Some thoughts on the new Voice.com project

This evening we finally learned what the #B1June hype was all about: among other things, a new social media system called Voice.com, built by Block.one, the company behind the outrageously well-performing EOS token. (Full disclosure: Everipedia, where I am CIO, is built on EOS and is the recipient of a major investment from Block.one.)

The site isn't operational yet, and I couldn't find an app in Apple's App Store, but you can sign up for the beta on Voice.com and view a very interesting-sounding rundown of features.

In their introduction to the project this evening at a very glitzy gala event at the D.C. Armory in Washington, D.C., CEO Brendan Blumer and CTO Dan Larimer said that there were huge problems with existing social media giants. The small changes Big Social Media is likely to make won't solve the root problem: you are the product. As long as the social media giants make their business the collection and sale of data about you, you will lack control over your data and your user experience.

They also find a serious problem in fake accounts. Certainly I wonder how many accounts upvoting my posts on Twitter correspond to at least one person, and some responses one sees there sound mindless and robotic enough to have come from bots.

The fact that Block.one has got that much right makes me optimistic about what will be eventually released.

The coming features they advertise:

  • Voices.com will confirm that every user is a real person. I pressed Block.one engineers for information on how this would work, but they remained mum.
  • The Voice network features a new token, the Voice token (I think it's officially rendered as $VOICE). The only way to create the token is when others upvote your content. There will be no ICO or airdrop. And you can't purchase Voice tokens. That's kind of neat. No word on whether you can cash in your Voice in dollars or EOS somehow. A fair bit is rather vague at this point, to be honest.
  • If you have a message you want to get out, you can spend Voice tokens that you have legitimately earned to boost it, even to the top of a queue (not sure which queue). If others agree that your post is important and upvote it, you can get your Voice back and then some. That's kind of neat.

To my mind, there are as many questions raised as answered here. Anyway, I had two thoughts I wanted to pass on to Block.one and to the Internet void.

First, getting "one person, one account" correct and operational is very important and very hard, and I'll be watching closely to see if they've done it. As I explain in a requirements paper I'm at work on, there are at least four requirements of such a system:

  1. That a person with some essential uniquely identifying information (such as, perhaps, a name, a birthplace, and an email address) actually exists.
  2. That the person thus uniquely identified is actually the owner of a certain account on the network (and thus bears that name, has that birthplace, and owns that email address).
  3. That the person is not in control of some other account. (This is particularly difficult, but it is required if it is one person, one account.)
  4. That the person remains in control (and has not passed on or lost control of the account).

This, or something like it, I want to propose as the gold standard of online identity. I take an interest in this because we need to verify that Everipedia accounts are "one person, one vote" (OPOV) accounts for purposes of voting on encyclopedia articles.

Let's see how many of these requirements the new EOS identity protocol can satisfy.

Second, since Everipedia is built on EOS, I very much hope Voice.com ends up being fully decentralized. The first requirement of a fully decentralized system is to use open, common standards and protocols needed to publish, share, and give all users control over their own social media experience, regardless of which app they use. But I heard nothing about open, common social media standards this evening, and while the Block.one engineers I spoke to this evening did say they were considering adopting some such standards, it didn't sound like that would be part of the upcoming launch. I could be surprised, of course.

Another requirement is that posts from outside of the network should be readable (if a user so desires) inside Voice.com feeds. Otherwise, each social media ecosystem is its own silo—and not decentralized. I'm not sure if Voice.com is working on this.

Actually letting users export their Voice.com data very easily (i.e., with RSS-like feeds) so that their friends outside of the new social network can view their posts on other networks is another crucial requirement the new project will have to tackle, if they want me 100% on board.

Finally, lots of fine-grained control over how the user's feed works will all by itself go a long way to convincing me that a company is serious about letting users take back control. No word yet on whether this is in the works for Voice.com, although I did see a nod in that direction.

I would encourage Block.one to consider adding these features so that I can get behind them in the upcoming push for a Declaration of Digital Independence (about a month away), accompanied by a social media boycott and, eventually, mass alternative social media try-outs.

One last thing. I would like to know whether Voice.com will have an end-to-end encrypted messaging system. This isn't easy for anyone to build, but if you want to go head-to-head with the big boys and demonstrate commitment to privacy, it's a very good idea. Maybe Sense Chat can help, since they're moving to EOS. I am thinking more about the importance of this, being already very convinced of the importance of privacy; in fact, I'm increasingly hardcore about it. (I'll be very curious to read Voice.com's new privacy and community policies. Minds.com just updated theirs, y'know.)

But Block.one does seem to be on board; after all, they gave every attendee a hardware security key, something I was going to buy soon anyway. Thanks, guys!


