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Defi Dives: What is Lens Protocol

Disclaimer none of what I say here should be taken as investment advice, this is simply an examination of how the platform works. The goal of these articles is to simplify complex topics for both myself and the reader! I am learning about these myself and attempting to break things down in public. If anything has been misunderstood please feel free to reach out and I will amend where necessary

This week is a bit different as I am looking at a protocol that hasn’t actually ‘launched’ yet. It is currently on Polygons Mumbai Testnet. It isn’t strictly DeFi but the name DeFi Dives is catchy so I am leaving it.

Social media in the blockchain/crypto/web3 (insert the next new word here)?

There have been a few attempts at it, perhaps the most (in)famous is Bitclout, now rebranded to DeSo. We haven’t seen anything with large traction yet. Some of the team behind AAVE, including the legend Stani Kulechov, are attempting to change that!

Lens Protocol was announced on Feb 7th on Twitter

Lens Protocol is “a permissionless, composable, and decentralized social graph that makes building a Web3 social platform easy”.

But what does that mean?

First I’d like to take a step back and a quick look at what a graph is in the context of a blockchain.

Graphs & Indexing

A graph at it’s core is simply an indexing protocol. This means it brings order to blockchain transactions and makes them easier to search.

If you want to search a blockchain for information, before graphs were used, you had to essentially search every block and every transaction till you found what you needed. This is fine if your data set is small, but you can imagine how time intensive it becomes when your blockchain has a lot of transactions stored!

So indexing these transactions is helpful in the same way a book has an index, or Google indexes websites. You can shorten the time needed to get information as you know where to search.

This creates improvements in efficiency everywhere. Imagine if a developer is building a protocol on top of a blockchain and there is no graph indexing information, everytime they need information it could take a long time to find what is needed- slowing down the whole process. When information is properly indexed it reduces search times significantly allowing dApps to run quicker.

We won’t go into a full description of how graphs work here. Perhaps the most well-known and important one so far is The Graph (GRT) for those who may want to do some extra reading. A subject for another article :)

Here is a tremendous introduction to The Graph and the principles behind it in a nice video from Finematics (subscribe to them if you aren’t already!).

TLDR: The concept is simple at its core though, you bring order, structure, and connection to data in a way that makes it easier & quicker to query and find specific information you need.

So what is Lens then!?

As quoted before Lens is “a permissionless, composable, and decentralized social graph that makes building a Web3 social platform easy”.

A social graph in the sense it is creating all these social links between accounts and creating some helpful order and structure in the world of decentralised social media. Builders don’t have to worry about the users then, they have to worry about the user experience!

Lens is NOT the social platform itself. My understanding is that it is more of a developer layer. They are giving developers the tools needed to build social media platforms on top of Lens. Conceptually it might be helpful to think about this in the same way that Ethereum is a layer that decentralised applications can build on.

In this sense, Lens could also be considered a back-end tool. Developers can build on it and create their own front-ends/interactions with the modules.

You can mint a ‘profileNFT’ which would then be usable across the different front ends built on top of Lens. Much in the same way that you can use your crypto wallet on different dApps.

Lens has been built with modularity in mind. They have built a set of modules that are ready to use, but equally, they expect the community will continue to expand and add to these. The project is open source so it is free for people to use and improve.

The initial modules they have built out will be familiar to most social media users:

  • Profile
  • Follow
  • Publish/post
  • Comment
  • Share/Mirror
  • Collect

I think the main key to understanding why this is different to traditional social media companies comes in the structuring of ownership.

I have made some crude diagrams to explain how I am thinking about it:

Traditional social media

Above we have a generalisation of the current social media setups. Yes, both your Instagram account and Twitter account have the ability to; post, like, follow, share etc. However your account on Twitter is controlled by Twitter, and the same for Instagram, and Youtube…etc etc.

These social media companies do not communicate with each other (unless owned by the same company). Your content on each is stored on their centralised databases, your relationship with your audience is controlled by them, if you want to monetise on these platforms they can extract significant rent. If Twitter deletes your account tomorrow, that is it, you lose all your followers, your brand, your history/identity on that platform.

Now, how is Lens different? This is how I am thinking about it:

You build on Lens Protocol modules

Forgive the lazy platform examples, but it is easier to draw these analogies. Lens is different because you own your profileNFT, it is in your wallet, you then subsequently will own the content you produce. When people ‘follow’ your profile it is creating a direct link with you. These links create this social graph. The content is stored on IPFS which adds another layer of decentralised ownership and censorship resistance.

These new platforms will be built ontop of Lens modules, and can add more to the base protocol but when you interact with them, they do not have a siloed profile of you, each platform would draw from your profileNFT in your wallet. In some ways your wallet becomes the centralised database, that you control but all the platforms pull from.

These platforms become different front ends, in the same way that Twitter and Instagram have many of the same features on paper (like, follow, post) yet they implement them in different ways and so capture different audiences.

This also feeds back to the idea of a social graph. Lens is creating direct links between users, as more come into the network these links widen and expand. It can create an extremely powerful tool of interconnectedness while still giving the power to the users.

On the module front a few points that are interesting to discuss:

  • The follow module has governance built-in. When you follow someone, you get a unique followNFT, this NFT can come with or later be given governance abilities. The example Lens uses is in a DAO the first 100 token ID’s could be allowed a vote or the longer you have followed for the more voting power you get.

One thing I thought of, was much like social tokens (which we discussed here) you could create curated benefits for followers. I.e. if you own a first 1000 followerNFT of my account you get access to a gated Discord, to vote on my future content production etc. These followIDs will be tradeable too as they are NFTs.

  • Similarly, the mirror/share module has the potential for monetisation built-in. Since you are able to post any type of content — videos, blogs, short posts, photos, whatever… you are able to become a broadcaster of popular content. This can lead to referral fees if you are a follower sharing content, and equally creates opportunities for original creators to monetise their work in new ways.

One other point I would like to touch on quickly. If you are familiar with blockchains, then you know by design every transaction has an associated fee. So, won’t Lens/ the social media apps built on top of it be energy-intensive, expensive and slow?

The short answer is no because Lens is being built on Polygon, which is a Level 2 scaling solution for Ethereum. Polygon is a Proof Of Stake blockchain which makes it significantly more energy-efficient and eco-friendly. Transaction fees are also far lower to allow for these microtransactions.

Lens Protocol is a very interesting project. As it is currently on testnet, we are yet to see the full power and potential of what can be built. I am excited and intrigued to see what comes out of it. I do not know whether the next mass-adopted social media platform will come from a project built on Lens, but I certainly expect to see some novel experiments and innovation.

One last detail I liked, the name Lens comes from:

a tall, branched plant with pods of lens-shaped, small lentils. It has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria. If the roots are left in the ground, they will provide a source of nitrogen for its neighbor.

A wonderful analogy for what they are attempting to build with Lens protocol.

Hop in their discord to learn more :)

There are certainly questions around decentralised social media that I do not have the answer to- such as how you deal with people posting inappropriate, illegal or offensive content. But these are topics for another post.

However, overall I think Lens is an important step forward in the experimentation around ownership and digital identity.

Cheers

Kieran :)

P.S

You can find out more about Lens here in their documentation:

https://docs.lens.dev/docs/what-is-lens

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Kieran Parker-Moroney

Kieran Parker-Moroney

Interested in learning. Art collector, investor, DeFi obsessed, golfer.

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