bubbles. We don't need to replace trust in corporations with trust in a blockchain.
Instead let's rethink our online interactions from the ground up. Let's build tools on top of mutual trust. Let's build websites for friends and diy crews and our parents. Let's build mailing lists that require a detailed questionnaire to join, so only those who really want to be there make it on. Let's build tools that are designed first and foremost for people to use, to hack on, to extend.
If we want to put users in control of their tools, let's do it with simple designs and implementations. Simple tools with simple code-bases that use simple interfaces to communicate with each other. No blockchain, no betting mechanisms, and no more platforms!