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An article explaining decentralized social media platforms with its pros and cons.
Social media is a major part of modern life, with an estimated 4.9 billion people worldwide being active social media users. Most individuals have a presence on multiple social media platforms, with Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram being the most popular in English-speaking territories.
These platforms are used not only for microblogging and communicating but also as discussion communities, marketing platforms for businesses, and ways to access news and entertainment.
The centralized nature of these legacy platforms has raised issues when it comes to data privacy, security, moderation, and censorship. Decentralized platforms have surfaced as an answer to those concerns.
In this article, we’ll dive into what decentralized social media platforms are and their benefits in comparison to Web2 social media platforms. First, let’s see the concerns with those centralized social media platforms.
Currently, companies such as Meta, X, Google, Bing, etc. control a large portion of what happens online. We saw Cloudflare blocking Kiwifarms, an online discussion forum, which is a progressive step against internet bullying and hate speech. However, it also made apparent that not only social media platforms themselves but also infrastructure providers can intervene on matters of content regulation, raising concerns about their impact on free speech.
Social media platforms are in a difficult position, needing to create a balance between efficient content moderation to prevent online harassment and the spread of misinformation while at the same time protecting users' rights to free speech.
There have been numerous high-profile instances of celebrities receiving automated bans from X (Twitter), along with many private accounts. Whether those bans are reasonable is a topic that has been debated extensively on political platforms. However, moderation is not perfect, and users are discovering that being banned from a platform has more far-reaching consequences than they might expect.
Consider the case of a game developer who was banned from Google, losing all of the photos, emails, and other documents stored in Google's cloud services. He also lost access to other third-party accounts that were signed up using "log in with Google".
Similarly, the loss of a Facebook account can be equally damaging because Facebook also offers OAuth services. Most people could recover from losing a Facebook account, but the loss of other linked accounts could be crippling for them.
Beyond those issues, there are questions about privacy and data protection. Setting up an account on a major social media platform requires a phone number along with other personal information. Moreover, the platforms allegedly track a lot of information about their users, such as activities, browsing history, and user behavior. For example, Facebook Messenger tracks location data, audio and video data, and demographic information.
In recent years, there have been some improvements in terms of how companies track users across different properties online. Even with those changes, privacy-conscious users are correct to be concerned about how much the major platforms know about them.
Communities are immensely valuable to projects in both the Web 2 and Web 3 spaces. Centralized social media platforms exercise control over the relationship between projects and their communities and, in fact, have the power to completely disconnect them by banning a project account. So the question is: why would a project hand over such a significant position of power to a third-party social media platform? Until recently, the network externality effect of centralized social media meant that large communities were only really possible to grow on platforms that already commanded significant attention from users, i.e., the well-known centralized platforms that everyone knows.
Blockchain provides an excellent trustless environment for peer-to-peer interactions, and this has led to a rise in decentralized social media platforms.
A decentralized social media platform is a space that operates on the blockchain, granting users enhanced autonomy and control over their data and content. It stores users' data and content on a blockchain instead of on the centralized servers of social network companies.
Decentralized social media platforms attempt to solve several issues faced on conventional social networks by giving users control of their data. In addition, it opens a wide range of possibilities for content moderation mechanisms.
Because Web2 social networks are more focused on revenue generation, the content they deliver is more engaging and less informative. With decentralized social networks, the primary focus is on user privacy, data ownership, and control, creating an environment where the content shared is typically more focused on information exchange and community building than revenue generation.
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was involved in the creation of a decentralized social media platform called Bluesky. Back in 2019, he tweeted his thoughts on some of the issues with centralized social media platforms and indicated the development of Bluesky under Twitter.
Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard. 🧵— jack (@jack) December 11, 2019
Bluesky has been an independent company since 2021 and launched iOS and Android app versions in February and April of 2023, respectively.
Decentralized social networks store data at different independent nodes, so user data is stored across the network in a decentralized manner. The economy is powered by the platforms’ individual tokenomics, like any other DeFi platform, which are used for monetization, incentivizing participants, and rewarding them.
When it comes to how users access the platforms, that’s through dApps. Usually, a Web3 social media platform has a dApp or offers to create dApps on top of them.
Regarding content moderation, there are a couple of different models for decentralized social media services.
One model that has gained popularity is the federated model, where individuals can host their own communities for others to join and use within the network. Those services can also communicate with other services running on the same platform. Mastodon is an example of such a model. Each community has moderators that decide the rules for the kinds of content that can be posted. In practice, this still leads to censorship, but it also means those with like-minded views have the option to create their own communities.
Another example of a federated platform is KBin, which recently saw a surge in users as people sought out alternatives to Reddit following the discussion platform's controversial API changes.
The other model is a more decentralized one. Services such as Twetch, Peepeth, and Nostr go a step further with decentralization. There's no single centralized server to create an account with, so there's no way to ban an account or censor what users post, at least not at the network level.
However, this could also lead to some potential challenges and drawbacks, which are discussed below.
Let’s take an example of a platform like Twetch, where no moderation takes place. Malicious users could post harmful or inappropriate content to the platform, and it would remain there forever due to the immutable nature of blockchains.
