After the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, centralized social media platforms have been in the hot seat with intensifying public scrutiny on how personal data is being managed and used. This not only paved way for the GDPR privacy regulations that came into force recently but also gave rise to what is called blockchain social networking.
An increasing number of social media platforms are being built on decentralized infrastructure and ONO is one of them. The Chinese startup is now building the first blockchain-based decentralized social network in the country. With the mission to give data and content ownership back into the hands of users, ONO is taking an active part in this redefined social media ecosystem.
“We don’t have the rights to sell user data and our users have the rights to determine what they want to do with their data,” CEO and founder Xu Ke told TechNode. Prior to launching ONO, Xu headed the team that created Cryptodogs (创世狗; the Chinese iteration of the popular blockchain game CryptoKitties) and was hailed as “the first person in blockchain social networking” by Chinese media (in Chinese).
ONO gained attention among blockchain enthusiasts and internet users when it launched the beta version of the ONO dapp (decentralized application) in April. According to company figures, ONO has accumulated 240,000 users during this beta test stage and 2 million pieces of content were shared in the span of two weeks during the beta launch. The company is set to launch the dapp for international users this month.
In March, the company announced that it is participating in the bid for EOS 21 global supernodes, placing itself amongst some of the notable names in blockchain including Oracle Chain, Bitfinex, and Huobi. The voting for EOS supernodes will begin after the EOS main net is launched. If selected, ONO would be one of the world’s first dapp to land on EOS.
A fairer balance of power in social networking
For a company valued at RMB 50 billion, for example, a big chunk of that value comes from data and content generated by the users rather than the software that was developed by the company, Xu said. Xu believes that users create the real value of social media platforms and so they should be rewarded.
On centralized social media platforms, like Facebook and Weibo, accounts with huge social media following enjoy unparalleled visibility. It is difficult for “ordinary users” who are also contributing quality content to gain any traffic or benefit financially. Xu said it also inevitable that some will pay their way for followers and traffic in order to reach the coveted celebrity status.
“This kind of centralized platform and over-commercialization approach hurts content creators. On a decentralized platform like ONO to make a profit, all you need to do is to create content.”
A solution to curb click bait, low-quality content?
Social media platforms in China have long battled vulgar and low-quality content. The ONO social network has implemented a system that rewards users with ONOT token that is distributed within the ONO social network based on the quality of content they create. The company expects the token mechanism to incentivize users to create high-quality content and actively participate in community building. As stated in the company’s recent press release: “It stands to reason that [the reward system] will motivate users to create high-quality content instead of clickbaity headlines that often get their way on centralized platforms.” The high-quality content can be featured on ONO homepage and in the recommended section.
Xu said the reputation mechanism that lies at the heart of ONO’s ecosystem promotes social engagement and community building. The reputation of the user goes up when content is liked, reposted, commented and shared by others. User behavior also defines the value of content—those who conduct behaviors that are deemed as “wrong” such as harassment and spreading vulgar content would be punished.
While there is a growing number of blockchain-based platforms out there—Sola, Indorse, Ong, and Mithril—each holds a different vision for the future of decentralized social media. Steemit has been gaining traction in the blockchain community. Compared to ONO, Steemit emphasizes more on creating and publishing content than social networking. ONO is a hybrid of instant messaging (IM) and microblog (like WeChat Moments) that puts emphasis on both content creation and social engagement.
The ONO network is built upon the principles of equality and transparent public governance via the Decentralized Autonomous Corporation (DAC) mechanism, which divides operational tasks and distributes them publicly without an administrative overlord. Participants do not need to be ONO employees to be part of DAC. In fact, they can come from all over the world. Xu said the ONO social network hopes to extend beyond boundaries and establish an ecosystem where everyone is treated equally across-the-board, regardless of political opinion, religious beliefs, and gender.
A blockchain startup without an ICO
ONO is well-funded, not through ICO or presale, but through institutional investors like China Growth Capital, Green Pine Capital Partners, and prominent crypto investors like Li Xiaolai.
The ONO team did not go down the usual ICO route because they wanted the social ecosystem to be built and nurtured by community builders, rather than speculators. Xu explains that the problem with blockchain-based social media platforms launching ICOs before distributing tokens to platform users is that “in many cases platform users end up with fewer tokens than ICO investors, which empower investors that are not content creators to have more influence on the platform.”