Networked Communities: Digitally Native, Natively Digital

A digitally-native brand is one that is born on the web. Usually, its first products and services are sold online. Later on, as the business expands, it can, if it wishes, manifest in the “real world” in different ways, such as through brick-and-mortar shops and premises.

One well-known example of a digitally-native brand is Warby Parker, which started out selling glasses online and somehow became a publicly listed company on NYSE along the way. They found ways to manufacture affordably and let customers try on glasses without leaving home, and the rest is history.

Casper, an online mattress delivery business, is another digitally-native success story. They found a way to promote and sell mattresses—of all things!–online, and are now a billion dollar business in spite of the fact that their main product is an extremely tactile, and some might say boring, one.

Figment, too, is a digitally-native brand. While physical spaces are a big part of what we offer, we don’t exist in the real world with a front desk the way a Marriott or Sheraton hotel does. The networks that reinforce our physical communities are still very much digital.

The idea of a networked community brings to mind the concept of the “country in the cloud”. Right now, the Estonian government seems to be trying to manifest one with its e-residency programme, which enables virtual citizens to run businesses from Estonia (it does not, however, confer the right to physically reside there).

For Figment, digital networks can act as a support for physical communities, making life in the “real world” even better. The image of island archipelagos in Southeast Asia like those that make up Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia comes to mind. Picture all these individual islands scattered across the ocean, but connected like beads of a necklace by an invisible thread that binds them with a common identity.

A necklace of islands bound by a common identity.

Drawing inspiration from the above example, Figment is weaving a collective ‘fiction’, or brand story, that networks the various physical buildings under our care. Harnessing Web 3.0, the internet’s burgeoning new and decentralised incarnation, we are building on our digitally-native foundation by building a networked enclave that serves as a collective for all our native members across different properties.

Some features of our digital network are very much familiar to you. They might include our email, Whatsapp chats and even the blogging software used to publish this piece you are reading right now.

Web 3.0 will see a blockchain-powered Metaverse taking centre stage, with the emergence of a token economy as part of a larger economic network which could revolutionise everything we know about ownership and belonging.

We could also see the emergence of cultural networks bolstered by patronage programmes. Creators will find new ways of generating income from patrons who support them through the purchase of tokens. In the Figment community, this happens through the Community Patronage Model, in which a percentage of proceeds is pledged in support of various arts and culture initiatives. 

Social networks, too, will get a Web 3.0 boost, riding on the lifestyle changes wrought by the pandemic. Live-work-play communities like Figment’s will be able to form stronger identities across geographic boundaries thanks to digital infrastructure.

The token economy underscoring these new developments will allow for a more robust incentive alignment structure enabling those within the network to take part in an ownership economy. In Figment’s case, we plan to harness the ownership economy to champion creatives and offer them shared upside in their work.

We also believe that Web 3.0’s model of decentralised authority offers a more resilient form of governance than in a conventional top-down corporate hierarchy, genuinely empowering our community members in the decision making process, without interference from the usual gatekeepers.

Where to from here? Well, our dream is to build the first ever country in the cloud—a networked community that, thanks to improved coordination and cohesiveness, can truly have an impact on urgent global issues.

Fang Low is the Founder & President of Figment. He is an avid couchsurfer and global citizen dedicated to placemaking local neighbourhoods.


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