Social networking has become ubiquitous throughout much of the world but introduce decentralization, and the traditional network becomes something unrecognizable.
The prosaic notion of an ‘egalitarian’ social network, where each user both controls and feels their power within it, on the surface fits well with the notion of decentralized technologies – the blockchain, decentralized ledger and cryptocurrency. Although the latter has only existed in the mainstream for six years or so, in 2015 decentralized networks are already making this notion a reality.
Social networks used throughout the world – notably Facebook – tend to use advertising as their major source of revenue. Advertising manipulates users and gathers information about their lifestyles, and is in turn tied to fiat currency, which allows the network to continue operating. The manipulation element is key: users sign up to the network, which then uses their habits to generate revenue, while keeping them on the network through targeted advertising and by giving them a freely customizable interface which lets them feel ‘in control’.
This mechanism of manipulation is one aspect of Facebook’s operation, in particular, which has generated criticism. Other aspects are notably the selling of user data to third party companies – a security issue, some would say – and the associated infringements on an individual’s privacy this involves.
A social network built on principles of decentralization, where each user (or node) can manipulate the network to achieve a desired, purely social goal, at once appears to be a polar opposite of the advertising-based model.
While such an undertaking, and making it popular, is no easy feat, the few projects now emerging have huge ambitions.
ToshiDesk, a user-centered ‘social trading network’ whose public beta is due to be released at the end of April, is incorporating its own cryptocurrency as a reward mechanism, placing value on the insights of its users. Rather than relying on prebuilt tools, users can ask successful traders for advice on altcoin trading, these traders then being rewarded if the advice given turns out to be useful. An open dialog platform allows for real-time communication between users, and it is hoped that the volatility of altcoin trading will ultimately become less of an obstacle for the network’s user base.
Elsewhere, however, there is a project in which decentralized principles are seeing their full implementation: Synereo. Designed from the ground up specifically to allow the user’s agency to take precedence over all other intentions, Synereo’s social network features its own currency token, AMP, and offers users the ability to completely control the spread of information. The platform even comes in the form of a distributed server on each user’s device, with no reliance on central information processing.
Cointelegraph previously interviewed CEO Dor Konforty about Synereo’s ethos, in which he outlined the basic principles of the project. While ambitious, the idea that the dominance of players such as Facebook could be disrupted may nonetheless seem hard to believe. Several months closer to the planned launch date, however, both Konforty and co-founder Anderson McCutcheon remain under no illusion about the penetration needed to bring mainstream users over to the decentralized model.
“For mainstream adoption, our long term goal is to provide a superior user experience,” McCutcheon says. “We can implement features that are not ‘accessible’ to Facebook and other networks due to monetization constraints.”
Such features include what is arguably Synereo’s game-changing innovation for fans of decentralized technologies, its ‘Attention Economy.’ This model is what governs the flow of information through the Synereo network, based on learned user preferences and activity. The model also makes use of reputation, which, according to Synereo is an integral part of the new online economy. On top of this model, Synereo allows users to both pay for increased propagation of their posts with Synereo’s internal currency asset, the AMP, and for users viewing that “AMPed” content in their feeds to be compensated with a portion of the AMPs invested.
McCutcheon gave Cointelegraph additional insight into the Synereo model, highlighting the team’s position on what can be achieved and its longer term strategy to provide social network users with a new experience
Cointelegraph: Synereo is a pioneering example of a decentralized social network. While the advantages for users – as well as the general 'healthier' ethos – are clear, how do you intend to spread the word and get people genuinely excited about this new model? Do you think the Facebook model is too entrenched to be shifted?
Anderson McCutcheon: A carpenter should be no more interested in the inner-workings of a social media platform than I am interested in the complicated multi-national supply chain and manufacturing process that made the chair I sit on happen.
I don't believe that the mainstream user believes there is anything wrong with the model, nor should the user care about it. We hope our vision of decentralized communications and content delivery will resonate with early adopters, but it will not be enough to carry us to the mainstream.
For mainstream adoption, our long term goal is to provide a superior user experience - we can implement features that are not 'accessible' to Facebook and other networks due to monetization constraints.
A public company can never implement a feature, no matter how beneficial it is, if it comes with a 5 % revenue hit. A product developed on top of Synereo is not bound by anything but the benefit of its users. Nothing but the user matters.
CT: AMPs are designed not to be dependent upon fiat currency in any way. How do you plan to communicate their value to Synereo users? What will they be able to do with AMP wealth that will motivate them to use them?
AM: AMPs enable the attention economy - anyone who uses Synereo will have AMPs. Their value is derived from the exact same model that powers today’s free-to-use Internet, attention.
We don't believe AMPs should be a major part of the normal user's daily experience or a selling point for Synereo. Compensation is part of the ‘nature’ of the attention economy, but we will never try to position Synereo as the network you use or join to get paid. The greatest benefit will be for content creators who will be able to distribute content over a platform devoid of middlemen, where all the users have currency that can be spent on purchasing and amplifying content.
We also believe that Synereo represents the absolute easiest way to onramp people onto the cryptocurrency world. All one has to do is participate in the network as is the norm on other social networks to receive the value that is normally kept by the centralized service provider - in AMPs, our cryptocoin.
CT: What kinds of changes and upgrades do you foresee being necessary should considerable numbers of users adopt Synereo? What kind of numbers is the current implementation designed to handle?
AM: Synereo already has a powerful, working P2P stack. It's the result of four years of development and 3.2M USD in funding. However, when it comes to user acquisition and retention, UX is everything, and our initial goal is focusing on very specific implementations on top of the tech stack. We are currently in the process of prioritizing these implementations before we begin working on mainstream-grade UI.
Perhaps what is often overlooked, features aside, is the significance a project like Synereo holds for the cryptocurrency community. While much effort is being placed into shaking off the ‘nerd’ persona of the industry, the emergence specifically of a social network is an essential step in showing the flexibility and openness of decentralized instruments.
Just as Google opened up the internet of information in the late 1990s, so perhaps can social structures fostering the user’s agency replace the first-generation, money-driven models. For the one billion plus users of social networks, the new generation of the social network could ultimately make decentralization alluring, on-trend and even something that is taken for granted.
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