Notes on media, productivity and money

What personal tokens are useful for

Wong Joon Ian

I’ve spent some time noodling in the personal tokens space (more on this nomenclature later) in the last couple of months.

I entered the space as an interested sceptic: I wasn’t sure there was a point to personal tokens beyond treating them as discounted future cashflows. But I was happy to be proved wrong as I explored the space.

I got my own $JOON token from Roll in June after moderating a panel on the topic at the rather massive CogX festival. It seemed to coincide with an uptick in personal token activity, which was captured in this Decrypt feature.

Then I started a meetup for token issuers called Personal Talkens to discuss why we had our own tokens and what we were doing with them.

Registration to the meetup was hosted on Kickback, which uses staking to incentivise attendees of free meetups: Stake something upfront, and you get the stake back if you show up. The stake is forfeited and given to attendees if you miss the event.

This was really the first application of $JOON tokens. I decided to denominate staking in $JOON, so people had to obtain my token to attend the meetup. I offered subsidies to attendees, and they had to buy the rest off Uniswap, where I maintained a liquidity pool.

The meetup was successful and we held another one a couple of weeks ago. The plan is to make these happen every three weeks or so. Here’s the next one, on 3 Sept, which has a twist to it: It’s hosted on the xDai sidechain because of unfeasibly high fees on the Ethereum mainnet.

The amount of tooling and thinking around the personal token space seems to be gaining traction. So here’s my stab at what personal tokens are good for, based on a prompt from Personal Talkens meetupper Shreyas Hariharan:

Personal tokens are composable You can bundle them in interesting ways and unlock positive-sum outcomes. You see this playing out on Web2 platforms like Substack, where solo newsletter writers are teaming up to cross-sell their subscriptions on each other’s lists. This approach has yielded burgeoning platforms like the Everything Bundle, which is an attempt to scale that cross-selling and roll the value into a new media brand. It’s part of a media rebundling that’s happening in the buzzier corners of Web2.

The native composability of Ethereum tokens means issuers can bundle their personal tokens in interesting ways out of the box. For instance, you could imagine a DeFi newsletter writer, an NFT blogger and a DAO governance YouTuber with their own personal tokens creating a Balancer pool that acts as an index of their respective coins. Call it the ‘Cutting Edge Content’ Balancer pool. You can buy a single Balancer pool token to get exposure to this basket or theme.

You can also imagine token issuers teaming up to create synthetic community tokens using things like UMA, for example. Use one synthetic token to gain access to three newsletter subscriptions, members-only Telegram groups, and so on. This bundling feature is why personal tokens might be better called social tokens or community tokens.

There’s probably a lot more around liquidity provision and financial and technology things in general that are beyond my grasp, but it seems like the existing tools in Ethereum allow personal token issuers to team up in unique ways that you can’t do with email addresses and Stripe accounts.

Synthesising access and payment in a bearer asset One of the cool things about cryptocurrencies is their retro, bearer-asset, vibe. Like a gold coin, it’s yours if it’s yours, and it’s gone if you lose it.

Personal tokens offer the same ownership feature, but issuers can build additional interesting things around ownership. Teams like Abridged offer tools that automatically check the number of tokens you hold before letting you join an exclusive Telegram group, for instance. Brian Flynn demonstrated this successfully with his offer of allowing 100 people to join his Jamm Telegram group if they owned at least 1,000 $JAMM. Andrew Lee’s KarmaDAO is another example of this token-permissioned access in action.

Owning the token therefore acts like a bearer asset or a key to unlock certain types of content. But obtaining the tokens is also like paying for a subscription. The cool thing about personal tokens is they combine those two features: payment and access in one.

Personal tokens are like email addresses By this I just mean that they are tied to a protocol and not an application, so they are valuable to creators in the same way email addresses are.

The big realisation in Web2 publishing is that centralised platforms like YouTube or Facebook offer scale at the expense of ownership. And newcomers to that space, like Substack, still have to struggle with the question of how to keep users on their platform.

Issuing a token means creators are in a direct relationship with their audience, and it’s independent of any specific application. Of course, you’re still locked into the protocol, which might be Ethereum or some other smart-contract blockchain.

As I continue to explore the space, I’ll try to keep returning to these reasons around why I think personal tokens are useful.

If you’re a token issuer, come to the next Personal Talkens meetup next week! (And hit me up if you need some $xJOON…)


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