What are decentralised social networks?

What are decentralised social networks?
March 21, 2023

Social media changed how we communicate and connect with each other. Here’s how social networks are evolving in a Web3 world. 

Social media has made it easier than ever to socialise, share and network with connections all around the world. But as users become more wary of data security, censorship and privacy issues, major platforms such as Facebook are trying to counter retention challenges, by tightening advertising policies and targeting – all the while, still being a central ‘bank’ for user data. 

These days, users are becoming more savvy about the power of their personal data and how it plays into their online experience. A 2020 study from IBM found that 81% of respondents felt concern about how their data was used online. Last year, a study from Capterra found that 84% of Australians surveyed wanted more control over the ways companies collect and utilise their data. 

Decentralised social media might be a solution that wary consumers are looking for. While traditional platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are owned and controlled by a single entity, dencentralised social media apps are built on blockchain tech, allowing for more transparency, accountability, and an opportunity for users to better control their data. Here are some of the major decentralised social media apps in the space today. 

Mastodon – a decentralised Twitterverse

Mastodon is not technically a Web3 native network, but it’s certainly among the first to be considered decentralised. On the Mastodon platform users can create their own community servers, called ‘instances’. Each server is connected as part of a larger network, but boasts its own privacy policy, content moderation, and code of conduct. Users actively seek communities based on their values and interests, and share microblog-style content in a similar way to Twitter. Users can also opt to make their profiles private and only share updates with people in their direct network. While there are concerns about consistent content moderation on a decentralised platform, the security risks are deemed as no different to existing social media. 

Mirror – Medium, but make it blockchain

Touted as the world’s first decentralised blogging platform, Mirror launched in December 2020 and is based on blockchain-based encryption and open to anyone who holds an Ethereum wallet. After you set up your account, it’s free to publish whatever content you like, and all content remains your own. Writers earn royalties in cryptocurrency, and there is even an opportunity to make your content ‘mintable’, allowing you to sell content pieces as NFTs and build your community in a unique way. 

DeSo – an all-in-one, levelling out the playing field

To understand what DeSo – short for ‘Decentralised social’ – sets out to achieve, it’s important to first understand the barriers and issues that exist with current social media platforms. First up, a handful of private companies control these social networks and also earn cuts from content they haven’t actually created themselves. Because content is not accessible as a public and open utility, users must keep using these social apps as that is where the content is, and creators must continually publish on these platforms to get the reach they need. DeSo attempts to provide an alternative solution, allowing users to add all their data to a public blockchain. Anyone is free to create a ‘node’ that allows them to create a curated feed based on their interests/niches, so consumers can access an infinite number of feeds based on specific topics. Further to this, DeSo also serves as a platform for storage-heavy applications to build upon and integrate into, allowing developers to scale their apps to billions of users. 

Minds – the new Facebook 

Minds is one of the faster growing and more popular platforms, combining two key concepts of Web3 – decentralisation and tokenisation – into one blockchain-based social network. Minds is most compared to Facebook, allowing users to create a profile, connect with friends and share content. Content creation and engagement is rewarded with MINDS tokens, incentivising the sharing of data and interaction on the platform. Similarly to the Brave browser, users can opt to use some of their earned tokens to tip creators on the platform. A premium monthly subscription is also available, giving users opportunities to unlock exclusive content, become verified and even block boosted posts from their feed. 

Lens Protocol – giving agency back to creators and users 

Similarly to DeSo, Lens serves as a ‘vehicle’ of sorts to allow developers to build their own decentralised social media platforms on the Polygon chain, without the added pressure of needing to scale their own users. Lens creates a publicly accessible social graph that demonstrates the interconnections between users, which is constantly updated as new profiles are created and new content is added to platforms built on the chain. While traditional social media apps use their social graphs to modify user feeds and the user experience, Lens returns that control to users, who can simply invite other users to connect and explore their content and allow everyone the complete freedom to create their own experiences. 

Paragraph – a Web3 Substack

A true Web3 native newsletter platform, Paragraph allows creators to build communities and token-gate their content. On a practical level it’s an intuitive platform and allows for fast newsletter creation and distribution, with unlimited storage. But perhaps its most interesting point of difference is its NFT membership offering. Creators can generate exclusive content for VIP subscribers that can only be accessed by users who mint a membership NFT.

Diaspora – another Facebook alternative

Diaspora perhaps takes the notion of privacy to the nth degree, where people are encouraged to not even use their real identity if they wish, with complete freedom on how they interact with their connections. You’re able to sort connections into different buckets known as ‘aspects’, and control what you share to each. The platform operates on community run servers known as pods, and users can also choose which pods they prefer to store their personal data. While the privacy focus sets this platform apart, uptake is small compared to other social networks.

Decentralised social media platforms have a way to go to solve the challenges around small user bases and more effective, universal content moderation, but their premise is promising. Virtual spaces that allow for more privacy, security, data ownership and rewards for participation and data sharing are certainly steps in the right direction to bring social media back to its user-centric roots. 

Words: Rebecca Haddad

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