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Decentralized Social Networks Won't Work (wired.com)
134 points by techmagus 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 134 comments



Just in case any bright eyed hopeful person is reading this, please don't think "ah shucks" and go away. Some of the biggest things in the internet including the protocols the internet lives on were never envisioned as something that would change the life of billions of people. They were initially created to solve a problem for a small group and then grew into something much bigger over time. Please please don't back away from this problem just because some article says it's going to be challenging.

Solve it for yourself.

Post on your own blogs on your own servers.

Solve it for others.

Help others get set up with their own servers.

Create solutions for people

Make attempts at creating decentralized solutions. Even if a 1000 people use it, someday we might crack the code to getting people off the walled gardens.

Basically, if that article sounded like a demotivating blow to your hopes, please flip the bird at it, and keep working to solve this problem.


Decentralized social networks is often an alternative to profit driven social networks.

The social giants today optimize their offerings so that we spend as much time as possible using them[1] to maximize profits. That doesn't necessarily make us happier. Wouldn't a a social that frees time and doesn't create addiction and depression be something to strive for?

I think we should stop counting success in time spent and numbers of users.

[1] https://www.1843magazine.com/features/the-scientists-who-mak...


I'd like to add one remark to this: everything doesn't have to be huge. We don't have to deal always in millions and billions. Small groups. Even individuals. What they do is meaningful. What we do is not pointless just because it doesn't create some massive impact.


A large service is a service where your friends, parents, coworkers, etc have a high probability to have already joined, thus making the service instantly more useful for communicating with them. Next thing is that you and they will pull in your other related people, again for ease of communication. This is the "network effect".

For a federated service, like email or phone, this is not a problem: the union of all service providers is the entire service, and more providers can connect. So connecting to any compliant provider is fine, and providers have an incentive to be good, or at least outcompete each other by some metric.

For a siloed and sealed-up service, like Facebook or Twitter, once you and (most of) your social graph is there, there's no way anyone can connect from the outside; to be connected with you, they need to dive into the same silo. The bigger the service grows, the harder it becomes for people outside not to consider joining, because of the pull of the part of their social graph who already joined.

I think that federated services will always exist, as long as unimpeded internet connectivity is allowed. I also think that 1-2 huge walled gardens will also exist, for the same reasons why phishing using dancing kittens videos will continue to exist: many humans are emotion-driven and don't value [insert a list here] when overwhelmed by a positive emotion from something new, cute, and free to use.


This. Not every community has to have a million users to be useful. Lots of people are also members of smaller ones dedicated to certain niches. Like say, a genre of music or a favourite sports team or a video game series or anything else.

Just look at Hacker News for example. It'll never be as big as Facebook, Twitter or Reddit, but it doesn't need to be. It's a good community for the people it's aimed at.

The idea you should only make stuff for as large an audience as possible or to get rich quick is perhaps one of the most depressing aspects of the internet (and world) today.


Except in a winner-takes-all market. (This is not about making money, but still needs a critical mass of users to become successful because of the network effect).


Social media is only winner take all because the platforms are closed. If enough people say no thanks, that will change. The social networks might not need any one person, but they need all of us and a significant but small percentage can make a difference.


Why do we bother with signal if that's the case? Competition matters even when it seemingly doesn't because we raise the bar. Look how Viber and telegram stick out like sore thumbs (ignore the pos that is allo) because WhatsApp now has e2ee.


I have given some thought to this problem and I think it's technically solvable. The main problem is that it would be non-profit so less incentive to build it. Anyone want to kick around ideas?


The Urbit model (open source, funded by a one-time cost for each new identity) is an elegant solution which has the side effect of discouraging spam.


Bitcoin started as a non-profit (obviously not technically but my point is, cryptocurrencies allow you to leverage and trade value created without external money)


Yes but a cryptocurrency only makes sense for certain use cases. In this case, the token would have to serve some sort of useful function related to the social network.


The AKASHA project may be relevant to you.

Https://akasha.world


or you could go after the money side of the equation.

1. let sponsors host your data in an open competitive marketplace.

or

an open marketplace for goods and services that focuses exclusively on driving value to customers through:

1. require low cost guarantee from vendors.

2. vendor can't buy rank at all.

3. better way to find products and service.

(sort of like ebay that focuses on customer value not transaction volume)

do what amazon did to "best buy". you do alot of your research everywhere else but you buy from here.


What does any of that have to do with a social network? I've got other ideas for commercial ventures, this thread is about the idea of a decentralized social network. In other words, separating the social from the commercial.


the social networks are held up by inefficient marketplaces.

kind of like how amazon screws over best buy. the networks can't stay afloat if most everyone uses the social networks resource then goes to a fair efficient marketplace to buy goods/services because the prices are cheaper and easier more convenient for users. and the prices are cheaper because they don't pay an advertising tax which funds all the free useless videos.


I have my own server, I have had a blog since 2002. That blog has shifted around through multiple CMSes, from a homemade php script to movable type, to static generated to blogger.com to self-hosted wordpress. For quite a few years, my blogging has gone to almost non-existant (1-2 posts/year) due to me using the much easier facebook and g+ to post. However, I've been trying to get back into seriously blogging again.

I've also in the process of starting up a forum for local techies. Again, this will be self-hosted. I did some integration between wordpress and nodebb to be able to share my posts to a nodebb forum, and the comments are powered by nodebb.

Whenever I see a discussion on decentralized social, I get a bit excited, maybe try it out, then drift away. But now, I'm thinking about decentralized social a bit differently. I'd like to write a short status update (like a mastadon toot), post a picture, or write a 20 paragraph article all using the same interface. People should be able to reply right below it as comments, or share it. The forum I'm setting up could probably work that same way.. it's just a feed of things, and if it could be organized into topics (or perhaps even just #hashtags), that would be a good experience. So far, that's just all running on my server. If it was also federated, people on that federated network might see it and interact.