The meeting of the Larrys

Today I was on Larry King Now (his Hulu/YouTube/RT program, similar to the old CNN "Larry King Live"). I was on a half-hour panel about blockchain with XYO's Markus Levin and Eric Tippetts of NASGO. It's due out March 1.

Here are some pictures:

Larry and the panelists

The two Larrys (Larries?)

Everipedia (Sam Kazemian and moi) meets the master of interviewing

Striking a Larry King-esque pose


How to decentralize social media—a brief sketch

The problem about social media is that it is centralized. Centralization empowers massive corporations and governments to steal our privacy and restrict our speech and autonomy.

What should exist are neutral, technical standards and protocols, like the standards and protocols for blogs, email, and the Web. Indeed, many proposed standards already do exist, but none has emerged as a common, dominant standard. Blockchain technology—the technology of decentralization—is perfect for this, but not strictly necessary. Common protocols would enable us to follow public feeds no matter where they are published. We would eventually have our pick of many different apps to view these feeds. We would choose our own terms, not Facebook's or Twitter's, for both publishing and reading.

As things are, if you want to make short public posts to the greatest number of people, you have to go to Twitter, enriching them and letting them monetize your content (and your privacy). Similarly, if you want to make it easy for friends and family to follow your more personal text and other media, you have to go to Facebook. Similarly for various other kinds of content. It just doesn't have to be that way. We could decentralize.

This is a nice dream. But how do we make it happen?

After all, the problem about replacing the giant, abusive social media companies is that you can't replace existing technology without making something so much more awesome that everyone will rush to try it. And the social media giants have zillions of the best programmers in the world. How can we, the little guys, possibly compete?

Well, I've thought of a way the open source software and blockchain communities might actually kick the legs out from under the social media giants. My proposal (briefly sketched) has five parts. The killer feature, which will bring down the giants, is (4):

  1. The open data standards. Create open data standards and protocols, or probably just adopt the best of already-existing ones, for the feeds of posts (and threads, and other data structures) that Twitter, Facebook, etc., uses. I'm not the first to have thought of this; the W3C has worked on the problem. It'd be like RSS, but for various kinds of social media post types.
  2. The publishing/storage platforms. Create reliable ways for people to publish, store, and encrypt (and keep totally secret, if they want) their posts. Such platforms would allow users to control exactly who has access to what content they want to broadcast to the world, and in what form, and they would not have to ask permission from anyone and would not be censorable. (Blockchain companies using IPFS, and in particular Everipedia, could help here and show the way; but any website could publish feeds.)
  3. The feed readers. Just as the RSS standard spawned lots of "reader" and "aggregator" software, so there should be similar feed readers for the various data standards described in (1) and the publishers described in (2). While publishers might have built-in readers (as the social media giants all do), the publishing and reading feature sets need to be kept independent, if you want a completely decentralized system.
  4. The social media browser plugins. Here's the killer feature. Create at least one (could be many competing) browser plugins that enable you to (a) select feeds and then (b) display them alongside a user's Twitter, Facebook, etc., feeds. (This could be an adaptation of Greasemonkey.) In other words, once this feature were available, you could tell your friends: "I'm not on Twitter. But if you want to see my Tweet-like posts appear in your Twitter feed, then simply install this plugin and input my feed address. You'll see my posts pop up just as if they were on Twitter. But they're not! And we can do this because you can control how any website appears to you from your own browser. It's totally legal and it's actually a really good idea." In this way, while you might never look at Twitter or Facebook, you can stay in contact with your friends who are still there—but on your own terms.
  5. The social media feed exporters/APIs. Create easy-to-use software that enables people to publish their Twitter, Facebook, Mastodon, Diaspora, Gab, Minds, etc., feeds via the open data standards. The big social media companies already have APIs, and some of the smaller companies and open projects have standards, but there is no single, common open data standard that everyone uses. That needs to change. If you could publish your Twitter data in terms of such a standard, that would be awesome. Then you could tell your friends: "I'm on Twitter, but I know you're not. You don't have to miss out on my tweets. Just use a tweet reader of your choice (you know—like an old blog/RSS feed reader, but for tweets) and subscribe to my username!

The one-two punch here is the combination of points (1) and (4): First, we get behind decentralized, common social media standards and protocols, and then we use those standards when building plugins that let our friends, who are still using Facebook and Twitter (etc.), see posts that we put on websites like Steemit, Minds, Gab, and Bitchute (not to mention coming Everipedia Network dapps).

The exciting thing about this plan is that no critical mass seems to be needed in order to get people to install the envisioned plugin. All you need is one friend whose short posts you want to see in your Twitter feed, and you might install a plugin that lets you do that. As more and more people do this, there should be a snowball effect. Thus, even a relatively small amount of adoption should create a movement toward decentralization. And then the days of centralized social media will be numbered. We'll look back on the early days of Facebook and Twitter (and YouTube!) as we now do the Robber Barons.

