Cent: Income from anywhere.
At the end of this summer, my co-founder Cameron and I began testing the beta version of Cent, an ambitious project we’ve been conceptualizing and building since February of this year. Cent is a complex technology with a simple interface and an even simpler mission: to enable anyone to earn income from anywhere. Simply put, it’s the evolution of the social network into an income source.
Most of us spend hours each day working for free. We pour our creative energy into networks that give us no direct economic value in return. Statuses, Tweets, Instagrams, and Snaps all take time to create and provide unique value to many people. Yet nearly all the value they generate is directed to the singular profit of the corporations who maintain these services.
Before blockchains, there never really was a viable alternative. Given the technology available, internet companies had to create centralized codebases, and since they created and maintained this software, they could easily reap the financial rewards of its use. But in the last decade, an alternative substructure of the internet has begun evolving — one that allows for new types of user-compensating networks to exist.
In the same way the web democratized access to information, blockchains are democratizing access to value and trust. We are moving towards a world where networks are the predominant sources of connective, rather than substantive value. Cent is built on the notion that the connective value of a network is what should earn it profits, but the substantive value — the content coming from individuals within the networks — should be redirected autonomously to the users within the network who benefit most from that value.
Cent was born from a few key ideas — the first being that social networks aren’t really social networks — they’re content networks. You have an existence on Facebook because you’ve created content and put it on Facebook. Whether that content takes the form of photos, statuses, comments, or videos, any mainstream social network would be a blank page without the content creators that give it life. We are “social” on these networks only to the degree that we are consuming, liking, commenting on, and sharing the content of others.
Given that social networks are actually just content networks, it’s odd that Facebook is valued at over $400B while nearly all users of the platform make $0 for producing its content. If writers still make money while their publisher rises in value, shouldn’t content creators make money while the networks they share on rise in value? Is the technological value that Facebook provides truly worth all of the creative value of the nearly 30% of humanity who post their content on it? We don’t think so. We think the future of the economy (and the world) rests with the creator, and the history of the internet is a slow march towards this inevitability.
For many, this march can be scary. Autonomous systems, code, and robotics will continue to replace human jobs (and thereby sources of income) that do not rely directly on labor that is uniquely human. But what labor is uniquely human?
The only labor that is uniquely human is labor that computers can’t (currently) do. The more an occupation requires an algorithmic workflow, the faster that job will become an actual algorithm (pour coffee, add sugar, swipe card, repeat). Given that trend, the foundation of tomorrow’s economy must rest on things that are difficult to turn into algorithms. This foundation must be composed of mechanisms that directly monetize the aspects of humans that are non-algorithmic — perspective and creativity.
Perspective, in this context, is your unique angle of view on the world, your subjectivity, your personal feelings. Creativity is what you make when you use your perspective.
When critics of rapid technological progress warn that this rampant global unemployment will lead to chaos and economic depression they are often conflating two separate ideas — “employment” and “income”. As long as society requires money, mass unemployment is only a catastrophe if there aren’t other sources of income available.
It’s nearly always assumed that “unemployment” itself is an inherently bad thing — but is it? Is mass employment really the crowning achievement of an enlightened society? If humans invent robots to do jobs they don’t want to do, is it really a tragedy that those jobs are no longer required of humans?
In many ways, the opposite is true. Rising unemployment can be seen as a sign that we are entering a new age of automated productivity — that our species is being liberated from the types of labor that were inherently sub-human to begin with.
As we’re unshackled from the chains of cruel, pre-digital industrial processes and set free to explore the unpotentiated creative landscapes of our psyches, new octaves of human flourishing are suddenly made possible. Just as the moral progress of the 19th Century abolished most racial slavery, the technological progress of the 21st Century will abolish most economic slavery.
Cent is built to help ease our transition into this less-employed future. It’s designed to become a core layer of the future creative economy — one that directly monetizes the creative- and perspective- based value that single individuals provide.
The way we’re building Cent is unique, and we want our process to be transparent. As the network evolves, it will take the form of an interconnected constellation of “contracts”. A contract is a decentralized piece of code designed to align incentives among multiple users. By “decentralized” we mean that the code runs on a programmable, open-source blockchain (currently, Ethereum).