I don't know if there's anything active that can do that. mastadon looks like it's geared as a twitter clone (500 character limits) so I can do the short status and picture aspect of it, but not the longer posts. I like the idea of the local feed, which I believe could be displayed live on my site. I don't know if GNU Social or one of the others would fit in with this idea, but I'll be investigating this more now.

There is this ostatus plugin for wordpress. This makes it look like I can share posts to gnu social + mastadon, and integrate the comments with it, but not sure how that would work in practice.

https://wordpress.org/plugins/ostatus-for-wordpress/

To kind of sum that all up, I'd like to setup a federated blog (status updates, comments, articles) for myself, and a federated forum for a group. They could be the same instance, or two separate instances, or two entirely different applications.


It's reverse psychology. The author of this piece is playing 3D chess with us. The surest way to inspire people to attempt something is to say that it can't be done.

(but I am legitimately interested in the systems-theoretic nature of this problem, and hearing the different views, and this view is a valid one.)


Related: Cunningham's Law, which states, "the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it's to post the wrong answer".


You are right - after reading this article, it just seemed to confirm my opinion the decentralized networks don't work but we ought not to give up.


i could barely read the article. the first pop up blocked the whole screen, and when I clicked the X I also accidentally clicked the ad behind it.

Then, when I was trying to read, the text kept popping up and down as ads moved in and out. I gave up at that point.


Reader mode in Firefox is basically made for removing this kind of BS.


"People do not want to operate their own servers" ... oh, how much I hate that argument. There are so many baseless assumptions in there. What does "operate a server" even mean? Is "loading a web page that accepts WebRTC requests" "operating a server"?

Obviously, what people mean is some sort of "people don't want to learn how to manage the installation and configuration of a linux distribution on the command line". Which probably is true--but also completely irrelevant.

Arguably, home routers are servers. People routinely "operate" home routers. So, people routinely operate their own servers.

Yes, usability might need to be improved. But obviously, the first generations of new technological ideas are built by and for enthusiasts and thus require a bit more motivation to get started. There is absolutely no reason to think that that is therefore an inherent property of the idea itself.


> Arguably, home routers are servers. People routinely "operate" home routers. So, people routinely operate their own servers.

This is quite arguable, as most people plug in a router, or even more commonly, have Comcast do it for them.

And you are closer to the mark with the "configuration of a linux distribution on the command line" bit. Look at adoption rates for GPG and some of the blog posts/comments on it. [1],[2]

If Security Professionals are giving up on what is not a wholly complex system in general, it sets a fairly clear bar on what is acceptable anymore and what isn't. Apple's Messages, Signal, Telegram, any of these chats with the built-in End to End Encryption is what is mostly needs to be; you just open the application, and the work is done. Of course, this means in some way centralization and trusting a monolithic org to play nice.

Currently a lot of the social media alternatives fall victim either to the lack of traction or the complexity of participation, and adhering to the privacy and security ideals sometimes requries complexity.

Don't get me wrong, I'm firmly in the RTFM camp and protect your privacy by whatever means, but that means concessions, and often concessions people don't want to give. Malware would be cut in half if people just ran NoScript, but that would break a lot and require some knowledge of what happens on the pages they go to. People would probably be happier with alternative social media platforms that are more communication focused, but that requires sometimes more configuration than they're willing to bother with.

The ideas proposed by alternative systems typically aren't that new to begin with and have been around for ages - when complexity is a requirement for the technology, there isn't really a post-enthusiast era. Many tech leaps were very simple on release; consider BitTorrent. Get client, download torrent, a file appears. It was pretty magical, and new.

[1] - https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2016/12/giving_up_on_... (comment from Schneier on [2], agreeing) [2] - https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/12/op-ed...


> This is quite arguable, as most people plug in a router, or even more commonly, have Comcast do it for them.

And yet, they are not limited to communicating with other comcast customers.

Whether that would be the best model for social networks, I don't know, but I think it is important to recognize that you do not need every individual to build their "server" from scratch to achieve some meaningful benefits of decentralization. If comcast doesn't like you, they cannot cut you off from the internet, and that is already a pretty big advantage over walled gardens.


> This is quite arguable, as most people plug in a router, or even more commonly, have Comcast do it for them.

So replace router with Apple TV.


Totally agree with you. I think a successful decentralized network should come with pre-configured Raspberry Pi that would act as a web server hosting the user pictures, contacts… And maybe a bit of friends data for backup.


1) What happens when it breaks? If you plug in a new one, will it auto-restore? Where from? 2) Updates. How do they happen, who does them? What about when they go wrong? What about 5 years in when there are three models of the device (or way, way more if it's not proprietary) and an update goes out that bricks one?

Difficulty: the answers to the above must leave you with a product easy to use and reliable enough to compete with doing approximately zero work to use and maintain a Facebook account. Plus it needs to offer at least as many features.

I've for some time wanted a kind of private swarm-storage product (probably using IPFS, I guess, for lack of alternatives) that lets you plug in a new node at a friend/relative's house with a few TB of storage, put in the credentials (keys, bootstrap node[s]) for the swarm, and has it intelligently back up some amount of content from the network such that everything has at least X copies (3, say) while making all the rest available (that's where IPFS helps) on request, with some interface for adding content to the swarm from any node. The above problems have kept me from attempting even this task. A social network would be even harder.


s/Raspberry Pi/EC2 instance/

A world where it's common for people to run their own server opens up exciting possibilities (just as a world where everyone carries a computer in their pocket has), but I don't think actual physical servers is going to get us there.


