Let’s scare the bejeezus out of Web2

Centralized social media platforms have held our data hostage for too long, and we now have the tools to get our freedom back

OPINION
by Ryan Li /
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Midjourney modified by Blockworks

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Let’s take a walk down Big Tech Memory Lane:

In 2010, Facebook revokes Twitter’s access to its API, preventing users from finding their Facebook friends on Twitter. In 2012, Zynga founder Mark Pincus accuses Facebook of cutting off its API access and making it difficult for Zynga games to reach Facebook users. In 2013, Facebook removes Vine’s API access.

Check back ten years later, and it’s the same game:

Apple removes Epic Games’ Fortnite in 2020 and decentralized social app Damus in 2023 from its app store after both companies fail to comply with regulations around in-app payments (both seen as ways to bypass Apple’s predatory 30% cut on transactions). In 2023, Twitter and Reddit announce changes to their historically free APIs, deciding to start charging third-party apps for access. 

Sense a theme?

The early days of the internet were a time of energy and opportunity with a precariously growing list of options for spending our time online. With new websites popping up overnight, competition for attracting (and keeping) us on a given platform was fierce. And because the internet was built on the premise of open access, we had more freedom to try different products.

Then came social media. As the internet started allowing us to create content and communicate with our peers, the platform race to market share became an entirely different beast. Today, a much smaller number of profit-driven corporations have taken over control over our online existence — and they’ve done so in predatory ways.

From maliciously manipulating our data to controlling every aspect of the social graphs which serve us content and connections, the days of the internet’s promise to not be evil are sadly long gone. What’s replaced that ethos is a north star that’s neither freedom nor opportunity.

It’s money.

The exploitative behavior of centralized social media applications and the giant corporations that own them boils down to the financially-driven obsession with control — not of the devices where we access the web, but of the data we share with them and what they collect from surveilling our activity. 

Just look at Meta’s hyped new Twitter killer, Threads, which is already getting called out for shady data-mining practices

Applications keep making money amidst tech’s increasingly competitive, win-at-all-costs landscape by keeping us locked into their ecosystem — and third-party apps locked out.

In her newsletter on the “crises of the creator economy,” Li Jin writes about platforms’ growing fear of releasing even one byte of data back into our hands. Doing so would weaken the grip of platform lock-in and appear as a shift in power. 

This feeling of freedom can give us the idea that it’s possible to jump to other applications, and for platforms, that’s admitting weakness.

We see this level of control on the many “walled gardens” that exist to trap us — users and developers — who wish to bootstrap platform APIs, social graphs and features that would allow us to scale new applications. Instead, we often experience the “cold start” problem — and starting anything from scratch is no easy task.

So, what’s the opposite of a closed system of siloed entities that keep us in by any means necessary — like Twitter’s recent arbitrary policies and feature changes, a last-ditch effort to keep us logged in? 

Our answer lies in the open web.

We talk about ideals like “decentralized,” “composable” and “open-source” every day in the Web3 industry, but often what they boil down to is freedom.

Freedom to democratize decision-making versus following orders. Freedom to build products in public. Freedom to let other builders from diverse backgrounds and life experiences build further on open source primitives to make technology accessible, meaningful and equitable for the citizens of our world. Freedom to create new value and sharing it along the way. And critically, freedom to own what should be rightfully ours — our data — which holds the keys to freeing us from the shackles of centralized social media.

These words come to life in Web3-enabled environments like decentralized social media, where all of us — creators, developers, founders — build upon the same social data layer without any one company controlling it.

It’s a place where open-source features, APIs, and composable frameworks power decentralized apps tailor-made to our wants and desires. Where we own, control and can monetize our social data, allowing us to migrate our identities across interoperable platforms versus siloed entities.

When we all share a piece of the pie, and we can put our social data for work, locking us into platforms doesn’t make sense.

When we create value that disrupts our society’s traditional (i.e., centralized) mindset around creating and sharing technology to benefit our entire social media ecosystem — and not a single platform — we all have an opportunity to win. 

In this decentralized future, we can find the best platforms, and developers can build products specifically for our needs and desires. The great inventors of our world initially set out to build things that allowed us to create, share and learn — not simply lock us into their technology. But sadly, over time, we’ve lost our way. 

Decentralized social has a chance to remind us why the internet can still be a place of freedom.



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