Decentralization is the new focus for social media giant Twitter. The company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, is convening a small engineering team to develop an open standard for social media.
According to Dorsey, blockchain technology, which underpins Bitcoin, points to a series of decentralized solutions that align with his goals of backing systems that remove central authorities.
Dorsey announced his plans for building a revolutionary protocol in a recent tweetstorm. The effort will begin with the launch of his new team called “bluesky.”
“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”.
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.
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.”
Dorsey is a long-time supporter or Bitcoin and blockchain technology. He recently founded Square Crypto, the division of the publicly traded mobile payment company that focuses solely on BTC.