Once we arrived at “blockchain” as a base technology for a decentralized social network platform, we had to figure out how to get people on it.
Blockchain technology itself has a stained reputation and many people, if they have any idea what it actually is, are put off by it for a number of reasons, among them:
- It’s new and complicated,
- People have lost a lot of money from it,
- Two words: Silk Road.
Most people think only of NFTs, cryptocurrency and the like. The applications that are built on top of blockchain have high-friction, user-unfriendly interfaces, requiring one to understand, in the crypto world, what a “wallet” is, what it means to “sign” something, and to know to back up your “keys” in a safe place or else you will never get your cryptos back. What even is a “custodied wallet” and why should I care what kind of wallet I have?
End users don’t know how HTTP works, and they don’t need to know. Most people couldn’t name even two types of internet-based protocols. They just want to use the web, and we don’t blame them. It’s not their job! People shouldn’t have to adapt to computers; we developers need to make computers adapt to people.
At the moment, people using decentralized applications, dApps, need to know at least a little bit about cryptography and cryptocurrency to know how to use them and use them securely. This shouldn’t be necessary. It’s not reasonable to expect anyone but enthusiasts to learn these things.
What happens when these things are too difficult or annoying to deal with? One result is people just write all their passwords on post-it notes, or they come up with something short and use it everywhere. People also just avoid things that are difficult and annoying. . . unless, of course, they’re coerced because otherwise they’ll lose all their social connections. We want people to use DSNP. We also want people to want to use DSNP.
One can’t get something for nothing; it’s the first law of thermodynamics. All kidding aside, someone has to pay to keep the computers turned on and to build the web applications. Who’s paying for all that, if the users aren’t?
One option would be to charge people directly, but making people pay that way excludes a lot of people; not just people who can’t afford it, but lots of people don’t have formal payment methods with which to pay for a social network.
Money isn’t the only way to pay for things. Some platforms decided that the way to pay to keep their lights on – and make a killing too – is by exploiting their user base. Since users aren’t directly paying for access to the platforms, the platforms mine and sell user data, sell and serve people ads, which might have been okay, sort of, but then they’ve also coerced everyone to stay on their platform. They’ve convinced hundreds of millions of people to join it, while making it impossible to switch to another without losing all their social and family connections, without losing access to their favorite artists, to teachers, to their clubs, to learn of events they care about. Now the platform has isolated its users from other platforms that might treat them better, it’s free to treat users almost however they want.
As a result, someone like Kim Kardashian, with 20 million followers, can’t afford to leave Instagram. Instagram has managed to successfully coerce a billionaire. If Meta can coerce a billionaire to stay on their platforms, what hope do the rest of us have? Don’t you want to keep looking at photos of your grandkids?
We think this shouldn’t be. Social media is a digital town square, and things like this ought to be built to serve the greater good and not only be accessible to every person, but accessible to every application that wants to compete. When a platform is freely accessible and open source, everyone can benefit. A network that is based on cooperation among end users and applications, where applications are competing with each other on how well they serve their users, is a threat only to applications that abuse them.
If people won’t or can’t pay with money, then the people running the platform and those developing applications for the platform must be able to shoulder the burden of directly paying for the network just like they do now for operating costs.
We said you can’t get something for nothing. We said there are ways to pay for things besides money. What we will never say is that you the End User ought to be coerced and exploited for it. We not only think that’s not necessary, but it’s bad for people. If you’re doing the work of spending time curating your feed, selecting your friends, following artists, organizations, publications and topics you care about, and if you’re putting your eyeballs on the platforms’ pages looking at their ads, playing their games, and filling out their surveys, then you certainly ought to know and be able to control who’s watching you back, what they know, and go elsewhere if you want to - for any or no reason.
You and the application developer have a relationship. Relationships should be opt-in and mutually agreed-upon, where neither side is coerced into keeping it.
We’ve determined that:
- We need a blockchain to store a minimal record of users’ presence.
- Doing things on a blockchain costs money.
- Users shouldn’t and often can’t pay directly for access to social networks.
- People shouldn’t have to be proficient at cryptocurrencies or be security experts.
- People deserve to control who’s manipulating their own data and what is being done with it.
The way to shift the costs for “doing things on a blockchain” away from End Users is to delegate the actions to a third party, a Delegate. That Delegate could be running a social network application that you want to use. There are other possibilities for delegation on this network, such as content-filtering services that verify other services. So a Delegate’s job is to interact with the blockchain on your behalf, and with your explicit permission.
The fact that the underlying technology is a blockchain shouldn’t get in your way, just as you shouldn’t have to figure out how your HTTPS requests are routed to each endpoint in order to surf the web. People’s time is valuable and we have machines for that. The Delegate does that kind of lifting so you can focus on doing human things, like chatting with friends, signing up for events, and getting annoyed at your cousin’s excessive travel photos.
Delegates must be associated with their actions on-chain so that others can check the interactions, but they can also provide services away from the blockchain, such as content hosting or wallet recovery. Password managers exist for a reason, and we want to raise the baseline security for everyone while still enabling stronger security measures for those who need or want it.
Most importantly, your data belongs to you. You should be allowed to retract permission to that Delegate to do things for you, at any time, without losing your access to the entire platform or your social connections. Having this control means you must explicitly authorize your Delegate, and you must know up front what actions they are delegating.
In short, the relationship must be mutual, trusted and transparent.
What things do you imagine a Delegate could do for you? What sorts of companies would you trust to be a delegate? Let’s continue to explore how this concept plays out in real life together.