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Akasha – The Great Social Media Experiment

31 August 2016

The coffee houses of the 21st century are no longer in physical space, but on the internet. Instead of walking into a café and randomly converse with a stranger or stand up and give a speech or tell a story, as our great grandfathers used to do, since the first wave of internet adoption in the 90s, we have typed in to mailing lists, forums, boards, instant messaging channels, talking to random people while restlessly searching for better, faster, online gathering spaces.

Though it seemed for a period Reddit/Facebook ended the constant migration, cool kids are once more on the lookout for a new coffee house as it has become clear the current platforms have many intolerable shortfallings. The most prominent is overt censorship of not just some niche space, such as r/bitcoin, but in mainstream gathering spaces, such as r/news or r/politics. When a terrorist killed so many in Orlando, the unthinkable happened in the country of the free – complete and overt censorship of the news in all of reddit – except for one or two subs. It remains unclear why this action was taken, but Facebook too is known to censor as does the mainstream media as shown by the recent termination of David Seaman’sjournalistic position at Huffington Post.

As the aggregators of aggregators, this power to overtly and covertly manipulate what we read, see, hear will necessarily be abused at the great cost for our democracy and freedom which has ensured our flourishing and innovation to the point where we flied to the moon.

Though censorship is a big problem with current social platforms, as Ethereum’s community saw last month, there are many other problems. It is far too easy to create numerous accounts and ddos public spaces in combination with voting bots, creating an unpleasant and ugly atmosphere, especially at times when it is most crucial to have a reasonable debate, to just name one.

As the generation that grew up dreaming of a world where we are empowered, our civilization is advanced, intellect and reason is supreme, and we can do things far better than our parents thanks to the internet, the millennials are now on a search for that new Reddit/Facebook so that we can improve information flow and, in the process, the world.

A Third Wave of Social Media

We are at the inception stage of a third wave of social media made possible by blockchain technology which promises to address the faults of current platforms. The most promising is Akasha, not least because of its founding team, but also because it employs new findings from nature which promise a better voting mechanism.

Recent studies have found that bees use quadratic voting to make decisions. To find a new pollen sources to harvest, scouts perform a dance, but every bee wants credit, so their opinion has a cost. The better the find, the longer and the more exciting the dance, with other scouts sent to check and perform the same ritual. According to theSpectator:

“[T]he time [bees] spend on dances grows not linearly but quadratically in proportion to the attractiveness of the site they encountered. Twice as good a site leads to four times as much wiggling, three times as good a site leads to nine times as lengthy a dance, and so forth.”

Mihai Alisie, Akasha’s founder, co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine and Ethereum, speaking to TrustNodes, states:

“[Akasha] uses a quadratic voting system with weights between 1-10. So if we’d start from “1 cent per vote” we could get at weight 10 at $1 sent to the content creator. Plus, the quadratic voting has some interesting properties as it enables the content creators to understand “how much” people appreciate/don’t appreciate a particular thing/topic/etc.”

Unlike the trend with other projects, Akasha has no current plans to create its own token – although they may do later on. The pre-release version uses ETH and requires the downloading of an ethereum node (although it will integrate with MetaMask) as well as an IPFS node.

IPFS is a new data sharing system which works much like bitorrent. The content of your own Akasha profile are held solely on your computer with others allowed to access them through IPFS, thus addressing any scalability concerns regarding storage. In regards to bandwidth/speed Alisie states:

“Since you have a p2p network, you don’t have the server’s capacity/bandwidth acting as bottlenecks. Once you have a good enough network effect in motion the speed and quality of the service should be decent. The more nodes you have and the more popular a certain piece of content gets, the faster the access time. Quite the opposite of let’s say YouTube and others.”

The pre-alpha version is to be released sometime this month when we can all see how this works in practice, but from Alisie’s description, the platform is a mixed combination of Medium, Twitter, Reddit and Facebook all in one. Instead of subreddits, it has tags with content discovery resembling Facebook’s feed as it shows entries published by individuals and tags you follow, but with upvoting and downvoting as well as, for illegal content, flagging.

This combination itself is interesting and the censorship-resistance angle may lead to better informed gathering spaces – although it remains to be seen whether community moderation alone can address spamming or other aspects of moderation – but a further added bonus is that users can directly support content creators. Alisie states:

“[H]aving a “tip me” button at the end of each entry published has in some cultures connotations bordering begging. While upvotes enable people to support the content creators with the added bonus of content discovery.”

Combined with the quadratic voting mechanism we mentioned earlier, the entire project becomes very interesting. My main concern is that it will be far too slow to being unusable, at least to begging with, as we saw with the first version of OpenBazzar which was unworkable. The monetary aspect is also a consideration as this has never been tried before. For example, students or teenagers may be unwilling or unable to pay to vote/downvote and, even working adults may start to hurt depending on how often they vote.

On the other hand, past the bootstrapping stage, funds may start circulating with eth earned while posting spent towards upvoting or downvoting. The mechanism may further incentivize quality content and address voting bots as well as sockpupets as you’d need to build a following, while the speed aspect may not be noticeable when browsing as a read only gateway accessible through Chrome will be available.

We do not know, however, how exactly it will work and whether it will be appealing for daily/constant use, but overall I find the project interesting both intellectually in its quadratic voting system and practically in its combination of the most used current social media platforms.

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