Is Elon proving the case for decentralization?
It feels like ever since Elon took over Twitter there’s been a constant news stream of people analysing, criticising, applauding, and/or berating his every move.
I’m not here to argue for or against the policies Mr Musk is implementing.
That’s a completely different article that would require a deeper analysis from someone more with more experience in online security..
What I do want to look at is the potential problems that arise when one person (or one entity) has control over what we can and cannot say online.
More specifically, when that entity enacts new rules on a whim.
Obviously, my opinion is going to be skewed towards the small creators and people using these mediums to grow their own businesses.
So bear that in mind before you attempt to attack me for not covering everything.
What’s happened at Twitter?
Since Elon took over the birdhouse he’s made a lot of controversial calls regarding policy and the direction of the company.
Personally, I feel it’s too early to say definitively whether some of these calls are good or bad.
Some, however, I cannot agree with.
The one where I think Musk has missed the mark is the recent policy update about sharing links to other competing networks.
Here’s the announcement from Twitter.
The good news is, thanks to immense backlash from users, the blog post and Tweet outlining this were promptly deleted.
Hopefully, this means this isn’t going to be pursued or actioned.
However, it's evident Twitter is worried about competitors (it seems Mastodon is high on the hit list), and it worrying that this would even be considered.
The worry for me is what if these policies then extend to other external links.
- What if they block lnks to business blogs?
- What if they block links to landing pages?
- What if they block tweets that include certain words they dislike?
- What if they completely block people who tweet things they don’t like?
Any and all of these potential situations drop the value of using the platform for creators and brands.
And sadly, I don’t think it’s too far out of the realms of possibility.
The whole ElonJet banning is proof that they can, and will, ban accounts and create new rules to justify it. (full story of that here if you’re not aware)
Granted, real-time doxxing could be potentially dangerous and what happened with his child is inexcusable.
But ElonJet was literally just sharing publicly available information. No laws broken.
The real criminal here is the stalker who ran up on his car.
And yet ElonJet’s founder Jack Sweeney has had all of his jet tracking accounts banned along with a number of journalists from reputable publications who spoke of the account in their tweets.
That’s a big red flag.
Especially as Elon had a public history and grudge with ElonJet (as did other celebs as it’s terrible PR for them).
There’s a pattern of behaviour where Musk will quickly implement policies that stifle reach and ability to connect of accounts and people he disagrees with.
So far, these actions have been partially reversed after backlash, but it’s still not a good look nor does it bode well for the future.
Giving that much control to one person is a dangerous thing when so many rely on the platform for their own growth.
How this damages the potential growth of users
The real problem here is what this could mean for business owners who rely on Twitter to find and engage with a community and user base.
In particular, the reversed decision to ban links to competitors and selected external sites is extremely worrying.
Social media forms a core element of business growth.
It provides incredibly fast feedback loops for founders and development teams to understand what their audience wants.
The problem is that it’s hard to monetise an audience on a platform you don’t own.
So, we often work with an approach that moves people from social media to your product. It looks a little like this…
- Engage on social media (a rented audience as you don’t own the connection)
- Add more value on your website/email list (an owned audience where you can control the communication)
- Increase value through a paid product (a monetised audience that keeps the lights on)
If brands aren’t able to direct their followers to their owned assets, theres less need for them to use or rely on a platform.
You might think this is a good thing.
After all, it means fewer ads and promotions and more time for real social connection.
The problem is that Web 2.0 social networks like Twitter rely heavily on advertising to stay running.
The vast majority of Twitter's revenue comes from brands paying for ads.
A lot of brands will test the water of a new platform by using it for free. They’ll then upgrade t ads.
The ads and organic content work together for better reach and results of directing traffic to the advertisers site.
Remove the possibility and potential of using the platform, and what incentive do brands have to stay?
There isn’t one.
If they can’t move people off the social network to their owned assets then the ability to sink money into tools and staff to manage the platform becomes a difficult proposition.
Add to that the risk of waking up one day to find your account banned because it broke a rule that didn’t exist a week ago and the risk suddenly outweighs the reward.
No one wants to spend years building an engaged audience on any platform and then have it stripped from them because one person or entity makes a snap decision.
More brands will leave the platform if this becomes common.
And if the paying brands leave, the network dies as it can no longer afford to operate.
When the brands leave, the platform dies.
When the platform dies, we all lose a great tool to connect with others.
Sadly, current social networks rely on brands and the money they bring in to offer a service to everyone.
Remove the potential upsides for a business, and the whole house collapses.
Could decentralization solve this?
A lot of the popular Web3 business models are trying their best not to rely on advertising from brands or the selling of data to stay solvent.
Look at brands like Brave that have an inventive approach to ads that doesn’t compromise user security.
But more importantly, a lot of them are decentralized.
They allow you to own your relationships and move them between different services and/or servers.
You can basically move your progress to new locations if things ever go south.
Take Mastodon as an example of a decentralized social network.
With Mastodon, users set up an account and join a server. The server is the ecosystem within which you chat to others. If you use Twitter, you might think the UX looks a little familiar.
Each server has its own rules and moderators, similar to a subreddit.
If, for whatever reason, you no longer like the rules of a certain server or find yourself being banned from it, you can simply pick up and move to another server.
However, unlike traditional social media, you can bring your following with you.
In the official Mastodon guides page, it mentions that when you move to a new account…
“Moving your account is the same as redirecting your account, but it will also irreversibly force everyone to unfollow your current account and follow your new account”
Basically, it moves everyone who follows your current account over to your new account.
So, you get to move to a new server but still retain the followers you collected.
The risk of loss is less because you own the relationship and can move it between different servers.
It effectively removes the potential for a single controlling entity to dictate what you can and cannot say on your account without you having any sort of real recourse.
Farcaster is also working on something that will allow you to build a following and engage across different front-end apps.
This is the potential and benefits of Web3 and decentralization.
You can build a following attached to your unique wallet ID and then simply move it between different front-end applications without sacrificing your reach, progress, or profit.
Imagine having one address that allowed you to engage with one audience across LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more.
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