Are Decentralized Social Networks the Feature of Social Media
With the development of technologies such as blockchain and the cloud, decentralized networks have become a growing trend in today’s business environment. These networks differ from the centralized networks that existed five to ten years ago. Unlike centralized platforms, decentralized social media platforms are open source, putting control into their users’ hands and ensuring secure data storage. In this article, we will research this emerging social media alternative and provide a rundown of a few of the most popular decentralized social networks in use today.
Table of Contents
What are Decentralized Social Networks?
Decentralized social networks are a blockchain-based open-source alternative to traditional social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and other social media platforms.
If you are familiar with cryptocurrencies and NFTs, you have probably heard the term “decentralization” more than once. Blockchain technology is the locomotive power behind decentralization. This technology is becoming increasingly popular because it allows social media users to enjoy a more secure and transparent decentralized social network without a central administrator or point of control.
Through blockchain technology, decentralized social media platforms are available as decentralized applications (DApps) that are inherently resistant to attackers, censorship, and undue control. Instead of having your data stored in one entity (or several entities, depending on how many social networks you use), decentralized social networks distribute your data across several independent nodes.
As it’s decentralized by design, blockchain technology can promote a more collaborative, decentralized, and democratized environment, making it and social media a perfect match
How do Decentralized Social Networks Work?
Here are the key elements that characterize decentralized social networks :
- Blockchain Technology
Transparency is the main feature of the blockchain. With an open data network, anyone can view data in near real-time. In a way, blockchain is bringing back trust in social
media privacy due to its cryptographic nature.
- Control in the Hands of the User
Unlike traditional platforms, decentralized social media promotes independence without a central authority. Ownership of personal data and control over censorship or content is the user’s control. The major advantage is that no individual or company can set and dictate the rules for users or groups.
- Privacy and Security
As users were concerned about controlling their personal data, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was established in Europe. However, this legislation treats social media companies as “data processors,” so they still control the data.
In DeCo networks, users can create accounts without being linked to a phone number or email address. In addition, decentralized social networks frequently rely on public-key cryptography to secure an account rather than a single entity to protect user data.
- Freedom of Expression and Resistance to Censorship
In traditional social networks, the entities set the rules for user participation. On the other hand, users establish the rules in decentralized networks. It means that no authority can delete or modify the content created by users.
This feature has caused a lot of controversies. Although some believe that the ban on violent messages helps protect users, others believe that the prohibitions are contrary to the ideals of freedom of expression. While users can block these groups, they can’t prevent them from participating in the network.
- Economic Neutrality
Economic Neutrality is essential for those turning to decentralized social networks and seeking freedom from invasive advertising and promotions.
Decentralized networks are exploring new forms of monetization to stay solvent and, for example, pay their users with cryptocurrencies for creating or curating content. Thus, content creators get an incentive to focus on quality.
What is the Fediverse?
Decentralized social networks make up the fediverse. Fediverse is a collection of interconnected servers for social networking and other activities like blogging and web publishing. An independently hosted federated network can communicate with other networks in the fediverse.
Email service providers offer an example of how federated social media works. For example, take Google or Yahoo. Each company establishes email rules for its users. Google doesn’t impose regulations on the users of Yahoo. However, Google users can send emails to and receive emails from Yahoo users and vice versa. Federated networks work similarly.
Pros of Decentralized Networks
Decentralized social networks provide users with several advantages over traditional social platforms. However, before deciding if it’s suitable for you, diving deeper into some specific benefits is helpful.
- Increased Security
Since decentralized social networks use hundreds and even thousands of different servers or “nodes” to operate, the risk of network failures or disruptions due to DDoS attacks is significantly reduced. In addition to greater security, users also get an added layer of anonymity and privacy, which is getting harder and harder to keep when doing anything online.
- Increased User Control
Decentralized social media also gives users more control than traditional social media platforms offer little to no. It is one of the core concepts behind blockchain technology and the modern emerging decentralized social platforms. In decentralized social networks, users control their data and experience because there is no central authority to dictate the rules.
Another key feature of decentralized social networks is fair monetization for users and community members. Unlike the unbalanced monetization schemes of traditional social networks, decentralized social networks promote social earnings through native tokens. These tokens are equivalent to Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other major cryptocurrencies.
