At first blush, it appears Open Sea is all about the long tail, but when you dig into the platform, a different story emerges. (If unfamiliar with the long tail, here’s the original piece that introduced the concept.)
Lots of features of the platform embrace creators: creating NFTs without knowing anything about the blockchain, not having to pay minting fees, templated collection pages that look the same for every collection, good documentation, etc. It has a similar experience to Sound Cloud or YouTube – it feels like you get the same treatment as any other creator, regardless of followers or views.
And, creators have flocked to Open Sea in droves. Indeed, the long tail is long. Cursory inspections of the platform reveal tens of thousands of random projects with zero sales. (It would be great to have real data on this if anyone has it.) It should come as no surprise that the tail is so long. When you see a news story once a day about some 12 year old kid that earned $500,000 in a weekend selling crappy art made using MSPaint, why wouldn’t you take a whack at it and upload your own content to Open Sea for sale?
So it seems the platform is following in the well trod heels of other unicorns (YouTube, Twitter, SoundCloud, eBay, Etsy, Instagram) that provide platforms for creators/sellers, probably one of the reasons for its insane valuation.
But when you start to dig, you realize that the Open Sea platform is treating its long tail creators as second class citizens. Probably the biggest gripe from creators and evidence of this disrespect is the refusal to index and refresh metadata for the vast majority of projects. There is very clearly a VIP club that grants privileges to certain projects. These projects have their metadata indexed to determine exclusivity of traits, have special UI to help users navigate the collection and have immediate refresh on any metadata about the NFTs themselves.
Whereas, for the long tail, none of these features exist. Projects might change their metadata and never be re-indexed. Projects might have the most elegant generative art trait algorithm and never have it displayed.
How can a company with that much capital not be able to refresh an index, when a single guy can download every NFT and put it on BitTorrent in a weekend? How can the company that invented the metadata specification for NFTs not have tools in place to properly analyze metadata? Rarity.tools has even made business out of doing this simple computer science task, charging 2 ETH for the privilege.
It would be like Twitter only updating your feed once an hour if you had less than 100,000 followers. Or SoundCloud not allowing you to modify a track you uploaded unless you had 100,000 plays.
Do those other platforms treat certain creators with preferential treatment? Of course. But, the beauty (and brilliance) of those platforms is that the minimum bar for every single creator, no matter how many followers or views or plays, is a fantastic experience. And, all of those platforms led with the long tail. It was only later that brands and big names migrated to the platforms, because that’s where the users were. YouTube didn’t start out with every SNL clip uploaded to an official channel; it took years for that to happen.
The fact is, Open Sea doesn’t really care about the long tail because it doesn’t make them any money. It’s hard for a 2.5% fee to add up on small transactions. Once the NFT craze hit, they quickly abandoned their long tail strategy and flipped the script to the 1% of projects that make them money.
Look at the recent vampire attack on Open Sea by LooksRare – the only projects enabled by LooksRare are those VIP projects, because LooksRare doesn’t even pretend to care about the long tail. They just care about the high rollers. A brilliant attack really, right from the Sushiswap playbook. You can bet that the meetings happening inside Open Sea right now aren’t about the long tail; they are about how to deal with this vampire attack that is sucking millions of dollars a day from the Open Sea coffers.
But, as they are a VC funded company following the Silicon Valley playbook, they should care more about users than dollars at this point in the game. Garner the users and the dollars will follow; that’s the name of the game. Clearly, not to Open Sea.
Odds are, we won’t see any long tail love from Open Sea anytime soon. But rather than courting the 1%, they need to show some love to the 99% and democratize their platform, you know, democracy style, where you really feel like your vote counts, even if it doesn’t. Make the second class citizens feel like first class citizens, even if they aren’t.