Journalism, publishing and NFT: the crypto-publishing platform Mirror and the Dirt case study

Christine Vaufrey via Flickr — CC BY 2.0

In 2010, together with Antonio Badalamenti, we started a participatory journalism project. Inspired and encouraged by David Cohn, Spot Us founder in the United States, we tried to make an Italian version. I implemented a platform prototype, we started with a small team to collect journalistic inquiries proposals from both users and journalists, we tested the functionalities. The project was selected for Telecom’s Working Capital funding contest but, having then won the same contest with another project, we had to reluctantly abandon the idea.

Since then, I have continued to follow the evolution of various kinds of projects linked to “bottom-up” funded content.

Crowdfunding took off, blockchains arrived and then NFTs.

Now a project surrounded by an aura of mystery combines all these philosophies and technologies: Mirror.

Mirror, the crypto-Medium between DAO, NFT and crowdfunding

Little is known about it. Launched — it seems — in January 2021 and based on the Ethereum blockchain, it looks like this:

“Through a decentralized network, owned by users and based on cryptocurrencies, Mirror’s publishing platform revolutionizes the way we express, share and monetize our thoughts. “

More prosaically, it can be labeled as a sort of crypto-Medium, a decentralized publishing platform for authors, journalists and writers based on blockchain.

Between the “secrecy” and the not-so-immediate mechanisms linked to tokens, smart contracts and DAO-like, understanding how they work is not easy. I will try to illustrate the main features, because there are various aspects that are, although not always original, nevertheless interesting.

To access a guide, you need to connect through your Ethereum wallet (for example Metamask).

Let’s start with how you can enter the circle of authors.

Everything is centered around a token, the $ WRITE, and a weekly selection mechanism by the community. The first tokens were distributed for free — via an airdrop — to those who signed up for a waiting list. During these rounds of selection, members who own $WRITE vote to choose the next 10 authors to join the “newsroom”. The more tokens you have, the more “worth” the vote. Winners receive a $WRITE that they can spend to create their publication.

This mechanism would like to make the community participant arbiter of the quality and consequently of the platform economy. The more interesting and engaging the content is, the more the $WRITE should acquire value. But as the promoters of the project themselves declare, this is an experimental phase that will serve to guide the next steps.

The posts — with texts, images and / or videos — can be associated with an NFT, mintabile on different marketplaces such as EthBlock.art, Foundation, Rarible, SuperRare and Zora. This NFT can be auctioned. Whoever wins it will be able to read the article or, if it is a newspaper, publish it (or so it seems). Of course it can also be resold.

With a “splitting” operation, the author can create the NFT by redirecting part of the profits deriving from the sale (or even from resales in the secondary market) to other subjects who have contributed to the content (or even, for example, to charities). A system of shared content creation has recently been activated.

It is also possible to carry out crowdfunding campaigns to finance, as in my project eleven years ago, journalistic inquiries but also research, novels, photographic reports and any other form of content. Here you can see one of these campaigns.

The funders of the project receive tokens which, in addition, to serving as proof of patronage, have the potential to be redeemed from the value generated by the project itself.

These tokenized crowdfunding and splitting are certainly not new ideas. Blockchains, in particular Ethereum, immediately fueled the hope of rapid, efficient and automatic systems for revenues sharing.

However, the creators of the platform speculate that in the near future

“the creator may be the operator of a DAO that produces many works, each coined as NFT, with continuous trading income returning to the DAO. The lenders of the DAO can therefore expect higher profits than those coming from the sales of the first NFT. “

DAPH (Decentralized Autonomous Publishing House)? Or DAN (Decentralized Autonomous Newsroom)?

Curiously, the contract is ERC20-compatible (fungible tokens), so we couldn’t really talk about NFT.

Once the crypto-technical-economic part is exhausted, how is the quality of the content? The question is difficult because… there is no index of publications. Doing a Google search on addresses like * .mirror.xyz (the standard for Mirror), I found some probably written by people who gravitate around the project. Focused on blockchain, NFT, DAO and the like seem to be of good quality — one example this post by Graeme Boy (who I found out to be Mirror’s CTO) on emerging identities in crypto-networks.

The Dirt newsletter, a case study

An interesting case study regarding the possibilities opened up by a project like Monitor is that of publication Dirt. Launched in December 2020 by Kyle Chayka, freelance journalist, it is a newsletter dedicated to digital and entertainment. After reaching about 4,000 subscriptions, Chayka wanted to experiment with a crowdfunding method via NFT to finance a “season”, or two months of publication. The money raised is used to remunerate the authors of the contents (a fee of $ 1 per word is indicated), the editing and writing work of the founders, marketing and graphic design of the NFTs.

131 NFTs associated with an animated gif (which, even if drawn by a famous illustrator, I find it very ugly). One hundred were put up for sale at 0.05 ETH (about 100 euros), 30 for 0.2 ETH (about 400 euros) and one was auctioned.

In one week they were all sold, raising about 12 ETH, or 25,000 euros.

Chayka wrote a post on Monitor to tell and share his impressions of the campaign.

Why did users buy these NFTs? To support publication in the first place: a base of a few thousand subscribers helps a lot in a crowdfunding campaign. However, consider that here it was a question of having users who are not only willing but also not fasting cryptocurrencies, still having to have a wallet to make the purchase.

There was also a component of curiosity and fun; some, especially those who have purchased multiple NFTs or the single edition (for more than one ETH), have certainly been motivated by a desire to make an investment.

Some NFTs were immediately put back into secondary markets — even for high amounts — but have not been resold at the moment.

Monitor does not directly provide a percentage on subsequent resales but on Zora, for example, there is a 15% fee on transactions subsequent to the first. According to Chayka, this form of revenues, when fully operational, could constitute a form of financing that would avoid releasing too many NFTs over time, compromising their scarcity.

Dirt’s founder also suggests that tokens, such as Monitor’s $WRITE, could be used as paywall surrogates, allowing only those who own them to read content. He also adds that closer synergies need to be found between NFT and content: “These digital resources have their own language and vocabulary; the best analog is not collectible art but in-app purchases, where purchases deepen customers’ relationship and engagement with the brand.

Whatever the fate of these projects, they both provide suggestions and ideas about the possible relationship between journalism, publishing, blockchain and NFT.

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Computer engineer, tech-humanist hybrid. Interested in blockchain technologies and AI.

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Federico Bo

Federico Bo

Computer engineer, tech-humanist hybrid. Interested in blockchain technologies and AI.

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