Decentralized social media: a dream or a new reality?

It fell hard and fast: the photo tweeted by the new owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, of him walking into the headquarters of the social media channel with a sink under the heading ‘let that sink in’. The share price went through the hole and many users left the channel for the decentralized alternative Mastodon. Decentralized social media are on the rise, but why exactly? How can you get started with it yourself and what does the future look like?

Since its emergence in the mid-1990s, social media has become an important and integral part of the daily life of our society. Half of the world’s population now has access and we spend an average of 2.5 hours a day on it. Regardless of the distance, friends, families, and communities can connect and communicate. It makes the exchange of information and ideas very easy and it has given people the opportunity to create and share their own content. Companies have a wealth of new marketing options and the bulk of politicians’ campaign budgets now go to social media advertisements.

Negative effects

The benefits have had a positive impact on our society. But unfortunately, we are also increasingly seeing the negative effects. From fake news and hate speech, to manipulated elections and increased anorexia and suicide among teenage girls. The centralization of current social media platforms (web2.0) ensures that users (be they consumers, creators or brands) do not own their profiles, content, target groups or data. You have no control whatsoever.

The ad-based business model of these platforms also relies on the sale of this data to companies that serve targeted ads based on it. If you don’t like that, you can leave. But you can’t take your content, data, and followers with you. In addition, the code used to develop the platform is closed-source. So you cannot make any adjustments to this.

The decentralized alternative

The decentralized (web3.0, which I wrote about earlier) social media platforms have numerous advantages over their central competitors due to their technical build. Especially since they often use blockchain technology. The data from the platforms is stored decentralized, cryptographically, and transparently, making surveillance or hacks virtually impossible. Smart contracts automatically control the platforms and there is no central authority that can influence this.

But what is also really interesting is the operability. This is virtually non-existent with the existing central social media platforms. Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, LinkedIn… they all have so-called ‘walled gardens’. For example, you cannot send a message from Twitter to Instagram or from LinkedIn to WhatsApp. This is much easier with the decentralized socials, due to the decentralized set-up, where you manage your identity and data yourself. It gives users more control over their own data and online interactions. For example, they can choose which servers and networks they want to join and easily switch to another server.

Contributors are rewarded

You can share insanely good content every day and get millions of likes, but most of the central platforms won’t give you a penny for this as a reward. Only YouTube and TikTok, but that is so marginal that 99.99% of content creators cannot live on this. The decentralized social media channels are built on blockchain technology. This is the same technology that cryptocurrencies and NFTs are built on. You can see a great ‘token economy’ emerging here at the various decentralized social media channels: makers who receive a fair reward for their contribution to the platforms.

A good example is the Dutch DeSocialWorld, where advertisers pay makers under the name ‘Post2Earn’. There are already 2 million users active on this ‘Twitter on blockchain’. The content is open and moderated by all users. It is therefore no longer the case that a central army of moderators in San Francisco determines what we see for content in the Netherlands or India. This content is posted to feeds such as “Sports” and “Politics” and tagged as “NSFW” and “Opinion”.


For me, one of the most beautiful features of these ‘web3’ platforms is that there is no censorship. In 2023, almost 4 billion people live in a country with censorship. Countries like Russia, Iran, China, and Turkey, where governments can ban a “web2” channel like Facebook or Twitter overnight. Something that is virtually impossible with the decentralized alternatives.

In addition, innovation is really stimulated again because users and developers are free to experiment with new ideas, without being restricted by the rules and policies of a central authority. Many web3.0 platforms, such as DeSocialWorld, reward not only the content creators but also the builders for their contribution to the platform.

Decentralized mushrooming

Due to the Twitter vicissitudes in recent times, the decentralized alternative Mastodon has quickly become popular. Peepeth offers the same functionalities but is built on a different ‘blockchain’, Ethereum, on which, for example, all NFT activity also takes place. Diaspora is the oldest decentralized social network, which was launched in 2010 as a decentralized alternative to Facebook.

Personally, I think Pixelfed is cool, which is a decentralized alternative to Instagram and was launched back in 2018. And YouTube competitor DTube. Chingari is a mobile video-sharing app and already has more than 5 million daily active users and 40 million monthly active users. The app is in the top 20 most downloaded apps in the world on Google Play. Also a number of veterans, such as Steemit (2014) that offers a decentralized Medium, and Aether who take on the decentralized attack with Reddit.

