Factom Inc and Communication

Factom Inc's communication habits came up in Discord's #general channel today. I mentioned this note I wrote to a Factom Inc employee at the end of last year, and said I would post here as reference. I don't want to fan flames, and I don't at this point think we can change Factom Inc. But as a point of reference, and to suggest possible ways forward for us as a community, I'm posting it here.


Nov. 26, 2018

[name],

Below are some thoughts on communication. Hopefully they’re helpful, but either way I appreciate the opportunity to share them with you. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do on my end—happy to lend a hand if you think it would be useful.

Dominic / 88mph / D-Lux

1: Communication, FCT, and the Health of the Factom Ecosystem
2: Background
3: Specific Recommendations

1: Communication, FCT, and the Health of the Factom Ecosystem

When discussing communication, I believe the elephant in the room is often the price of FCT. While I agree with Paul’s recent comments in #general that much of the criticism of Factom Inc over the past months has been concerns about price pretending to be concerns about something other than price, I think it’s a mistake to have this act as a reason to disregard FCT’s market health—or the role that communication from Factom Inc plays.

Factom Inc remains the central ANO of the Factom ecosystem. It has the largest pulpit, but unfortunately it’s been relatively quiet in the past outside of purely technical issues. As much as the purist in me appreciates this, the realist has serious concerns about the effects of this on the entire Factom ecosystem.

FCT is the lifeblood to the Factom ecosystem. Strong FCT price allows the ecosystem to maintain stability and thrive. Conversely, an anemic FCT price is a serious risk to the ecosystem. There’s only so long ANOs will be willing to operate in the red—as many have been over the past months. And ultimately, even critical improvements may become underfunded by a depressed FCT price.

So in summary:

> ANOs and grant recipients depend on a healthy FCT price to maintain their services.
> Factom Inc remains the cornerstone ANO of the Factom ecosystem.
> Perception of Factom Inc remains the #1 driver of the price of FCT.

I should say upfront that I am aware that Factom Inc is cautious of running afoul of regulators by discussing price, or in any way being seen to promote FCT. However the reality is that the ecosystem depends on a strong internal economy, and I believe there are many ways to get the word out about Factom and to improve its image, generate excitement, etc., without compromising values, risking regulatory censure, or client disapproval. I believe this requires looking at communication—and the associated issue of FCT’s value—in a practical, nuanced way.

There is a large grey area between, on the one hand, shilling FCT and risking running afoul of regulators, and on the other hand, extreme hesitancy to publicize the benefits of Factom. The Factom protocol has a LOT of feathers in its cap that very few people know about. For the health of the entire ecosystem, I believe that Factom Inc needs to be much more proactive in getting the word out, celebrating its victories, and making sure the protocol is appropriately appreciated.


2: Background

In writing about “communication” I mean both communication with the internal Factom community (ANOs, etc.), and communication with the general public.

For the former, I believe the core problem, historically, stems from the two AMAs around the turn of last year. If you ask the Factom community to comment on Factom Inc’s communication, most will probably begin by mentioning their confusion and frustration over the previous two AMAs. (This has been the case for the past half-year, anyway, though has subsided with the recent rise in FCT’s price. I’m not sure how long this will last, and even if it does persist, I think these concerns will remain “latent” until addressed.)

A number of claims were made by Factom Inc employees in the AMAs that didn’t end up panning out. For instance:

Jason: “Yes you will be seeing announcements from what we have been jointly working on with these customers in the first two quarters of 2018. … We will name the companies directly.”

Jay: “We are looking at doing AmAs on some regular cadence. … We are going to be ramping out our marketing specific to the coin world.”

To be clear, I fully believe that there are good, reasonable explanations for why some of these things didn’t come about. I don’t think anyone was expecting the strength of this bear market and its repercussions. And it’s exactly because I believe there are reasonable explanations that I think it’s important that Factom Inc be more open, moving forward, about what is happening on their end, whenever possible. When insufficient information is given, people tend to imagine the worst, which is dangerous given how it affects the price of FCT, and therefore the resources available to the ANOs and grant recipients. (Though also: developer interest, potential client and partner interest, etc.)

We saw some of these problems playing out in the recent discussions around Factom Inc’s grants. The AMAs were mentioned several times, but even when not explicitly mentioned, they remain a shadow in the background that prevents many people in the community (based on private discussions) from fully trusting Factom Inc—which in turn creates significant practical problems.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t so much inaccuracy of some claims from the AMAs. The problem is the lack of resolution to the discrepancy between promise and outcome. And that resolution can only come about from Factom Inc addressing the issue in a clear, direct, open way (as opposed to defensively or evasively, which has been a longstanding criticism of Factom Inc’s social-media communication).

