Made by Makers

Fixing social media with decentralization and design

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The very design of current social networks disincentivizes people to be mindful while interacting with each other and brings out their more impulsive self. It has become very difficult to insulate oneself from all the sensationalism and social media noise.

I, Vishnu and Dilip are the co-founders of Pden, a decentralized social network which helps you be your better self while interacting with others online. We are based out of Mumbai, India and this is our second venture as a team.

Pden is a decentralized social network which helps you be your better self in your online interactions. It’s an online space where you can share your thoughts, explore thoughts of interesting people and interact with like minded people in an environment free from social media noise. Pden encourages thoughtful expressions by creating a space to facilitate responses rather than evoking reactions. The very design incentivizes users to be more mindful and thoughtful in their interactions.

We started  building Pden because as users we felt social media in its current form has become a competition to capture attention than a tool to connect with each other. The way social networks function today, it has stopped working for the average users like us.

A more civil online space

Online social networking has become too noisy and ineffective to have useful discussions with each other. For example, average users go to twitter mostly to consume content rather than to contribute. If you don’t have significant following in twitter it is actually very hard to capture attention without being provocative and to engage in a meaningful two way conversation. FB is completely infested with ads and its erratic feed algorithm is making facebook gradually obsolete to the average users.

We believe that there is a huge space between these two social networks to provide an alternative to average users to express their thoughts mindfully and engage in thoughtful discussions online. We see Pden filling that space.

Most of the solutions in that space are just copying the features of existing social networks and creating a decentralized version of their centralized counterparts. Inherent design of these social products make people prone to be reactive rather than be responsive and responsible.

We believe decentralized social networks with all the attributes similar to Twitter and Facebook could become counterproductive and can pose more serious problems than the existing ones. Decentralization might just magnify their negative effects. Our objective with Pden is not to create another Facebook or Twitter which is decentralized, but to create an online space where people are more responsible and civil towards each other even if they disagree with each other.

All the leading social networks which exist today were born at the time when ad revenue was the only viable business model for any social network to survive. The features of the product were developed to be compatible with the business model it relied on i.e capturing attention at all costs. This has created a vicious cycle which cannot be broken if the product and business model are viewed separately.  With Pden we are trying to create a new type of social network which puts users interest first.

Using a design-led approach

We strongly believe decentralization is a tool and not a feature for DApps and poor UI/UX cannot be an excuse for DApps for less adoption. UX is going to be critical if we want to target mass adoption and compete with centralized apps. We are building our client apps considering the average user, not just for developers and techies.

First, Pden is noise free. In the age of misinformation and too much information, ignoring noise is going to be a sought after feature. Being able to ignore noise is one of our core tenets which goes into every design decision we take.

All the features and metrics which current social apps use are invented to extract reactions rather than facilitate responses. Our mutual consent based discussion algorithm and lack of vanity metrics – such as likes, followers, shares, retweets – makes the platform noise, spam and abuse free.

We don’t use metrics like followers counts, shares, and likes to drive engagement. Instead we use a game mechanism where you earn points by being responsible and thoughtful. You are only allowed 3 free posts, 10 comments and 3 likes daily . Likes are scarce and you can give it to posts or comments you love which converts into points for the creator which in turn can be used for more comments.

For more post and comment privileges you need to pay. We also don’t bombard our users with realtime notifications. They  are bundled together and sent at a specific time period of their choice.

We also use reverse chronological order as default and all our feed algorithms are open source with an option to switch as per users preference.

Pden is powered by Blockstack’s open source software which puts minimal logic into the blockchain and handles scalability off the chain unlike ethereum, EOS and similar platforms. We only use the blockchain to give ownership of the identity to the user and verifying it. User data is stored in the cloud storage of their choice (Azure, S3, Dropbox or your own hard drive). This gives you the benefits of decentralization (data control and no central authorities), with the benefits of centralized performance.

We did consider other platforms as well. But our model was more aligned with that of Blockstack and we decided to release our app on blockstack ecosystem first. Blockstack helps in creating a business model that incentivizes dapp creators to put the interest of users first. It takes care of most of the infrastructural issues and the dapp creators can focus more on the users which is very important if you are trying to create a social product for the masses.

The next wave of users-first products

We consider blockchain technology as a tool which gives us unique capabilities to innovate on the features and the business model of a social network simultaneously. Decentralization and privacy in itself doesn’t mean much to the end users. At least not today.

It is important for what it enables, it is important for what it allows us to do with traditional ways of building, distributing and using social apps. The privacy features inherent in decentralized technologies helps us to create a product development model where users come before any other stakeholder.

Indie makers don’t have any ulterior obligation towards big money. They don’t have to engage in the lip service of saying that users are important for them and still choose a strategy that puts shareholders interest before users.

We strongly feel that the first big decentralized social product is going to be built by some indie maker not affiliated to any big group. Indie makers and groups would be in the forefront of the next wave of users-first products with a mass following.

100% committed

We are working on Pden full time. The idea was extremely appealing to us as this was something we ourselves wanted to use. If someone else would have built it we would have already been using it.

We applied to YC startup school with the idea of Pden. We got few early users from blockstack ecosystem and then we launched our app in few engineering colleges in India with the help of students. we have taken both online and offline approach to get users.

We are currently present in two colleges and are doubling our user base every month since our launch in October. We have 500+ active users who contribute to the project voluntarily by providing design help, organising meetups and conducting offline workshops.

We are growing steadily and currently a community of 500+ users. Some of the features like mutual consent based discussion algorithm are very well received. The users are in love with the idea of no vanity metrics – no follower, like, share/retweet counts.

We have a lot of features in the pipeline and releasing it gradually. We aim to have a community of 10,000 users in the next few months.

This article was made possible by Blockstack.


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