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As Social Media Sizzles, Decentralized Competitors Enter The Fray

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It’s been a hot series of storylines for major social media outlets lately. All eyes have been on social when it comes to crypto news and discourse. Announcements are often made through social outlets like Twitter, community building for projects – whether DeFi, or NFTs, or anywhere in between – often occurs on social channels like Discord or Telegram, and other platforms are often utilized by crypto protocols and projects to communicate with the public, now more than ever.

With social media in the spotlight, the door is potentially ajar for a new player to enter the space; indeed, no single social platform has really made a splash in recent years with the lone exception of TikTok. Many have tried, few have found success. The latest to enter the arena have been decentralized social media protocols.

Current Climate: Pulse Check

The social media conversation really has to start with Twitter: it’s become a cultural hub for crypto, a source for often first-moving news, and a centerpiece for some of the biggest names in the space to sound off around current events. The ever-so-infamous Sam Bankman-Fried and Binance CEO Changpeng ‘CZ’ Zhao have gotten into spicy back and forth dialogue on the platform; it’s easy to say that Twitter is the defacto hub for widespread crypto communities.

However, Twitter has seen recent discourse and mixed reviews under the short duration of Elon Musk’s oversight thus far, and the implications surrounding Twitter are vast and far-reaching. Yes, even the impacts on Dogecoin are up for debate. Beyond Twitter, there has been mixed opinions when it comes to the degree that social media is a ‘public square,’ battling against the ideals expected from public – or in this case even privately-owned – platforms.

In past days, we’ve seen Facebook dabble – with limited success – in exploratory blockchain-related projects, and Reddit as another often-cited social media platform that has integrated crypto roots. Reddit has onboarded Polygon for whitelabeled NFT avatars, and has historically utilized Ethereum for channel reward points in the r/cryptocurrency sub-Reddit.

Meanwhile, in the big picture, other legacy social platforms have generally been business as usual – and there has been no major movement for social companies in the blockchain space in the aftermath of FTX. What has entered the mix increasingly, however, is decentralized social media protocols. Is the ‘tokenize everything’ post-era… decentralize everything?

Ethereum (ETH) powers longtime blockchain social media network, Minds. | Source: ETH-USD on TradingView.com

Decentralized Players Enter The Mix

Discourse surrounding the current social media landscape has opened the door for a number of ‘decentralized social media platforms’ to enter the mix. That includes the likes of Mastodon and Console, among many others, who have carved out their role as early movers in what could be an attempt at a ‘new wave’ of social media.

Mastodon has largely emerged as one of the more frequently-named players, but reviews have generally been a mixed bag with complaints largely resting around the platform’s UI and UX. The decentralized aspect in this context is especially unique for Mastodon in that there is no blockchain involved, but rather a self-hosted network encompassed of independently-run nodes.

In blockchain-related entrants, Minds is a platform often-mentioned that was created several years ago. It has an ERC-20 reward token, and boasts 6M+ members, largely owning the title of most notable blockchain-built decentralized social media platform. However, it seems that it has been Mastodon that has taken the lion’s share of new audience members during Twitter’s bumpy ride lately, seeing nearly a 10X in users over the past 90 days.

Meanwhile, new competitors don’t shy away from getting involved; the aforementioned Console is a newer decentralized social media channel created by co-founder and ex-CEO of Triller, David Leiberman, and Columbia Web3 professor Chris Castig. Console recently released a beta version of the platform, which is focused on a ‘group chat’ first approach, and is slated for a mobile app release in early 2023.

When it comes to decentralized social at large, however, not everyone is enthusiastic about where things could be headed. In a Wired opinion piece from 2017, three MIT Media Lab members speculated that decentralization in social media would face immense headwinds and “never work.” The piece cited various reasonings, some more broad, such as high barriers to entry from network effects (a reasonable claim, though not one limited to blockchain-related social networks but rather just new social media platforms at large – and certainly not insurmountable), and some more precise (such as the difficulty of managing private keys, which is an area with major potential for growth in the space).

There’s no way around it, we’re still in the middle of an ever-circulating social experiment, as we learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to all things social.

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