The dominance of social media by a few large companies limits innovation and competition.
Decentralized social media introduces a shift towards open protocols not owned by a single company. This enables users to directly connect with their audience. For developers, it simplifies creating new experiences by using shared data, eliminating the challenge of building a user base from scratch.
Farcaster has taken the crypto world by storm with its new feature 'frames', allowing developers to create interactive experiences directly within posts.
An average internet user spends almost 2.5 hours daily on social media, a significant portion of their day dedicated to just a few platforms. 🤯 These platforms shape what we see, create the consumer apps we use, and influence how we interact.
The dominance of a few tech giants presents a significant challenge for new competitors. Whenever there's an app that's likely to succeed, they can replicate the features or acquire the app. This introduces a high barrier to entry for new social media apps. Innovation is limited. Users have just a handful of options.
This is where a new idea called decentralized social media, or web3/crypto social, comes in. It's a new type of social media that doesn't rely on one company to run everything. Instead, it lets users have a direct relationship with their connections — by keeping this data directly on the protocol layer. This means anyone can make new apps without having to build a whole new network from scratch. By lowering the barriers to entry for new social media applications, we could see a surge in innovative ideas and benefits for users.
In this post, I aim to answer the following:
Why today's social media is failing us?
What's the promise of web3 social?
What's Farcaster, Warpcaster & Frames?
Social Media Today: its all just tech giants
The “typical” internet user spends almost 2½ hours each day using social media platforms, equating to more than one-third of our total online time. - DataReportal
Taking into account the time we spend on social media, you'd think there would be more options for users, more opportunities for developers, and more excitement about building new social experiences.
Yet, this is not the case. There is very limited competition and innovation in the social media space.
This is primarily due to the dominance of the top social media companies, which have reached such massive audiences that competing against them has become nearly impossible. A new app needs a lot of users to be successful, and before it can get there, giants like Facebook or TikTok can just copy its features.
For what it's worth, social media apps have served us pretty well in the last few years. The platforms are easy to use, creators can reach vast audiences, people can create online businesses and much more. I can easily connect with my family halfway across the world, order the yoga mat I see from my favourite influencer, slide into the DM's of founders, send newsletters to my internet friends, etc.
However, centralized social networks have significant control over how users engage with their audience. There are many restrictions on what users can do and what developers can build.
So, if you're not happy with the social media apps, can't you just build a new one? Well, it's not that simple.
Getting a social app to be successful requires bootstrapping a large user base — a daunting task. Suppose a new app comes out and has features that gets interest. In that case, tech giants can copy the features, and with their resources, they can probably do it even better. Some social media apps indeed let developers use their tools. However, these companies still hold all the control and can change the rules anytime.
Let’s talk about a few concrete examples on this topic.
A trip down the memory lane
There once was a world with Open Twitter APIs
In the early days of Twitter, the company provided open access to its APIs, allowing developers to build 3rd party apps that interacted with Twitter's platform. This openness led to many innovative tools.
But over time, Twitter changed its strategy. By 2018, it shut down several key APIs, including ones that were commonly used; the apps built on top of these APIs were now out of business.
Although there have been some limited APIs, access continues to change, with APIs being deprecated and changes being made.
One can imagine the challenges of building on top of a corporate network.
What happened to Clubhouse?
During the peak of covid lockdowns, I spent a lot of time on Clubhouse, the social media app where you can join live conversations.
Launched in March 2020, Clubhouse created a huge hype. As it became more popular, other big social media apps developed similar features. For example, Twitter came out with Twitter Spaces.
Clubhouse struggled to keep up. The growth slowed down as competitors introduced similar features (additionally, concerns regarding privacy and content moderation arose in Clubhouse).
Goodbye Clubhouse, Hello Twitter Spaces.
Clubhouse is one example of feature replication. Another notable one is Stories. Snapchat came out with stories, and then so did Instagram. Funnily, it has become the killer feature of Instagram.
TwoTwo years ago, Instagram did something that felt a little desperate: It copied the best product from a direct competitor, and even gave it the same name. Snapchat Stories were suddenly Instagram Stories.
Vine was a short-form video app where users could share 6-second video clips — like TikTok does now.
Though it got a lot attention in the beginning, Vine was unable to keep its creators and struggled to keep up with its competitors.
Vine also faced opposition from other social media apps. For instance, Facebook banned certain Vine features from its platform. One example of a common pattern for large tech companies.
In October 2016, Twitter (which owned Vine) shut it down. This decision was made due to various factors, most notably increasing competition and monetization issues.
Many Vine creators had to transition to other platforms. Imagine the frustration of having to start over and rebuild your audience on a new platform.
Perhaps Elon will bring back Vine?
The problem with social media today.
Even with open APIs, corporate companies can change or remove access at any time.
The dominance of a few major companies in the social media space limits competition and innovation. They can develop in-house solutions or acquire potential competitors.
