Updated: Jul 13
With the technological advancements in the internet era, blockchain is becoming a noticeable pillar in supporting many digital networks. Social media platforms are still rapidly evolving with their vast user base. Pretty much everyone in the world actively uses social media, despite emerging controversies regarding data breaches in recent years. At the beginning of 2021, the global user base of social media increased to 4.2 billion users. In this race, decentralized social media platforms are striving to provide social platforms with improved security.
Traditional vs Decentralized Social Media
Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat, and Google+, etc. come under a centralized category of networks where user information is controlled by central corporations, which raises privacy issues.
These traditional platforms are controlled by a single entity that can monitor your credentials, updates, posts, and even conversations for further accessing your data to perform monetization activities. Using these platforms for free causes ownership concerns, where people are treated as a “product.” Moreover, these platforms surveil user activity and exploit the user data by selling aggregated information without permission.
Data entries can be stored at any location (independent servers) worldwide, using blockchain technology. The decentralized social networks also work this way by operating on independent servers providing control, autonomy, and real-time data access to users, thus eliminating the need for any middleman corporation.
Decentralized Social Media Framework
The principal factor behind the leading success of decentralized social media is blockchain technology, where people trade using crypto (digitized currency). Users can feel a sense of security as the whole system is safe and not owned or managed by a centralized authority.
Each interaction on decentralized social media platforms is end-to-end encrypted. It is an ecosystem-based on distributed ledger technology (DLT), where confidential data remains in the system and does not leave or pass through several servers controlled by any single entity. Its architecture runs on a P2P model, where each node represents a participant who can run and maintain the whole network in the form of a server and also receives incentives for this service.
Currency: The native cryptocurrency (tokens) similar to a blockchain is used to carry out transactions in the platform, to award users and carry out crowdfunding.
Traditional social media platforms do not possess the feature of cross-platform communication. For example, Facebook users cannot send messages to Twitter accounts. Whereas in decentralized social platforms, a fediverse (collection of interconnected servers) is built. This federated network can be utilized for socializing, publishing, and blogging activities. The users of this integrated network can engage across different platforms in the fediverse loop.
Significance of Decentralized Social Media
Privacy and data control are two major concerns that today’s decentralized social media must address for its users to feel secure. The main benefits offered by these social media sites to enable a better user experience are:
1. Control Over Data
Traditional sites like Facebook and Instagram leverage the personal data of users to produce targeted advertisements related to the user’s interests and activity. In decentralized platforms, this issue is addressed by implementing an independent (no third party), peer-to-peer and encrypted platform to eliminate the threat of user commodification. Public and private keys play a major role in implementing this feature. Users initiate a transaction in the form of a data block (only accessible to the intended receiver), which is added to the blockchain after being verified by a majority of members on the network. The unalterable data stored on blocks are in the form of cryptographic hash, which is unique for every different piece of information and cannot be hacked/modified.
2. Crowdfunding Opportunity
Decentralized social platforms facilitate users to conduct financial transactions through native cryptocurrency. Users get incentives/rewards for posting on social networks. Rewards are also in the form of cryptocurrency of that specific network and can be used further to conduct crowdfunding campaigns.
Owing to decentralized mechanisms, immutable data transmission, and end-to-end encryption, these social networks reserve the user rights to their privacy.
Key features a decentralized social network must possess
Social media networks designed on decentralized mechanisms can protect users’ confidentiality and content. For a social network to be called decentralized, it must contain the following features:
Reliable and Open Source
As an open-source software, the users of decentralized social media utilize blockchain and smart contracts to formulate rules about how to transfer, sell or monetize their data. They can also allow or restrict the permissions on these rules, hereby maintaining honesty and confidentiality.
User agreements of Facebook, Twitter, and similar networks show that users have no rights of their own to demand any flexibility, security or alteration. On the other hand, common user concerns regarding the development and management of platforms are addressed properly in private space.
Freedom of Speech
There are no censorship rules as in centralized networks. Users set these rules on their own and have full freedom of speech with no restrictions from third parties.
Incentives for Content
The profit generated through likes, comments, or sharing of content is rewarded to its content creator, unlike centralized methods where others earn the profit.
Trending Decentralized Social Media Networks
Below listed are some of the popular decentralized social media platforms to look for in 2021.
It is an open-source project composed of many federated servers on which users can create and share the content across the network using the pub/sub model. This network offers a variety of plugins through which users can create a server with customized designs to meet their community requirements.
This blockchain-based social network has an open-source codebase and serves as an alternative to networks like Facebook and YouTube. Users can chat privately and also can post images, videos, and statuses, for which they earn tokens to upgrade their channel. Payment is in Bitcoins, USD, and Ether for content contributions.
This is a decentralized open-source social network similar to Twitter but has more powerful features. Mastodon is an ad-free platform that operates on independent servers and contains anti-abuse tracking tools. People can build new Mastodon instances and can further connect them with other available instances. Users can also connect with existing instances of Mastodon.
This is one of the most popular decentralized networks with functional elements similar to Facebook and Reddit. If users achieve upvotes on their content, then they are awarded through steem’s cryptocurrency tokens known as “STEEM” or Smart Media Tokens. The more tokens a user gets, the more steem power he will obtain and will be made a part of a larger rewarding pool. This social site is best for content creators because they can monetize their content through it.
It is the most famous social media that makes its users “the one in control.” Its millions of users can join, host, and connect with the pods (independently owned servers) of the network according to their interest. Hashtag following is also present, just like other traditional social platforms. Three basic pillars formulate the structure of this network: decentralization, freedom of expression, and privacy. Aspect is a unique feature that permits users to have full control over their data and census is taken before sharing of the data on Diaspora.
The list keeps on going with other famous names like All.me, Earn, SocialX, Indorse, Peepeth, Sola, Relevant, and many more to look for in the market. These names might transform into big companies one day, due to the advantages and power of control they offer.
Decentralized social media still has a long way to go and will face a tough time finding their intended pool of audience, due to the situation of the centralized giants already controlling the market. Due to privacy, control over data, and financial compensation, people will eventually become attracted to these award-giving social sites in the future. Through these sites, users will revolutionize their growth by interacting with a pool of collective minds. However, a proper mechanism to handle criminal activities (i.e., taking place under the cover of freedom of expression), is surely needed to gain the desired prominence.
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