A decentralized standard for social media?

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wants to create “an open and decentralized standard” for social media that his very own platform will follow. To this end, he decided to gather a team of programmers, engineers, and designers to work on a new project called “Bluesky.” The details in the connected tweets below!

Twitter Decentralized Social Media


Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard. 🧵

Twitter was so open early on that many saw its potential to be a decentralized internet standard, like SMTP (email protocol). For a variety of reasons, all reasonable at the time, we took a different path and increasingly centralized Twitter. But a lot’s changed over the years…

First, we’re facing entirely new challenges centralized solutions are struggling to meet. For instance, centralized enforcement of global policy to address abuse and misleading information is unlikely to scale over the long-term without placing far too much burden on people.

Second, the value of social media is shifting away from content hosting and removal, and towards recommendation algorithms directing one’s attention. Unfortunately, these algorithms are typically proprietary, and one can’t choose or build alternatives. Yet.

Third, existing social media incentives frequently lead to attention being focused on content and conversation that sparks controversy and outrage, rather than conversation which informs and promotes health.

Finally, new technologies have emerged to make a decentralized approach more viable. Blockchain points to a series of decentralized solutions for open and durable hosting, governance, and even monetization. Much work to be done, but the fundamentals are there.

Some of these issues were emphasized by @stephen_wolfram in a blog post following his Senate hearing titled “Optimizing for Engagement: Understanding the Use of Persuasive Technology on Internet Platforms”. (writings.stephenwolfram.com/2019/06/testif…) 

Recently we came across @mmasnick’s article “Protocols, Not Platforms” which captures a number of the challenges and solutions. But more importantly, it reminded us of a credible path forward: hire folks to develop a standard in the open. (knightcolumbia.org/content/protoc…) 

Square is doing exactly this for bitcoin with @SqCrypto. For social media, we’d like this team to either find an existing decentralized standard they can help move forward, or failing that, create one from scratch. That’s the only direction we at Twitter, Inc. will provide.

Why is this good for Twitter? It will allow us to access and contribute to a much larger corpus of public conversation, focus our efforts on building open recommendation algorithms which promote healthy conversation, and will force us to be far more innovative than in the past.

There are MANY challenges to make this work that Twitter would feel right becoming a client of this standard. Which is why the work must be done transparently in the open, not owned by any single private corporation, furthering the open & decentralized principles of the internet.

We’d expect this team not only to develop a decentralized standard for social media, but to also build open community around it, inclusive of companies & organizations, researchers, civil society leaders, all who are thinking deeply about the consequences, positive and negative.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take many years to develop a sound, scalable, and usable decentralized standard for social media that paves the path to solving the challenges listed above. Our commitment is to fund this work to that point and beyond.

We’re calling this team @bluesky. Our CTO @ParagA will be running point to find a lead, who will then hire and direct the rest of the team. Please follow or DM @bluesky if you’re interested in learning more or joining! 🌐💬💙

How to *really* get your crypto community on board :-)

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Community as a hack

Looking at the importance of getting your crypto community on board seems to be a relatively easy ask for most blockchain startups. Using existing well known platforms like Telegram and Slack makes it seems a ‘no-brainer’. But could there be more to the value of community involvement suggested by the usual mix of airdrops and competitions? Or maybe as Michael K. Spencer argues in his skeptical piece “from Ethereum ICOs to ConsenSys the fallacy that community has value is a hack”:

The fallacy that community has value

“In the real world clients and users are important, in crypto fairyland they try to build ‘communities’. However, such communities are more prone to pump and dump and aren’t actually loyal followers. That is, crypto’s failure might be tied to the failure of crypto tribalism, false hype, and ridiculous valuations of that actual value of such communities.

“How is crypto hype of this kind not misinformation? How many failed ICOs, exit scams and shitcoins do we need to have endured to understand the Telegram-Bitcointalk-Reddit hoax — communities alone are not valuable. You actually need real-world products and real clients…Crypto saying that its community is its best resource, is like Facebook saying it’s valuable because it has over 2 Billion users,” Spender concludes.

On Yavin, the founder and CEO at Cointelligence, a leading company in data research and analysis for the crypto economy says the problem with ICOs continues with today’s exchanges. “We were surprised that a lot of the exchanges are not willing to disclose the details of the team members. We had 60 at least of the exchanges out there not willing to tell us who is behind the exchange!