- Less Downtime
As decentralized social networks are made of DApps running on blockchain-based networks, and supported by a complex network of nodes located worldwide, decentralized social networks experience little to no disruption or downtime.
- No Censorship or “Middleman”
Decentralized social networks eliminate the “middleman” and give content creators direct ownership and control over their data and content. Moreover, they also interact with followers, fans, customers, and others directly with only a smart contract between them.
Cons of Decentralized Social Media
Despite all of their benefits, decentralized social networks could be better. They have drawbacks as well, like any other technology.
- Not As User-Friendly
Decentralized social media tends to be less user-friendly than larger traditional social platforms. It can be challenging for users, and many decentralized platforms must overcome this hurdle before achieving widespread adoption. Often, the simplicity of its interface makes or breaks the success of an application. For most, decentralized social media applications built on blockchain technology aren’t accurate in this respect.
- New Security Threats
With decentralized platforms, new security threats are also emerging. Not only do decentralized networks allow almost anyone to join and contribute anonymously, but in addition, they use public key cryptography for account security, which is difficult for most users to control. Building an easy-to-use and cryptographically secure social media DApp can be a daunting task at best.
- Growth Challenges
Over the years of work and feedback from millions of community members and everyday users, existing social platforms have improved their interfaces. The same can’t be said for decentralized networks, which continue to hold back their growth in the near future. The easier they become to use, the wider their use will be.
Decentralized Social Media vs. Traditional Social Media
Both traditional and decentralized social media networks use some form of the social graph, a social network model that maps everyone who uses the platform and their relationships with others. This internal coding allows users to communicate with each other on the external interface of the platform.
Traditional and DeCo platforms allow users to post and share content, add comments and hashtags and communicate with others. However, decentralized social platforms have less attractive and user-friendly UI than their more mature counterparts.
Traditional social networks are entirely centralized and autonomous. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other traditional social media platforms own and control and operate their data servers and own and control all content posted on their sites, including yours.
On the other hand, decentralized platforms run on public blockchains. As privacy and free speech advocates, they allow anyone anywhere to curate a feed, manage a node, or create an app.
The Most Popular Decentralized Social Networks
Despite their relatively short existence to date, dozens of decentralized social media platforms perform a specific function for a target group of users.
Some of the most well-known decentralized social networks on this spectrum include the following.
Minds is a social network based on blockchain technology. Users can post videos, blogs, and images and set statuses. Moreover, it is possible to send messages and make video chats. Relevant hashtags and feeds allow you to explore and find articles that interest you. It is an excellent alternative to Twitter or Facebook.
Aether is a network of self-governing communities. It is also a tool for private communication between teams. The community chooses the moderator, but it can remove the title if the community votes to do so. Furthermore, if no one saves it, the content can only be kept for six months.
Peepeth is a decentralized microblogging platform that is built for the Ethereum blockchain. Similar to tweets on Twitter, users can send “Peeps” – short messages that cannot be edited or deleted. Peepeth doesn’t have an easy-to-use interface like many decentralized social media platforms. However, you can collect tips and even tip others in ETH from the DApp.
Mastodon is a popular and well-known alternative to Twitter. But it isn’t a standalone website like its centralized counterpart. Instead, it is made up of thousands of different communities run by thousands of different people and organizations to ensure a smooth social media experience.
Mastodon was designed to connect users with other like-minded people. It is possible by joining Mastodon Social or hosting your own Mastodon “instance” and connecting it to some other cases. The platform also has features like anti-abuse tools that protect against harassment and other harmful factors that may adversely affect your user experience.
Pixelfed is a simple Instagram alternative to look out for if you want to be in control of your privacy and data. With this alternative, you can get the same photo-sharing abilities, but instead of using an algorithm to create a timeline, it just follows a chronological order. It means that none of your data is collected and used to create a personalized experience.
Pixelfed uses the same open protocol as Mastodon. You can communicate and interact with Mastodon instances through the Pixelfed platform. This makes sense, given that both Instagram and Facebook are owned by Meta in the traditional social media world.
As you can guess, PeerTube is just another decentralized YouTube alternative. This open-source video streaming platform, developed by Framasoft, a French digital technology company, uses the BitTorrent protocol to enable users to share their bandwidth.
There are several different instances of PeerTive available to host your videos. You can host them yourself if you like. Even though most models are free, some may charge a fee.