Going a step further is the Lens Protocol, which gives users the opportunity to create their own decentralized social media platforms. Mirror is a decentralized, user-owned publishing platform that allows users to easily crowdfund other users’ ideas with cryptocurrencies.

Are we all going decentralized?

Personally, I do not see the current central ‘2.0’ social media platforms becoming more decentralized any time soon, in order to compete with their ‘3.0’ competitors. This really requires significant changes in server architecture. So that all data can be placed decentrally on a blockchain, without a central authority checking the platform or the data stored on it. A lot of data, with which the current platforms earn a lot of money, can no longer be collected within a new set-up. And so a completely different business model has to be developed.

Nevertheless, the central social media are already taking steps towards web3.0 and decentralization. For example, Meta is experimenting with NFTs on Instagram. Reddit goes further and has introduced so-called community points. These are proprietary digital tokens that users can earn by posting high-quality content and contributing to the platform. The platform does this together with the decentralized platform Arbitrum.

Twitter has rolled out support for NFTs, allowing users to connect their wallets and display NFTs as profile pictures. In addition, the former CEO and founder Jack Dorsey is working on his decentralized Twitter variant Damus, to which more than half a million users are already connected.

Decentral difficulties

There are not only decentralized dreams but also a number of significant challenges. While Elon Musk is currently being criticized for making it too easy again to publish hate speech on Twitter, the decentralized alternatives have no central authority at all to moderate content and enforce rules. This can lead to a Wild West-esque atmosphere, where users are free to post whatever they want without fear of being banned or punished. There are more and more decentralized moderation models, but they are still in their infancy.

But the ‘network effect’, which shows that a network becomes increasingly stronger as the number of users increases, is not yet great with decentralized social media. The platforms struggle to attract a large user base, as most people are used to using central social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. They find switching too complex or they simply experience little inconvenience from the current disadvantages.

Big move

Switching and using the decentralized platforms sometimes leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, the interfaces are still often too complex,
the number of interesting functions (compared to the central variants) is small, and the links with cryptocurrencies and digital wallets also scare people off, with the negative reports about plummeting crypto prices and large-scale fraud.

In principle, you manage cryptocurrencies and NFTs yourself, in your own digital wallet. But what if you lost the cryptographic key of that wallet? Then you can lose all the money you earned on a decentralized platform like Steemit in one go.

As with decentralized money (cryptocurrency) and decentralized property rights (NFTs), many consumers are still waiting for clear laws and regulations in this area, which are also not in force in any country with regard to decentralized social media.

Baby steps in infancy

Everything is still in its infancy. But I am convinced that decentralized social media has the great potential to significantly change the way we think about social media and how it affects our daily lives. The rise of decentralized social media is likely to lead to even more platforms popping up and gaining traction in the market as more people become aware of the benefits.

Despite the number of challenges, the following points are driving the adoption and acceptance of web3.0 technologies:

  • The ever-increasing desire of users to gain more control over their data and privacy.
  • Being able to earn money by posting your own content.
  • Being able to resist censorship.
  • According to the Talkwalker report, it will therefore have a major impact on the central alternatives in the coming year:

There is still too much friction

According to the founder of the Dutch DeSocialWorld Edo Koevoet, it will take at least 2 to 5 years before this will really make a difference. According to him, it is: “A combination of human and technological factors. There is still a lot of “friction” when it comes to creating a digital identity and earning and using cryptocurrencies. There are only hundreds of millions of users of decentralized money (crypto) vs. billions of social media users. The threshold for switching is still too high. After all, your ‘friends’ and your content are still on the traditional platforms through a platform lock-in.”

Whether it takes 2 or 5 years, I already think the current developments are great. If only for the positive impact we are already seeing on users, innovation, and fair payment from makers.

Jan Scheele is active in the web3 (blockchain, crypto, NFTs, DeFi) industry since 2015. Besides (former) CEO of a web3 scaleup and agency, he is Digital Leader at the World Economic Forum and Board Member at the Blockchain Netherlands Foundation (BCNL). He is writing, consulting, speaking and training regularly about everything web3 all over the world. Furthermore, he is currently finalizing his book about the global impact of blockchain technology. speaker coaching / presentatietraining / presenteren zoals de ted talks — keynote spreker blockchain — crypto — metaverse — NFTs — web3 — blockchain advies / blockchain keynote / blockchain consultancy

Decentralized social media: a dream or a new reality? was originally published in The Dark Side on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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