Media in the internet era has been all about platforms. If anyone tries to start gathering focus and influence by creating contents, no matter it’s your grandma or NYTimes, they need to start by thinking about what platform they want be start with. You want to shoot funny videos? Then TikTok is your place. You want to writing something showing your political point of view? Then Twitter is the place to go. But wait. What if you want your short videos to show on Snapchat and have their users to see them and subscribe to your contents? It turns out that you have to go to Snapchat and start a separate account there, and do it from scratch. And what if you write, say or show something TikTok, Twitter or Instagram don’t like? Well, that’s easy, they just delete that content. If it’s too much beyond the line, then your account will be banned — means that all your contents, all your subscribers and all effort behind them are gone, right after they hit that button.
Let’s stop there and think about it. What is the ultimate logic between content creators and users? If we go to the most fundamental level here, there will be only two things: contents and links. Contents are the things creators produce which will draw interest from users. And links are the distribution logic that show users the contents they want to see, which also means send contents to users whom creators want to connect. In the scenario above, we see how platforms are taking these two most fundamental elements of any social media and controls it under their autocracy. Yeah, I know that’s how the world works, at least for now. But let’s once again back to the track, what is the most ideal social media ecosystem? To put it simple:
① Creators should be entitled of right to control every bit of their content. If you like to post something, you post. If you like to edit something, you edit. If you like to delete something, you delete.
② Whoever creates the link should have the full right to remove or carry the links to whichever application.
With that in mind, we imagine a different way how media works in the future. You start with any application or “platform” without worrying about content form, application popularity or different policies. You simply start making contents and users from all around the world across all different applications can just see your content, interact with it, and become your follower. If for any reason you don’t want to use the first app you started with anymore, just take your identity and go to another app, everything you have, every fan you gathered will just be at the new place. YOU, no longer the platform, will be the one in control.
This is how media becomes platformless: you will definitely still be working and interacting through apps, but they cannot kidnap you and your data anymore. They are just applications, not platforms.
Here I have a diagram showing the current platform-centric or centralized system.
This basically shows how platform holds and, of course, controls all contents and links, which is basically what caused the above problems.
Here I also have a diagram for a user centric or distributed system.
In this model, we can see how creators will be controlling their contents, and how users will be controlling their links or subscriptions. That is, creators fully control what to write and users fully control what to see. Platforms will disappear, leaving a place for different applications to compete users with different user experience.
It is noticeable that both creators and users are considered users, which is becoming more and more common since everyone tends to create some content in these years on social medias. A distributed social media has a diagram like this:
Everyone has his/her/it/their own contents and links, and they control all of them. Still, in order for this thing to work, we need applications. Just like stated before, these applications will be competing with the same set of data but different user experience.
Under this scenario, we can see how users will be the one in control. But there are problems when we rule out platforms.
Platforms are not just evils, they have their values and that’s why they survived and thrived in the web 2.0 era. Normally, with the hope or the fact of gaining more profit, they do three things:
- They build good products
- They cover costs for the system
- They promote certain services
This is very straightforward. A platform is generally created by a company, starting with people investing some types of capitals: founders usually invest their time and effort and investors usually invest money. They share the risk of losing everything while also share the possibility of establishing a platform with strong network effect which will bring significant profit afterwards. Generally, they will have to build a good product, pay for it, and promote it for more users. So they do deserve reward in some extend.
We have to be clear that users won’t choose a service simply due to the fact whether it is centralized, decentralized or distributed. At least that is not how users think now or in a near future. So in order for a distributed system to have massive adoption, we can’t expect less work than what a centralized platform does. Fundamentally, we will still need a economic incentive which will align different types of investments from different stakeholders: a drive that encourages better product(s), a way to cover necessary cost especially when the system costs more than it makes, and rewards for everyone that spreads the words.
This will be the challenge we, who aim to build a distributed system, all face fighting against centralizations.