The Power of Scenius: Farcaster and the Collective Genius of Communities
How I discovered the power of a scenius and found the ultimate scene in Farcaster.
The first time I heard the word scenius I was sitting alone in my living room. It was early morning, around 5 or 6 AM. The house was quiet and dark, except for the sounds and glow from my laptop.
I was attending my first DevOps Enterprise Summit, a popular conference for technology leaders and the pandemic had forced them to turn to a virtual format. The conference was based in Europe, but I live in the U.S., hence the early hours, alone in my dark house.
Gene Kim, a pioneer of the DevOps movement and bestselling author of several books including The DevOps Handbook, The Phoenix Project, and The Unicorn Project, took the stage for his opening remarks. He welcomed everyone to the conference and highlighted some of the speakers and talks we would be hearing.
And then he introduced us to the concept of a scenius. He told us how Brian Eno coined the word to explain the phenomena that the best art tends to be generated from groups of creatives rather than any one lone individual. In Brian’s words, “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.”
Gene then described the characteristics of a scenius which include mutual appreciation, rapid exchange of tools and techniques, network effects of success, and local tolerance for novelties. Here’s the description from this post about scenius by Kevin Kelley, from 2008:
As I listened, I felt a quickening, a physiological change, a rush of emotion. I was all alone in a dark quiet room, but I didn’t feel alone. I felt part of a movement. This was my first DevOps Enterprise Summit but I had been interacting with the community as an outsider. I had read several books written by members of the DevOps scene, watched previously recorded talks, even interacted with some of them on Twitter. As I listened to Gene talk about scenius, however, it dawned on me that the DevOps Enterprise community was not an intricately designed exclusive club. Anyone could jump into the scene. As time went on, I wrote some of my own blogs, continued to talk and engage more with the scene on twitter, and I was even invited to speak at one of their conferences. I had infiltrated the scene.
The DevOps Enterprise community was my first experience with scenius but it wouldn’t be my last.
Months later I found myself exploring the weird wilds of web3 by participating in some NFT projects. My first NFT mint was a Crypto Coven witch. My second was a Philosophical Fox. Both projects were experimenting with world building, storytelling, content creation and community. The collateral, culture and content coming from these communities drew me in. I was intrigued by this space and wanted to learn more, but I still felt like an outsider.
But just like the DevOps Enterprise community, these projects weren’t exclusive clubs behind walled gardens, even if it appeared that way to an outsider. These were scenes in themselves. Both Crypto Coven and Philosophical Foxes were communities of creatives, loosely organized around a common purpose with shared values. Joining the community and contributing was entirely permissionless. Anyone could contribute. So I jumped in. I chatted with witches and foxes in Discord and on Twitter. I actively participated, contributing my own writing and ideas. It was energizing. While the rest of the world was commentating from the outside about crypto bubbles and whether NFTs were just a fad, we were having fun and creating.
Once you have been lucky enough to be part of a scenius, it’s easy to spot them. About 6 months ago I stumbled into yet another scenius: Farcaster.
I don’t remember how I first heard about Farcaster but it was most certainly from someone on Twitter. I had just finished taking a full stack web3 developer course which only increased my interest in blockchains and decentralized technology. I read Farcaster founder and CTO Varun’s blog post introducing the vision for a sufficiently decentralized social media and it intrigued me. Farcaster was invite only, with founder & CEO, Dan Romero at the velvet rope, letting in mostly developers and builders from the Ethereum community. I DM’ed Dan on Twitter asking for an invite and sent him my relatively shallow web3 credentials. I must have said something right because he sent me an invite and I was off.
I created my profile and sent my first cast in November 2022. And despite not fitting the typical demographic of a Farcaster (I’m a woman. A mom of teenagers. I’m in my forties. I don’t work in crypto.), I got hooked immediately and haven’t looked back.
The vibe on Farcaster felt oddly familiar. It was a little weird but not unwelcoming. There was no instruction book. The only way to learn was to contribute. I sent some casts. I replied to other people’s casts. As I continued to cast, I started making genuine connections with other Farcasters. We were all hidden behind JPG avatars, mostly with some degree of pseudo-anonymity, but we were connecting based on shared intellectual interests and values. I continued to lean in and learn more about Farcaster: reading more of Dan and Varun’s writings, listening to them on podcasts, I even joined a developer call.
I had found another scenius. If you are already on Farcaster, you know this. If you aren’t here’s some proof:
- An Explosion of Creation. Look no further than the proliferation of apps as proof there is a vibrant community of friendly competition. At the time I’m writing there are around 50 apps and bots and growing every week. Papa wrote an excellent article highlighting many apps that have been built: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/the-future-of-social-networking-a-deep-dive-into-farcasters-app-landscape
- Positive Sum. Farcaster is an open protocol allowing anyone to build on top of it. Farcasters believe the more the protocol proliferates the more value it brings to everyone in the ecosystem. The greater good is more important than individual success. We saw this play out when a small conflict arose between a DAO and an App, both named Purple. There was public debate about what was best for the overall ecosystem, whether it was confusing to users, and whether one should change their name. The conflict was handled with respect, in public, and optimized for the greater good, not the individual.
- Mutual Appreciation. The best place to see this play out is when someone launches something on Farcaster. The individual shares what they built, but the entire community feels the win. The casts with the most replies are often the ones when someone shares something they created. Follow launchcaster to stay up to date.
- Rapid Exchange of Tools & Techniques. People are quick to move from Farcaster to Telegram to zoom to collaborate and help each other out. I casted about getting stuck trying to run the follow-all script and within minutes I was texting with someone who walked me through how to do it.
- Local tolerance for novelty. When someone stumbles, makes a mistake, bombs in public, or says something a little too far out of the overton window, the community doesn’t shame, dunk or celebrate. The FarCon original mint is a great example of someone trying to do something novel, stumbling in public, and then quickly pivoting with the support of the crowd. The tolerance of experimentation and failure within Farcaster allows the renegades and mavericks to continue to push boundaries that will lead to tomorrow’s inventions.
Farcaster is full of creative geniuses, loosely organized around a common vision for a decentralized social network, bound by common values such as candor, intellect, curiosity, and truth. It is the ultimate scenius. And if it stays this way, it will unleash more innovation and inventions than can be imagined today.