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Don’t Trust, verify: How $RARE staking solves the reputation problem in cryptoart

SuperRare Labs,
Jul 27, 2023
1 min read

Don’t Trust, verify: How $RARE staking solves the reputation problem in cryptoart

SuperRare Labs,
Jul 27, 2023
1 min read

Before the digital art revolution, artists, collectors, and curators were at the mercy of a system that refused to serve the vast majority of them well. The power to determine what art was valuable or noteworthy remained jealously guarded by self-appointed insiders who barred anyone else from entering their ivory towers. These “influencers” of yore were free to manufacture and manipulate reputations as they saw fit, and to profit handsomely from keeping a tight grip over “what matters” in the art market – dictating trends and manufacturing consent.

Now, the rise of NFTs has taken a battering ram to these archaic and manipulative practices – the digital art market of the new era strives to be egalitarian, trustless, and community-based. But with the advent of sovereign actors in the global NFT art scene, new challenges have arisen, even after ousting the old guard of hegemonic actors: How can creators get their work appraised by trusted curators, and how can collectors trust in the appraisals those curators provide? How do you ensure the person telling you what to buy, or who to listen to, is actually as savvy as they say they are?

In the digital art market today, reputations are built around individual artworks and notable sales, but the larger problem that remains unsolved is how we can establish verifiable trust around the artists and collectors who represent cryptoart to the outside world, without having to rely on those same influencers we clawed tooth and nail to escape from in the first place.

Reputations in the NFT art ecosystem have been limited by what collectors can infer from narrow metrics like follower counts and likes, but as we all know by now, web2 social metrics can be misleading. It’s easy to buy followers, construct bogus personas and fake social authenticity. And even when someone is exactly who they say they are, it’s literally free to follow or retweet, meaning that people hand out engagement as readily as your dad hands out unsolicited advice. Until now, there has been no on-chain system to incentivize or verify the small but mighty number of good actors who are actually “here for the art,” demonstrating their commitment by doing the hard work of community-building and providing bona fide support to the creatives who inspire us all.

With $RARE staking, we believe we’ve created a powerful, portable, and completely permissionless solution that addresses this incentive alignment problem.

Decentralizing curation with tools for immutable reputation

With so many artworks on the primary and secondary markets, and so many people touting their own tastemaking expertise – expertise which you’re always expected to take and trust at face value, by the way – it takes A LOT of time, research, and an unhealthy level of engagement on Twitter or Instagram just to understand who and what you can really trust in a cryptoart transaction. It’s like going to a bookstore and examining the staff picks table for recommendations; you won’t know which reviewers match up with your particular tastes and  preferences, or know who will be  capable of endorsing something worthy of your time, until you’ve read enough of their recommendations to know better. Over the course of months, if you keep going back, you might learn that Steph is good at picking future Pulitzer Prize winners and Dean’s favorites will put you to sleep. Even at the manageable scale of a single bookstore and  a handful of curators, there’s a lot of legwork required to dial in these reputations and how others’ personal tastes compare with your own aesthetic preferences. As you can probably imagine, the equivalent task in cryptoart becomes nearly impossible given the ever-growing cacophony of voices and opinions about this rapidly evolving global industry.

To compound the problem further, in NFTs you probably aren’t just taking into account the reputation of an artwork itself, but also the reputations of the people or community who are recommending it. Hearing that something is good or trustworthy doesn’t mean anything if the person pushing you towards it is a charlatan, a scammer, or simply someone whose taste and knowledge doesn’t match your own personal needs. Curation therefore is essential in art markets, and it follows that decentralizing curation is essential to building a better future for artists, collectors, and curators everywhere – whether the art in question is physical or digital.

But decentralizing curation presents a serious challenge. How is it possible to decentralize curation while ensuring that anyone can understand which curation signals are valuable to them and which ones aren’t? Decentralization doesn’t need to mean disorder. There is still a need in the NFT art market to balance sovereignty with artistic merit – to allow collectors to make well educated decisions about what art they choose to buy and which voices they choose to trust. This isn’t just about the reputations of artists alone; it’s also about the reputations of collectors, curators, and the multitude of thought-leaders multiplying across the web3 creator economy.

So, how can $RARE staking help establish reputations you can take to the bank in a space full of anonymous artists and collectors?


