You’re an individual, not a statistic
How decentralized technology will transform social media
**the following is a high level description meant to reach people from all walks of life, not just the technically-minded**
You’ve heard it before. Bitcoin. Blockchain. Decentralization. When we hear about these terms they’re often surrounded with difficult technical jargon that tend to create more confusion than clarity.
Our goal is to simply demonstrate why they’re important and how they are relevant in designing a new breed of social media that puts its members first. We’ll have a more technical article that goes into cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and blockchain alternatives later on.
Web 2.0 (centralized) -> Web 3.0 (decentralized)
First, some context..
The web as we know it is heavily centralized. Whether it be banks, online retail, ride-sharing companies, or social media, virtually all online services are run on centralized servers. As a result, these institutions gain stronghold over our data, funneling control, decision making and profit to the few. We rely on these corporations to facilitate interactions for us because they establish trust between parties that may or may not know each other.
This is where bitcoin, blockchain, and emerging decentralized technologies become relevant. Their ability to achieve data integrity in a distributed network of computers eliminates the need for third parties to mediate interactions and foster trust. In the case of bitcoin, its underlying technology (blockchain) enables individuals to make borderless, online payments without relying on financial institutions. Through complex algorithms and cryptoeconomics, the network itself validates the authenticity of transactions. These distributed technologies can be applied to a vast number of other applications to achieve similar levels of independence.
The point is, blockchain and emerging blockchain alternatives strip away the need for middlemen. Here, we’ll take a look at how they can be used to create a more human-centered alternative to social media.
We reference blockchain here to avoid confusion and provide historical context. While blockchain has paved the way and helped introduce these important concepts to the mainstream consciousness, there are many bottlenecks fundamental to its architecture. For several reasons (that we’ll go into in another article), we’re building Junto on a post-blockchain alternative called Holochain that enables scalable, distributed applications while achieving the same data integrity without Proof of Work or Proof of Stake consensus mechanisms (algorithms that make blockchain work, but don’t worry about them right now).
How decentralization will transform social media
Just as banks sit between our financial transactions, social media corporations like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter wedge themselves neatly between all our online interactions. They serve and store our content in servers they own and enforce a license to do what they want with our information. While we technically still ‘own’ our creative content, most of us nonchalantly agree to Terms and Services that grant these organizations the right to track, analyze, monetize, and redistribute our content. Moreover, they haven’t been completely transparent on how exactly they use this information.
By using distributed technology, we can again cut out the middleman. Instead of using centralized, corporate-owned databases, we can serve information from an infrastructure of computers distributed across the globe. Organizations working to provide this infrastructure include Holochain, Ethereum, EOS and more.
Here’s why this is important..
Data Sovereignty and Privacy
In a distributed social network, your data no longer lives in servers owned by corporate entities. You own your information and have full sovereignty over how it’s used. This means no more data mining, profiling, surveillance, and selling of information to advertisers and other third parties.
This also reduces the proliferation of fake news and propaganda, which are often channeled through targeted ads. Third parties that buy your data are able to make incredibly complex models on your personality. In fact, the University of Cambridge and Stanford University released a study in 2015 revealing Facebook may be better at judging people’s personalities than their closest friends and families could. It’s not uncommon for parties to use this information to influence elections and infringe on public privacy.
Healthier Design Patterns
Now some of us might not care about advertisements or what these social networks decide to do with our information. However, take a closer look and we see how this affects us our psychology and mental health. The way these corporations make money is through selling our data. The more data they have the more money they make. They have a financial incentive to keep us on their platform longer and this prompts them to engineer design decisions that addict us, putting shareholders’ interests above our own. You can read more about this in another piece we wrote here.
Resisting Censorship and Surveillance
There have been many instances where movements mobilized through social media were suppressed through government censorship. A popular example of this was the Arab Spring, where citizens in North Africa and the Middle East used Twitter to facilitate protests and demonstrations. The Egyptian government blocked Facebook and Twitter and Egypt, Libya and Syria eventually faced full temporary internet shutdowns.
Censorship of these platforms was easy to perform because data was being served from one central entity, instead of from potentially millions of unrelated parties across the globe. By using distributed technology, we can create an outlet that is available to anyone, anywhere and grant people with a more global and unrestricted access to the world.
In a centralized network, there is a single point of failure. In 2013, Yahoo! experienced the largest security breach in history. More than 1 billion user accounts were compromised, revealing people’s emails, passwords, numbers, and other sensitive, personal information. Cyber attacks are far more difficult to pull off in a distributed network. Which looks most resilient to you?
The core financial value of social networks lives in the data. Dominant business models rely on monetizing this data and many large corporations will buy out other companies just to gain access to it. In this centralized paradigm, the future of our data lies in the hands of a few and there’s greater uncertainty with what other organizations might do with it. WhatsApp, which once held a high standard for user privacy, is now tracking a lot more of your information since being acquired by Facebook. Vine, which was bought out by Twitter, ended up being discontinued altogether.
A distributed social network is far less likely to be acquired. More importantly, that data will exist independently of the service since it lives on a distributed network of hosts and not in the organization’s centralized servers.
Many emerging decentralized social networks are introducing their own cryptocurrency to compensate content creators for their time and creative efforts. Instead of money going to the few at the top, it’s being recirculated among the community based on up-votes, curation, and other metrics.
Aside from compensating content creators, some argue this is beneficial since the financial incentive will attract people to their platform early on, helping them reach a critical network effort to provide value and scale.
Junto will not be introducing a cryptocurrency. We want to introduce a medium for pure, free expression independent of any financial incentive. We’ll have another article that will go into this in more depth later on.
Junto — a new breed of social media
Junto leverages a scalable, distributed infrastructure called Holochain to create a more private, secure, and censorship resistant medium of expression. However, unlike other decentralized social networks, Junto wasn’t created for this sole purpose. We started two and a half years ago with the goal of transcending the unhealthy norms of existing platforms by creating an atmosphere that inspires authenticity, self-actualization and free expression. We also made the transition from a C Corp to a nonprofit to commit to putting our members’ interests first. We believe the evolution of social media lies in shifting the nature of interactions taking place and using distributed technology is just one piece of the puzzle.
Hopefully, this was helpful :) For those that want to learn more about what we’re doing at Junto, visit the links below. In the meantime, we’re waitlisting people for our beta — hope to see you there!