“Some of them are giving really stupid answers. One exchange actually answered “Yes it is a great team” we we asked for the team details three times.”

The power of decentralization

To answer those understandable criticisms I would like to take a step back to the ideals of decentralization. Ideally, closely involving your community goes to the heart of what the vision of decentralization can deliver, sometimes referred to as “user empowerment” or in marketing jargon as “getting closer to the customer”. As Ajeet Khurana CEO of Zebpay explained in a recent Off the Chain Podcast: “What a lot of those (techno-led blockchain enthusiasts) people are missing out on, if you were to think of blockchain only as a computer scientist it is possible you would not be as impressed as if you think of it as a social phenomena.

Crypto community data proof
Way to prove with data, the importance of community to growing crypto business!

“So the social dimension to blockchain which is what you talk about in the form of community adoption and community behaviour; the human/community aspect of the blockchain is what makes it so special; people who miss out on this part and probably want to look at the technical specifications only, are probably never going to get it.”

Unleash the art of the possible

Thinking about how the new decentralized technologies engage with customers, and what this means in terms of how marketing and your community is organised, brings us back to how businesses are looking to use its potential in the first place. Dante Disparte, in his recent Forbes article on navigating the blockchain wars put it nicely:

“Perhaps the most important blockchain design principle is to unleash the art of the possible. If indeed blockchain is a foundational technology like its cousin the internet, then it would stand to reason that merely looking for back office efficiencies (especially with such computationally intense properties such as proof of work, stake or other complex algorithms) may be a fool’s errand.

“Rather, leaders would be wise in thinking about blockchain as an augmenting technology, one that can push the boundaries of a firm’s reach, derive and deliver value in entirely new ways, while creating a stakeholder lock-in based on trust, transparency and permanence – three things that are in perilously low supply in both private and public enterprises.” (Update 18 June: Dante is now Head of Policy and Communications at the Libra Association, set up by Facebook and partners to promote its new cryptocurrency).

In the Libra White Paper it says it is looking to the blockchain community for support:
“Our journey is just beginning, and we are asking the community to help. If you believe in what Libra could do for billions of people around the world, share your perspective and join in. Your feedback is needed to make financial inclusion a reality for people everywhere.”

Community means business

But there’s a real hard-headed business reason to look to community, says ‘Off The Chain Podcast’ host Anthony Pompliano – those who that control the audience, control the future: “As crypto networks become more popular and pervasive, I anticipate that this community/network building skill set will become more important. Teams will start to sink significant dollars into building repeatable, scalable models that produce these audiences.

“We started to see this with the ‘Telegram community building’ during the 2017 ICO boom (teams would race to get as many people into their Telegram messaging chats and then brag about it to investors as a sign of traction), but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Ship and iceberg image - click to article on controlling the audience!

Audience is a new currency. Those that have it, have incredible power. Those that don’t are starting at a disadvantage. Whether entrepreneurs are building crypto networks or for-profit companies, those who control the message, control the future,” Pompliano concludes.

Fintech Connect 2019 community business
Mark Hipperson, talking about what they did right in growing the UK’s Starling Bank, but yet failed to get enough customers to switch to Starling as their principal bank. And with a resultant diminished average customer £ balance, the bank has less financial resource available to lend and make a profit. Would have getting the community element right have driven switch numbers?

Pic: FinTech Connect presentation from Mark Hipperson, CEO, Ziglu, ‘When Disruption Became Positive – Lessons from a Challenger Bank’ 3rd December, 2019.

A community of crypto customers?

Looking at the power of community from the ‘bottom up’ to drive the token economy, leading blockchain marketer Jeremy Epstein, explores “the potential for a group of distributed, incentivized, and aligned token holders to execute micro-marketing campaigns” in his downloadable paper, The Decentralized Marketing Organization.

Crypto Innovation + Crypto Marketing = Crypto-Customer

As Epstein explains, “the purpose of the Decentralized Marketing Organization is to partner with the decentralized technology organization (building the innovation) to create a ‘crypto-customer’.

“The concept of a crypto-customer in the context of a decentralized protocol is different than in a traditional organization. In a decentralized network, the overall value (i.e., market cap) of the protocol loosely trends to Metcalfe’s Law. That is, the most valuable customers are the people who engage most deeply with the protocol and bring in more nodes to the network.”