Stellar reputations are $RARE

The key features of $RARE Staking are Rarity Pools, Staked Lists, and the open social graphs they generate – which we’ve detailed in our preceding blog posts on this topic. As a quick refresher:

  1. Rarity Pools are powered by an innovative new smart contract system that empowers users to stake $RARE on anyone else in the wider cryptoart ecosystem – be it an artist, collector, or curator.

  2. The tokenomics behind Rarity Pools incentivize users to identify and stake in new, emerging or underappreciated talent, with the resulting social signals acting as a beacon for that individual's reputation, helping improve the process of art discovery for everyone.

  3. This signal is readable as an open-source list of all the individuals a user has staked on. This is called a Staked List, and it can attest to the veracity of a reputation anywhere ethereum is utilized – not just on SuperRare. And since Staked Lists are linked together in a web of overlapping relationships, together they will compose a massive, open source social graph – something like Twitter but on-chain, user controlled and immutable.

These lists can be used to explore and identify the dynamic currents that power market trends, rising stars, and the peer-to-peer communities that define our industry.

But how do these features help build your on-chain reputation? Let’s dive in.


Rarity Pools

When you stake in a pool, you’re signaling a lot more than what you might with a like or a follow; to stake in a pool, you’ll need to have some skin in the game by locking up $RARE, which means stakers are incentivized to be discerning about whom they stake on – after all, money talks. Someone might follow you on Instagram because they’re a friend of a friend you met one time at a party, but let’s be real – they probably wouldn’t vouch for you (even if it only cost them a few bucks) unless they happen to really know you as a person or care deeply about your success. The act of staking helps separate your real supporters from the lurkers, the fairweather friends, and trolls; if someone stakes in your pool, you know for sure it’s because they either want to see more art like yours or they want everyone to know they think you’re worthy of further attention and support. 

It might stand to reason that someone whose Rarity Pool has the largest amount of $RARE  would then naturally develop the strongest reputation, but it’s not quite that simple. What about the reputations of those who are staked in that pool? What if someone has 1000 stakers, but they’re all low quality (e.g. those whose own pools have weak reputations, or stakers whose lists are so threadbare they don’t feel authentic)? On the flipside, what if someone has only a handful of stakers, but they’re all exceptionally high quality with known and established reputations? They could be cryptoart OGs, or individuals who actively support the cryptoart community, or people who themselves have pools full of high quality stakers due to the strength of their collecting or curating. With Rarity Pools and the quality signal (aka Rarity Score) they can provide by way of their open, composable datasets, quality and quantity will both matter; staking makes it possible to take both into account.

Here’s an example: let's imagine you’re considering a purchase from an artist on the rise, but they’re anonymous. Since you know nothing else about them, it’s unclear if collecting their work will put you in ownership of a future grail or an epic belly flop. But with the reputation signaling of a Rarity Pool, a collector can easily research the information needed to make an informed purchasing decision, all while that artist maintains their right to privacy. By examining the social signals that surround an artist, you don’t need to know anything about their real-world identity, you can plainly see whether they “walk the walk” based on the strength of their community and staking pool. Simply examining an artist’s SuperRare profile could now arm you with all the information you’d need to make an informed decision.

If an artist’s pool is occupied by collectors with strong reputations, and they themselves stake on other respected members of the ecosystem, that signals you’re probably dealing with the Real McCoy and can verify this is a legitimate actor. But if an artist has only low-quality stakers or doesn't seem to stake in anyone recognizable, this could instead be a red flag for some collectors and help to airbrake your FOMO. 

Similarly, because quadratic algorithms and network analysis techniques like wallet clustering can be used to help calculate Rarity Scores, if a handful of insiders try to coordinate  to tip the scales, staking large amounts in a small group of artists in a coordinated fashion, this can be identified on-chain and scores can be adjusted so these behaviors count for much smaller reputation credit than those of a truly diverse group of stakers discovering an artist organically.

Staked Lists

As you might have guessed, Rarity Pools and Staked Lists aren’t unconnected little points at their own ends of a map. They’re two pieces of a larger machine, working together to establish a system that allows anyone in the world of cryptoart to develop a durable reputation – tied to their own community, portable to anywhere on the Ethereum blockchain. The pool associated with a wallet can tell you a lot about whoever owns that address, but how do you interpret this information? For a collector or curator, it might mean looking at who has staked on an artist as a sign of legitimacy while you perform due diligence. For an artist it might mean looking at a collector’s pool to understand who they believe might be the best steward of their work. And what about artist discovery? What about fully understanding someone’s else's aesthetic tastes? What about building your own curatorial reputation, even if you lack any formal education? 

