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Big Ideas: “A content economy where 85% of all revenue generated by the network is paid to the contributing members, & everyone is rewarded for their positive contributions” with Ted O’Neill, CEO of Narrative

We are trying to completely flip the script on the business model for online content. It does this giving its members autonomy- allowing them to elect moderators and leaders, and by ensuring that no middleman is involved in content or member management. The goal is to create the first true content economy, an ecosystem where […]

We are trying to completely flip the script on the business model for online content. It does this giving its members autonomy- allowing them to elect moderators and leaders, and by ensuring that no middleman is involved in content or member management. The goal is to create the first true content economy, an ecosystem where everyone is rewarded for their positive contributions to the network. In fact, 85% of all revenue generated by the network is paid to the contributing members. Our company only retains 15% of the revenue and its role is limited to software design/development, infrastructure, and marketing. In addition, it’s important from a consumer standpoint that content be rated and organized. You need to be able to find and follow the specific subjects you are interested in. To that end, all content is rated by the community, with the impact of each rating determined by the reputation of each person. Reputation is infused in every aspect of the system to ensure that bad actors have minimal impact, as well. Organization of content is handled via a taxonomy that we call “niches”. Niches are unique subjects that are suggested, approved, and OWNED by members of the Narrative community. They are kind of like super tags, in that every piece of content can be tagged with Niches, but they are also moderated by elected members of the community, as well. Niche owners earn rewards based on the popularity of the content posted to their niches. Niches are in essence create content funnels where consumers and creators intersect.


Asa part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ted O’Neill. Ted has more than 20 years’ experience building user engagement platforms. He is currently CEO of Social Strata, a SaaS online community platform, as well as Narrative, a new service that has the ambitious goal of becoming the fairest, most frictionless content network. Ted is doing his best to put Charleston, South Carolina on the technology map.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My career as an internet technologist began by chance. In the mid-1990s, the online world was just starting to take off, but I was amazed by how connected it was making everyone. You could share experiences with people from all over the world, but the available tools were clunky and hard to use.

So, I bought myself a Perl programming book, created a discussion forum program, made it available for others to download and then watched in amazement as it became a monster hit, installed on hundreds of thousands of sites, allowing anyone to have an instant online community.

It was actually too successful in a way. I was still working a full-time job but trying to support thousands of customers. I decided the best way to way solve the problem was to start charging a fee to download the software (maybe they would leave me alone), only to discover that the demand remained. That launched my first company and has kept me focused on online communities ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It’s been an amazing ride, and very tough to single out one story, but last year when we were just getting Narrative off the ground, we had someone contact us claiming to represent a high net worth family that wanted to invest $1 million in the project, but they wouldn’t tell us who they represented unless we flew to Europe to meet with them, sight unseen. I’m not sure what the scam was. Would we be directed to an alley somewhere in Albania, where we’d be blindfolded for the final stretch of the mystery meet? Needless to say, we didn’t move forward with that offer.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Narrative is trying to completely flip the script on the business model for online content. It does this giving its members autonomy- allowing them to elect moderators and leaders, and by ensuring that no middleman is involved in content or member management. The goal is to create the first true content economy, an ecosystem where everyone is rewarded for their positive contributions to the network. In fact, 85% of all revenue generated by the network is paid to the contributing members. Our company only retains 15% of the revenue and its role is limited to software design/development, infrastructure, and marketing.

In addition, it’s important from a consumer standpoint that content be rated and organized. You need to be able to find and follow the specific subjects you are interested in. To that end, all content is rated by the community, with the impact of each rating determined by the reputation of each person. Reputation is infused in every aspect of the system to ensure that bad actors have minimal impact, as well. Organization of content is handled via a taxonomy that we call “niches”. Niches are unique subjects that are suggested, approved, and OWNED by members of the Narrative community. They are kind of like super tags, in that every piece of content can be tagged with Niches, but they are also moderated by elected members of the community, as well. Niche owners earn rewards based on the popularity of the content posted to their niches. Niches are in essence create content funnels where consumers and creators intersect.

How do you think this will change the world?

Narrative promises to the fairest, most frictionless content network ever designed. Because we eliminate the middleman, the community collectively sets its standards and determines quality. And because nearly all revenue generated by the network is returned to the members, all members are fairly compensated for their efforts. Certainly, for content creators this is a game-changer. This levels the playing field. If you have good content that finds an audience, you will be fairly compensated.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

The biggest fear of course if that a member-governed system might devolve into a kind of anarchy. Can a community self-police properly? What kinds of standards will develop over time?