In the simplest terms, a blockchain is a communally shared database that uses advanced math to make sure that no one can lie to each other. Crucially, this architecture also allows for the creation of scarce digital assets that enable us to use decentralized digital currencies to align incentives in far more intricate ways than fiat currencies ever could. Incentives are what make us get out of bed in the morning. Economic incentives give us a reason to care about a particular thing, and do so in a way that is logical, rather than emotional.
Digital incentive structures allow programs to crystallize new social patterns for humans to live within, creating new types of interpersonal interaction and possibility. Cent derives its name from the fact that it runs on these two core principles — in(cent)ivization and de(cent)ralization.
When we started testing our beta product a month or two ago, we deployed one relatively-simple contract onto Ethereum. It allows people to “request” anything of the network and provide a financial bounty in ETH (ether — the cryptocurrency of Ethereum) to incentivize the best responses. A key differentiator of our system was that the userbase (not the requester) voted on which responses get the bounty.
Originally, we hypothesized it would be used predominantly as a Q&A service. Users would ask questions and get answers. However, we quickly realized that users were using this bounty principle in many ways we didn’t originally consider. Users were asking questions, but they were also commissioning custom content to be created and driving incentivized traffic to their projects.
We realized that bounties, at their core, incentivize behaviors. Specifically, our bounty contract began to be used for three categories of behavior: Answer, Make, and React. Answering questions, making custom content, and reacting to someone’s project/music/video all seemingly provide enough value for people to place a financial bounty on them.
Beyond that, a community surrounding the network has begun to form. It’s named itself and begun to evolve it own nouns and verbs. Users call themselves “Centians” and refer to “centing” something as putting a bounty on it. Need someone to Photoshop your friend’s face on a giraffe body? Cent it and you’ll get a few choices within a couple hours. Need 50 people (who aren’t your friends) to listen to your new song and give you some honest feedback today? Cent it. Need to know how people are thinking about an upcoming Bitcoin fork? Cent your question and learn.
As we release new contracts, users will be enabled to participate in different implementations of incentive structures that allow for the exchange of creativity- and financially-based value. Future contracts be custom designed will allow for entirely different types of media to be shared and monetized between users — such as music/listeners, videos/viewers, and writers/readers.
We started with our bounty contract because the infrastructure in place for blockchain applications is fairly underdeveloped. We wanted to build something that could actually get used out in the real world — today. Most blockchain applications are still in an imaginary state, with only a website and whitepaper. We wanted to take a different approach — one inspired from the old-school startup wisdom of iteration and leanness. Rather than release our whitepaper and funding strategy upfront, we released a beta product and are growing a userbase that is informing us about what they actually want. When the time is right, we will release our paper and go public with our plans for funding.
In our whitepaper, we go into detail about our yet-to-be-released platform token, CENT. At a high level, CENT is an (ERC-20) token issued to users when they bounty something. The larger the bounty, the more CENT you receive. It’s more complex than that, but on a basic level, this issuance model incentivizes users to continually add significant bounties to the system. The token can then be used to enhance the exposure of content that is posted within the system, enabling the creation of an internal attention-economy that we will go into much more detail on in a future post.
The ultimate vision for Cent is to become an income source for anyone who wants to provide their value to society via a digital network. We see Cent becoming a foundational, legitimate source of decentralized income for anyone. If you can provide creative or perspective-based value to networks of people via technologies like Cent, you are future-proofing your value-add to society by making certain it is non-algorithmic. All this while supporting structures of mutually-beneficial value that reflect humanity’s best intentions. Eventually, we see a future where each user (or each value-generating entity) becomes something like a currency that can be invested in. But we’ll discuss that more as time goes on.
Even though you currently need some amount of technical knowledge in order to use Cent (understanding the basic use of Ethereum, etc.), that will soon no longer be the case, and the user experience will become as seamless as any other mainstream application.
Until then, do whatever you can to create valuable things and share your knowledge. We’ll help you turn that into income.