We’ve just kicked off our Spring 2021 hackathon, and the theme is user engagement. We want developers to create applications that will kick start social interactions between users on the dweb; we want to celebrate freedom from our corporate overlords by sharing that freedom with friends. I’ve pulled together a list of ideas that fit this theme and that I personally feel would bring significant value to the decentralized ecosystem.
The specific criteria for this hackathon requires that each application include some element of multi-user interaction. This can be as direct as two users playing a game together, or as passive as one user reading content presented by another user.
In building these ideas, I really tried to narrow in on things that I felt would only take about 2 weekends of effort to build, since that’s about the amount of time remaining in our hackathon. And of course, these are just a set of ideas to kick-start the creative process, the best submissions are often projects that I never would have imagined myself. So without further ado:
On the centralized web, the production of content and consumption of that content tends to happen on the same application. Whether it’s YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, the main mode of consumption happens on the same website as the main mode of creation and publication. And this is a consequence of the siloed data model of the centralized web. Once uploaded to a single application, the data is locked to that application.
On Skynet, things are different. Every piece of content is available to every application, which means applications can specialize between tasks such as publication, curation, and presentation. The next generation of YouTube is probably not going to look anything like YouTube, and is probably not going to be just a single website.
Of course, this revolution needs to start with the publication of content to Skynet. Tasks like curation and presentation don’t make much sense until there’s a substantial layer of content to draw from. To get the ball rolling, I think the dweb would benefit significantly from applications that create a really good publication experience for creators. If you can create something that enables creators to build portfolio pages that they are proud of, those pages can be the content backbone that enables other services to build proper competitors to giants like YouTube.
I personally believe that video content is a great place to start, but this idea generalizes to every type of media. An application dedicated to videos forms the foundation of our escape from YouTube, an application dedicated to long form essays forms the foundation of our escape from Medium, and an application dedicated to music forms the foundation of our escape from Spotify.
I will finish this idea by saying that I think it would be better for each application to focus on a single type of media. The optimal experience for publishing videos and building a portfolio around video content is going to be significantly different from the optimal experience for publishing music and building a portfolio around audio.
The silos of the centralized web has substantially fractured our social networks. Your list of friends and contacts has to be completely rebuilt on each new application that you join. And while it can be fun to find and identify all of the people that you want to follow, there’s an element of impotency and exhaustion associated with each new application, as all of your hard work on a prior application is completely unable to roll over.
This goes a step further, because your social network is arguably your most valuable piece of data. User social networks are the primary means that corporations have to build moats against competition. Every ounce of effort you put into building out your social network on a centralized platform is another chain that makes it harder to leave that platform, and another point of leverage that corporate America can use to control your time and attention.
I genuinely believe that if Facebook had been benevolent instead of evil, it would be one of the greatest inventions in the history of humanity. Easily up there next to Bitcoin, owing to its ability to connect people and preserve relationships as the world globalizes and spreads out.
Skynet gives us the ability to try Facebook again. There is room on Skynet for an application that allows us to build out social networks that are global, porting easily between other applications, instead of locking us to a single ecosystem. And it allows us to build a social network that is under our control, instead of one that we need to ask permission and endure ads to access.
As with our previous example, the Skynet competitor to Facebook doesn’t need to rebuild all of Facebook. The important part is the connections. An application that helps users find friends and follow influencers forms a backbone that other applications can leverage to build things like timelines, walls, groups, events, and so on.
I believe an application that builds the right UX for discovering friends both has the potential to be very viral and also the potential to bring enormous value to the Internet as a whole. The right design could very well lead to the downfall of Facebook. And that is something that I think the whole world would celebrate.
The Skynet ecosystem is full of programmers, and it also has several applications already that are built around the idea of sharing and editing code. A social evolution of this could be to create a coding competition.
A simple example of a competition might be a code golf competition on a selection of the Project Euler challenges. Programmers love showing off, and a competition creates a perfect playground for programmers to be creative and discuss interesting techniques with each other.
Other types of competitions could be interesting as well. For example, a chess tournament where users can publish their games and comment on the games of their friends. Or maybe something like a hot-or-not style death match between crypto memes.
Meme competitions are a particularly interesting category, because the bar for participation is low, and the tolerance for large amounts of low effort content is high. A proper playground for producing and sharing memes could easily suck people in for hours and hours.
Regardless of the exact format or content, I believe that competitions and general gamification are a ripe way to drive engagement.
In the broader world of dweb (outside of just Skynet), there are several decentralized analogs for applications like Twitter and YouTube, but we have yet to see a really successful decentralized analog for the discussion forum.
Discussion forums still enjoy widespread use today, especially for content and ideas that are intended to be long term, and for discussions that may take weeks or even months to properly unfold. Forums are generally self-hosted, which means centralization concerns aren’t typically super high, on the other hand it makes things like community schisms challenging. A Skynet based discussion forum can both lower the amount of effort required to launch a forum and also empower users to revolt against unfavorable moderation.
In a similar vein to discussion forums, I believe there is also a significant amount of room on the dweb for decentralized wikis, decentralized imageboards, and decentralized news aggregators (like Reddit or Hacker News).
One challenge that is particularly pronounced for discussion based platforms is the necessity of moderation. More than any other type of application, platforms for discussion struggle with assholes, spam, flame wars, personal attacks, and every other sort of debauchery.
Decentralization poses a unique challenge for moderation, because you can’t actually delete anything. You can however give moderators the ability to post a list of changes they want to make, and then have user clients automatically enforce those changes (simulating a delete or edit). Decentralization also opens up new doors to users, for example the forced ejection of a moderator or admin.
Of all the suggestions given today, this suggestion is probably the most challenging to implement. But I put it here nonetheless because discussion really forms the heart of the Internet, and Skynet creates a lot of opportunity to improve upon discussion over the Internet.