Though I guess the important point is that the technology shouldn't care--if you want, you can put your own hardware in your basement, or host it with some local cooperative, or with amazon, whatever you prefer.


I think if the argument "people do not want to operate their own servers" were true, then ISP's like Comcast wouldn't have clauses prohibiting users from doing it, or filters in place blocking access to common service ports like 22 and 80 from the outside.


I don't follow. We're talking about whether enough people are willing to jump through the hoops to get decentralized social networking to work.

Pointing out that some people run servers isn't much of a distinction. Some people also use decentralized social networks. But virtually nobody.


I've never seen an actual well-thought out technical argument on why decentralised social networks can't work. That's because there isn't one. People who are familiar with the technical issues surrounding this are humble and don't make bogus over-generalised statements like "X can't work [ever, everywhere, in all contexts]".

This article is not a well-thought out argument either. It's a bunch of random irrelevant anecdotes with some hand-waving tacked onto the end that the writers though was good to write down here because the same words impressed their friends.

The main barriers here actually are:

- over-advertising and self-promotion of non-advanced stuff like Diaspora etc that doesn't actually solve any inherently hard problems in this area, wasting people's time especially that of interested people that want to enter the field

- lack of funding on solving the hard problems in this field

- lack of structured educational material to get good new engineers onto these topics

When people say this stuff "can't work", they really have no realistic concept of the amount of actual resources it takes to bring a great idea into reality, and how little resources are being (and have been) fed into this topic that they so over-confidently dismiss "can't work".


What "advanced stuff" was/is Diaspora lacking for you?

The problems I had with it I can't imagine being able to solve technically. It was merely not top-of-mind for the group I set it up for. They came for a little while but weren't inherently invested (e.g. you're "inherently invested" in your football team's communication mechanism. don't log in, and you don't find out about a schedule change). Instead it was just a group of friends I wanted to "facebook-verb-without-facebook-noun with".

Point is, Diaspora worked for me technically, just not socially. What was it missing in your eyes?


Global search. Diaspora might have worked for you technically in the limited use-cases that you were using it for, but there are things Facebook can do that Diaspora couldn't have done (with non-shitty performance).

> It was merely not top-of-mind for the group I set it up for.

Some people make a big deal out of the "network effect" but they totally ignore how networks get going in the first place. It's the digital world, networks come and go all the time, overcoming the network effect is not a magical process. You offer more features than competitors and target people that have greater influence in the network.

It's for sure an uphill battle and this is one of the motivations of creating decentralised networks in the first place - to reduce network effects, to avoid these barriers to entry and these influences that make society's inequalities worse. But obviously if one has a depressing attitude about the whole process of overcoming network effects, and talk shit about "it can't work", then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


> lack of funding on solving the hard problems in this field

Also some of the hard problems like spam detections are only ads related. If you build a decentralized social network you don't face those


People will still send spam messages, "friend" you with spam profiles, etc.


I think viable alternates to Facebook/Twitter have less to do with the underlying technology and are more about attracting audiences not served by these social networks. Hence I think the next viable alternative to twitter/Facebook will probably be a centeralized one that caters to multiple niche communities.

Mastodon was released in October 2016, it currently has about 800k users spread across 2000+ servers.

Currently the maintainer of mastodon gets ~$2800 from Patreon to host one of the main #mastodon servers & work on the project.

Mastodon is kind of like Wordpress for niche communities who want a twitter like experience outside of twitter for 1 reason or other.

Right now one of the biggest use cases for mastodon is lolicon in Japan.

Here is how much it costs to host your own instance:

https://masto.host/

Let’s contrast mastodon with gab. Gab (centralized) was launched August 2016 has about ~270k users, 3,000+ customers and it just raised $1m. It also gets mainstream media recognition.

The main use case for gab is people with political views that were booted off of twitter. Aka free speech. Right now gabs community is not really my cup of tea but I can see why you would use it.

I think something like gab has more of a chance of going mainstream by collecting fringe communities effected by stuff like the adpocalypss than mastodon does.

I think his mainly because of the problems around federated identity. A good critique of this can be read here:

https://medium.com/m/global-identity?redirectUrl=https://hac...


Is there a need for a more closed group solution for families and immediate friends? Perhaps one based on definable groups and encrypted posts and comments only those members can see?


Maybe. I personally just use Whatsapp and messenger group chats to communicate with my family/friends.


What short sighted click bait. Steem has already solved or partially solved most of these problems and we haven't even scratched the service. Read the Steem white paper [1] if you want your mind blown.

[1] https://steem.io


What are the key reasons someone should go to Steem rather than to some existing social platform? Steem will likely be slower and the barriers to contribute will likely be higher.

Secondly, do you think it is a good basis for building communities if everything is associated with monetary rewards? Sites like Reddit are exactly enjoyable because, most of the time, reward is only imaginary, just like in real-world gatherings of people: It is about having a good time rather than about an exchange of money.

Thirdly, how do you ensure that the things people post on Steem are their own work, especially if the data is hosted elsewhere, e.g. on YouTube. There will probably be massive, irreversible thefts of intellectual property (a.k.a. reposters, but with actual money involved). Conversely, a lot of valuable content comes actually from reposting and "karma theft" (which is what linking e.g. a blog article from someone else actually is).

Fourthly, how do you avoid fraud as for example often found on Kickstarter? Kickstarter actually has a review process and even they are not fully equipped for it. I am not seeing reliable moderation ever scale enough such that it can withstand the likely immense fraudulent interests due to the monetary incentives.


