Context: I despise web2 social media
Skip this part if you just want to know what a new social network could look like.
Ugh I hate the red bell notifying me about meaningless updates. The vanity of photo-sharing apps. The thread guys on Twitter farming engagement. Mission statements about changing the world while ad targeting is the main invention. It also disappoints me that we redirected the most brilliant minds of a generation to work on addicting people to scrolling stupid vanity posts on their phones in exchange for cushy equity packages and free lunches.
web2 social media connected people but it's not the best we can do.
The Internet has always been social. The first message sent over ARPANET in 1969 from UCLA to Stanford was "lo"; the system crashed before the full world "login" could be sent. Internet-connected computers followed a long history of communication, multimedia, and productivity technology that includes the printing press, telegram, telephone, radio, television and more that ultimately were and are about connecting people. So it's no surprise that email and instant messaging followed in the early 2000s, followed by centralized and highly profitable social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok as of the present-day. But what's next?
Current attempts at web3 social have failed. No one uses the Coinbase NFT social features or responds to messages from Blockscan. Twitter verified pfps are mostly an experiment. Lens is promising. We have a ways to go.
You only have to believe that we haven't reached the pinnacle of technological and social progress in order to entertain an alternative - a very low bar that opens up a lot when we imagine what web3 social networks could be.
Assertion: social networks will transition to social applications as data becomes open and apps composable
web3 provides different primitives: token-orchestrated networks, community-owned data storage, and verifiable identity. This creates the following possibilities:
- Data about your internet behavior will be on-chain and composable across apps so data can be universal no matter what apps you're using; therefore, social network won't be defined by proprietary data (e.g. your friends and likes on Facebook or your following graph and engagement history on Twitter)
- As a result, we'll have multiple social networks that are frontends plugging into a common human database e.g. Ethereum since no corporation should have a monopoly on the digital social network of our global society.
- This decoupling of social data and social applications combined with user data ownership course-corrects us away from centralized data monopolies that sell data to advertisers or trip and fumble it to Cambridge Analytica
- The economies of scale benefits (e.g. highly scalable applications, high-paid Silicon Valley engineers that can build beautiful apps) will disappear in favor of the antifragility benefits of a more diverse array of client apps. Remember that data scalability and security would be public goods, alleviating the need for 10K engineers.
- Differentiation could then be dependent on how good the dapp is at doing something very specific very well
- A web3 social network would be the combination of a) identity data on a shared blockchain b) unique filtering and functionality from the frontend social app that activates the value in the shared identity data. In other words, Social Data (shared on the blockchain, owned by the user) + Social App = Ephemeral Social Network. Instead of "The Social Network" we could have social applications traversing and building a dynamic social network owned by no one and everyone.
- We'll then transition to a diversity of social applications, such as new ways to meet people IRL, professional applications to connect employers and job seekers, ways for families to stay in touch, and so much more. In hindsight, Facebook will have just been "a life updates application" and Twitter a "commentary application" as we fragment out, which is less painful when identity and global data travel with you seamlessly.
- The decoupling of data and applications would be in-line with a decentralization ethos and make a system more resilient; even if an application was compromised all of its accumulated data would already be on-chain and survive.
- Active users could vote on algorithms or major product decisions. A centralized product team would drive progress.
- Decentralization would be further aided by the proliferation of apps that permissionlessly tap into shared data
- Instead of a business benefiting from network effects (e.g. each user joining Facebook making Facebook more valuable for all other users of the network), what if society benefited from network effects? In the above model, more applications that more people used would generate more shared data and composable applications that would create networks in an open source framework rather than purely a private corporatist framework.