We can look at a later iteration of Everipedia itself as an example. Right now, there is one centralized encyclopedia: Wikipedia. With the Everipedia Network, there will be a protocol that will enable people from all over the web to participate in a much broader project.

I would love to see the various competitors of the social media giants settle on a common standard and otherwise join forces on these sorts of projects. If they do, it will happen, and the days of privacy-stealing, centralized, controlling, Big Brother social media will soon be behind us. We'll return to the superior and individually empowering spirit of the original Internet.

We have to do this, people. This is the future of the Internet. Even if you've given up social media, we should build this for our friends and family who are still toiling in the digital plantations.


A plea for protocols

The antidote to the abuses of big tech is the very thing that gave birth to the Internet itself: decentralized, neutral technical protocols.

  1. The thought that inspires
    my work.
    Ever since I started
    work on Nupedia and then Wikipedia, a thought has always
    inspired me: just imagine the stunning possibilities when people
    come together as individuals to share their knowledge, to create
    something much greater than any of them could achieve individually.

  2. The sharing economy. There
    is a general phrase describing this sort of laudable activity: the
    “sharing economy.” The motivations and rewards are different
    when we work to benefit everyone indiscriminately. It worked well
    when Linux and OSS were first developed; then it worked just as well
    with Wikipedia.

  3. The Internet itself is an
    instance of the sharing economy.
    The Internet—its ease of
    communication and publishing together with its decentralized
    nature—is precisely what has made this possible. The Internet is a
    decentralized network of people working together freely, for mutual
    benefit.

  4. The Internet giants have
    abused the sharing economy.
    About ten years ago, this all
    started to change. More and more our sharing behavior has been
    diverted into massive private networks, like Facebook, Twitter, and
    YouTube, that have exerted control and treated contributors as the
    product.

  5. Facebook’s contempt for
    our privacy.
    All you want to do is easily share a picture with
    your family. At first, we thought Facebook’s handling of our
    private data would just be the price we had pay for a really
    powerful and useful service. But over and over, Facebook has shown
    utter contempt for our privacy, and it has recently started
    censoring more and more groups based on their viewpoints. We don’t
    know where this will end.

  6. This aggression will not
    stand, man
    . We need to learn from the success of
    decentralized projects like Linux, open source software, Wikipedia,
    and the neutral technical protocols that define the Internet itself,
    that we don’t have to subject
    ourselves to the tender mercies of the Internet giants.

  7. How.
    How? Just
    think. The Internet is made up of a network of computers that work
    according to communication rules that they have all agreed on. These
    communication rules are called protocols and
    standards.

  8. Protocols
    and standards...
    There
    are protocols and standards
    for transferring
    and displaying
    web pages, for email, for transferring files, and for all the many
    different technologies
    involved.

  9. ...which
    are
    neutral.These
    different standards are neutral. They explicitly don’t care what
    sort of content they carry, and they don’t benefit any person or
    group over another.

  10. We need more
    knowledge-sharing protocols.
    So here’s the thought I want to
    leave you with. You evidently support knowledge sharing, since
    you’re giving people awards for it. Knowledge sharing is so easy
    online precisely because of those neutral technical protocols.
    So—why don’t we invent many, many more neutral Internet
    protocols for the sharing of knowledge?

  11. Blockchain is awesome
    because it creates new technical protocols.
    Probably the biggest
    reason people are excited about blockchain is that it is a
    technology and a movement that gets rid of the need of the Internet
    giants. Blockchain is basically a technology that enables us to
    invent lots and lots of different protocols, for pretty much
    everything.

  12. Why
    not Twitter- and Facebook-like protocols?
    There
    can, and should, be a protocol for
    tweeting without Twitter.
    Why should we have to rely on one company and one website when we
    want to broadcast short messages to the world? That should be
    possible without
    Twitter. Similarly, when we want to share various other tidbits of
    personal information, we should be able to agree on a protocol to
    share
    that ourselves, under our
    own terms—without
    Facebook.

  13. Wikipedia centralizes,
    too.
    Although Wikipedia is an example of decentralized editing,
    it is still centralized in an important way. If you want to
    contribute to the world’s biggest collection of encyclopedia
    articles, you have no choice but to collaborate with, and negotiate
    with, Wikipedians. What if you can single-handedly write a better
    article than Wikipedia’s? Wikipedia offers you no way to get your
    work in front of its readers.

  14. Everipedia,
    an encyclopedia protocol.
    Again,
    there should be a neutral encyclopedia protocol,
    one that allows us to add
    encyclopedia articles
    to a shared database that its creators own and develop, just like
    the Internet itself. That’s why I’m working on Everipedia, which
    is building a blockchain encyclopedia.

This is a little speech I gave to the Rotary Club of Pasadena, in the beautiful Pasadena University Club, January 31, 2019.