✌️ 2022: the year of decentralized online identity? opportunities and *major* design challenges
opportunities around derived on-chain reputations & major design questions for decentralizing social graphs through the lens of Twitter's BlueSky project
If you’re new here, welcome and koodos to you! I’m Jad and I write to learn in public. As we build koodos and expand our community, I find myself thinking about a range of topics that I want to explore further. Topics stem from insights based on iterating on product, building deep relationships with our community and discussions with peers researching and building the future of the internet - this newsletter serves as a vehicle to dig into them further alongside you. Advance warning: sometimes I won’t be able to keep in boasting about what we’re doing at koodos, because I’m really proud of what we’re bringing into the world - so forgive me in advance for any of that. 😬
I intend to write more this year - and I promise to always opt for quality over quantity, so you can expect about one email a month. So far, I’ve written about a range of topics:
This year promises to be a big one for koodos (koo-DOS: 2022 😅), and by extension, for this newsletter. I’m currently working on a number of pieces, including the future of wallets and on ‘psychological ownership’: how we create and signal our identity to others through the co-creation of public digital consumption objects.
One of the core themes of 2022 will be how decentralized identity will change cyberspace. Below, I will highlight two pieces on the topic:
some takeaways from an article I co-wrote for A16Z’s Future on how decentralized identity will allow for derived on-chain reputations that’ll bring about massive opportunities for business and society.
I highlight Twitter’s Bluesky project - an effort to develop and drive the adoption of technologies for open and decentralized public conversation - and share some of the core design questions that my peers and I raised for them.
With Decentralized Identity, Your Reputation Travels With You Across Cyberspace
Web3 is based on the premise that each internet user will have a unique internet identifier, like an email address, that can be natively linked to any piece of software and stored on a blockchain. As part of someone’s “decentralized identity,” a portion of a person’s online activity would then be “on chain,” meaning that it would be public and easily searchable via their individual crypto wallet.
With such decentralized identity — a readable history unique to each person — one’s crypto wallet would function as a sort of profile, similar to Facebook or LinkedIn. But unlike web2 profiles, decentralized identities are backed by hard evidence: a permanent, timestamped record of a person’s accomplishments, contributions, interests, and activities to date.
If decentralized identity were widely adopted, people would be able to carry their full selves with them as they traverse cyberspace: their affinities and experiences reflected by what they’ve created, contributed to, earned, and owned online, no matter the specific platform. This would bring us closer to how things work in the physical world, where our possessions and reputations are attached to us, rather than to the spaces we occupy; we can take them with us and use them however we please.
While it might sound far-fetched today, a real opportunity here is in leveraging on-chain reputation for off-chain uses. In the creator economy, for instance, we might see a web3 version of YouTube where the videos don’t belong to the platform, but to the creator. So the creator could bring their videos with them to any online space and reap any value tied to those assets. Likewise, on-chain data could be used to gauge engagement or interest in specific creators or brands. A music artist, for example, could easily identify their top fans based on platform-agnostic, on-chain interactions and reward them with exclusive access or other perks. In the financial realm, decentralized identity could enable an internet-native credit score, which might have applications for issuing loans, performing tenant checks, establishing credit, and beyond.
Core Design Questions for Twitter’s BlueSky Project: Decentralizing Social Graphs
For a truly decentralized identity, we need a decentralized social graph. Among the promising projects building core infrastructure for decentralized social graphs is Twitter’s Bluesky project. They’ve been engaging deeply with many of the core projects that have explored this question and are trying to build an open standard that Twitter will become a client of. This could mean that Twitter would (once again) open up and allow anyone to operate Twitter clients that compete with its own.
However, this is going to be very hard. Below, I share some important design questions.
Is the team designing the protocol and assessing proposals representative of the people who are most hurt/marginalized by these technologies?
Are the initial clients of the protocol, beyond Twitter, diverse? This shouldn’t be another case of US-based initial clients and the rest of the world follows.
How do we develop the foresight to ensure that data always works in the context of a client’s app?
How can BlueSky maintain itself as a non-profit entity and its open-source commitment, without extracting rent from clients?
If there was a token, how would BlueSky ensure equitable distribution and counter deflationary effects?
How will BlueSky continue to engage with clients to ensure major protocol-level updates are supported to ensure that the protocol continues to be interoperable with as many major social platforms’ standards?
On Discovery & Curation
How do we design community-based curation systems with different subjective curation schema?
How do we let people make recommendations in a community, collect system-wide signals and protect privacy?
How can we enable discovery systems to be community-driven without introducing opportunities for excessive manipulation?
How do we ensure that certain bodies with money and influence aren’t able to build “filters” that are perceived to be higher integrity?
How will institutions with financial means fair alongside individuals when it comes to these moderation filters?
Who decides if a “filter” should be listed -- will Bluesky have to manage the “app store” for moderation filters? Will it list all user-created filters, or exclude (for example) a white-supremacist filter?