> There will probably be massive, irreversible thefts of intellectual property (a.k.a. reposters, but with actual money involved).

Whatever this might be, it's not theft. And it might just be something we have to accept if we don't want to live in a de-facto police state.

> Conversely, a lot of valuable content comes actually from reposting and "karma theft" (which is what linking e.g. a blog article from someone else actually is).

That's a fallacy, though pretty common. People who connect other people with stuff those other people want do provide a useful service, and being rewarded for a useful service is not obviously a bad idea, let alone some sort of "theft".

> Fourthly, how do you avoid fraud as for example often found on Kickstarter? Kickstarter actually has a review process and even they are not fully equipped for it. I am not seeing reliable moderation ever scale enough such that it can withstand the likely immense fraudulent interests due to the monetary incentives.

Just like everywhere else in life? You don't need a big brother managing every step you take in order to avoid fraud.


I need to be honest, for me it was definitely the fact that you can earn money for just writing blog posts and curating. Also that it's so transparent what people make, it really motivates you to post when you see someone earn thousands of dollars from one post.

I did however find out that the community is great, made many new friends and read a lot of interesting posts. Lately it looks like it has been kind of overrun with people from China or third-world countries, which is interesting, but sometimes the posts are not translated and the steemit.com site does a poor job of managing different languages.

I haven't been active on Steemit for more than a year but thinking of going back since I miss it. It's very consuming though, a lot more than Facebook. Since there's a monetary reward on everything you do it feels like "working" even when you're mindlessly upvoting stuff. I used to spend many hours a day just reading, jotting on a new blog post or connect with fellow steemians on the official chat server.


It's decentralized but needs:

- My Email Address

- My Phone Number

Not really the sort of decentralized I was hoping for..


Identity is still a huge open problem. There are blockchain projects who promise to solve it (Civic is probably the most popular).

I do not believe a blockchain will solve it. The core problem is that you need a network of trust. Currently, we have governments as trust masternodes via identity cards. Then there are secondary master nodes companies like Facebook, Google, Telekom, Vodafone, etc, where verification is easier and faster, but less reliable. How does a blockchain improve anything about it?

Here is the challenge: There is a kid born in rural Africa. How could you proof to someone with a smartphone in the US that this human being exists?


> Here is the challenge: There is a kid born in rural Africa. How could you proof to someone with a smartphone in the US that this human being exists?

Better question: What would you even need that proof for?


So that the other side knows they're talking with (and maybe talking about, or sending resources to) a real human being who actually is a rural African kid, and not with a server farm of some sleazy US advertiser who autogenerated a fake profile.


Now, that is mixing up a whole lot of different problems, isn't it?

First of all, "proving that this human being exists" in no way implies "proving that this human being is a kid in rural africa". Let alone "proving that this human being is a kid in rural africa who lacks resources". Now, those absolutely might be legitimate concerns in some scenarios--but how would that be a baseline requirement for a system for social interactions? Last I checked I don't need to bring a credit report to get into a local pub and chat with people either.

Secondly, if you assume a situation where those questions actually were relevant: How is trusting one centralized, not democratically controlled institution to take care of the problem even a solution? If you rely on them, you implicitly also give them the power to effectively declare real people non-existent. If facebook says "this is not a real human being", is that actually reliable information, or could it just be a case of them optimizing their business with the (possibly unintended) side effect of cutting this rural african kid off from resources by incorrectly labeling them "not a human"?


> Last I checked I don't need to bring a credit report to get into a local pub and chat with people either.

But you see those people, with your own eyes, and thus know they exist. Maybe in 50 years we'll have robots indistinguishable from humans, and the question of proof will become relevant for in-pub interactions. For now, the question is relevant only for long-distance communications.

> How is trusting one centralized, not democratically controlled institution to take care of the problem even a solution? If you rely on them, you implicitly also give them the power to effectively declare real people non-existent.

True. But so is the case with a democratic government, and so is the case with any other organization or system. And the power to declare people non-existent is exercised frequently, often by mere bureaucratic accident. Ultimately, trust is a spectrum. No organization is worth 100% trust, but also no one is worth 0% trust. I don't e.g. particularly trust Facebook, but I trust the social web - if I have a friend who has a friend who has a friend who is a friend of the rural kid in Africa, I can with high confidence assume the rural kid in Africa exists[0].

So yeah, in my previous comment I mixed up a few different use cases. But I think in pretty much all of them you want to at least know the other person is a human being, and frequently you also want to know they are who they say they are.

--

[0] - This effect is actually sabotaged by the pro-privacy efforts to hide as much information about people as possible, rendering users unable to follow the social web chains beyond their own direct connections. Privacy is important, but it's always a trade-off, sometimes trading off genuinely useful things.


> But you see those people, with your own eyes, and thus know they exist.

But I still don't see their credit report. I could still fall for someone fraudulently claiming to be poor.

> I don't e.g. particularly trust Facebook, but I trust the social web - if I have a friend who has a friend who has a friend who is a friend of the rural kid in Africa, I can with high confidence assume the rural kid in Africa exists[0].

Well, first of all, if you receive that information from facebook, then you necessarily need to trust facebook first before you can even start with that investigation.

But also: Do you trust facebook to not misrepresent the non-existence of that rural kid in Africa? Is that trust warranted?

> But I think in pretty much all of them you want to at least know the other person is a human being, and frequently you also want to know they are who they say they are.

You don't really expect to accidentally become friends with a bot quite yet, do you? Just because it's difficult for machines sometimes to detect bots, doesn't mean that is really a major problem for closer social connections. Also, what does "know they are who they say they are" even mean? You say you are TeMPOraL, and I am pretty sure you are TeMPOraL, what more is there to "know you are who you say you are" that could be improved by "identity checks" on the part of a "social network"?

