What if… you could own a social networking platform?

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To start by paraphrasing a famous meme first.

Who we are; content creators, influencers and celebrities, local and global publishers and routine users who advocate for more equality in the application of platform laws, transparency, user-friendly algorithms, as well as privacy and data protection.

At whom we are angry; platform monopoly where a foreign company is able to censor, control or restrict free speech, have selective censorship based on political leanings; where users are losing followers due to opaque algorithms and a system with no checks and balances.

What do we want; most users don’t know that yet.

However, some have found the answer to the difficult questions surrounding corporate monopoly, censorship and free speech, and algorithmic bias in social media platforms, and are already experimenting with it.

The future of social media platforms is not atmanirbharta where each country’s tech ecosystem cultivates its products but in decentralized social media networks. No corporate ownership, no closed system, no free speech issues or selective censorship. The control is with the consumers.

To imagine a decentralized social network, imagine millions of independent servers, some operated by individuals, some by groups, some by communities dedicated to a cause or topic, and some even operated by businesses.

A common technical standard allows communication between all these servers.

Thus, someone who registers on the first server can communicate seamlessly with users on the nth server. The entire universe of servers is built on open source software programs, thereby negating ownership or rights of the company.

One server, one account, but unlimited interaction.

But where does the consumer benefit from this? For starters, any user can register on any server, as is the case with Mastadon, depending on their region or interests.

Each server can be imagined as an independent community where the rules are framed by the owners of these servers.

What works for decentralized social networks is the fact that server owners, unlike corporations (Meta, Twitter, Google) don’t care about political correctness which now hampers free speech on most platforms conventional.

For some, decentralized social networks can seem like a double-edged sword, where the most heinous slang, phrases and abuse go unchecked.

In most decentralized networks, users have the ability to move their data and profile to other servers. Think of it as migrating to another apartment in another society, if the old society becomes intolerable. The old server has no control over the user’s data in this case.

Thus, the control over the data returns to the consumer from the companies. Even e-mail today does not allow this flexibility.

In some communities, decentralized social networks are now referred to as “Fediverse” or a federated universe of servers.

If users or an organization are unsure about the longevity of the server or its owner, they can set up their own server, starting at $6 per month. In the scheme of things, that’s as good as owning a social media network.

Server owners can block the flow of servers in case of hate speech. Additionally, if a server or the virtual community hosted on it becomes toxic (subject to interpretation), users are free to leave. A free market, free users!

For now, most decentralized social networks allow users to see their posts in chronological order.

However, as networks evolve, server owners would like to customize their algorithms, based on user interests, preferences, or server topic (books, movies, politics, etc.).

So, unlike Meta or Twitter, where content algorithms are opaque, this part of the virtual networking world ushers in transparency. Users can see what they want to see, within their communities and outside.

Servers, ultimately, can also be imagined as habitable planets, but what happens when a planet is overpopulated and its running cost becomes too high?

First, either the owner of the server can ask for donations, have subscription fees, collaborate with advertisers, or sell it to a company. This is the first red flag.

Yes, users can migrate to other servers or create their own servers to undo the impact of corporate ownership, but that boils down the whole idea to a Tom and Jerry game, where users outrun giants.

Even the spirits of Mastadon discourage users from joining big servers, saying there is a chance it could be bought by someone nasty. They suggest that the number of users one can interact with remains the same in a decentralized network, whether their accounts are on a huge server or a server with low user counts.

It is therefore in the interest of the users themselves that the communities be more dispersed. Larger servers also increase costs and increase latency when it comes to administrators responding to user requests.

There are a few other issues with the idea of ​​decentralized social media networks.

A; the user base. While the structure of these networks allows users to interact with millions of users within their servers or externally, the issue of weak users remains a problem.

For example, while Meta, even with all its flaws, has over 2.5 billion users, decentralized networks like Mastadon and Diaspora only have one million users. The structure passes the test, but adaptability remains an issue.

Simply put, people sign up on platforms because they want to connect with friends, family, professional peers, potential employers, or celebrities. This is how Orkut, MySpace, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter have grown.

Even Facebook (before it became a global phenomenon) intrigued early users because they could find fellow college students and then students from nearby universities. An average user, unlike a few million, is driven more by ease of access than by ideology.

While users can migrate to other servers with their complete profiles (subscribers, media, publications, etc.), the problem of community ownership of servers also remains.

What if server owners change rules without users noticing, or remove the server completely without allowing users to migrate or back up their data? Unlike company-owned platforms, where the rules are uniform with near-ideal enforcement, decentralized networks make no such promise.

In the end, it all comes down to who users trust the most to rule them online.

Still, the idea of ​​decentralized social media networks cannot be dismissed so easily. As the Internet moves into the era of the metaverse, users would like more control over their data and less dependence on corporations.

From a monetary perspective, decentralized networks also make more sense for users and publishers, eliminating middlemen from the equation. Quite literally, like ONDC it’s about empowering both creators and consumers of virtual content, but like ONDC it will take time to evolve.

Per month, it takes $8 to get a blue tick on Twitter. It takes $6 to install a server on the decentralized social network. What users choose between the two will define the future of social networks.

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