A decentralized social network (DSN) is similar to how email works today.
Email standards and protocols enable us to control how and where we use electronic mail. For example, you can register a domain and set up an email server on your home network, enabling you to send and receive an email with anyone. If you don’t want to run an email server, you can move everything to a service like FastMail. And if you ever wanted to, you could move away from FastMail and still have control over every aspect of your email.
A DSN gives you the same type of control and portability as email, but with all of your social data.
The idea of creating a DSN isn’t new. A quick look at Wikipedia’s list of software and protocols for distributed social networks will quickly elucidate the amount of effort that’s already been given to it. Unfortunately, the effort has been continually stifled by consumer apathy and ignorance, and an unwillingness by the tech industry to focus on anything other than profits and proprietary walled gardens.
In 2015, Tim Berners-Lee announced a new project called Solid.
Solid is designed to rectify the lack of privacy and data ownership that exists on social networks today. Like email, Solid presents a solution for creating a decentralized social network, where users have full control over their data. While Solid has been making progress, it’s still moving slowly, few consumers are aware of it, and none of the large social networks have expressed support for it.
Jack Dorsey breathes new life into DSNs
On December 11, 2019, Jack Dorsey, Co-founder and CEO of Twitter, posted a surprise tweet announcing Twitter’s new DSN initiative.
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. 🧵
The new team, named Bluesky, will be led by Twitter’s CTO, Parag Agrawal. In the tweet thread, Jack stated that he was open to Bluesky using existing technology, which opens up the possibility of incorporating and building upon the protocols and standards that have already been created by projects like Solid.
As I stated earlier this year, it’s my belief that
the only way we can restore privacy, control, and choice is to create a decentralized social network. I think that Jack provides the type of high-profile tech industry leadership that’s required to make DSNs a reality, and represents a turning point in the effort to decentralize social media.