Decentralized Social, or DeSo, is a way of social networking built on open blockchain technology without a central authority that owns and operates the network, creating new opportunities for how we can use social media and giving more power to you, the user.
A Quick Note on Web2 and Web3
For our discussion of DeSo, it’s helpful to understand that legacy social media platforms and the type of interactive code that they use to host and share interactive content is often described as Web2. The current mix of innovations happening with cryptocurrencies, NFTs, metaverse concepts, decentralized finance, and blockchain technology are often referred to as Web3.
The biggest difference is that while Web2 technology and internet companies like Meta and Twitter are owned and operated by a central authority, Web3 technology is distributed and owned by the users who govern the protocols on which it is built such as Ethereum and Solana.
What’s a Social Graph and Why Does It Matter?
Our social graph is the network of connections we have in society that touches almost every part of how we live, work, and play. Social media platforms give us a glimpse of seeing our connections to each other as well as how we discover new information and entertainment.
A social graph can represent all the connections, interactions, reactions, posts, follows, and comments that happen in a network. The way that most legacy social media companies interact with their social graphs is obfuscated and proprietary. The social graph is curated by these firms and the users are only shown what is selected via trade-secret algorithms that only bring certain content to the surface based on the platform’s decisions.
The social graph used by legacy Web2 firms as we experience it can be understood like an iceberg in which we often only see the tip protruding above water while there’s an enormous amount of data hidden below the surface which we may or may not be able to interact with or see. Essentially, they are choosing which parts of the iceberg to bring to the surface and allow you to interact with and see while deciding which parts to leave hidden below the water’s surface. Furthermore, you don’t get to know how they are making these selections for you.
In Web2, central authorities have ultimate control over this trove of data, they own it, and they use it as they see fit. DeSo applications being built in Web3 are poised to bring more of the opaque aspects of our social graph above the surface so that developers and users can have more power, gain more insight, and build better systems for living and working together.
Decentralized Social Brings Power Back to the Users
One significant feature of DeSo is its ability to bring power back to the users and the creators who are the ones who create value for the platforms. DeSo makes use of shared, composable and open social graphs, essentially giving everyone access to see the part of the iceberg below the surface and use that data to build their own social media applications on top. Various implementations of NFT technology complete the suite of underlying tools that allow for a complete re-imagining of social media.
Before we go deeper into what this all means, let’s examine what’s now working well with legacy social media platforms and companies.
Issues With Web2 Social Media
It’s helpful to see that the incentives are misaligned in Web2 between the users and the platforms because the game theory of Web2 social is zero-sum. The networks own the user-generated data and content on their platforms and then use this data and content to advertise back to the users.
If the social media platform is free to use, then you are paying to use the platform by sharing your data and being presented ads. Networks sell your data so that you’re paying to use the platform by trading your personal data and attention on ads in order to gain distribution. In this model, there’s no such thing as privacy.
Current social platforms only make money from the data held in their own databases. This means that legacy social media platforms are incentivized to keep you locked into their systems and create positive feedback loops to keep you on their platform. The infinite scrolling mechanism that’s become ubiquitous among social media platforms is a fantastic example of how these incentives come to influence our everyday behaviors.
Another issue with Web2 social is that your data is not portable. As a user, you’re bound to the network you’re using. Your followers and content is locked into a specific platform’s database. You don’t have the ability to transfer your followers or posts between two services. Or if the platform bans you or censors you, there’s very little recourse except to move to a new platform and start over.
Web2 social media platforms are not portable nor composable and operate in closed ecosystems that do not talk to each other. A post created on one platform does not automatically integrate and post to another platform. Their databases of content exist as closed boxes. For example, a tweet shared on Twitter does not automatically get uploaded to Facebook or TikTok.
This effectively turns the social graph each Web2 social media company controls into a moat that they use to keep you there. If you want to go to a different platform, you have to start all over again, building a following and creating and sharing content.
Benefits of DeSo Built with an Open Social Graph
Control is a major factor and point of difference between Web2 legacy social media and the Web3 version. All this newfound power can be overwhelming given the plethora of new opportunities and possibilities when working in this paradigm. The question in DeSo becomes how we balance the control and power we gain with DeSo with the ease of use and convenience of the applications we have grown accustomed to using.
Information asymmetry in the current social graph model is the norm. Spotify or YouTube has a ton of data on us but it’s hard to understand and act on it. Platforms tend to know more about us than we do. How can we use blockchain activity and the general transparency in the Web3 space not only to gain more trust but offer more insights as well? The insights discovered using an open social graph can help us understand and reflect on ourselves and our communities in new ways.