> This effect is actually sabotaged by the pro-privacy efforts to hide as much information about people as possible, rendering users unable to follow the social web chains beyond their own direct connections. Privacy is important, but it's always a trade-off, sometimes trading off genuinely useful things.

Which is why every privacy advocate is for individual control. Privacy is not about forcing you to be paranoid, but about giving you the control over your data. There is nothing wrong with you being able to prove your identity to a peer that you want to prove your identity to, say. The problem is when you are forced to prove your identity no matter the need for the actual social interaction.l


The problem of figuring out whether someone is the real person or an imposter (problem of identity) is a completely different problem from verifying a person's circumstances.


https://anon.steem.network

Account creation costs real money, which we subsidize. Anti-spam is required. No phone number or email address is required to use the blockchain, only for Steemit Inc to buy you an account and give it to you for free.

Anyone with an existing account can create more, if they pay. AnonSteem simply sells creation for btc and ltc with a markup.


You can spin up a node or use a wallet to create an account directly on the Steem blockchain instead of doing it through the Steemit webpage.


If that's an option I haven't found it from a quick glance on the website. I just followed what was there without looking too deeply into it. Maybe if that's something you can do, there should be a clear process written up somewhere


Steemit is not aimed at advanced users. Most probably don't even know that it's powered by a blockchain other than on a buzzword level.

There are plenty of guides how to work with the Steem blockchain directly posted as blog posts on the blockchain itself. :)


Anon Steem makes it easier for you to create an account anonymously. https://anon.steem.network/

You can create an account through steem connect if you have a friend with steem https://steemit.com/news/@timcliff/new-tool-from-busy-org-cr...

For advanced users you can do the steem account creation transation yourself using the steem cli


I've only scanned the "how to build" documentation but from what I saw there is only information on producing a test network not joining the public blockchain? Is there a set of instructions for hosting your own "real" node?

(I've not read the white paper or other documentation so the info may be buried in there, I'm unlikely to find time for that in the near future though so asking out of "laziness" in case you have a quick answer to give)


I find it and the white paper I interesting. It is very well thought out. I joined. But the stink of money is everywhere and this is distracting. Reddit and HN have worthless internet karma points but we can laugh it off. Making it explicit that we are whoring ourselves in a market pushes it too far I think. It makes us self conscious and that is an impediment to creative discussion. But something will come out of these attempts. Something with tokens and systems and weird rules. It's a game. We just need to find the right game to play in.


Now if we could only solve the shilling problem on social networks.

Your whitepaper blew my mind in trying to bootstrap YACC via the hook of a decentralized social network. I'd say odds of long-term success are zero here, but points for originality.


Please do some research before posting nonsense comments. Steemit is a pretty big community already, with a thriving ecosystem. Go to https://steemit.com/ to see for yourself. Steem is just the blockchain/cryptocurrency, while Steemit is the actual community front-end on top of it.

There's no shilling going on here. Just a user recommending it.


I wonder if the concepts in Steem could be applied to the real economy, to arrive at a more fair distribution of wealth.


That would be interesting. Basically instead of companies existing, make every project in the world an open source project on a blockchain and people get compensated for contributing directly as a consequence of how the blockchain works.


Here is the problem I have with most advertised decentralized social networks. Their only added value is being decentralized. Decentralized twitter / facebook / instagram. What do you gain from using those decentralized things? Nothing aside from being a hipster. And you lose your current social connections. Even worse, decentralized solutions existed before and are still available: blog software, bulletin boards, IRC, even mails.

So if you want people to create their own hubs they should get something for their effort. I don't have a solution there but something as stupid as being able to watch some show with 6 or 8 participants all over the world could be a start. Even the old Google Wave (I think it was), the mix of chat, code, wiki which was too slow for a webapp at the time should be reconsidered. Maybe with native clients.


You gain control over the platform you're using. That's illustrated in the first paragraph of the Wired article.

People are getting pretty sick of getting pushed around by these mega corporations whether it's when they're telling you what software you're allowed to have on your cell phone or what you're allowed to write on a social media site. I think the next decade is going to be defined by an explosion in decentralized technologies.


What do you gain from a democracy over a monarchy or a dictatorship? The only added value is being decentralized.

Yes, the "only" added value of decentralized power structures is their decentralization. And the absense of all the terrible effects that centralized power structures tend to have in the long term.


I'll have to pop your analogy bubble and ask the question again: How are you going to convince people that the decentralization of a platform they use to get laid and keep up with friends/family is going to have a meaningful impact on their lives? And how are you going to do it to the point where you can cause an exodus large enough to cause any real change?

You're going to have to do better than draw some analogies to monarchies on Hacker News. And things like "but they sell your data!" has had no impact beyond desensitizing everyone with Chicken Little'ism.


I don't know, nor did I claim to know? Though in the end it will have to boil down to "because no dictatorship", just probably packaged in a way people understand what that means. Potentially we'll have to live through it before people do understand, though, just as we have with monarchies and dictatorships.


The fact that it is decentralised is the main benefit I am interested in.


None of the reasons they give -- difficulty of user acquisition, conflict between security and convenience, curation, or economies of scale -- are fundamental obstacles to making a decentralized social network. Mastodon has found some success despite facing the same problems.


Mastodon is not successful by any metric compared with even the smallest social networks, let alone the giants


Where would you find these metrics? Looking at the federated timeline, I see posts appearing at a pretty fast rate (more than one per second), though most of them are in Japanese.


