What is a decentralized social network?
A decentralized social network is simply a platform not controlled by a single organization or entity.
Think of the big social platforms of today, Facebook, Twitter, Snap etc. All of these networks are owned and operated by one company.
A decentralized network has no single controlling entity. It's a network of people who contribute and maintain the network themselves.
The network itself is often built on a blockchain. As with most applications built on a blockchain, this allows the network to be more censor resistant and more secure.
How do decentralized social networks work?
Decentralized social networks are typically built on top of decentralized tech. We're talking things like a blockchain or a P2P network.
As with most blockchain tech, that means the network is made up of various nodes. In other words, there's no central server which everyone connects to.
The front end - or user interface - of decentralized social networks will be very similar to the networks you're used to and using now.
The only difference is how what you share and upload is stored on the back end. Rather than going to that centralized location, it'll be stored in a decentralized storage solution like IPFS.
In essence, the user experience is no different for a decentralized network over a centralized social network.
So what's the point in actually creating these if they offer no user benefit?
What are the benefits of a decentralized social network?
Every year, we'll have at least one instance of a problem with a major, centralized social network.
It could be that Facebook goes down for a few hours blocking all access for users.
Perhaps Twitter gets hacked and user data is stolen.
Or maybe it's simply that the controlling entity (i.e Meta etc.) decide they don't like a certain kind of content and ban anyone sharing similar things. Overnight, dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people could find they've been locked out of their social profile they've grown.
These are all problems with a centralized network.
All of the established platyers in the space operate through one, single server.
That means one point of failure and one location from which to control the entire network.
Decentralized networks use multiple (sometimes thousands) of nodes across the globe to store information and permit access.
That mean that even if a handful of nodes go down the network stays running.
It means that no one entity can control who is allowed in.
And thanks to the privacy elements of blockchain, it means your data is safer.
These are the primary reasons so many want to decentralize the social networks that have become daily parts of our lives.
What does the future of decentralized social networks look like?
Honestly speaking, no one really knows.
A couple of years ago academics and experts said that decentralized social networks would never work. And yet here we are with a couple of really interesting decentralized networks that are growing healthily and adding real value to the world.
In our opinion, the need for censorship resistant and privacy focused networks will grow. And so too will the users of these networks.
We already have some pretty good clones and derivatives of popular centralized networks that are being built on decentralized tech.
The question is whether these new brands will continue to build on these lines or spin off to create something completely new.
The other major question is whether established platforms will give up the data they have access to (as it provides a lot of their revenue) and embrace decentralisation.
We believe the former is more likely and challenger brands will grow to dominate the space. We just can't see the big centralized networks giving up the data they need to make money.
With that in mind...
How do decentralized social networks make money?
At the minute this is also a relative unknown as we're in the early stages.
A lot of decentralized networks are in their infancy. However, we believe we've identified a few ideal monetization strategies that wouldn't impact the core beliefs of decentralized social networks and Web3.
- Advertising - If a platform gets a lot of eyeballs, then ad revenue is a no brainer. The challenge will be in creating an effective ad platform that doesn't compromise user privacy. I imagine that this might be a case of targeting people who like certan topics anonymously without being able to track their off-site actions.
- Cryptocurrency payments - Many of these decentralized platforms are built with a Web3 wallet sync as the user identifier. This could lead to in-app payments between users. Kind of like Venmo. If the platform charges a small transaction fee % for each payment, they could build a reasonable revenue source.
- Tiered access - Just like Twitter Blue is now a monthly subscription, some platforms might want to include a paid tier where users get access to more detailed features.
- Business features - business will want to list their accounts on social platforms where their users hang out. Automation tools and analytics to help those business make better decisions could be a viable method of revenue generation.
Of course, the key thing here is to ensure that none of the privacy benefits people love about social media are infringed upon.