Decentralization is the Future of Social Media
September 2, 2022
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by Stephen Kanyi

Early this year, Twitter released the first code for their open-source offshoot project for a decentralized social network protocol called Bluesky. Conceived in 2019, this was the first product for a project that has been years in development.

What is Bluesky’s goal?

Well, it goes back to the capitol hill riots back in January 2021 that rocked the USA to its core. Trump’s rhetoric of a stolen election (whether true or not) had ‘inspired’ rioters to storm capitol hill. And all he had done, was tweet, a lot.

More specifically to the point, these riots even forced execs at Twitter to completely ban his account. An idea that many could have never fathomed. That a private company could completely de-platform a sitting president. The said ‘leader of the free world.

What this proved is to show the power of social media. That, simple websites, (which is essentially what they are), can influence political events of the most powerful government in the world and even go as far as to direct the narrative as they see fit.

Essentially what those events and many others are showing us is that private companies like Twitter wield greater power than the government.

Now, did the founders intend for them to become like this? Obviously not. For most of these companies, these social media websites were simple dorm room projects that became way more than they could have ever imagined.

In fact, both Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, founders of Facebook and Twitter, the biggest social media websites on the planet, have expressed the agony of having to decide the narrative surrounding political issues. For both of them, this was not their initial goal.

However, they do find themselves in this position but, from what we have heard from both of them (if sincere) do not want to keep that power.

Zuckerberg’s response to a recent interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast is to transfer to an ‘independent board.’

For Jack Dorsey, the solution is more technical. To make Twitter an open decentralized protocol rather than a platform controlled by a single entity. This is what Bluesky is meant to be.

Demystifying Bluesky

Now I know the term ‘open decentralized protocol’ does little to explain what Bluesky really is, especially to my non-technical readers.

Hence, I will try my best to explain using an analogy.

We can liken Bluesky to HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol), the underlying protocol of the World Wide Web. Essentially it is the universal language of the internet that allows us all to speak the same language when fetching resources to render webpages.

This is what Bluesky intends to be; the foundational universal protocol for social media. Bluesky will however be a decentralized protocol.

If were to compare this with anything else it would be Bitcoin. At its core Bitcoin is a protocol, one that a great number of people have all agreed to leverage. More importantly, it is decentralized meaning no single entity can control it.

So, much like Bitcoin is a decentralized store for value for cryptos, BlueSky would be a decentralized store of social media content. Most social media companies will ideally operate on the BlueSky standard. This also means that they can remove content from their applications but not from BlueSky as it is not in anyone’s control.

While the removal of Trump from Twitter is the event that brought details of Bluesky into the limelight there have been only minor developments on this front. As mentioned earlier, the idea was conceptualized in 2019, began work in 2021 with Jay Graber as project lead, and just this year released its first version of code.

Twitter itself would be based on this protocol building its own service on top of Bluesky. Many other companies could follow the same route but the account, content or networks will vary from app to app. The underlying protocol could offer some features like algorithmic sorting, any additional features would be free to build on top.

Now as you have guessed the key ‘selling point’ of this new approach is nothing else but decentralization. In fact, decentralization is not only at the centre of Bluesky, it is the very reason for the whole Web3 movement.

Through the years, distrust of central authority has grown. No matter which side you are on I know most of us can all agree that placing too much power in the hands of a few individuals is dangerous for society.

And it doesn’t matter if that authority is completely moral, ‘the road to hell is often full of good intentions.’ The power to control political narratives is too much for any one institution to hold, history has taught us that decentralization is the best way to go.

For now, Twitter is spearheading the Bluesky project but will soon be joined by others who share the same vision. Thus, we are likely to see a new form of social media very soon.

Twitter and Facebook will undoubtedly be the first ones to adopt the protocol as a skeleton for their code. This does not however mean that they will not have any control over these platforms. As mentioned earlier, control over applications built on top of the skeleton will grant the app’s creators the ability to modify any content on it as they see fit. This time, however, such modifications will not be as permanent, they will exist in some form or the other on the skeleton protocol.

I foresee a situation where users will be able to interact with users or content that may be deemed too ‘toxic’ for mainstream social media websites.

Alternatively, we could also have the proliferation of a number of social media websites built on top of the Bluesky protocol as it will be much easier to do so. Users will thus have many options to choose from, depending on their tastes.

Now I know some may fear the increased spread of misinformation and hate speech online but like it or not, Bluesky is the best future we can hope for social media. It is certainly better than leaving that power to a centralized authority, no matter how righteous. This is after all the vision of social media, to give the common person a microphone to express themselves fully.

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