Curation is a hot topic and not just for NFTs.
“You Are Not a Curator, You Are Actually Just a Filthy Blogger” headlines Choire Sicha’s 2012 article about the rise of curator influencers on Tumblr and social media. This is in direct contrast to Alina Cohen’s 2018 article for Artsy “Everyone’s a Curator. That’s Not (Always) a Bad Thing.”
Fast forward to 2022 and NFTs have reignited the debate with the traditional art world. The core of the question?
What is curation and who are the curators of Internet culture?
JO7.eth’s recent Web3 curation landscape post attempted to answer this question by breaking down the industry into Discovery, Commerce, and Experiences for NFTs. The result? A focus on Web2 curation of Web3 data rather than native Web3 curation.
As the founder of RARA, a curation protocol, I hope to push the Web3 curation conversation forward together, you know…decentralized. While I do not expect to settle the debate, I can provide a framework for curation and the Web3 landscape at large.
With over a few million NFT users and billions of dollars in NFTs traded in 2021, it’s clear that NFTs are becoming the asset of choice for Internet culture.
But, I can’t help but ask, is curating NFTs all about the money? Is listing NFTs for sale together in a gallery “curation”? Can a collector curate their own collection in a gallery or is a third party necessary?
Merriam-Webster defines “curator” as “one who has the care and superintendence of something.”
In the age of the Internet where most media is available to the public for free on social media, the definition of curation feels completely out of touch. The curators of definitions ironically restricts “curation” to presume care over objects or, in Merriam-Webster’s case, care over words.
In the NFT space, many believe buying NFTs is by default curation or creating a gallery to list NFTs for sale is curation. For example, many decentralized curation protocols incentivize third parties to create exhibits to sell NFTs presuming high quality curation can be incentivized with sales commission.
“[W]e expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers [quality search results],” Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page in “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” (1998). Here the founders of Google allude to the demise in the search results of an ad based search engine due to an incentive model. Now “Google Search is Dying”.
While the sale of an NFTs are data points for curation and important for the health of the industry, the goal of curation is not necessarily aligned with the incentive of sales commission.
So what is curation? Jacob Horn, the Founder of Zora, provided the best answer.
I thought about adding “social” in front of “context” but context requires relationships. Curation does not care about who owns or can sell an NFT. Curation is about context. Context is about relationships.
The landscape is organized on a spectrum from the left side where Web2 curation tools are used on Web3 data to the right side of native Web3 curation. While both sides involve curation, native Web3 curation feeds new opportunities for builders and curators.
For example, Web3 curation data will create an industry of apps designed to give users full control over their own social feed rather than relying on a platform like Twitter’s algorithm. Meanwhile the best curators on the Internet will be able to earn a living off decentralized curation protocols.
Every great landscape grows and thrives under the watch of skilled gardeners, people known for curation. While crucial, this foundation of curators is highly subjective, and their contributions as curators are not easily verifiable with Web3 data (yet).
Public Curators. Public curators create context for art owned by others rather than just art they own. Included are some of the great curators like Beatriz Helena Ramos of Dada and a few upstart curators like littlefortunes of Redlion and f0xapocalypse.eth and Zac Kenny of RARA’s NFT RA!CE. Others include Stina and many others from the traditional art world and Web3 natives.
Collector Curators. Collector curators buy NFTs for a lot of reasons - trading, investment, community, and, in some cases, to create something special - a collection that inspirers viewers through context. Collector curators either focus on one vertical or have deep historical experience collecting across verticals. For example, BlockchainBrett collects music NFTs and RWX collects Japanese art while TokenAngels is known for collecting digital assets for decades spanning from domain names and RarePepes before the term “non-fungible tokens” even existed. Others include priyanka, DCinvestor, Coopahtroopa, and many others.
NFT galleries and auctions are where public curators and collector curators create exhibits for their art - Web3 assets on the back-end, Web2 app for curation on the front-end.
Collector Galleries. NFT owners use collector gallery apps to organize what otherwise looks like a Dropbox folder titled “Random”. These galleries move us closer to the idea of curation where the best galleries bring a serious vibe to viewers through tools to organize, edit, and comment on your collection. Standouts include Gallery’s super clean website for organizing your NFTs into Collections, On Cyber’s 3D experiences, or the free-for-all nature of building galleries and curating in metaverses like Cryptovoxels. Others include Artiva, Spatial, Decentraland, Sandbox, @Nifty_Island, Monaverse, AriumSpaces, @rarerooms, and @hyaliko.
Public Galleries & Auctions. Public galleries and auctions are where third-parties contextualize NFTs into focused exhibits like “Pixel Art” or “RarePepe” auction lots. There is nothing specifically Web3 about these spaces beyond the proof of ownership and ability to run auctions on-chain although many like AGAH do not. While many public galleries and auctions are run by a few people, a few are dabbling with community curated NFTs as well. The most interesting example of a public gallery is Dada, a collaborative art platform with over a century’s worth of an “irrational art movement”. Others include imnotArt, WTH Auction House, and VerticalCrypto Art.