Users are bound to the platform they use and have only a few choices. If a platform changes or shuts down, they could lose everything they've built. This is particularly constraining for creators who rely on these platforms.
The common theme across these events shows the downsides of siloed and private social networks.
Now, the question arises: Can decentralized networks improve social media?
A new type of Social Media
Over the past year, decentralized social media has been one of the most exciting topics in crypto — also known as "web3/crypto social."
Decentralized social media operates on a foundation of open protocols. These protocols are the building blocks, allowing anyone to utilize the social data to create new applications. It's a move from a few big companies in charge to a system where users and developers have more power, leading to new online experiences and experimentation.
This approach to social media comes with 2 big promises:
For Developers: It's easier to create new social media platforms. They don't have to start from scratch to gather users.
For Users: They get a direct connection with their audience. They're not stuck to just one app and can pick an app that best meets their needs.
How Does It Work?
Unlike traditional social media, which keeps user and relationship data (also known as the social graph) in one central place, decentralized social media keeps this information on the protocol, accessible to everyone.
What does this mean as a user?
Well, users have more options.
If you don't like how one app works, for example, shows your feed, you can switch to another. Regardless of the app you're using, you'll have the same account and connections.
For content creators, there might be more ways to make money and connect with your audience — like micropayments, token rewards, and creating exclusive experiences. You may get new chances to earn from your content, even if you're not a big influencer.
Since there's no single company in charge, it's less likely that posts or users will be unfairly removed or blocked. (While apps built on this platform can set rules, the underlying system remains open and fair.)
In general, one might do more with social media apps. New exciting and engaging experiences can emerge.
Developer Innovation: Devs do something
Developers can build new apps without having to bootstrap a network or depend on a single company's tools.
For instance, imagine a developer creating an app for people interested in learning new languages, similar to Duolingo, but with your existing social connections. This app could help you find friends in other countries if you plan to travel and learn a new language.
Or consider another developer who makes an app for pet lovers. This platform could let pet owners connect and plan meetups. The app can utilize existing connections to show which friends have pets and who can pet-sit while you're away.
Full disclosure: I certainly might not be the most creative person, but I hope the potential of these developer innovations gets through.
There are some teams working on building this new foundation of social media. Most notable Lens Protocol and Farcaster. I've talked about both before; today, I want to once again focus on Farcaster as there have been many updates and new features.
Farcaster, Warpcaster & Frames
Farcaster: A New Take on Social Media
Farcaster is a decentralized social network built on Ethereum. It provides the foundation (a protocol) for building a social graph.
Anyone can make their own apps, called "clients," using shared information from Farcaster. Your personal info and connections become portable and can easily be moved with you from one app to another.
This approach removes the limitations of traditional social networks, giving developers the freedom to try out new ideas and features. For example, if you don't like how your feed looks on one app, you can make a new version.
Btw: I'm on Farcaster, quite enjoying it, posting my unhinged thoughts and food pictures.
How does it work?
Farcaster has a hybrid architecture with both on-chain and off-chain components.
The Farcaster contracts are deployed onto the OP Mainnet. These are used for account creation, keeping track of signing keys and paying for storage.
Most of what you do on Farcaster, like posting messages, following users, liking posts, or changing your profile picture, happens off-chain. Doing things off-chain makes Farcaster faster and cheaper to use.
What about Warpcaster?
Warpcaster (formerly also called Farcaster) is an app (aka client) made by the Farcaster team. It's a Twitter-like app.
The Farcaster team controls Warpcaster; they decide what's allowed and how things work.
However, the big difference is if you're not happy with Warpcaster, you can simply go ahead and build your own app. A new app built on top of the protocol will not require sign-ups or ask users to connect with their friends again - this information is portable.
Ok finally - what are Frames?
Farcaster recently introduced something called Frames, and people are very excited about it. Frames are interactive apps inside your posts (called casts).
Frames extend the OpenGraph standard by turning casts into interactive experiences. Initially introduced by Facebook, OpenGraph is a standard for metadata used in web pages to ensure the content is accurately represented when shared or embedded on social platforms.
With Frames, developers can create new experiences for social media users. Users can do everything they want in one place instead of using many different apps, and they work in all Farcaster apps, not just Warpcaster.
For example, someone made a Frame to buy Girl Scout cookies - maybe the most successful Girl Scout ever?
Another developer made a Frame to play Doom.
Decentralized social media aims to create open protocols for social networks rather than have corporate platforms. This way, users have a direct relationship with their audience. This allows developers to build new apps on top of the shared social data = which boosts innovation.
Also, for what it's worth, the fact that Twitter turned out to become a company rather than a protocol seems to be haunting Jack Dorsey.
I can go on, but this is a blog post, not a book.
On my next post, I'll get more into Farcaster! If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to reach out - I'd love to hear from you. 🙂
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