Throughout January, The Tinkering Society will be sharing five themes it believes will drive freedom of choice and decentralization across 2024.

Genetic memory is a concept in Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. It allows individuals to tap into the experiences of their ancestors that are locked dormant in their cells. Once they are able to remove those inherent restrictions, their capacity for understanding and growth multiplies.

Decentralized social media platforms have emerged as an antidote to increased Big Tech censorship. While there may prove to be long-term benefits of open, modular design, the primary value proposition being tested here is personal sovereignty.

Nostr

Nostr was the first decentralized social experiment to achieve an early product market fit, capturing the attention of many in the Bitcoin community. With a pseudonymous grassroots launch followed by Lightning Network tipping support, it became a natural destination.

However, stats have flatlined and the retention curves speak to a saturated target market.

Source: stats.nostr.band

As we can see above, recent cohorts are performing worse than early ones. When combined with falling new user counts, this paints a bearish picture.

Source: stats.nostr.band

Nostr may need a new use case or new value proposition to broaden the pool of potential users and retain first time users.

Luckily, due to its open source positioning and active developer base, we can’t possibly imagine what it looks like in a decade, or what someone may launch on top of the network tomorrow.

Building Community: Farcaster

Farcaster has come out as a leading microblogging tool for the web3 community. By carefully gating access and cracking down hard on spam, the signal to noise ratio has remained high.

A big theme in new social apps has been to combine Twitter and Reddit. Farcaster channels achieve this, and the numbers show significant usage of the feature.

Credit: @Pixelhacks

While off to a promising start, it remains very uncertain how censorship resistance will play out within a consensus-driven system like Farcaster.

Credit: @Pixelhacks

SocialFi Experiments

Beyond censorship resistance, decentralized social projects are fostering interesting experiments in and around reputation and ranking, decentralized curation, ownership and token gating, interoperability, and more.

Let’s reflect on Lens, DeBank and Friend.Tech as three prominent examples of the above…

Lens

A social platform built by elements of the Aave team was always going to gain industry traction and Lens is perhaps SocialFi’s frontrunner in terms of exposure. This also means that there’s a lower signal-to-noise ratio compared to Farcaster.

The open and modular design has enabled the protocol to weave in features that facilitate community and DAO growth, such as composable token gating and add-on modules.

Despite this, its early success has begun to wane and we now know that the number of new posts created dropped off sharply around February last year and remained low since.

However, we also know that crypto users are fickle, and an uptick in general market interest could quickly turn these stats around.

Credit: @0xMC2

DeBank

Originally a portfolio tracking application, DeBank has recently launched a couple of experiments:

  • Stream – a place to post and read content by other web3 users
    • Rankings – web3 rankings by TVF (Total Value of Followers), aggregate scoring, and trust scores
      • Content Scoring – Credibility, Trust, and Realized Value scores on content
        • Boosting – Reward pools to boost post visibility
          • Live Chat – Live chat on a portfolio page
            • Groups - communities built around assets

              While the content is rather shill-y, it is great to see new ways of ranking being explored.

              Redphone posed an interesting question about whether transparency in social media could be a game changer, despite the majority of us expecting big things from privacy-preserving breakthroughs like zk-proofs. DeBank is embracing this angle and we’re keen to see how it develops.

              Friend.Tech

              The SocialFi app was a rising name of the 2023 bear market. Daily transactions quickly peaked at ~390,000 per day before simmering away as airdrop hype fizzled out.

              Credit: @CryptoKoryo

              One of the core concerns behind the concept was the intentions of the influencers that it built its reputation around. In a market acutely paranoid about rugpulls and pump-and-dump schemes, it was hard to decipher if this was a meta shill for crypto’s big names to bag bear market gains.

              Credit: @CryptoKoryo

              Where the platform did excel was making the transition between different social UX types. Friend.Tech was relatively clinical in taking users from Twitter to private groups and, for bonus points, deftly managing to outmaneuver the constraints of Web2 app stores.

              DeSoc Summary

              Decentralized social remains in its infancy, and while no app has captured even a fraction of mainstream usage, new use cases are emerging and being tested on devoted communities.

              These experiments are all vital, but it still feels like a glaring issue to be solved above all else is content permanence. This is something that we’ve been actively tinkering with.

              Personal sovereignty is a complex, dual-sided issue. Social users need to be able to both promote personal opinions and change them as freely as they see fit. Even if it’s to just amend a typo, the vast majority of social users have deleted something they’ve posted.

              It’s hard to believe that even a smooth and beautifully-designed SocialFi app will ever gain mass market adoption while missing the functionality of having a ‘Delete’ button.