An Interview with Tobias Schoder: Co-Founder of Ethereum’s Future Social Network, InkDrop
An Interview with Tobias Schoder: Co-Founder of Ethereum’s Most Rewarding Social Network, InkDrop.
By Josh Schultz at theliterature.org
InkDrop, a novel Ethereum based social network, recently announced its private beta program. Their goal is to leverage the unique capabilities of the blockchain in order to pioneer the “future of social media.” I had the chance to be among the first private-beta testers and talk with founder Tobias Schoder about decentralized social networks and his new platform, InkDrop.
How would you describe the InkDrop network? What is its goal?
I have always cherished social networks for connecting me with friends or interesting people in a more engaging way than email, for example. Yet, it seems to me that somewhere along the line something went terribly wrong. Facebook is now the most populous “country” in the world, surpassing China by almost a billion people. But if you had to compare it to a real-world country, it would probably be more akin to something like North Korea.
Facebook, Twitter and Co. act as their network’s sole ruler who centrally dictate, and enforce, the rules. They spy on their users down to the most personal detail and they alone decide what should be censored or not. The value that is being produced is not being passed back to the ones who created it — the users and their content.
So, how can we turn North Korea into something more like Sweden? To answer this question, we started InkDrop, a new form of social network we are building on the Ethereum blockchain. Blockchains enable fundamentally new ways to govern networks. Instead of centrally dictating and enforcing the rules, networks can now be governed by anyone with merit to the network.
Cryptocurrencies enable the direct exchange of value and market incentives reward fruitful user behavior. So on the InkDrop social network, this includes creating quality content, curating content for others, or helping to fight trolls and spam. Ultimately, we believe that users who advance the network as a whole should be the ones who profit from it. Last but not least, users of a decentralized network fully own their personal data and their online connections.
How do you create the incentives for people to participate?
To incentivize content curation, for example, InkDrop rewards users who source and upvote relevant content. The sooner a user identifies and upvotes relevant content, the higher his/her stake in its success. Meaning that if the post resonates with the community, like getting lots of comments, the user receives ETH rewards. The ETH-likes in a post eventually go to the post’s creator, thus incentivizing the creation of relevant content. The tokens in a post decrease over time and will eventually be awarded to the author.
Conversely, the community decides which content to censor. If the majority of a randomly selected group agrees, the ones who reached a consensus will be rewarded. We call this mechanism Proof-of-Care and it’s based on Vitalik’s SchellingCoin approach. That way, the community has full control over the newsfeed by deciding what’s hot and what’s harmful.
So, the next time you see Vitalik Buterin posting “Giving away free ETH,” you can stop the scam yourself and earn actual ETH in the process. We work hard to make it easy for users to earn Ether for valuable network contributions
Are upvotes the only means for creators to monetize their content?
For us, earning ETH through the newsfeed is just the first of a series of monetization features. For example, Private Channels will enable creators to publish exclusive content other users can conveniently subscribe to. Additionally, popular users can set a price for which they reply to direct messages. That way they earn cryptocurrency in exchange for their time and effort.
InkDrop makes it easy for users to support their favorite content creators more directly. Never before has there been a social network that automatically equips all users with the means for payment, without having to register a credit card or PayPal account. We simply want to enable users to profit from all the valuable stuff they already do online.
What are some key points on your development road map that you are excited about?
One of our main goals is to foster mainstream adoption beyond today’s power users and grow the crypto community as a whole. For that, we see tremendous opportunity in platforms like InkDrop to make it easy for everyday people to earn their first cryptocurrencies. As the next step to reach that goal, we are making the sign-up process as frictionless, and cheap, as possible.
We are implementing improvements like these, while at the same time staying true to our decentralized mission. Every project arrives at a point where it evaluates trade-offs between quickly implementing UX improvements and keeping a high degree of decentralization.
Many features that are easy to implement in a centralized environment are extremely difficult in a decentralized world. We are working hard on decentralizing even minor features. This may be considered idealistic but, similar to Ethereum, Augur, BitTorrent, and many other projects, we believe that a high degree of decentralization will be beneficial in the long-run.
We are working together with LivePeer, for example, to integrate live video on InkDrop, instead of taking the easy route with YouTube. We believe that the token shouldn’t be the only decentralized aspect of your dApp.
How else is it different to other decentralized social networks like Steemit or Peepeth?
Steemit’s level of decentralization has often been questioned, like AceOfWallStreet suggested in his blog. Another thing most dApps are getting wrong is that they simply take an existing service, like Twitter, and create a copy of it on the blockchain. The privacy aspect just won’t be enough to compete. So, we focus our energy on creating services that haven’t been discovered yet by truly leveraging the power of the blockchain and cryptocurrency.
Another key area where we differentiate ourselves is the token. To create effective incentives, it really should be a token people would want. So why not start with the most popular altcoin that’s out there? This is why we made the decision to use ETH as the network’s currency.