Nostr relay owners are in a similarly difficult position. Instead of usernames and passwords, Nostr requires using public and private keys. It's trivial for technically literate users to create new keys and join the relays (independently run servers in Nostr). Moderators of popular free relays often find it difficult to manage spam and offensive content. Relay owners can whitelist and blacklist accounts or charge users to access their services, mitigating some of these issues.
Nostr clients (applications used to access Nostr) developers also have the option of filtering accounts at the client level, so accounts that are known to be problematic are hidden from view. These concepts work well enough for a small platform, but as the user base grows, it's unlikely such moderation systems will be enough to maintain a good signal-to-noise ratio on the platform.
In addition to the technical and ethical questions of moderation, decentralized platforms also have usability challenges. Most non-technical end users are accustomed to simply going to Facebook or X and following or conversing with people. They're not familiar with the idea of instances, so they find federated platforms confusing to use. Many users leave before taking the time to curate their feeds. Nostr is even more confusing for new users, who are likely to run into issues managing their private keys and losing their accounts if they ever misplace their phone or decide to uninstall their chosen client app.
One of the reasons people tend to prefer blockchain-based projects is for their powerful encryption, decentralization, and security mechanisms. However, it has been attracting malicious actors seeking to exploit vulnerabilities within the blockchain ecosystems. Stars Arena, a SocialFi platform, was recently exploited, resulting in a loss of nearly $3 million. Similarly, users of Friends.tech have been victims of several attacks, causing the loss of some funds.
We already discussed some decentralized platforms briefly above. Let’s see some more and understand how they work.
Technology like this has expanded to things like Lens protocol, being built by Aave.— 👨🍳.eth (@CroissantEth) March 19, 2022
Lens is a decentralized social media platform, acting as a social graph of on-chain profiles to let users build up relationships and interactions.
Why is this particularly notable? pic.twitter.com/zaDI0bJvBf
The Lens Protocol is a decentralized social network launched by Aave on Polygon. It’s a social graph that simplifies building social platforms in Web3 and empowers you to own the links between yourself and your social activities, meaning you are in total control of their social graph and not the platform.
With decentralized social graphs, there's minimal risk of unauthorized access to your data, unwanted ads, and manipulative content, enhancing transparency in social media and improving the user experience.
Minds is an open-source, decentralized social media platform that focuses on providing control to users along with data privacy and free speech.
It lets users create profiles, connect to other accounts, and share content. Users can receive MINDS, their native tokens, for creating content and engaging with the platform.
A notable feature of Minds is “Build Your Algorithm”, which lets you create your own algorithm, letting you choose what types of content you want to see.
DTube is a video-sharing platform similar to YouTue, only decentralized. It uses blockchain technologies to host videos and lets users post, explore, comment, and engage on videos without censorship. The video creators will earn DTC token rewards for their content and views.
The platform has a simple algorithm when it comes to video recommendation. The content with more likes and votes will gain traction and rank higher.
Mastodon is a decentralized social media network that lets users create independent communities called instances. Each instance is created with a certain theme for like-minded users to join and interact with.
Each community has a moderator who creates rules on what kind of content is allowed to be posted. Users can join and engage in multiple communities of their liking, or block users or entire communities if they want.
Mastodon doesn’t have ads on their platforms as it is run by a non-profit company with no motive to generate revenue.
Friends.tech is a decentralized social media application launched recently on August 10, 2023 on the Base network that has created a huge buzz in the crypto sphere.
The platform allows you to invest in your friend's social network and tokenize their credibility. Creators can sell shares of their tokens (keys), which users can buy, hold, or resell. These keys will give users access to their private chat channels, and to messaging those creators.
Tipcoin is an innovative blockchain project with a unique strategy to increase engagement on X (formerly Twitter). It aims to redefine how users interact with X and rewards them for doing so.
Users are required to first connect their X accounts to Tipcoin and engage in posts (tweets) by tagging '$tip' and @tipcoin to earn points. The more views, likes, replies, and reposts (retweets) it acquires, the more points users get. These points can later be exchanged for tip tokens.
The concept of censorship-free town squares is something that sounds nice on paper. However, creating a safe, accessible, high-quality, and easy-to-use community is not that simple. The communities that succeed are often victims of their own success. They find it difficult to keep the servers running when they become popular because they're unable to fund the services due to a lack of revenue streams.
The good news is that end users are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of privacy and free speech and are becoming open to the idea of donating to the services they use regularly. Over the next few years, we may see a shift in usage patterns as users potentially start spending more time on platforms that give them value instead of treating them like a product.
We’d love to see Neptune Mutual and decentralized social media come together. If you own a decentralized social media network project or any kind of project in blockchain, we can help you protect your users and community.
You can create a cover pool for your project in our cover marketplace for users to purchase coverage for their on-chain assets. If you're interested, you can reach out to us through the contact page. We are currently available in Ethereum, Arbitrum, and BNB Smart Chain.
We would like to hear from the Neptune Mutual community about which decentralized social media platforms you’d like to see Neptune Mutual’s presence on. Let us know on our Discord channel.