The rise of decentralized social media?

Decentralization has been what brought me into the crypto space, and what immediately drew me to and kept me with Hive for nearly 5 years now. In "the early days" even dreamt up a way for the blockchain to serve as base layer for decentralized scientific publishing. Unfortunately, that didn't find traction in the scientific community, but the idea is still valid and could be picked up on any time.

These days, a lot of social media users finally realize the consequences of having all their data/life/work dependend on a single centralized actor. A lot of discussions spin up, and many are asking where the decentralized alternatives are.

I see a few people spreading the word on twitter, but as I see it these attempts are mostly regarded as spam by the potential recipients. Or at least I can't explain why not more people look into it.

A few days ago there was a tweet by Larry Sanger pointing to a blog post about what decentraliziation really requires. And as some users have pointed out, hive checks all the points. This post is going to show how, and once and for all prove the decentralization of this platform.


Let's dive in.

According to Larry,

Here are the principles that “decentralization” encodes:

i. Self-ownership. Each user owns his own identity in the network.
Only the user has the keys to transact on the chain using his identity. There may be platforms that manage the keys for a new user and only provide a password, but there's always the option to "upgrade" by changing the keys.

ii. Data ownership. You own your own data; you control your own data, within the bounds of controlling law.
As nobody can transact using your identity, you have full control over what you send to be stored and what not. Everything is permanent, there is no way for anyone to remove data.

iii. Platform-independent following. You control your friend/follower list independently of all platforms. Hence, once a friend follows you on one platform, he should follow you forever everywhere until he unfollows you or you block him (or there is a lawful government order compelling a change).
The blockchain as the underlaying base platform stores follows, all interfaces share that data

iv. Platform-agnostic posting. Posting on one platform means posting the same thing on all platforms that are part of one big decentralized network.
See iii.

v. Decentralized moderation. Content moderation, which is ultimately an absolute requirement, cannot be performed by a single, central, controlling body or system, providing identical outcomes. So it, too, must be decentralized.
There are two levels of moderation:

  • The owners of a hive community can provide moderators with the ability can flag content as deleted
  • An interface has to manage a blacklist to at least hide illegal content

vi. Single conversation. Therefore, there is one giant integrated conversation, but parts of are not shown to people who don’t want to see it (or in places it’s literally illegal). Of course, it is still legal for people to run closed, walled gardens; but they’re not for general broadcast.

vii. Anti-monopoly. Therefore, also, no corporation has anything like a monopoly over the means of social media broadcasting, as at present.
No corporations at all involved (yet). Small groups running their own interface platforms, and a committed community of developers headed by a private crypto-development company to work on the backend and nodes.

He goes on with

several requirements that, I believe, are absolutely required of the alternative social media platforms to satisfy these principles:

These are user and data exportability, interoperability and data inalienability. The first three are given through the hived api. It's become really cheap to set up your own node, and there are more public ones available than ever.
Inalienability is a base feature of blockchains, once something is written on chain there's no taking back as many have learned the hard way ;-)

And he ends with

There are other things that really also need to be part of it, I suspect:

Moderation. Individual users, or whole platforms (if users should wish to use them), should be able to select their own moderators. Moderation data, or metadata—such as that a certain user should be blocked, or that a certain post should be hidden or flagged in some way—should be shared in a way similar to how the user data and content itself is served (so, across the network in a decentralized way), and independently of the user’s canonical copy of the data.

As described earlier, each user created community can define its own moderators. Those flag content, which makes the api nodes not deliver the post on requests (but the data is still there, and a custom node could very well override these flags)

Text representation. The user’s public data must be syndicated in a lo-tech text-based (more human-friendly) format such as JSON or XML, even if they have an API (maybe I don’t want to be forced to use their API, maybe because it’s too restrictive). The purpose of this is to enable the user to more easily exert control over the source or original version of his own tweets. This text stream, if it still exists and the author’s control can be proven, becomes the user’s personal assertion or attestation as to how the state of his personal feed should be represented; this human-friendly data representation of the content becomes the controlling, “canonical” version of the data. No other representation, in no other data medium (blockchain, IPFS, bittorrent, or otherwise), is to be regarded legally or operationally as “the canonical version.”

Well, of course the data on the blockchain is the canonical version. API calls to hived nodes, which can be run by everyone, return JSON. The data is also saved in a postgresql database for queries that aren't supported by the API.

Permanence (or uncensorability). By network policy, the user’s public data must also be able to be made available forever (so a particular platform couldn’t delete it on behalf of everyone else, even if they wanted to) via bittorrent or IPFS or the like. Maybe the blockchain is OK, but frankly due to the financial complexities involved in blockchain, I don’t trust blockchains as bittorrent-type “decentralized public cloud” storage.

I can't really argue against a lack of trust. The chain running for 5 years, and the community splitting away from centralization attempts about a year ago show that there's no reason to doubt the viability of the concept. And financials don't really matter as the ever-falling price has proven. Not everyone is in here for the money.

So, let's get a discussion going. Larry concludes that his list isn't final, what would you add, and is it covered by hive?
Of course Larry is warmly invited to sign up and join the discussion. Don't let the bad image of blockchains make you ignore the possibilities!