For the Love of Immersive, Niche Experiences

We need to talk about niches.

It’s absolutely wild to me that crypto people do not understand this very simple concept of niching down. If we look at the macro of it all, it’s probably the westernization and hypermemification of things that lost the ability to make cool stuff appeal to anyone but the masses.

I’ll say it for the millionth time, there’s a difference between culty-cults and a niche meant to spread that builds a sustainable, meaningful community.

A couple examples from my past as a community builder:

  • Carol Corps & Captain Marvel - during the glory years of Tumblr, the site was thriving with comic content. This was also during the 2012 reboot of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. A small community was formed around the character that grew massively by sharing art, crafts, cosplay, panels, and meetups at conventions. This went on for like 6+ years leading to 2 films.

  • Pastel Goth - I co-founded a community for a niche that shared colorful purple, black, and pastel kawaii fashion and makeup. We held very specific events and contests and trained 40+ rotating moderators for a community of over 20k that lasted 4 years.

Neither of these communities made a profit for their respective builders; we did it because we were obsessed with a niche and already had jobs. Kelly Sue DeConnick did select some people for Summer internships in the comics industry for college credit, though, which was beautiful to see.

Between OG YouTube creators retiring after amassing millions of followers, hundreds of hours of content, and millions in earnings, it’s clearer each day the potential trajectory of media and the entertainment industry. Particularly with this week’s announcement of Pitchfork moving under the GQ umbrella while laying off half its staff.

The media empires are slowly crumbling.

It’s well past time for a rebellious move toward communal, independent, immersive media.

Streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, Max, and Amazon Prime are replacing current tiers with ads. Amazon Prime is even forcing current subscribers to pay an extra $3 to bring the increasingly dull media collection back without annoying ads.

Bumping up prices while interrupting content with ads is not the way.

What does this have to do with niche media experiences? A lot.

First, remember those examples above about a single comic character and a very specific type of fashion? The tech industry as a whole has an aversion to this style of community due to the fact it appeals to a very small number of people relative to what can get funded.

Nearly everything being built, from education to media and PFP communities, is created for “everyone” to some degree. Sure, RetroPGF fixes this, but only if the niche proves impact which is an important piece of the puzzle for these communities.

However, they have to recognize how to build for impact.

A decentralized community governed by its users can and should be created for the benefit of a sustainable niche. Due to permissionless chains, welcoming new folks who have the incentive to participate is easier than ever.

Next, I’ll cover a recent deep dive into a part of the world that has built in-person experiences for cultivating a small, intimate, slow, intentional community through food, themes, and a passion for culture.

For the Love of Food, Vibes & Themes

My number 1 bucket list destination has always been Japan.

The first anime I ever watched had to have been Sailor Moon and this show called Ronin Warriors. There’s no way I can count all the anime I’ve seen since 1995, but that’s beside the point of this newsletter.

I’ve long admired the ways Japan has created intentional spaces for communities to form around themes and love, especially when it comes to snack bars and unique experiences.

Originating in the post-WWII era as makeshift food stalls that evolved into permanent small bars, they are hosted by a “mama-san” who brings a maternal vibe to the space serving small, affordable meals with drinks.

Each snack bar caters to the mama’s personality (or obsessions), showing off her favorite dishes to make, seating between 5 and 15 people. These are spaces specifically built for intimacy with the mama, her hostesses, and customers, who are often regulars.

A few things make them particularly special for creating a communal vibe:

  • They are often themed, e.g., matchmaking spots, golf lovers, anime, and even cute pink dragons?! - a fine line between snack bar, cafe, and concept bar, all with the same building blocks

  • Mamas remember your name - customers buy a bottle, leave their name on it, and drink from it when they return

  • Be prepared for karaoke 🎤

  • Limited seating + theme + regulars + hard to find = perfect recipe for a successful community

  • Not driven by endless profit, making conversation and new friends accessible, inclusive, and affordable

  • The mama will ask about your day and listen intently, which is pretty typical for a bartender, all while making a delicious snack for you

  • Hostesses often come to work at the bar with a degree in nutrition too

In neighborhood bars or izakayas, mamas might work until much later in age. We’re talking 75+, leading to longer, more fulfilling lives for women where the whole neighborhood takes care of her as she does for them. Here customers are also regulars, but you might find a row of bars lined up rather than randomly through the city.

Check out a day in the life of a neighborhood izakaya.

Neighborhood bars are very similar to the other snack bars in some ways, like the personal bottle-keeps lined up, but the selection might be based on the mama’s unique taste in rare imo jochu (sweet potato liquor) or shochu. This brings costs down for customers since you’re not paying per drink. Customers might also serve themselves and others when plates are ready to go out.

The purpose here isn't to get absolutely wasted like in other countries but to have an ~experience~ that's socially stimulating.

At one of the snack bars in this video, YouTuber Sydsnap travels to a bar owned by a mama obsessed with golf. She loved the sport so much that she was divorced for being too obsessed! This bar has businessmen regulars drinking wine and chatting about golf every Friday, and there’s even a little mini-golf to try out. Hello LinksDAO! ⛳️ 👀

Many concept bars take customer votes to choose the names or occupations of the hostesses. How cute?!

There's tons more to explore with Japanese snack bars, so check them out for yourself to learn how you, too, can incorporate these elements in a budding IRL community.

So, why are we talking about snack bars in Japan?

The point is that as we inch closer to the birth of AGI v1, I want to show ways other cultures have or are currently creating a community feel in person. These social structures across the globe allow us to peer into healthy antidotes to social isolation.

There’s no telling what will happen when that time comes, but my hope is that together, we can work to move ourselves from being glued to screens to hanging out together more often. It’s so important we find shared experiences that give communal care to each other.

Places like the snack bar, neighborhood bar, themed cafes, and izakaya offer low-stakes conversation, good food, and opportunities to meet new people, no matter how quirky they are.

I know one thing for sure: if there were an izakaya within walking or a train ride away from my house, I would totally be there!

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