Some application ideas: connecting people by prioritizing resonance over retention
- Text-based messaging for diaspora members to share experiences from different parts of the world and pool funds to support causes in a country of origin via smart contracts with monthly membership fees
- Book clubs that bring together people who have shared interests, communication styles, and a commitment to do the readings with NFT-based access and participation rewards, and auto-generated creative work that can earn the participants tokens from future consumers and be freely composed with other creative work
- An application that connects people from the same home town to share updates from that location over multiple generations and develop an immutable collective history of the town, available to a global data network for access and derivative works that can generates funds for future public works
- Omnichannel messaging and calling for micronetworks of friends that auto-shares updates from broader public social applications and enables sensitive shared activities like investments, gifting, event planning, etc.
- Spontaneous DAO creation for temporary but shared causes like generating funds to save a local restaurant while gaining tokenized ownership in future revenue generation or funding an experimental small business idea
These might seem like small ideas but that's sort of the idea. The goal isn't to replace web2 social networks with a new company that is bigger and badder than Facebook. It's to provide more net value to society by decentralizing into entities that have to provide a net-positive value in order to justify their existence vs. taking it for granted because there is a data and application monopoly.
Note: I maintain some concerns about the hyper-financialization of social activities just as we have seen with web3 as it is (L1/L2 token prices, NFT floor price obsession, play-to-earn cult-like mentalities for pennies). However, Facebook made $28B in Q1'22 from its users and artists expect buyers for their work; ignoring money doesn't remove it from life. There will be design mechanisms to prevent an obsession over funds just like menu prices and bills don't ruin dinners.
An example: connecting strangers with shared interests, funded with tokens and tailored by on-chain data
- Instead of feeds, you can have a few video calls a day with someone interesting: a comedian who can tell you where their observations and courage come from, a farmer in an emerging market who can tell you what an agrarian lifestyle is like, or a healthcare worker who can explain how they chose to follow their passion in life
- Minimum thresholds of token holdings and past on-chain activity would filter spam and explicit activity
- As more social activity is recorded on chain from other applications you use, this can be composable to curate possibly relevant people for you, which is not possible in web2 where there is no owned, open-source data
- These conversations would be much more human and interactive than scrolling generic, viral 140 characters
- People would learn more about the world around them and perspectives different than their own
- Audio and video bandwidth and mobile phone adoption of the last 20 years now makes this possible
- This would be hard to do while waiting in line at the coffee shop or on the train but this application isn't designed to maximize your engagement and time spent in the app as much as your fulfillment and joy
- As people from different societies connect, funds could flow from the interested party to the other participant, increasing economic asset distribution in a seamless, low-cost manner through digitally native currency
- Small transaction fees could be incurred to fund core contributors to work on the protocol and product
- Your history of conversations would be available on-chain such that someone could build a new application based on your connecting a wallet to import that history with a range of other activities tied to the address
- This won't happen in web2 because the cost of micropayments is prohibitive to facilitate value exchange between participants and the barriers to entry for spam and trust/safety prevention are too high but solved by verified on-chain reputation in an autonomous manner without needing thousands of human moderators
- You can hold the native utility token which is necessary to initiate these conversations from the outset if you believe in the project and potentially gain value as more demand for the product drives demand for the token
Who knows if this would work? I left out infinite other implications and scenarios. But it's a subjectively superior alternative to mindless doom-scrolling and living in blissful, sad isolation from others and more intended as a thought exercise of what's possible with an alternative primitive than a business plan for a web3 social network.
- web2 social media has peaked (we just don't know it)
- web3 social is about people and open software, not viral loops or data moats or iPhone apps
- web3 social media will split the data layer and application layer that when joined, defined web2 social networks
- web3 social isn't about a new Facebook-killer or a network of people but rather a network of independent, composable applications where open network effects are from shared data on the blockchain and composable apps rather than a walled garden with negative externalities (closed network effects)
- web3 social should start with real problems that real people experience that token-orchestrated networks, community-owned data, and verified identity uniquely can help solve. It's a mouthful but honest.
Caveat: Most of this is wrong. web3 doesn't yet have many consumer-ready applications and this is wild conjecture. It's based on subjective intuition and pseudo-intellectualism, not reality. But, we have to put bad ideas out there so that less bad ones can dunk on them and then flourish. Enjoy.