THE BLOG
09/07/2016 08:37 am ET Updated Sep 08, 2017

Is It Time For a Decentralized Social Media?

User generated content brought about the shift from mainstream media to social media. The remarkable move made people take control of the content they produce by making it for and distributing it to each other.

 

The supposedly free services these social media platforms offered somewhat became a major part of the Internet and an important form of human interaction.

 

It was all good until people started realizing that the services they are using is in somebody else's hands. Put another way: it became obvious to the users that their personally identifiable and other critical information are being sold because of the terms and conditions they agreed to.

 

Facebook has a license to use your content in any way it sees fit. Guess you've known that by now. Twitter can pass any of your content to any partner organizations for any reason. Dropbox can share your data with "trusted third parties" to provide their existing services. And the list goes on.

 

Facebook is about to start taking user data from WhatsApp, a backtrack on a pledge to not change its privacy policy when it was bought by Facebook in 2014. The move has been criticized by US-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) as a violation of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consent order which forbids firms from "unfair or deceptive trade practices".

 

For monetization purposes, the vast majority of the popular social media services run on centralized architecture in which the third party service provider grants privileges to the end users to use its service. In some cases the service is paid for, but in most cases the service is provided in exchange for viewing advertisements on the platform.

 

These sites do not allow users much control over how their personal information is disseminated, which results in potential privacy problems.

This lead to an increase in expressed desire of social media users to take more control of the service. It subsequently birthed new forms of decentralized social networks that are all aimed at building solutions to the problems of censorship, privacy and ownership or control over content being created.

 

In her talk at Decentralize: A Journey Through the Independent Web event hosted by Sónar+D and Austrian festival Elevate as part of the project "We are Europe" in June 2016, activist Katharina Nocun, whose work is focused on the research on decentralized networks and digital policies, gave an analysis of the status quo of some of these new social networks.

 

"We've reached a situation where just a handful of corporations such as Google or Facebook control large part of the flows on the internet especially concerning our private data," she said.

 

The Polish-German politician who has, since May 2013, been the policy coordinator of the Pirate Party of Germany, added that it is threatening that such large corporations are in a position to control the situation between her and her friends and how they are using the critical infrastructure of democracy for advertisement.

 

Nocun talked about how the call for $10,000 funding for Diaspora, a new free software, decentralized social media network that is free of commercial interest, raised $200,000 in a month to show how interested many social media users seek alternatives to the traditional social networks.

 

Ethereum-powered AKASHA has been motivated by its creators' belief that "freedom of expression, access to information, and privacy are fundamental human rights that should be respected on the Internet as well as in real life."

The beta release is planned for the final quarter of 2016. It is a social media network and a publishing platform that uses the Ethereum blockchain to record its content. Besides, it has implemented an incentivizing mechanism that bundles voting on the platform with micro transactions and mining, thus allowing users to earn rewards in ether for quality content and facilitating mining at the same time.

 

Akasha shares several essential features with Steemit, a decentralized and incentivized social media platform that rewards users with its own cryptocurrency. However, unlike Akasha, SteemIt is built upon its own blockchain and rewards users with its own cryptocurrency.

 

It focuses on the freedom of speech, elimination of advertising from social media and rewarding of users who create high-quality content, or act as curators, and thus ensure that the platform offers its readers a worthwhile experience.

 

The authors of Steemit 101 also criticized corporate-owned and controlled centralized social media and singled out Facebook as the most notorious example of all.

 

A major difference between Steemit and other decentralized social media projects such as Diaspora and Synereo concerns privacy. At the moment, to sign up for Steemit, one needs an existing Facebook or Reddit account. The backdoor method to create a Steemit account without being a Facebook or Reddit user requires payment of a small registration fee.

 

Diaspora and Synereo allow the user to create a completely different identity, to be whatever they like and construct themselves in whatever way they prefer.

 

Synereo proposes a spy-proof platform that protects users' data being tracked and monetized for someone else's financial gain. It operates on the view that users' attention is worth money hence a next-gen social network that operates in "the attention economy" that cannot be blocked or restricted by centralized powers such as governments or Internet service providers.

 

It uses AMPs, its content flow currency, to Amplify the flow of information in the network to propagate to peers and the chances of a content being seen by more users. This adds market value as any business or individual wishing to bring information to a user's attention non-organically would have to pay for it.

 

Synereo, whose decentralized social network's alpha version will become available this September, offered yet another feature setting them apart them from other similar projects, namely their lack of manifesto.

 

Nocun emphasized the role of monopolies in centralized social media and the importance of creating a competitive environment with a decentralized structure wherein there would be different providers and servers for every user to choose and move to based on trust as it pleases. This will ensure that billions of users are not dependent on a handful of large services that could be censored.

 

Several multiple new decentralized social media initiatives, including those mentioned above, are introducing competition as an engine for improvement in the social media market. They sure proffer a solution that would attract huge user base in coming years.