However, as a decentralized social platform, one advantage of PeerTube is that it doesn’t track you or target you with ads to generate income. But before using this platform, you should know that your IP address won’t be anonymous, so it doesn’t quite meet the requirements for protecting privacy.
Diaspora is one of the oldest decentralized social platforms in existence today. When it was launched, it was advertised as an alternative to Facebook. However, while more and more users migrate to the social media giant, Diaspora has never caught on and remains primarily limited to niche members.
Like Mastodon, Diaspora is composed of pods or “instances.” You can register for one or more pods or host your own pod without worrying about whether your data is safe in Big Tech’s hands. Why? Since you own the data, not them.
DTube is also a video-sharing option for those seeking a blockchain-based decentralized YouTube clone. In addition to its name, the platform resembles YouTube in almost everything.
However, unlike Youtube, DTube uses its own DTube Coins or DTC. As a DTube creator, you can earn DTC whenever someone views or interacts with the content you post. You can then cash out the coins with a partner cryptocurrency exchange or use them to promote your content and grow your brand.
Similar to WhatsApp, but without apparent control and privacy, Signal allows its users to send and receive encrypted messages and calls. However, its open-source protocol has some concerns, including difficult UI.
LBRY is primarily promoted as a decentralized alternative to YouTube. With LBRY, creating and publishing movies, games, books, and other digital content is possible.
Of course, like many other decentralized social media platforms, LBRY has its native currency, LBC. It is used to power a digital marketplace where you can purchase access to others content and share your own.
Karma is a social network on the web. Users create posts and earn tokens by getting likes or allowing others to share their content. You can use these tokens to boost your content or convert it into real money. It is also an excellent alternative to Instagram.
Should You Use Decentralized Social Media?
Traditional social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook prioritize revenue generation and attention-grabbing ads everywhere, controlling user data and what they post and view. This makes some users feel like pawns or dollar signs more than actual community members.
For the most part, decentralized social media networks are different. Unlike traditional networks, they allow interaction without fear of censorship. Instead of dictating everything, developers provide guidelines. A distributed community of users decides the rest.
Decentralized social media networks are a good option if you are concerned about your data control, security, and privacy. They can also be attractive if you are interested in creating and holding ownership of your content, monetizing it, and remaining anonymous at the same time.
The Future of Decentralized Social Media
With fierce competition from Big Tech companies, a slower user adoption rate, and the various obstacles and pitfalls of following an owner accountability model, it takes time to predict the future of decentralized social media.
But there are two particular aspects :
- There is a definite need for DeSo networks to serve the users’ interests, not big business.
- The continued growth of blockchain technology usage in the financial industry could change how we transact globally.
As for the last point, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other major cryptocurrencies continue to become widely accepted models of payment. Thus, their values from year to year acquire an extremely healthy value.
While the notion of decentralized social media seems laughable or enviable, no matter on which side you stand, there is one specific thing – cryptocurrencies are here to stay. Neither are the blockchain-based decentralized ecosystems that support them.
In other words, both in the short and long term, decentralized social media will only get better and will certainly stay.
Bluesky is a decentralized social network initiative backed by Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter. It has already received 30,000 signups in the last 48 hours, and that’s only for its waitlist.
On Tuesday, the company opened the waitlist and said on Twitter that it would be phasing out invitations to the private beta due to tremendous interest. Bluesky is interested in building a “social internet” and helping users avoid the data silos that often exist in internet applications. Its app, which will be released soon, is built on a decentralized social media protocol called the “AT” ( Authenticated Transport Protocol). It is aimed to make social media open and interoperable, allowing users to interact with different apps, all within the same ecosystem.
The company also stated that the World Wide Web wouldn’t be so interesting if it were created without a browser, and the same can be said about the AT Protocol.
Moreover, in December 2019, Dorsey announced that Twitter was funding a team to develop a “decentralized standard for social media.” In August 2021, Twitter selected cryptocurrency developer Jay Graber to lead Bluesky, completely separating it from Twitter. In May, the protocol released the first iteration of the AT protocol ahead of beta testing.
Social networks are incredibly complex mechanisms that take years to debug. This is why decentralized social media platforms can take several years to become relevant and valuable enough for more people to try them out. However, they still have potential. As people become increasingly frustrated with Big Tech and its bugs, we can certainly see a shift towards decentralized communication in the not-too-distant future.