The Promise of Decentralized Social Media
All of today’s most popular social media platforms are centralized. This simply means that they’re owned, operated, and governed by a centralized organization, and are generally hosted on a network of centralized servers.
Decentralized social media, on the other hand, are generally hosted on a decentralized network of computers or a peer-to-peer network, and are frequently governed by their community — such as through a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO).
These platforms are designed to address the shortcomings of centralized social media by providing users with increased autonomy and privacy while unlocking new opportunities for content creators.
Current-day centralized social media platforms are plagued with issues, causing a gradual exodus of users, and a rise in decentralized alternatives. These include excessive user data mining and leaks, including the recent Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal — which saw the data of millions of Facebook users collected and used for political advertising without their consent.
Moreover, extensive user tracking and behavioral analysis have violated the privacy of these users, while opening them up to exploitation. Whereas frequent data breaches and a variety of social media-based attacks have left users vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.
Given that decentralized social media platforms typically leverage blockchain technology, they can be considered incredibly secure, resistant to censorship, and completely permissionless — allowing anybody, from anywhere to join and participate. They’re also essentially invulnerable to many of the attacks that face centralized platforms, such as denial of service attacks and databases breaches.
What Opportunities Do They Present?
Right now, social media is in a bad way. Ranging from overt censorship to customer data leaks, a near-complete lack of privacy, and a lack of user incentives, today’s social media giants are quickly gaining a bad reputation.
Social networks have long been touted as one of the primary use cases of blockchain technology, and one of the best ways to deliver the benefits of blockchain technology to the masses — while simultaneously addressing the limitations of centralized platforms.
Decentralized social media platforms represent a potential paradigm shift in the way that users interact with each other online, create and monetize their content, and build their communities. Leveraging blockchain technology, decentralized social media platforms can introduce a whole host of innovations that can ensure they remain truly inclusive and viable — including tokenized reward systems, DAO-based governance, Oracle-based data delivery, and fact-checking, tokenized identities, and even decentralized content storage.
Broadly, the benefits of decentralized social media can be broken down as follows:
True Content Ownership
If you use centralized social media, then odds are your personal data is being used for a variety of purposes — most of which are designed to generate revenue for the platform.
“If the product you’re using is free, then odds are, you are the product.”
Social media platforms are one of the most powerful data mining tools available, and while most popular platforms don’t directly sell your data en-masse, they do allow for targeted advertising. This essentially uses your personal preferences, data, and history to sell deliver personalized ads.
Decentralized social media platforms are set to provide users with true ownership of their content, allowing them to delete, migrate, or monetize their content without obstacles. This will be powered by innovations like decentralized on-chain identities and blockchain-based file storage.
The social media of today faces a problem that can only be described as a double-edged sword. While they generally wish to preserve free speech as best as possible, they also enforce strict moderation guidelines, which can censor certain types of content — particularly those that are considered extreme or radicalizing.
This leads to a problem whereby they’re blamed for censoring what some describe as critical information, and also blamed for not censoring other types of content.
Decentralized social media could be set to change this by allowing the community to determine which content to share and which to suppress. Leveraging the capabilities of decentralized autonomous organizations, artificial intelligence, and decentralized content storage, these platforms will be able to optimally protect free speech while serving only the content people want to see.
This will be of particular importance in countries like China and Iran, where individuals have limited access to western content due to heavy government restrictions on online activity.
Many social media platforms allow their content creators to earn revenue from their content. This usually entails providing select users with a cut of the advertising revenue the platform generates. However, the vast majority of users cannot effectively monetize their content due to restrictions the platform places on them.
Decentralized social media platforms, on the other hand, will provide a multitude of new ways to monetize content. Through the use of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and digital tokens, creators will be able to create new types of content and directly reward their communities, while platforms will be able to pay their users directly over the blockchain using cryptocurrencies — eliminating costly intermediaries while boosting yields for creators.
Which Decentralized Social Media Platforms Are Available?
Decentralized social media platforms aren’t a new phenomenon, but they have only recently begun to pick up steam and encroach on the usability and feature sets provided by traditional social media offerings.
There are now decentralized alternatives to almost all of the most popular social media platforms of today. Some of these include:
- Minds (Facebook alternative): A blockchain-based social network that focuses on privacy while allowing users to earn its native utility token (MINDS) in return for using the platform.