In Web3, there’s an emphasis on ownership, including your data. This means you are able to choose how you experience content and how much of yourself you reveal to a protocol. Your friends list or followers moves with you and doesn’t need to be established again. This makes the applications treat the users much nicer because you can leave and are not locked into their platform based on the power or influence of their network.
An open social graph allows for a social media experience that more closely resembles the native Web3 multiverse where things can connect with each other. The ability to move your friends list is quite a big change in how we understand social graphs. DeSo allows a future of social media that is not a unique universe or walled garden, but is a multiverse where things can talk to each other and interact in multi-faceted ways.
Choose Your Front-End
The more power we have and the more data we control allows us to understand ourselves better. Now we can re-imagine what a front-end user experience using social media can be. If you don’t like the data or user experience that comes out of a particular front-end application, you can move on or build your own.
This structure resembles what the internet was like a long time ago. Rather than having to accept how a given application presents the social graph, we can ask different questions, like: How could you curate a front-end that most reflects the data that’s most relevant or valuable to your community?
Since developers and designers are not burdened with the heavy lifting of managing their own social graph and back end, they can instead lead with better design and focus on improving the experience for the end user.
Competition between applications increases as users have more freedom to choose, fostering an ecosystem that rewards applications that provide the most value for their communities. Also, it means that not everything needs to be broad, and developers can design for niches and create use-case-specific applications
Case Study: Lens Protocol, An Open Social Graph
Lens is a protocol that is changing the nature of social media in Web3 by creating an open, decentralized, and composable social graph. Because it’s permissionless, it can be leveraged and built upon by anyone else with a desire to create a front-end social experience tailored to the user experience, audience, and types of content or data they want to bring to the surface. Lens allows designers and developers to pull specific details from the underwater section of the iceberg to the surface at will depending on their goals.
Lens Is Composable and Modular
Instead of siloed and mostly hidden social graphs owned and data-mined by the dominant legacy social media companies in Web2, the Lens Protocol social graph is composable, community-governed, and modular.
Lens Protocol features a fully composable and transferable on-chain social graph. This means that users can take their graph to whatever experience they would like to interact and engage in such as different DeSo networks and applications, metaverse experiences, and beyond.
Community governance means that you can create new ways of controlling how an application functions, and the users have a say in the evolution of the app. For instance, when you follow someone else, you’re given a “Follower NFT” which has built-in governance mechanisms, including snapshotting and delegation, which allow for sophisticated content sharing privileges or exclusive tiering of your follower list. Another example is that you can create modules with a built-in governance-managed treasury fee.
Lens leverages the modular method for allowing an ecosystem of apps to build without having to worry about the backend and underlying technology. This frees up developers and designers to focus on the user experience and front end. Builders can bypass the heavy lift of creating network effects and bootstrapping a network, offering them a chance to streamline their efforts for creating real value for the end users. Furthermore, modular design allows for an infinitely expanding amount of use cases and features that interact and layer on top of one another that goes beyond platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Where Do We Go From Here?
An open social graph has abundant use cases across the entire spectrum of modern life. Although we may not realize it, so much of our lives is inherently social. It’s helpful to visualize the social graph as an iceberg, and we’re just seeing the tip of it. This is bigger than just a new form of Instagram or Snapchat, but a chance to completely reimagine how we relate socially.
Social media as it’s expressed in Web2 is not working well and the cracks are appearing. Centralized power that decides what gets seen and what doesn’t and acts as an intermediary in our social interactions is detrimental for a free and open society. Central authorities hold all the power and collect a lion’s share of the money despite most of the value being created by the users.
Web3 social and decentralized social media is about empowering ourselves as users and expanding what social media can be. It’s about visualizing our networks in new ways and rethinking how we label things, and organizing it through better algorithms. We can create better matching between creators and gain more insights between fans and creators to discover better business models.
Using this model, we can update the whole concept of what a community really is in the first place. We’re now able to bring more of the iceberg up above the surface and explore new ways to visualize, build, display, and interact with a social graph based upon the unique aspects of a community and their values. It opens up a lot more possibilities for creative ways to see how we’re connected and to leverage these connections to work towards common goals.
Solving coordination problems by aligning incentives is at the core of what crypto and blockchain networks do, so it makes sense that applying Web3 principles to social media gives us a more diverse and democratic social media landscape that ultimately empowers you with more choice and sovereignty.