The Tokenized Social Graph
The best way to compete with the social networks oligopoly is to put our public information onchain with NFTs to create a public social graph.
Hello, I am Nicolas Bustamante. I’m an entrepreneur, and I write about long-term company building.
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NFTs allow putting social media information on-chain to create a massive public social graph that will disrupt the data network effect of big tech social networks.
Social media companies' value lies in their gigantic database storing users' data. They build large social graphs that link people, groups, things, and pretty much everything. As a result, they benefit from a robust data network effect, making it impossible for competitors to build a credible alternative.
Social networks control today's flow of information. They build great products that dramatically improve our connection to people and our world understanding. They, however, suffer from structural problems; among them is the concentration of so much power in the hands of a few organizations. They can ban people such as dissidents and the President of the US or filter information to manipulate public opinion. Adding to that, as they scale, they struggle with content moderation.
Solving these complex problems requires more companies to iterate on solutions. Alas, all new social media alternatives suffer from the cold start problem of not having sufficient data to build a decent product. Crypto might solve this challenge and foster more competition in the space.
The idea is to store all users' public information as NFTs on the blockchain. The latter acts as a worldwide digital registry of information that anyone can query and add data on. Instead of relying on private and non-interoperable databases, new social networks will rely on the public blockchain. Just like email clients are all different but the backbone is interoperable and accessible to all. Companies will add data to a single social graph, making it more significant over time than any private social graph.
I did an experiment putting some of my Twitter data on chain. I minted NFTs for my profile picture, location, website, people I follow, etc. I believe all our public information will be minted as NFTs allowing us to own and manage our on-chain digital identities. Now, it was a manual and nonstandard process.
Enter Lens which is a protocol on Polygon allowing users to mint NFTs for usual social media attributes and activities such as creating a profile, liking, following, or commenting. It’s the crypto infrastructure needed to create a public social graph.
Social network applications are built on top of Lens. For instance, Lenster is a twitter-like product that leverages the on-chain public social graph. Creating social network products is a lot easier when the backend is externalized to a protocol. No need to worry about the social graph, builders can focus on creating the best user experience.
Now, the current technical feasibility doesn't solve the cold start problem. Users don't have an incentive to join a new social network with no data. To be successful, Lens Protocol has to grow quickly its social graph.
I suspect it's possible to kick off a data network effect with a so-called “vampire attack” on legacy social media. The idea is to ask users to download their data from the largest social media platforms to then upload them to a website that will mint their chosen data into NFTs. These early adopters will then receive a token to reward their early adoption, thus creating a financial incentive to grow the public social graph.
What is impressive is that one user tokenizing his part of the social graph contributes to the success of all companies in the space. One piece of content published on one website is automatically accessible by millions of websites. It's no longer one website, one database but millions of social network websites for one database. These websites will have different user experiences, rules on content moderation, or types of recommendation engines. The competition will be fierce, and only the best will thrive.
The world will benefit significantly from composable, decentralized, and permissionless social media applications.
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