Lens vs. Farcaster

Which decentralized social protocol has more to offer?
Feb 27, 20246 min read

There's big news in the crypto social scene today. Lens just launched permissionless signups 👀

This means that anyone can now create a Lens profile without needing an invite, opening up the decentralized social network to a broader audience. 

Accordingly, this update brings Lens to par with Farcaster, which rolled out permissionless access in October 2023 and is the current king of the hill among crypto social platforms. 

Farcaster has seen explosive growth since then, particularly after the launch of Farcaster Frames—interactive postable apps—earlier this year. 

So the main question right now is clear: can Lens catch up to Farcaster’s traction with its own second wind now that it’s gone permissionless?

I think it’s possible, so let’s dig in and compare the two rising networks to see why. 

The Main Philosophical Similarities

Lens and Farcaster are decentralized social graph projects and share several similarities as they both aim to redefine the landscape of social networking. Here’s how they are most alike:

  • ⛓️ Decentralization — Both protocols are built on blockchain tech to reduce reliance on centralized intermediaries.
  • 📁 Ownership — Users on both platforms have control and ownership over their data compared to traditional social networks. This includes the ability to own their content, profiles, and social connections and to port this data across different apps.
  • 🔃 Interoperability — Lens and Farcaster are open and interoperable, allowing for third-party developers to build on top of their infra. This openness encourages innovation and the development of new applications and services within their ecosystems.
  • 🧑‍🎨️ User-focused — Both platforms prioritize the interests and needs of content creators. They aim to create environments that support content monetization, audience growth, and direct interaction between creators and their communities without the mediation of traditional social media companies.

The Main Architectural Differences

The smart contracts of Lens are deployed on Polygon, while Farcaster's smart contracts are deployed on the Optimism Layer 2 (L2) scaling solution. These networks allow for bypassing the congestion and higher costs that can come with using Ethereum directly while still being anchored to the L1. 

Beyond their differing chain foundations, both Lens and Farcaster also approach handling data in unique ways via Momoka and Farcaster Hubs, respectively:

  • 🟢 Momoka — A bespoke Optimistic L3 focused on data availability. While storing data on Polygon will always remain an option, Lens has integrated with Momoka to offer the ability to process certain transactions offchain, enabling faster and cheaper UX.
  • 🟣 Farcaster Hubs — A distributed network of servers that store, validate, and serve Farcaster data, enabling efficient data handling without facing bottlenecks from having everything managed on the Ethereum mainnet.

Decentralized Identity and Account Creation

Lens and Farcaster also rely on distinct systems for identity management. Here's a quick overview of their approaches:

Farcaster: Accounts and Usernames

  • 🪪 Account CreationFarcaster accounts are tied to Ethereum addresses, created via interactions with smart contracts, and identified with unique Farcaster IDs (fids).
  • ✅ Usernames — Farcaster uses the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) for usernames, supporting both onchain (.eth names) and offchain ENS names (fnames). Usernames are linked to Ethereum addresses but are distinct in that an address can have multiple ENS names while specifying which one to use for Farcaster.

Lens: Profiles and Handles

  • 🪪 Profile NFTs — These NFTs represent ownership over a user's social graph and content. A Polygon address can hold multiple Profile NFTs, and these NFTs track a user's posts, comments, and social interactions. They can also be modified with extensions, e.g., a Follow Module for managing permissions.
  • ✅ Handles — Introduced in Lens v2, handles (like @alice) are minted separately and can be linked or unlinked from profiles. This system allows for flexible identity representation and management within the Lens ecosystem.

The Onboarding Flows

As of today, anyone can visit lens.xyz to create a Lens profile. There is a flat fee of 10 MATIC—or roughly $10 USD at the time of writing—to mint a profile, which can optionally be paid via credit card. With a profile in hand, you can start using apps around the Lens ecosystem. 

In-kind, Farcaster currently allows free signups via its most popular front end, Warpcast, for mobile users in supported countries. For others outside of this scope, there’s a $5 USD onboarding fee to get started in the app. 

Comparing the Lens and Farcaster Apps 

Developed by the Farcaster team, the aforementioned Warpcast is the Twitter-like flagship app of the Farcaster ecosystem and was built to demonstrate and become a hub for the social protocol’s early capabilities. It’s complemented by a growing scene of alternative third-party apps, like Farcord and Supercast

In contrast, the Lens team purposely hasn’t created a main frontend for its protocol in order to leave the Lens app scene entirely up to community builders. There are a handful of projects that have been gaining early traction here, namely Hey (a desktop Lens client), Orb (a mobile Lens client), and Buttrfly (a Lens social explorer).

Lens Open Actions vs. Farcaster Frames

Last month, Farcaster took the crypto social landscape by storm when it released support for Frames. Built as an extension of Facebook’s old Open Graph protocol, Frames enable embedding interactive apps directly into Farcaster-based social feeds, with actions triggered by button presses that can update a Frame’s content in real-time. 

This design offers a blend of front end experience rigidity and backend execution flexibility, where the frontend is defined by embedded URLS, and the execution logic is handled under the hood via custom functions. As such, Frames can be used for posting anything – from one-tap NFT mints to voting polls. 

Lens has its own native answer here, Open Actions, and this architecture is used to enable smart contract calls to be embedded directly into Lens onchain publications, e.g., comments. This capability allows developers to integrate specific contract calls, parameters, and even sophisticated logic like token-gating or follow-gating within a social context. 

The “Tipping” Open Action is an early example, through which a poster can include a module that directs tips to a specified receiver address. Yet, as is the case with Frames, the possibilities around Open Actions are wide open. 

Of course, it’s worth noting that ultimately neither of these systems are siloed from each other and can be used interoperably, e.g., chaining actions through both Lens and Farcaster. The Open Frames effort, which allows a lighter version of Frames to work outside Farcaster, also suggests more interoperability is coming at this crossroads. 

Future Outlooks

Farcaster currently has a base of +200,000 users, many of whom have joined over the past month as onboarding has become smoother and Frames have become more popular. The protocol’s permissionless foundation has proven itself amid this ramping up, and it seems that breakout success could be on the horizon. 

Now, it’s time for Lens to also prove itself in the wild. To be sure, Farcaster had a head start, but Lens has already racked up +125,000 profiles before going permissionless, indicating it has a solid base to lean on. And since Lens offers some of the same general ingredients as Farcaster, Farcaster’s early success suggests Lens can also surge thanks to similar tailwinds. 

Will one eventually win out over the other? Maybe so. Farcaster’s decidedly the king of the hill for now, and that hill is widening to other ecosystems like Solana. But keep in mind that the crypto social scene is still very nascent, so it seems likely that the rising popularity tide here will lift both boats through the foreseeable future. 

Additionally, web3 crossposting apps like Yup—which lets you post across Twitter, Farcaster, and Lens simultaneously—and projects like Open Frames suggest that Farcaster and Lens can grow in parallel and in a complementary fashion, at least over the near term. 

Whatever happens, the prospects are looking good for both projects right now, so don’t write off Lens just yet!

Not financial or tax advice. This newsletter is strictly educational and is not investment advice or a solicitation to buy or sell any assets or to make any financial decisions. This newsletter is not tax advice. Talk to your accountant. Do your own research.

Disclosure. From time-to-time I may add links in this newsletter to products I use. I may receive commission if you make a purchase through one of these links. Additionally, the Bankless writers hold crypto assets. See our investment disclosures here.

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