It's very popular in Japan because of the "lolicon" phenomenon (cultural sexy drawings of youth people), which is not accepted by Twitter because of the occidental culture in which this is a taboo.


go and ask everyone you meet in person today if they've heard of mastodon


I bet that few of them will reply that it is an extinct animal, some others that it is a cool band, and most of them that they have never heard of such a thing.


Mastodon is not successful, at all. Apparently content that was not accepted on twitter, such as lolicon, has found a new home on Mastodon.

The average user would never bother to migrate to decentralized services for any other reason then necessity, lack of choice, or to escape rules/laws.


Personally I like using Mastodon. There is an open source community (mostly french) that post interesting things.

A good social network shouldn't be about who has the most users, but who has the users you want to interact with.

Mastodon will probably never be the average user social network, but it works pretty well for people with specific interest, or marginalized people that doesn't want to interact with hateful people.

As for the lolicon content, it just doesn't exists except on specific instance, which are blocked on mine.


Reposting from Mastodon: https://mastodon.social/@Gargron/18213943

If you think the only reason to use a self-hosted social network is if you want to circumvent the laws, you're making the same argument as only wanting privacy if you've got something to hide. YouTube ran an algorithm to delete "extremist videos" and accidentally irreversibly deleted a bunch of historical evidence of destruction of Syrian historical sites. Shit like that happens all the time when someone else is in charge.


Didn't bother reading your link, cause that's not what I said. I was talking about the average user.

I also never said they don't have value, or that they're only there to circumvent rules or laws.

Sidenote: Loss of privacy/centralization isn't a problem to be solved, it's a reality that needs to be accepted. We lost already.


Define "successful." I think your definition might be more compatible with the writers of this article than that of anyone who actually uses Mastodon. What does a resident of awoo.space or witches.town (for example) care about scale relative to Twitter? They're successful at serving their niches.


Sure, but centralized services have the same user acquisition problem. Is there something that makes decentralized services uniquely bad at getting users to switch?


Decentralised services always come out years later centralised services are launched and their only raison d'etre is not having the rules of those services.


Yeah, I still remember when the web was only a product of Web Inc., and how long it took for independent webserver implementations to take off.

Or, before then, do you still remember when email was this walled garden where everyone had an account with Electronic Messaging Solutions Inc.? It took decades until sendmail, exim, qmail, postfix, and so on came along, largely thanks to Google's help in breaking open the former monopoly, and people could finally host their own email servers!


I mean the decentralised services of today, no need to write a snark response. THink XMPP, or Mastodon.


Ah, yeah, true, I still remember the days when the walled garden or IRC was the only option around before XMPP was invented.

Are you sure you aren't just saying "those decentralized services that happen to be built as replacements for centralized services come out later than what they intend to replace"? Well, yeah, of course they do. While those that happen to be invented decentralized first come out decentralized first. Also, I think email still is a decentralized service of today? And yet, gmail seems to be going strong in centralizing email, doesn't it?!


> Mastodon is not successful, at all.

I don't know about your definitions, but in my playbook 800,000 users is pretty damned successful. Let me reinterpret your comment for you: "I do not want to believe Mastodon is successful, since it hurts my view."

> Apparently content that was not accepted on twitter, such as lolicon, has found a new home on Mastodon.

Unsurprising. All communities end up with some version of this problem, be it hate speech, illegal content, piracy, etc. And it can definitely be harder to police in these kinds of federated environments... but it's certainly not an unsolvable problem. People just have to want to solve it. Twitter has a huge problem with hate speech on their platform, as an example, but they've basically turned a complete blind eye to it for years and years. (And even now after they've started trying to add some support for content policing, reporting hate speech still requires far too many clicks to be reasonable, given the rate people can churn it out...)

In fact, when your platform starts to have these problems, it's usually a sign you've done something right. It means your platform is actually mature enough to abuse, unlike other platforms that failed to reach this status like Diaspora. That's not a sign to give up, it's a sign that you need to start thinking about how to solve these new problems. (And they're hard problems to solve, often coming down to jurisdictional boundaries and "default deny" policies simply because the problem is seen as too hard to fix in software. You even see Google struggling to solve these problems - e.g. on YouTube it's still common that they ban content erroneously, claiming it to be extremist or whatnot.)

> The average user would never bother to migrate to decentralized services for any other reason then necessity, lack of choice, or to escape rules/laws.

Or you know, because they want to. There are plenty of reasons to leave Twitter behind: It's adding bloat that hardly any of the users care about, with yawn inducing, bandwidth destroying live video, infuriating autoplaying video, and "moments". It continues to pollute feeds with garbage from other users with no way to filter it (like "[so and so liked this]" - good for them, but this isn't Facebook...). And now they're even messing with chronology, so you get messages from hours in the past appearing at the top of your feed instead of up-to-the-minute content that you'd expect. (And my personal favorite anti-feature, the "you have location tracking disabled, we will not track your location" location-tracking sidebar filled with location-specific content.)

Looking at all of those downsides, then comparing with Mastodon which doesn't have any of those problems, supporting large messages, spoiler tags/content-under-the-fold, having decent Android clients, and decent, growing communities, and, well... it's really quite a compelling platform for me.


> "I do not want to believe Mastodon is successful, since it hurts my view."

What? I like Mastodon, it just doesn't have any people from the circles I follow on Twitter. I don't think the average user (who I was talking about btw) who follows mainstream celebrities does either.

Anyway I didn't bother reading the rest of your post, seems like you're coming from a place of anger.


Decentralized social networks aren't working for now because they reinvent their own protocol each time which creates fragmentation and incompatibilities between the platforms.