- DTube (YouTube alternative): A decentralized video sharing platform that completely nixes forced advertising while still allowing creators to advertise within their videos. Featuring a lack of censorship and no recommendation algorithm, DTube provides videos with fair coverage.
- Aether (Reddit alternative): Widely billed as a decentralized version of Reddit, albeit with self-moderation and increased privacy, Aether allows users to take control of their data while still engaging with their favorite communities. Unlike other platforms, Aether doesn’t use blockchain but does store data on a peer-to-peer distributed system.
- Mastodon (Twitter alternative): Mastodon is an open-source social network that allows users to create and participate in online micro-communities through a unique self-hosted architecture. The platform is cryptocurrency free but still fully decentralized.
- Feeds (Instagram alternative): Leveraging ElastOS blockchain technology, Feeds is a decentralized platform that uses decentralized identifiers (DID) to provide true content ownership.
- Secretum (WhatApp alternative): Secretum leverages the Solana blockchain to provide a fully encrypted peer-to-peer messaging and OTC trading application, without requiring any personally identifiable information.
As the issues and limitations of current centralized social media platforms become better known, decentralized, community-owned alternatives will only increase in both number and quality.
This will likely be accelerated by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who recently formed a partnership with Solana Ventures and announced $100 million in funding for decentralized social networks being built on the Solana blockchain. Likewise, several other blockchains have also announced social media funding initiatives, including the up-and-coming Solana fork known as Velas — which is building a DeFi-enabled social media platform known as BitOrbit.
“With a high-performance blockchain like Solana, there is an unprecedented opportunity to fuse social and crypto in a way that feels like a Web2 social product but with the added incentive of empowering users with real ownership,” said Ohanian in a statement.
The vast majority of these platforms are still very much in their early days of development, and generally don’t quite match the accessibility, usability, and utility of existing centralized platforms. Likewise, most popular centralized social media platforms are backed by heavy marketing budgets that have seen their userbases explode over the last decade.
But thanks to the advent of decentralized finance, decentralized social media platforms are set to quickly close the gap, by providing direct financial incentives for users that make the transition. Soon enough, social media may not be able to compete in terms of content ownership, censorship resistance, gamification, and security. Nonetheless, there is a long road ahead, and decentralized social media is in roughly the same position traditional social media was in the early ‘00s.
The Future of Decentralized Social Media
Decentralized social media is still in its infancy and many of today’s platforms haven’t yet taken off in the way many might have predicted.
Nonetheless, several major platforms are now in development and could be set to catalyze not only the mass adoption of decentralized social platforms but also blockchain technology.
BitClout is one of the platforms arguably leading the charge. Built on its own custom blockchain (known as DeSo), BitClout allows creators to launch their own social tokens, which users can then buy to speculate, unlock content, enable premium messages, and more. The platform now has more than 300,000 creators and is rapidly gaining popularity among TikTok and Instagram users thanks to its powerful monetization potential.
An upcoming Substrate-based known a Subsocial is also set to make it easy for anybody to launch their own decentralized social media platform. This could help dramatically reduce the barriers to entry, increasing competition and innovation in the decentralized social space, while simultaneously ensuring these platforms can interoperate with the burgeoning Polkadot ecosystem.
Centralized platforms are also beginning to take notice of the promise and potential of decentralized technologies. Twitter, for example, integrated NFT profile pictures, whereas YouTube recently announced it will soon allow creators to sell NFTs to fans through its new monetization tools.
As decentralized platforms approach the capabilities of centralized incumbents, odds are the latter will increasingly integrate decentralized technologies in an effort to keep up. But unless they also dramatically change their business models, it might not be enough to win back their users.
About Master Ventures
Master Ventures is a blockchain-focused venture studio helping to build the next generation of blockchain-based Web 3.0 system innovations within the crypto industry. Launched in 2018 by Founder and CEO Kyle Chassé, the company’s ethos can best be summarized in the acronym #BeBOLD: Benevolent, Open, Love, Decentralized.
Master Ventures co-creates with entrepreneurs and businesses worldwide to turn the best ideas into innovative and disruptive products. They do this by investing as strategic partners through offering advisory services to the projects they believe in. To date, Master Ventures has invested in over 40 crypto projects, including the likes of Kraken, Coinbase, Bitfinex, Reef, DAO Maker, Mantra DAO, Thorchain, and Elrond.
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