Up until just now, every popular social network was centralized, with its own administration, central servers, etc. But as Web 3.0 emerges, so do decentralized blockchain-based social media.
The founder of SpaceX, Tesla CEO, and Starlink creator, Elon Musk, was recently asked whether he would consider creating a new open-source social network that prioritized freedom of speech. The billionaire replied that he was “seriously thinking about it.” The comment immediately led to speculations of the potential network being based on blockchain technology and using cryptocurrencies.
And rightly so, as a project like this is long overdue. The most prominent social networks today – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, VK, and others – are all fully centralized. Behind each is a single entity managing access to any content that users of these platforms upload or share privately and publicly.
This approach has been considered the norm for many years, if only because it had no technological alternatives. However, following the scandals with Cambridge Analytica (Facebook sold their users’ personal data for political propaganda), censorship overreach, and the blacklisting of Donald Trump … Well, the users understandably began rejecting centralized management of social media.
By then, blockchain technology had already entered the scene, so the logical next step was to create decentralized social networks using a distributed ledger. Their main objective was, and still is, to protect users’ privacy without in any way restricting their communication.
A blockchain-based social network is an ecosystem without a single control and information distribution center in its structure. Personal data and content, therefore, do not pass through a central server (or a group of them) but are stored and distributed using the P2P model.
To the “cypherpunks” who stood at the origins of cryptocurrencies, it was obvious from the outset: the first social network on the blockchain – GNU Social – appeared way back in 2010. The network, somewhat similar to Twitter, is still operating, having changed several names over the past 12 years (StatusNet and Laconica).
If you wish to use GNU Social, you need to install a special server on your computer to become a host and create your own node on the network. Only then do you get to make your profile page with various settings and posting options.
Other experimental decentralized social networks include Steemit, Minds, and Mastodon. Steemit, founded in 2016 by BitShares CEO Dan Larimer, conceptually and visually resembles Reddit.
With blockchain at the core of its structure, the platform has its own internal token – STEEM, traded on some major crypto exchanges. Steemit users can earn STEEM coins for posting engaging content. The more likes and interactions a post gets, the more they get awarded.
As of early April, 394.95 million STEEM tokens have been issued. Their total capitalization is $166.58 million at a current price of $0.42 per token. Although the project can hardly be called successful: in January 2018, the network’s coin cost more than $8, and it has lost 96% of its value since then.
Another decentralized social network we mentioned, Mastodon, was established in 2016. Many cryptocurrency companies have invested in the project, and according to their website, Mastodon has approximately 2.2 million users. The platform’s functionality resembles that of Twitter and Facebook.
Similar to GNU Social, Mastodon requires a certain technical aptitude to set up your own server. Alternatively, new Mastodon users can connect to existing servers, if they don’t mind those being managed by third parties.
Finally, Minds social network was created in 2015 by American entrepreneurs Bill and John Ottman. Presented as “anti-Facebook”, the project received over $17 million worth of investments and has attracted more than 3 million active users to date. It also has its own Minds token awarded to the most involved participants.
Minds’ signature feature is that content monetization is available only to those with a premium subscription at $7 per month ($5 if you buy a yearly subscription). Despite being blockchain-based, the platform developers can unilaterally block and remove user posts, although it rarely happens.
Russia also has a decentralized blockchain-based social network called Bastyon.com. Not subject to sanctions, bans, or censorship, it combines the functionality of a variety of social networks, although outwardly, it looks like a cross between Facebook and VK. For increased confidentiality, submitting personal data is not required to register.
Like with cryptocurrencies, instead of a password, Bastyon users are given a unique 12-word key (passphrase). Alternatively, they can use a private key consisting of a long set of characters.
The platform customers receive PKOIN tokens for votes from other active users, which allows them to earn money from content engagement. Subscribers can also add PKOIN to their comments under a post – 100% of those go directly to the author.
In addition to the ones existing today, completely new social networks for Web 3.0 are being built based on high-speed blockchains such as Cosmos, Polkadot, Solana, NEAR, or Free TON. For example, in November 2021, Seven Seven Six, a venture capital firm of Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, together with Solana Ventures, announced a joint $100 million investment initiative to develop social media on the blockchain.
“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,” Ohanian commented. And they are not the only project of its kind: a little earlier, the creator of BitClout, Nadar Al-Naji, raised $200 million to launch the decentralized social network DeSo.
To understand what a platform like this could look like, let’s examine another project – the Solana-based service called Solcial. Its main task is to enable users to communicate without censorship from governments or corporations. Solcial will work both as a website and an app for desktop, Android, and iOS. Each network user turns their PC or smartphone into an NTFS node, thus removing the need for centralized servers.
Solcial will initially only support text and image posts, with other types of content (audio, video) added later. All of it will be stored on IPFS and accessed through Solana’s peer-2-peer (p2p) layer. No one except the user will be able to delete their content: everything posted will remain in Solcial forever. At the same time, the platform has a built-in moderation mechanism for the so-called “unacceptable content” (drug advertising, arms sales, etc.). The responsibility will lie with the users: a message will automatically disappear from the interface of the site and applications after receiving a certain amount of complaints. But it will still exist on the Solana blockchain, so those who wish will be able to access it through IPFS links.
There is also an opportunity to earn money from your content. After registering, each user will receive 1 million tokens that can be used to subscribe to non-public content. The content creators will then be able to get payments from subscriptions. The authors can leave part (or all) of their work in free access, keeping the rest exclusive to paid subscribers. The tokens they earn from it can be sold, with network developers receiving a commission from the exchange.
Solcial will also have its own governing token, SLC. The holders will be able to vote for changes to the project. Upon launch, the network code will become open and appear on GitHub.
The creators of Solcial expect to start by attracting a narrow group of active users from the crypto community who they can charge for access to cryptocurrency signals and market analytics. After assembling the core group of crypto fans, the developers will switch to a broader range of potential customers.
And we still have metaverses to look forward to – virtual worlds where users can communicate, hold various events, create their own unique items, etc. The integration of blockchain-based social networks into the metaverse will be a fascinating process to watch.