I think that decentralized social network projects should relies on existing standards and help with their development. That's why I'm working on Movim (https://movim.eu/) for several years now, which is fully based on XMPP and is de facto compatible with many other clients and services out there.


> Decentralized social networks aren't working for now because they reinvent their own protocol each time

nope...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OStatus


> Decentralized social networks aren't working for now because they reinvent their own protocol each time which creates fragmentation and incompatibilities between the platforms.

Recall that all computing problems are solved by adding more abstraction ( ;) ) and not all problems yield to a direct attack with the current tools. Maybe the point of maximum leverage here is actually the problem that interoperation between different protocols is too difficult?


The interoperability between the protocols is indeed difficult. But pushing a standard protocol is, I think, the best way to promote this compatibility.

Imagine if we didn't have a standard protocol for emails (SMTP/IMAP/POP) but instead several protocols built using JSON on top of HTTP. We would have to take most of our time to work on broken transport libraries and fix incompatibility issues between all those solutions. Hopefully we have a standard (even if it's not the best one) and we can "just" build on top using the many existing libraries and projects out there.

I think that such "social standard" should be build on Internet protocols (TCP/TLS/DNS/IP…) and not Web only (HTTP), even if it's "easier". Also instead of re-starting from scratch I prefer to improve something existing like XMPP that have flaws but is already an industry standard with a strong community, many libraries/clients and servers deployed all across the world.


Made good points but missed the fact that social networks like Facebook and Google started like decentralised networks today. In the Philippines, Facebook wasn't popular at all when Friendster and MySpace were kicking. It was only after the demise of Friendster, and the MySpace was forgotten, that Facebook gained attention. It's similar for decentralised networks. Secondly, decentralised networks are good as it is. It does not have to be the "next Facebook" or the "next Twitter", although many such networks and writers dubbed these as such. Slow growth and adoption is better than an explosive one. These networks are being developed generally for free and offered for free, with no ads whatsoever even. The developers are few and they do it during their free time. Thus a slow adoption is to its advantage.

I use decentralized networks, even used to run my own instance.


Cross-posting from Mastodon: https://mastodon.social/web/statuses/18182566

Another tech media article misunderstanding Mastodon as a Twitter competitor.

They can't understand Mastodon because they can't imagine a technology that doesn't cater to them.

Tech media personalities can't understand a world where their opinion means less than that of a random furry.


The same could have been said 30 years ago for an open source OS.


or that decentralized social network called 'email'.


Email is not a social network.

It is equivalent to a text message or phone call.


You might call it a network of social connections.


Also, people call e.g. Snapchat a social network. But by this definition, e-mail is much more of a social network than Snapchat.


I guess that gets at the point that the term social network is poorly defined.


Then again, we're still waiting for the year of the Linux Desktop.


Yeah, but at least that open source OS dominates on literally every other platform in the world.


Just about everyone I know on Facebook would jump ship if they could. Not a day goes by that I don't notice someone complaining or leaving over anger at Google and Facebook supporting invading their privacy, promoting extremist politics, and censorship of conservative and liberal ideas.


Except in one sense, it already does.

I have some friends with blogs. Those blogs have RSS feeds. Feeds of "news", you might say.

I load up sageRSS in Firefox, see friends who have new content in bold, and get their news. A "news feed", you might even say.

Admittedly I can't easily use that to deduce that x is friends with y is friends with z, or (easily) get a map of where all of my friends went on vacation last year, but I kind of think that's a good thing.


this is kind of dying though, or at least flat in terms of growth overall


I use Diaspora* as a blogging platform. The social interactions are a plus. It works well


GNU Social is low traffic, but it's alive and well.


And GNU social and Mastodon are two different projects that speak OStatus. I'm pleased to see Mastodon's success, and while I'm basically done with GNU these days, I hope to see the two projects continue to cooperate on the OStatus network.


I don't think it's a technical problem and I think the problems the articel points out are social and economic problems. I once started to design a protocol that could be used to build a decentralized social network. (FOSP https://github.com/maufl/fosp-specification) However, I now think that a peer-to-peer solution would be better, even if it is technically more challenging, as it would not require anybody to run a server and untilize the resources the users already pay for (storage, network connection).


So how would you launch a decentralized social network?

You could do what Zuckerberg did. Start with big-name colleges. Call it FratNet. Get a few key fraternities and sororities on board. Each frat has their own node, but it's probably in a data center and costs like a Wordpress site. Offer it on mobile. Log in with face recognition. A key function is a good events calendar and invite system.

Then roll it out to other groups which have lots of events, such as churches.


Decentralized anything will never work. Keep your trust in the banks and the corporations and the gov. They would never do anything that wasn't in your best interests.


I've experimented in this space. The biggest challenge, IMO, is that we don't have good federated user authentication.

What do I mean? Pretty much all major social networks need to re-invent user authentication, and then taking your profile from one social network to another is a very inconsistent user experience. Can I "friend" a Linkedin user via Facebook? If I sign into other sites via Facebook, they often demand that I enter personal info that I don't want to enter.

A decentralized social network needs to be built upon a better authentication system.

What we really need is something like government-backed user profiles. Imagine if the US government provided a government-backed user profile. Now imagine that web sites had to allow interaction with government profiles without registering, providing email addresses, ect.

That's the point where a decentralized social network could start working. Otherwise, the social networks end up needing to perform services that really are the government's job.


Let's not forget that just because a network is decentralized, doesn't mean that you have to host your own server.

I use mastodon, but I don't host my own server. I just joined one of the many already existing servers. Similarly, email is decentralized, but most people don't host their own servers.