For that reason, we have tried to develop a system that has the kinds of checks and balances that provide stability. The reputation system, for instance, is revolutionary in the way it is so central to the overall operation of the network. The impact of every vote and rating is contingent on reputation and, more importantly, reputation can never be purchased.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

The core tenets of Narrative were developed a number of years ago, but the tipping point that cemented everything for me was the advent of blockchain and cryptocurrency, and especially the notion of token economics. Seeing the concepts of user autonomy and transparency reflected in tech was inspiring. And it was what led us to develop the notion of using cryptocurrency as the native currency of the content economy in Narrative. Of course, it was also important that the network was not something that only crypto-friendly people could use.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We need for word to spread, of course, once we launch our beta. The good thing about Narrative is that every member is like an owner of the network, in that they rate the content, elect their leaders, and earn rewards based on their activity. And thus each member becomes an ambassador, incentivizing to spread the word about this game-changing environment.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. When it comes to hiring, quality is much important than quantity.

IMO, one dedicated, motivated, talented employee is more impactful than 5 average employees. Finding those all-stars is very hard, though, so when you find one, do everything you can to involve them at the highest levels and groom them for success.

2. Stay true to your strengths.

Early on with my first company, I thought I should turn over the reins of product design/development to someone else so I could focus on being the “CEO”. I let others pay attention to the details much more than I should have and the result was a product that was subpar. I truly believe the vision for the company (and its products) has to come from the top, and you can’t really delegate that too much, especially if it is a smaller company.

3. Enjoy the ride!

I still have to tell myself this one. As a CEO, you always feel pressure. You are responsible for how customers perceive your product or service. You have employees who view you as a provider in many ways and the caretaker for their careers. When things are going well, you still need to look out for competitors and changing landscapes. So, it’s really important that you appreciate the wins, large or small. If you are lucky, you have more up days than down ones, but even in the tough times, enjoy the rollercoaster and try not to take things too seriously.

4. Make time for yourself.

You have to carve out some time each day when you are not thinking about your business. This is nearly impossible for most founders/CEOs, especially early on, because you are so obsessed with getting the job done and reaching your goals.

5. Communication is critical

I still struggle with this one, because I am an introvert by nature, but providing consistent feedback and communication with your team helps to keep things moving and eliminates stress for everyone. Deal with issues early on, before they become big ones. Provide positive feedback, when merited, as much as possible. Keep everyone in the loop about the important things.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

The most important thing, for any career, is to do something you are truly passionate about. Assuming you have done that, you need to own your career. By that I mean that you have to stay on top of all trends in your industry. Become and remain an expert in your field. If you are just starting out, find a mentor who can help you get on track. If you own your career, it doesn’t really matter who you work for… it’s all about reaching the pinnacle to the best of your ability. Make yourself invaluable, not out of insecurity, but because you love what you do and want to be the best.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

Decentralization is a trend that I only see increasing across every industry. That does not necessarily only mean blockchain; rather it is the principles of decentralization that are most important. Does the project/company minimize the impact of middlemen? Do the consumers of the service have autonomy? Is privacy protected?

Thus, I would look for projects that disrupt an industry in a way that plays into this growing trend. I think you see more customer loyalty when you empower your consumers this way, as well, which can accelerate adoption and create lasting brands.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

1. Innovate — always try to bring something new to the table. I like big ideas and I like to feel like I am breaking new ground in some way.

2. Be Relentless — it’s not enough to get the job done. It’s important to constantly improve.

3. Listen to Customers — some of the best ideas come from the people actually using your products and services.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Goal-setting is extremely important if you want to achieve success. You have to have a plan and focus on the specific steps required to make it a reality. And of course, be able to communicate the plan to everyone that is involved and make sure you have buy-in from everyone.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

We’re building a content network that truly puts its members first. A great place to discover and create content, but also for members to govern and earn. No one has really come up with a business model that works for online content, and we think we have a system that everyone on the content spectrum will embrace. It’s a loyalty machine because everyone is treated like owners. No more censorship. Community-rated content. Reputation that cannot be purchased.

In the age of fake news, in a time when companies are harvesting user profile information for profit, the time is now for a service like Narrative. Our platform serves its people, creating the fairest, most frictionless way to consume, create and interact with content.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m not very active on social media, but you can find me on Twitter at @ted_oneill.

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