tim exile endlesss

This is a guest post from Tim Exile, Founder/CEO of Endlesss, the music making and collaboration platform. He writes about how building communities in the modern music business economy provides new opportunities – and challenges – around monetisation; and how that accompanying community culture will also bring long-term revenue and rewards.

As the world tires of social media’s relentless attention economy, digital citizens are looking for deeper engagement with smaller groups. In building for this new emerging need, social media’s playbook for scaling users and revenue doesn’t apply – but there are alternative, powerful growth flywheels and new ways to monetise community spaces.

Communities vs Audiences

Tim Exile

Endlesss thrives on creative interactions which build intimate relationships amongst small groups of people. It’s a different kind of interaction from social media which builds large audiences through standout content.

Communities and audiences are fundamentally different.

Communities converse and interact bidirectionally, thriving on a flywheel of interaction which drives intimacy. In communities, relationships win.

Audiences receive and transmit messages, thriving on a flywheel of action which drives amplification. In audiences, messages win.

Today’s internet is built on audiences. Social media rewards users with dopamine in return for taking action and sharing a message. This is how messages go viral.

The business model to date

The business model for internet audiences is well established. Since messages win, people with messages (advertisers) pay. This model has proved highly profitable. It has come to define the last two decades and shaped our online lives. But after 20 years its negative effects such as isolation, anxiety and ‘doom-scrolling’ are felt strongly.

Internet citizens now want an escape from the noise – private spaces where they can interact with a smaller number of people they choose to spend time with and have control of their culture in psychological safety.

The business model for online communities is less developed because the way they grow and can be monetised is less explored and understood. So far, internet companies have chosen to build audiences rather than communities because on the face of it, scaling a community platform seems harder:

Growth: communities thrive on being small – over a certain size, the intimacy breaks.
Monetisation: the audience model established a precedent for users getting a ‘free’ service at the expense of the people with the messages who pay. If relationships win in a community, there needs to be a business model where community members pay.


On growth: Bacterial not Viral

In building the Endlesss community, we’ve focussed our efforts on a central Discord server but a number of members have broken away to form new communities around different interests. We used to think this was a bug, now we see this is a feature.

We realised that while true communities don’t scale, they go bacterial not viral, splitting off and multiplying. As a community establishes itself, its membership grows and those members define its culture. Eventually the community reaches a point where:

  • The intimacy starts to break down, causing friction in the community
  • The community’s culture solidifies and narrows, making it less attractive to new members

This is the point at which breakaway members leave to establish a new community. The parent community has incubated enough intimacy in the breakaway group to give them the strength to establish their new community and attract new members. Meanwhile the parent community stabilises its membership and culture.

This is how cellular organisms grow, through the growth and splitting of cells like bacteria, rather than the transmission of a single piece of DNA from host to host like a virus.

On Monetisation: Space not Reach

Since in communities relationships win, monetisation opportunities lie with community members paying for their space, rather than advertisers paying for reach. While this breaks the precedent of social networks being free to use, there are lots of examples of companies offering spaces for communities and charging their members / owners. 

Slack does this for business while Discord does this for consumers. Many of today’s multiplayer productivity tools such as Figma and Miro also bear hallmarks of community-focus, facilitating rapid bidirectional creativity amongst a small group of people and successfully charging organisations for providing this value.

In a private community space, three key functions drive value towards relationships:

  • Interaction – ways for members to interact and co-create
  • Coordination – ways for community leaders to establish and enforce rules, such as moderation tools, roles and permissions
  • Culture – ways for the community to create a shared culture such as emojis, gifs, memes & other content

Any feature that helps with these functions is valuable to a community and its members and provides opportunities for monetisation. Each new community space is an opportunity to provide value and drive revenue. As communities grow, split and form new communities, so revenue increases.

Sharing the pie: aligning incentives

Observing the Endlesss community, it’s most healthy when leaders emerge to take care of moderation and stewarding its culture. Community management is a service to the wider community which can be difficult but rewarding. It’s in a community platform’s interest to create a revenue sharing mechanism by which a proportion of revenue generated for a community space can be shared with the community managers.

We’re at the beginning of a shift away from internet business models that favour audiences, messages and reach, towards ones that favour communities, relationships and depth. Creative tools will be at the forefront of this revolution as creativity is the lifeblood of a community’s health. Today’s creative tools are optimised for a world of audiences where expertly-produced standout content is what wins. Tomorrow’s creative tools will focus on rapid creative interaction between community members and the formation of a culture which community members can meaningfully participate in. We’re incredibly excited to be building for this bright future.

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