Ryan X. Charles was the official cryptocurrency engineer at Reddit, and readers may remember his abrupt firing earlier in the year. In a new blog post, Charles talks about how the CEO at the time of his hiring was in favor of decentralizing Reddit.
The post makes plain the basics of decentralizing a social media platform the size of Reddit although it doesn’t delve too deeply into the mechanics. Bitcoin would be essential in terms of incentivizing a lot of people to host the content of a lot of other people. This is the fundamental reason many systems cannot be decentralized without some loss of quality: someone has to pay for it eventually, someone has to do the work.
Also read: Reddit Loses Strategic Interest In Bitcoin
Charles’ proposal acknowledges the payment problem and starts there.
Each user funds their own app with a small amount of bitcoin. In order to download content, the user pays a very, very small amount of bitcoin to the peers on the network. This incentivizes people to keep the app open so as to keep servicing the other users. Furthermore, when a user upvotes content, that sends a small amount of bitcoin to the author of that content, thus incentivizing the production of good content.
Decentralization May Not Work for Mass Media
Such a system would not negate Reddit’s existence as a company, which is not always the goal of decentralization. Even if the middle man is no longer necessary to serve the content, there are other roles companies can play. What Reddit loses is the centralized control over the hosting of the content, but it also loses the responsibility of having to serve many millions at a single time. They can still compete to do this, along with anyone else, but they can no longer censor content or claim it is happening in their private realm. As Charles puts it:
reddit, Inc. is just the biggest service provider. Any user can run a business by running the app full-time. Any user, including reddit, Inc., can censor content they themselves deliver to other users, but cannot censor content other users send to other users.
There are many questions that arise in the scenario outlined by Mr. Charles. For one, what happens to content that only a small niche of people find interesting? If there aren’t enough people to host it, does it just go away, or do their payments cover the hosting into continuity? For another, what happens when illegal content is posted, and Reddit no longer has the authority to censor it away? Is everyone hosting the application then liable for it, or is no one?
Decentralization is a good thing in terms of networking. It creates fewer points of catastrophic failure, thereby being stronger. It creates a wider group of people who have a stake in keeping things operating smoothly, thereby giving making it better. But it also requires participation from everyone on the network, a certain commitment between the user and the network that could be broadly disrupted.
While Mr. Charles believes that all the technological innovation necessary to implement such a system are in place, and he could be right, it could be quite some time before an organized effort to implement a decentralized Reddit (or any other major, hub-like content provider). There will have to be real incentive to make such platforms competitive to what currently exists, and that incentive currently lies in controlling the content, and thereby profiting from it. Removing the ability to control the content, therefore, removes much of the incentive, and this could be the real problem facing a decentralized, Bitcoin-fueled Reddit.
Featured image from Pixabay.