Businesses want a platform where they can push marketing content to customers and not be accidentally marked as spam or surreptitiously hidden by news feed algorithms. Users want to see content they subscribed to. It sounds so simple. But centralized middle men will, over time, become incentivized to only push content that maximizes their own profits.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube have proven time, and time again, that they cannot be trusted and will act in bad faith for profit.
For example, as soon as businesses had established themselves by gaining thousands, and millions, of followers Facebook started “tuning” their news feed algorithms so that those businesses could only reach 1-10% of those followers, unless they paid for a “post boost.” That was a huge slap in the face to many companies. Are businesses guaranteed to have their posts show up to users who follow them on InkDrop?
Well, yes and no. No, because we don’t really distinguish between users and businesses. We strongly believe in equal opportunity as opposed to equal outcome. This is why everyone on the platform has the same means to vote on content. All users can directly influence a post’s visibility without having to buy ad space or deploy automated bots, as it is the case today. Yes, because the ranking system is very transparent and everyone can immediately see what is needed to reach a high rank within a certain community.
If the rich get to be the promoters, and curators, then how does the social media landscape change to empower people with no money to spare?
To guarantee easy network access, the incentive system allows users to attain a positive token balance simply by being active on InkDrop. This way less affluent users gain access to the same features through positive participation.
In addition, it will be clearly visible if a post is backed by the community or a few promoters.
Will you give users the choice to run their own news feed algorithms?
Yes, in the future we want to offer multiple ranking options users can choose to personalize their timelines. This includes ranking options, like most eth per post, most eth donated per person, most individuals liking a post, or ranked by date. The ranking options could be applied for any sub-channel as well.
What do you think users are willing to pay for their social media experience? Is $5/year too much? How much do you expect users to pay per post? Should advertisers be the ones who pay, instead of users?
It is really difficult to put a price tag on this. Naturally, there will always be users who are fine with the social media experience they can get for free and some who are willing to pay extra for a higher quality. In fact, many signs point towards a growing user group that happily invest a few cents, or even dollars, to support their favorite creators, receive exclusive content or for other premium services like increasing their exposure. This is especially made evident by services like Twitch or Patreon.
We don’t want users to pay for a service they can also have for free. We only want you to pay if you can get something valuable out of it. That is why we put a lot of effort into making interactions with the platform as cheap as possible. Eventually, want to pay the costs for basic features, like signup, out of the incentive pool.
Are you the core developer? What does your team look like?
Besides me and Michael, there is a handful of other hackers and a web designer that are involved in the project. We are pretty much scattered around the globe and have people working from India, Europe, and the US (San Francisco).
Tell us about your background. Who are you and what inspires you? Why did you become interested in blockchain technology?
My co-founder, Michael Kaserer, and I met in 2013 during our Masters studies in Berlin. During that time, we had a lot of deep conversations, usually tech related and often about the transformation of Web 1.0 to Web 3.0. Might be worth mentioning that we partially studied in the Netherlands too. We are open minded and ready for change.
We both believe that technology is a force for good in the world. Today’s social media is highly centralized and thus vulnerable to attacks or failure. With every privacy fiasco and troll/spam scandal, we become more and more convinced that the current advertisement and user-data based social media model is outdated and irreconcilable with matters like user privacy and data security.
Learning more about blockchain technology and distributed file systems inspired the vision of a self-sufficient and self-improving social network. A network that doesn’t relying on advertising and doesn’t promise that it WON’T misuse your private data, but simply CAN’T.
What is the blockchain community like in Germany?
The German blockchain community is thriving, especially in Berlin. Many cities in the world claim to be the “crypto capitals,” but I feel that this reputation is often due to their regulatory benefits. When it comes to the community Berlin is easily THE crypto capital. We just now had the Blockchain Week Berlin, a free-for-all week filled with events and workshops and hundreds of attendees. InkDrop was represented at the ETHBerlin hackathon as well.
Is there a plan to fund your platform?
We have bootstrapped so far and still have some runway left. At some point funding will be necessary though.
Most people don’t really realize that Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google not only own your online identity, but access to your network contacts as well. Facebook banned thousands of users for not using their real names. In many countries this could get users killed by their oppressive governments.
Advertise your own business on LinkedIn in a private message, or view too many profiles too quickly, and you can be banned for life at their whim. Tell us how users will be able to control their data. How does InkDrop ensure user ownership over their identity and contacts?
We don’t store personal data, or any other data for that matter on private servers. Instead of a middleman like Twitter or Facebook keeping track of you and your network, everything is stored on IPFS and referenced from the Ethereum blockchain. This way you have full control over your online identity and social graph.
Lastly, how can people check out your project?
Head on over to inkdrop.tech to sign up for our beta.