The “Blockchain Facebook” is Off to a Rocky Start

First impressions are everything, and so far the Minds social network isn’t making a good one.

Last year at the height of the cryptocurrency bubble, CryptoKitties showed up as the new kid on the blockchain and became an overnight sensation, with some virtual kitties famously selling for as much as $200,000.

Then as the Bitcoin bubble burst, so did CryptoKitties. Despite having venture capital being thrown at it like party beads at Mardi Gras, alas, the first “crypto commodity” couldn’t weather the storm.

The blockchain community mourned the demise of the adorable cartoon cats, not because anyone really gave a crap about the cats, but because of what it represented. There was so much promise. So much hope. So much… money! I mean, let’s be honest, it was the latest way that blockchain technology was allowing a lucky few to make something from nothing. Unlike the dozens of Johnny-come-lately cryptocurrencies, here was something that was truly unique — a virtual asset that could be bought, sold, traded and multiplied, and had the promise of lasting value and indefinite ownership. The kitties are still around today, but no one is cashing in their 401k to get more of them.

Here we are a year later, and player two has entered the game. This time it’s in the form of a social network. Say hello to Minds. Minds is “an open source and decentralized platform for Internet freedom.” In other words, it’s Facebook built on blockchain technology.

Decentralization isn’t the only differentiator Minds is promising. Individual monetization and commoditization are key aspects of their business model. According to their investors pitch page, “users earn crypto tokens for their contributions to the network. The tokens can be exchanged for more views on content or sent to other channels as a tip or paid subscription.”

So here we are again. So much promise. So much hope. So much… money! It’s similar to CryptoKitties, in that it’s attempting to commoditize a crypto asset, only this time the commodity is user-generated content. Remember the heady days of Facebook when posting something about the ham sandwich you ate for lunch could garner dozens of likes? Imagine if those likes could have been cashed in for Etherium, which could then be traded for real dollars. That’s the underlying hope of Minds.

Minds has been around in one form or another since at least 2015 (though the concept might be a few years older than that) but it wasn’t until March of 2018 that Etherium was integrated into the network.

The recent $6 million cash infusion from blockchain’s rich uncle, Medici Ventures, put Minds in the spotlight, which will undoubtedly trigger a gold rush of hopeful new users. Hell, I just set up my account last night — ’cause maybe there is gold in them thar hills!

But then again, my decision to jump on the Minds bandwagon wasn’t all about the promise of making a couple of bucks by liking someone’s ham sandwich. Like many Facebook users, I’m burned out and looking for a change. I was looking forward to a clean slate and fresh new content to pacify my need to mindlessly scroll from headline to headline.

The wild and free internet can be pretty ugly

Minds promises freedom, and new content unfettered by commercial algorithms and corporate branding restrictions. But therein lies the problem. We’ve seen time and again that the wild and free internet can be pretty damn scary. Microsoft learned that the hard way in 2016 when they created Tay, a deep learning bot, and released their fresh-faced young creation onto Twitter to learn to be human. And learn it did! Within 24 hours it became worst kind of human imaginable and had to be shut down.

If Tay were released on Minds, what kind of monster would emerge? So far, it’s not looking good. Rather than the safe harbor of free, rational thought that we were hoping for (at least that’s the picture that Minds has painted for it’s investors), so far Minds appears to be more of the same, only worse. It’s already become a cesspool of fake news, NASA conspiratorialists, recycled memes, and pseudoscience.

It’s hard to see Minds developing into anything more than a sounding board for fringe groups and cantankerous conspiracy theorists when its own genesis is based on a Big Brother conspiracy theory. In their whitepapers, Minds thoroughly maligns the business models of mainstream social media, suggesting that we’re all just puppets for the Evil Dr. Zuckerberg et al.

So unlike those darned algorithms of Facebook that maliciously manipulate the content that bubbles up to the top of your newsfeed to maximize their own advertising profits, Minds seems to show whatever content has been “boosted” the most. In other words, if you’re willing to shell out some of your Etherium, you can easily make whatever you have to say the most visible post on the Minds network, regardless of how unoriginal or downright moronic it might be. Which apparently is better, according to them.

How to be a part of the solution

Minds isn’t all bad, and it does have real potential. In the world of social media it’s not unusual to have some major bumps in the road for the first few years, so we can give them a pass on things like questionable content and a wonky UI. And it’s too soon to say what its identity will ultimately become.

Hopefully Minds doesn’t become just another venue for people looking for an argument to duke it out.

There’s still hope that this newfound attention will attract more authentic users, not just more trolls and hacks. That’s where the rest of us can help. Consider this your call to action to join Minds and post something intelligent, apolitical, and factual. Your opinion is welcome and you should welcome others’ opinions in return — and not just those that agree with you, but those that respectfully challenge you and make you reevaluate your current paradigm. The last thing we need is another virtual argument clinic or an echo chamber where extremism breeds more extremism.

But removing the controls that define the medium means that, much like poor Tay, the bottom feeders of the internet will likely have their way with it. And unfortunately, when this new crypto commodity goes the way of the kitties, it’s likely that the trolls and the hacks will be the only ones that will have turned a profit.