For the second issue—communication with the general public—I believe some of these issues are repeated. As much as I appreciate modesty, in this case modesty is a form of liability.

A member of Factom Inc recently wrote in #general:

“I have seen very good news get ignored. Like Factom named by the supreme court of China to settle cases was ignored this summer, or even the decentralizing of the protocol was ignored.”

This is true, and I would add the underwhelming response to Factom Inc’s partnership with FPT. Very few people have any understanding of what this partnership means, myself included, largely because of how limited in scope and detail the press release and ensuing communications were.

To be blunt: if people don’t appreciate the work you’re doing, the issue isn’t “people,” the issue is how you’re conveying what you’re doing to the public. This partnership likely could have been a catalyst for increased appreciation of Factom, and generally contributed to a healthier ecosystem. The public response, instead, was almost negligible. I see this as a lost opportunity, and one that desperately needs to be learned from for the sustainability of Factom.


3: Specific Recommendations

In addition to technical and grant updates, I believe Factom’s communications would benefit from a comprehensive, unified communication strategy covering the following:

> Establishing a regular cadence to AMAs, as promised last year. I like the idea as originally suggested by Jay: “We are going to rotate some of our key folks through the AmA sessions.”

> “Fireside chats” with team members. Who’s working on what? What progress has been made, and what are they excited about in the future? (I.e. content “humanizing” Factom Inc.) I think it could be especially useful to drill into specific topics as well, such as smart contracts on Factom, digital identity on Factom, ICOs and NFTs on Factom, etc. There is very little general understanding of these things.

> Pushing blog content to Medium, Reddit, etc. Too often valuable content gets lost on the Factom Inc website. Factom Inc can’t wait for people to come to it—it must take the responsibility to ensure that the benefits of the protocol and the successes of the company are fully appreciated by the general public.

> Helping to aggressively get the word out about the benefits of the Factom protocol. When a major announcement is made, for instance, this information needs to make it into Coin Desk, Coin Telegraph, Bitcoin Magazine, and ideally more mainstream publications. There are great stories here, they just need to be clearly framed and presented. (Why hasn’t the WSJ or Fortune written about Factom Inc’s relationship with Equator—it’s a huge deal and needs to be understood as such by the media.)

Some of these suggestions—ideally occurring at regular, predictable intervals—would go a long way towards strengthening the community’s ties with Factom Inc, boosting morale, encouraging others to participate in the ecosystem, inspiring confidence, etc. And, ultimately, bolstering the price of FCT, and thereby the resources available to the grant recipients and ANOs to allow the Factom ecosystem to thrive.

[redacted—identifying personal info]. And I apologize if the tone here is overly “blunt” at times. I’d be happy to help out with improving communication if you think it would be helpful—just let me know.
 

PaulSnow

Factom Inc.
Core Committee
Core Developer
I think we can get so busy working on code and working to address concerns that we don't respond quickly to these kinds of food suggestions.

I agree that our public communication has been too sparce on AMAs, chats and such. And I believe the token value is critical to our ecosystem.

I'll try and write more, but it is hard to digest 88's post and reply on a phone.
 
Thanks, @PaulSnow. And to be clear: my intention in posting this isn't to cast blame or seed distrust, but an attempt to clarify what has happened, what things we as a community can learn from, and how to find the best way forward—specifically in regard to communication—for everyone in the Factom ecosystem.

That is: I really don't want to harp on the past, but I do want to make sure we're learning from potential learning experiences so that mistakes or missed opportunities aren't unnecessarily repeated.
 

PaulSnow

Factom Inc.
Core Committee
Core Developer
I started to write a long response, but in reality (while I might quibble on a point or two) most of what you are suggesting is good, and we should take action on those suggestions.

I might also suggest that the community take up so many of these opportunities and run with them as well. For example, when Factom was used to decide a case in China, that was the protocol pure and simple. It is OUR protocol, not Factom Inc.'s protocol. We need to come into these discussions with the idea that we work together to build more communication about the entire ecosystem and the utility of the protocol. Build public facing applications and promote them!

None of this to divert from the idea that Factom Inc should not do better or more. But I do believe Factom Inc. is better with the community that on its own. And the community will be happier looking to the nearly 30 companies world wide building, supporting, and developing the protocol than just looking at Factom Inc.

Distributed responsibility is key to the idea that we are a centralized effort but rather a community of people building something truly unique and world changing. We might not be the best sometimes about communication because of our extreme engineering focus at times, but we are absolutely willing to support efforts and ideas put forth by our community.
 
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