The most controversial area for Web3 curation are NFT Marketplaces, where companies curate the marketplace’s vibe by controlling who could mint NFTs and what media types are supported. Foundation did an excellent job curating artists across design, photography, and the best Internet memes. Others like Catalog, focused on specific types of media like MP3s. Other Company Curated Marketplaces include KnownOrigin, Sound, SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, AsyncArt, NiftyComedians, and many more.
The Activity Feed NFT platforms fee Web3 data (mint, buy, sell) through Web2 social media curation tools (like and follow buttons). Showtime leads the pack with a clean Instagram-inspired app for NFTs feeds. Context feels similar with the additional “curate” button to bookmark NFT you like in your profile.
Collector DAOs make curating weird again. Collector DAOs are weird because of the hive mind that comes together to collect and curate NFTs for their DAO. Somewhere between a multi-sig wallet and missionaries DAOs accelerate the collection process, especially for extremely valuable pieces. Individual collectors enter these DAO’s with a minimum buy-in (e.g., 60 ETH), by depositing a specific type of NFT, and/or by completing an application process. Some start with a singular mission like collecting OG on-chain generative art like SquiggleDAO or just push the entire space forward with a historical and unprecedented collection like Flamingo DAO’s. Fractionalized NFT collection platforms like SZNS act like Collector DAOs where. Others include PleasrDAO, FingerprintsDAO, MUSE0DAO, NOISE DAO, BeetsDAO, Cypherdao, and many more.
Native Web3 curations uses protocols and incentives to curate NFTs and other Internet native assets.
Open curation protocols enable anyone to curate at any time without the creator’s, owner’s, or platform’s permission.
RARA is a
like-to-earn curation platform for NFTs. Today the platform is powered by $RA! tokens which are invested to curate NFTs for exhibits in the NFT RA!CE. When the protocol is released this spring, anyone will be able to invest in curating NFTs with social commentary and context while also entering curations into exhibits.
Yup focuses on curating anything on the web including media that is not Web3 native. Users and creators of content earn $YUP when their media is curated. Yup’s Chrome extension is a mash-up of Genius’ original annotate the web extension where Yup’s extension is used to rate any web content with emojis on a scale of 1-5 (e.g., 4 loves ♥️’s, 3 💡’s, or 5 😂s).
Reactions is a mash-up of auction house protocols and open curation where users react with emoji’s to contextualize an NFT and earn a sales commission if the NFT is subsequently sold. Built on Rarible’s Storefronts auction house protocol, owners of the NFT must first present the NFT for sale prior to curation to occur.
JPG’s Exhibitions are an interesting take on open curation where NFTs are curated into list effectively creating a graph network of NFTs.
Auction House Protocols restrict curation to third-parties working for sales commission of NFTs deposited into the auction house contracts.
While these protocols were the first to self-describe as decentralized curation protocols, these protocols require collectors to volunteer their NFT for sale rather than being open to the public. Additionally, these protocols presume quality curation will be incentivized by sales commission.
Auction House Protocols are excellent data sources for curators including: who collected, what was the price, who created the exhibit, and what other NFTs have been sold by the exhibit creator. Superrare’s $RARE token is used to gate who can launch Spaces for auctions while Zora’s Auction Houses are open to anyone wanting to exhibit and sell NFTs. Other Auction House Protocols include Rarible Storefronts.
Using NFTs or social tokens to decide who can mint an NFT is an excellent method to pre-curate your community like a party planner for would-be collectors. For example, Poolsuite Member card holders were used to pre-curate who could mint Gallery.so General Membership Card NFTs. Another example is $FWB token holders gaining early access to mints in their #ALPHA channel. Others include Gen.art and Bright Moments.
Token Curated Galleries feel similar to Collector DAOs except tokens are used to decide who has access or what NFTs are included in a gallery rather than simply collecting. These galleries are generally curated by simple governance votes. In Mirror’s $WRITE Race days (currently paused), the app was a token curated gallery of artists and writers in Web3. Another interesting example is MOCA, the Museum of Crypto Art. MOCA has a few flavors of curation: Collector Curation gated by limits on how often you can curate, and $MOCA token holder curated NFTs which were acquired with the 50% of token supply reserved solely for collecting. Other Token Curated Galleries include FWB.gallery and maybe even Refraction’s music festivals.
As time passes, Web3 curation will provide a wealth of social context to the Internet’s most prized assets. We have not even contemplated what the Web3 Curation economy will look like. Open access to data, community-based economies and clear incentives will enable the emergence of new kinds of social experiences online. Creators and curators will be rewarded, and memes, the real-estate of the internet, will reach new heights of real-world value.
This landscape likely missed some relevant protocols and players. Web3 is big and growing exponentially. If you have comments or want to add others to this post, send me a DM @lwsnbaker or join RARA’s discord community.
03.02.2022. A prior version of this post, incorrectly spelled Zac Kenny’s name. Additionally, JPG was incorrectly labeled as an Auction House Protocol due to an integration with Zora’s Auction House. JPG is an Open Curation Protocol.