Let us now consider the impact of Staked Lists, aka “Curated Lists.”

When someone stakes in a pool, a list is automatically generated for that stake that acts as a publicly curated feed. Staked Lists show all the Rarity Pools a user has staked in, which means this list reflects all the individuals that user vouches for enough to stake $RARE in, or all the wallets they choose to curate. 

Rarity Pools already incentivize users to only stake in those they truly support because doing so involves a small, but meaningful, financial commitment - and the public visibility of Lists takes things up a notch because – after all – reputations are on the line. The act of staking transforms the vanity metrics of liking or following into a truly meaningful personal statement: I am willing to grant some of my own money and reputation to this person because I truly believe in them and want them to succeed.

Prominent artists, collectors, and curators may already have everyone’s attention, with people scouring the wallets of their favorite figures, hoping to catch the next big artist or trend. But what if you’re not already a public figure in web3? Well, you can use Staking to build your own irrefutable reputation as an active participant in the NFT art community.

Let’s consider a kid living somewhere remote–someone who at first glance seems far removed from the art world–who never in a million years would think they’d have the opportunity to become a celebrated curator despite having a deep love for art. With as little as $10 worth of $RARE, they can now begin staking and build a brand around themselves as a curator. Because $RARE Staking incentivizes users to stake early (before someone’s career blows up), this young kid out in the country could become the first to stake on an artist who later catapults to the top of the cryptoart scene. And since staking data will be visible on-chain, they can develop a reputation for spotting big artists and catching early trends. As other users notice and begin to trust their judgment, they could develop a reputation for having a sharp curatorial eye, and may be rewarded by attracting stakers to their own pool. This, in turn, could lead to a burgeoning career in the cryptoart ecosystem and as a curator known for discovering scene-rocking talent earlier than most. Now imagine if $RARE Staking had existed at the genesis of the cryptoart revolution–if this person had been the one to discover XCOPY, or Tyler Hobbs, Dmitri Cherniak, and could prove it on-chain, there’s no doubt people would stop and listen to what they had to say about where digital art is headed next.

Furthermore, open social graphs will allow anyone to export and explore how creators, collectors, and curators all over the world interact with and influence one another in the broader digital art ecosystem–both today and far into the future. Imagine being able to peer into the social happenings of Paris salons at the turn of the 20th century or New York’s East Village avant garde scene of the 1980s. Open social graphs will add valuable, necessary, and immutable historic and social context to the NFT art world, now and forever. With on-chain social data, scholars of the future will know much more about the early cryptoart era than any other movement in art history.


Curation beyond curators

Staking doesn’t end at building individual reputations. It’s a system designed to connect the entire cryptoart ecosystem, knitting closer ties between creators, collectors, and curators of all stripes. If adopted, it may come to define not only how art is curated, but how artistic communities interact with one another and discover like-minded collaborators. And building a reputation with $RARE staking is genuine. Because you know there’s real skin in the game, and users are incentivized to only stake individuals they truly want to grant their reputations to. This means you can trust that everything is on the level. No bots, no scams. Just pure, unadulterated social signal. 

Reputations travel, and the factors that construct a reputation from the ground up are complex. $RARE staking acknowledges that when it comes to tastemaking, reputation has always been a determining factor – who is someone, what do you really know about them, what is their actual track record? With Rarity Pools and Staked Lists, not only does everyone have the opportunity to develop their own indisputable reputation as a tastemaker, but to be curated themselves and highlighted for their talent and taste-making capabilities in the web3 creator economy. The ability to measure and verify reputations on-chain, for the very first time, will establish increased credibility among the traditional art buyers needed to expand this market and help push our community to greater heights. By doing so we can help ensure that artistic merit can never again be bent exclusively to the whims of a few self-anointed insiders who stand guard over the ivory tower. We can instead build  a space where true artistic and curatorial talents are allowed to flourish and shine – where everyone has the opportunity to build a reputation that can echo through the annals of art history. And in this world, we will no longer need to “trust the experts” - anyone who wants to can simply verify provenance and tastemaking capabilities for themselves and be free to draw their own conclusions. As a great man once said: “don’t trust, verify.”

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