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Twitter looks to blockchain to decentralize social media

Fri, 13 Dec 2019, 07:48 am UTC

Social media giant Twitter is funding an independent team that will focus on developing an open and decentralized standard for social media, CEO Jack Dorsey announced this week in a series of tweets.

The team, called “Blue Sky,” will be comprised of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers.

Twitter was founded in 2006 – way before blockchain and distributed ledger technologies began transforming industries and sectors around the globe, making the systems and processes more and more decentralized. Dorsey said that the centralized approach of Twitter is struggling to meet the new challenges that it is beginning to face.

“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,” he explained.

Other reasons behind the move to decentralization include the shifting of the value of social media from content hosting and removal to recommendation algorithms directing one’s attention, and existing social media incentives which often drive attention towards content and conversation that spark controversy and outrage, rather than informing and promoting health.

Dorsey said that the advent of new technologies, such as blockchain, has made adopting a decentralized approach more viable.

The decentralized approach will allow Twitter 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,” he added.

The Blue Sky team will focus on identifying an existing decentralized standard that they can build upon, or failing that, create one from the ground up.

“That’s the only direction we at Twitter, Inc. will provide,” Dorsey said, adding that it will take many years to develop a “sound, scalable, and usable decentralized standard for social media.”

“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,” he added.

Earlier this year, Dorsey had announced Square Crypto, an independent unit that will work towards achieving mass adoption of cryptocurrencies. The unit has added a number of prominent names in the industry to its team and recently awarded a grant to pseudonymous bitcoin contributor ‘ZmnSCPxj.’

Struggles Ahead

Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal has been tasked with finding a new lead for Blue Sky. Agrawal expects the team to face a number of challenges on its journey ahead.

This includes developing a standard that “enables consumer choice between many data-intensive algorithms, while protecting privacy, may struggle to compete on quality with centralized approaches” and enabling viable and sustainable incentives and business models for widespread adoption. He also noted that the “traditionally slow and deliberate consensus-building approach to evolving standards might fail to keep up with a rapidly changing ecosystem and set of consumer needs.”

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