"Scuttlebutt is slang for gossip, particularly among sailors. It is also the name of a peer-to-peer system ideal for social graphs, identity and messaging. ...Secure Scuttlebutt is also different to federated social networks like Mastodon, Diaspora, GNU social, OStatus. Those technologies are not peer-to-peer, because each component is either a server or a client, but not both." https://staltz.com/an-off-grid-social-network.html

It's also a system with a clear, although niche, use case that adds value in a way that FB wouldn't.


The reason distributed/decentralized things fail isn't because of the BS reasons this article gives. In my opinion it is about - Usability: open source UI and UX sucks for the most part... build an amazing UI and user experience and users will come.

- Do NOT expect people to download and setup software and run nodes... Can you build it in the universal piece of software that everybody has today.. AKA browser ? I think whoever nails these challenges will win.

- I think somebody (maybe me) should build such a 'universal browser' that allows all of these decentralized things to happen. I was thinking Brave would be that browser.. but I'm not sure..


I think a major "innovation" from Mastodon was integrating with the GNUSocial and ActivityPub networks. Mastodon is new and shiny, like many other attempted decentralized social networks have been. But what's crazy is that it's new and shiny and built on the old social networks, so it inherits their communities and reinvigorates the old communities. This novel approach to "make a new social network" contributes greatly to Mastodon's success imo.

I think we should keep trying. All private internet services are doomed to die. It's inevitable. Only decentralized services can live on and keep us truly free.


in other words, the MIT Media Lab is a business accelerator that hasn't figured out the space that Mastadon is operating in and is afraid that Mastadon will succeed


This was discussed at length here [0] where the original link was the origin paper [1] for this wired post.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15055522

[1]: http://dci.mit.edu/assets/papers/decentralized_web.pdf


What a lazy and cynical article. Evil shit.


the benefits are non obvious. social media does not have bandwith issues and few people want to share illegal text/images. so centralized platforms can work almost just as well as decentralized ones. should social networks become subject to a lot of censorship, this will change.


But that's already happening? I constantly on Twitter see "7 replies", but I'm only able to see 2. Lots of users get shadowbanned.

Now with perspective ai it looks like this will only increase and all of this is never a user choice, it's always the platform deciding for me what level of toxicity I'm able to handle. And it often plain fails. Lots of false positives.

I see this on every platfrom, nontransparent moderation and algorithm filtering everything without my knowledge nor any control.

I personally use mastodon daily, I don't know what a platform needs to reach to be successful, but when I use it daily it's successful enough for me.

Even the pawoo drama makes it sound like the only reason people in japan use it, is to see lolicon content, but the whole pixiv platform is far more than just lolicon. It's like deviantart full of talented artists that don't draw any lolicon content. This platform just doesn't think of lolicon as taboo. Mastodon is constantly growing and it's not just the pawoo instance.


>> But that's already happening? I constantly on Twitter see "7 replies", but I'm only able to see 2. Lots of users get shadowbanned.

Those are probably locked accounts.


Reading the article now, but I can tell you that this is almost certainly false.


They do in real life.


what a lazy and pessimistic article. evil shit.


Like email or Google Docs? LOL.


Google Docs is centralized. Maybe you meant Google Reader ?


The anonymity and spam problem is really tough. Facebook has a "real name" policy for good reasons.


decentralized social networks won't work because in order to keep a business running you need profits or the expectation of profits to acquire the talent needed to provide a nice user experience. Solutions motivated by capitalism will not disappear anytime soon.

"But email is decentralized". Actually not true, it is heavily centralized around gmail. Same true with bitcoin, it is centralized around exchanges.


Decentralize the funding; rely on users rather than advertising or VC. Developing Mastodon is now the full-time job of he guy who wrote it, thanks to Patreon. I think he's starting to hire a few people, too.

And a lot of Mastodon servers also have their own Patreons to help out with the hosting costs.


To be an accredited investor in the United States, you need to make at least $200,000 a year or have $1,000,000 in assets. Would you rather be funded by users of your app or accredited investors? I think in a free market, the most competitive companies will prefer the second option.


Would you rather be in charge of a machine designed to make money, no matter what the cost to the humans who use it, or would you rather be in charge of something designed to foster useful connections between people?

Would you be happier building a social network designed to keep people on it as long as possible, so that it looks like a good way to get a lot of eyeballs in front of the ads posted by your real customers, or would you be happier building one that people interact with for a small portion of their day in ways that generally leave them happier, and then get on with doing whatever else they're gonna do?

Not everything needs to be about making as much money as possible. And so far Mastodon has been doing okay by taking a more distributed approach: development is partially funded by users who care to pay something, and partially a volunteer effort by people with enough time to spare; hosting is funded by people spinning up a Mastodon instance for their friends or their community, and if it starts to get to be more than they can handle they close off new signups and/or start asking their users for a few bucks here and there.

Mastodon is, thus, not obligated to anyone but Gargron's vision of what it should be, and what the users of his software are willing to support. Sure, it's not gonna make any lists of "ten hottest unicorns in Silicon Valley". Who gives a shit?

Would you rather lie there on your deathbed thinking "I sure generated a ton of value for shareholders and helped a racist con-man get elected president", or "I sure helped a ton of people have a lot of conversations and connections"?


I use instagram, twitter, and snapchat because the user interface is sleek and the influencers of the network, not because of engagement growth hacks that are not sustainable long term.

Yes I would rather have a billion dollars than have a billion users with a dollar each. One is capitalism and the other is socialism, I think capitalism is just more natural.


Except this isn't about companies, but about users. I as a user don't care about what the company prefers, I care about whether their goals align with my goals. And if I fund them, chances are potentially higher that their goals are aligned with my goals.


Not everything has to be a business.




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