Locks and Unlocks


Modern media today runs on the subscription model. Consumers pay for access to content from creators. The subscription model acts as a way for platforms to raise money to pay their creators. It also allows platforms to pick the best creators to hide exclusively behind their paywall. The platforms have all the control and seem to be the winners in this arrangement. But what if you could cut out this middleman and run the subscription model yourself?


On traditional centralized platforms, managing your own content* and making money independently of the actual platform is hard. Unless you know how to develop your own payment processor and host it against some owned endpoint granting access to your content, you aren't managing this whole process.

However, on a blockchain where data is preserved, such endpoint already exists and the means of secure and easy transactions is already in place. But how does one move from free and open access to their material to monetizing said content? Well, we'll get to there, but first let's talk about the platform that everything seems to revolve back to.

Steem already monetizes content, so what's the issue? The issue is that the content is essentially worth zero regardless of how much Steem it actually earns in the long run. Why? Because it costs nothing to access that content. While a piece of content may earn 100 STEEM, it is not because it is actually worth 100 STEEM. It is because stakers in the ecosystem have decided to arbitrarily award the creator of that content 100 STEEM. There is no cost to consume.

But what's the issue, you may ask? Here's what happens on other centralized platforms:

  1. Content creators need money to create content.
  2. Good content creators produce better content when they are rewarded better for it.
  3. Audience members are willing to pay more for good content.
  4. Platforms pay good content creators more and charge more.
  5. Everybody gets what they want.

Here's what happens on STEEM.

  1. Content creators need money to create content.
  2. Rewards are arbitrary so content quality is variant.
  3. Audience members expect free content because of the variance.
  4. Nobody pays good content creators more.
  5. People complain for better "behavior".

"Behavior" is this case depends on the consumer perspective or the creator perspective. Consumers expect free content due to the variance of the content. They also expect to be paid in return for finding good content for other people. Creators expect money for their content, but due to the variance there is no incentive to produce great content, only to produce, in order to hit the "jackpot".

But here we have a tragic downward cycle. Creators make it harder for consumers as they spam the network and dilute the content quality. Consumers make it harder for creators as they have no incentive to reward creators and require incentive to look for those creators. Instead, they can make money easier by ignoring good creators and simply voting conveniently where little effort is required.

What's the solution to this dilemma? Well it is to pay those who are deserving. Pay those that grow the network by creating content that consumers want to consume. How do we achieve this? By turning creators into platforms and letting the consumer market decide.

There are really two issues here. Content creators need to incur a cost in order to prevent spamming. This is partially solved via bandwidth restrictions and resource credits. The second is that creators need mechanisms to allow them to control access to their content. Consumers need to pay in order to access a creator's full catalog allowing that creator to properly monetize their content by making it worth something.

The solution? Locks and unlocks. A lock encrypts a piece of data. An unlock is an action that decrypts that same piece of data. What you have here is a simplistic smart contract. The creator locks some data. The consumer must unlock that data in order to consume it.

Here's a simple example to illustrate this concept. A creator writes an article. The article is five paragraphs longs with a picture. They lock the last four paragraphs while leaving the first paragraph and picture open. A consumer comes across the paragraph and reads it. They aren't interested. They move on. Another consumer reads it and is interested. The unlocking condition is an upvote. They upvote the post. This allows for the rest of the article to be unlocked. The consumer reads on.

The subscription model is applied at the most atomic level. One piece of content for some incurred cost. Consumers are free to pay that cost whenever they please, but now there is an incentive for creators to create better content. They control the minimal cost to access the full content.

Now consumers might not like the fact that they have to incur a cost, but what are they losing? Some voting power that regenerates? That isn't too much of lost at all. But how does blocking access to content make content better? Well, let's look at incentives.

Creators want to make money. Consumers want good content (and perhaps want money as well, but for now let's say that's not their primary goal). There is an incentive for all creators to use locks in order to "claim" their content is worth more than nothing. But consumers have to burn a limited resource in order to unlock. Would they rather unlock (and consume) good content or spam?

When consumers have cost to incur and have something to buy you essentially make content consumption a scarce resource. Steem's resource credit system was undercooked in that it provided no incentive to desire the scarcity. By adding locking and unlocking, content scarcity reduces the amount of bad content being rewarded in that there is an incentive to unlock good content versus bad content in that the good content is worth consuming.

Of course, locking and unlocking is optional. It would make sense for most users to leave content open until they achieved a certain audience size, but it is what it is.

Personally, I would center the lock around a certain value of rshares since that encourage new users to buy Steem in order to access better content and it forces consumers to burn larger votes in order to properly rewards creators for their content. There are also issues around un-voting that would have to be fixed in order for such a system to make sense, but the overall idea is what I am wanting to explore rather than a specific implementation.

*Final Note: Content can means literally any piece of useful or entertaining information. If you think my scope is too narrow it is because you didn't read to the end.

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Eh it's a good idea, but lends itself to some really annoying situations. Say you locked content with a contract to unlock it with a 5 cent upvote. 5 cents is not a lot, but a 5 cent upvote currently requires thousands of staked coins.

Clearly, you'd have to be able to unlock content with either upvotes or liquid tips. I suppose the logistics of such an implementation are trivial. Just trying to play out this thought experiment.


I'm suddenly reminded of this post I wrote 3 months ago. This could be a great use of the memo key... of course once a single person unlocks content they could just repost it unlocked. It would theoretically only take one whale to undermine the entire system.

It's a very soft-consensus / honor-bound solution, but if done right, it could likely work out quite well, regardless of the shortcomings.


The thing with voting is that it really isn't a heavy cost, so you would expect a lower exploit rate than traditional media. So while still soft-consensus, there is a mechanism in place that could encourage better behavior while requiring some "effort" to exploit.

There would be some mechanisms that you would have to play around with that either requires a hardfork or and third party facilitator in order to implement properly and smoothly, but as you mentioned, the underlying encryption ideas are there to borrow from.


I think that most people on a front end with these implementations would play by the rules, even though circumventing them might be trivial for some users.