In operational terms “this means that an effective marketing strategy for a decentralized project will enable a series of multi-pronged demand pulls, which target the wide array of roles that play into protocol adoption (developers, designers, token buyers/investors, social media influencers, regular users, partner integrations, etc.). The pace of change combined with the diversity and distribution of the market requires the utmost agility. This is why it needs to be decentralized,” Epstein concludes.

Community management expert David Spinks made the point in a recent tweet – while community-driven business makes sense, the real challenge is finding the data:

Community-driven companies scale exponentially faster

Here’s the take on that challenge from co-founder and chief advisory officer of one of the leaders in crypto community building AmaZix, Luke Saunders:

“Communities have become a valuable asset to companies in many ways. From gaining traction via user acquisition to crowdfunding, having a community allows companies to scale, growing brand loyalty along the way. We’ve worked with projects who have been able to scale up quickly with the support of communities such as WePower, GoChain and GBX.

“Through our experience, we found communities are most powerful when integrated as part of a unified strategy across all departments. Our recent expansion reflects this by working with our clients across the entire process, including digital advisory, corporate finance, legal, and marketing. All of these have a community or investor component at some level.

Getting industry level data to prove the power of community, though, is challenging. A key difference maker we’ve seen from successful communities is their willingness to be transparent. It’s shown us that there is plenty of room for improvement in transparency on an industry level.  We believe it’s about transparency not just in blockchain itself, but in how companies operate. The space is maturing quickly, and we believe the rise of STOs are a step in the right direction. We’re extremely excited to usher in that new chapter in crypto.”

Smart Valor test platform
SMART VALOR launching their test platform is a great example of the use of community to drive business. “The goal of this preliminary launch is to receive feedback from the people that count the most, you – our users. “

Proving the ROI of community?

Online communities have been around for many years before crypto came on the scene with a bang in 2017. So what’s the view of Rachel Happe, co-founder of The Community Roundtable, helping community managers and businesses make the most of their community efforts since 2009?

A key finding of The Community Roundtable’s report for 2018 was that community programs “show an average ROI that exceeds 2,000%. They enable behavior changes that directly impact profitability and revenue generation, while also having an overwhelmingly positive impact on brand and cultural sentiment,” she says. The report’s recommendations to improve ROI have strong practical lessons for the crypto industry too:

Online community ROI
How to get the most with your crypto community? Click the infographic for a ROI calculator (c/o The Community Roundtable)

Community and the decision-making-process

Finally, consider the value of community in the crypto world, to the decison making process, in this Twitter thread from expert Chris Burniske, a partner at VC partnership Placeholder that invests in decentralized information networks and co-author of ‘Cryptoassets’:

For community cohesion (a key for networks to stay together and not splinter), clarity & inclusion around the decision-making-process is just as important as the decisions that are ultimately made. People within communities will always disagree “at the margin” of a decision as we all have slightly different value systems.

But if people agree a decision-making-process was fair, then even if they disagree with a single decision, they’ll stay as part of the group. If, on the other hand, people disagree with the decision-making-process, and don’t believe it’s remediable, then the community has a big problem. Systemic disagreement in the decision-making-process (with no path to remediation), means that community will ultimately lose faith that any future decisions will be legitimately made. Decisions around evolving software-based-networks are always going to have to be made, and whether explicit or implicit, there will always be a customary decision-making-process. It’s my view that having a transparent & inclusive decision-making-process will keep networks robust and evolving the longest.

This may not be necessary for every network, but it will be for most (governance by defection can work in extreme, antagonistic use-cases). Sidenote: Everyone can be involved in “read-only” & “light contribution” mode, with a subset of those participants being able to “write decisions” (the ones that have earned the right).

This involves everyone, while avoiding paralysis in execution of decision-making. Open, and ideally immutable forums (see Politeia: ), which show the entire history of a network’s decision-making-process and the decisions that were made, are a fundamental building block to setting up a legitimate “writing process.” (proposals.decred.org)

RESOURCES

Click the bottle image to access my guide to creating a high performing marketing team.

Click the image – for my 2013 article on the scientific theory behind growing online communities drawing on the insights of Robert Kraut.

See my online community slide notes below for a simplified view of how to grow your community!