Status as a Service (SaaS) - lots of insights for SAFE & Solid

I’m only a quarter through reading this long article, but it is gold. He’s analysing social networks, but the insights are much broader, for example into how to grow SAFE and Solid, what matters, how scarcity and proof of work (in social terms) is a vital ingredient in successful social networks.

See his three axes for analysing social networks: Social Capital v Utility v Entertainment.

Then let’s consider the questions this raises. For example, which are relevant to SAFE Network or Solid as a whole, and which apply to different aspects, subsets and components (such as farming, app development, users, different application categories, storage / music / comms / social etc etc)?

Here’s another taste of how this post is giving us new ways to think about this (well me anyway :smile:):

Proof of Work Matters

Why does proof of work matter for a social network? If people want to maximize social capital, why not make that as easy as possible?

As with cryptocurrency, if it were so easy, it wouldn’t be worth anything. Value is tied to scarcity, and scarcity on social networks derives from proof of work. Status isn’t worth much if there’s no skill and effort required to mine it. It’s not that a social network that makes it easy for lots of users to perform well can’t be a useful one, but competition for relative status still motivates humans. Recall our first tenet: humans are status-seeking monkeys. Status is a relative ladder. By definition, if everyone can achieve a certain type of status, it’s no status at all, it’s a participation trophy.

One of his points is that social networks succeed or fail at accumulating social capital, or rather by incentivising users (status seeking monkeys) to compete to create it on their platform.

In which case, how do SAFE and Solid disrupt this? Which has two sides: 1) in what way do we want change this game (eg by shifting ownership of capital, and the platforms, from centralised profit seeking companies, to those who create the social value - ie everyone using them)? And 2) if we do this, how do the dynamics of these ‘games’ change?

The second seems important to keep up front as we explore these issues, because if we assume the game is unchanged, and try to replicate Facebook etc in a different environment, we will fail. First because even if we succeed we really haven’t changed much (if we’re still incentivising status seeking with little social purpose or value - just follower counts), and more pressing - we may set ourselves up to fail if the models just don’t work in a more democratising environment.

So tbh this means looking at what makes those models work and figuring out whether that still works, and looking for things that might work better. In turn, we can then look for things to build that are both workable and meet wider goals - such as unleashing human creativity rather than finding ways to accumulate and exploit the value created by others without them even realising. But maybe that’s just me :wink:

Anyway, this looks like fertile ground for us, here’s the article:


Great (if long) article agree has lots of good insights for anyone wanting to take on the social media giants. I actually read this a few days ago and noted that they had some ideas that relate to the MD/AD debate, such as (emphasis mine):

A variant of this type of status devaluation cascade can be triggered when a particular group joins up. This is because the stability of a status lattice depends just as much on the composition of the network as its total size. A canonical example in tech was the youth migration out of Facebook when their parents signed on in force. Because of the incredible efficiency of News Feed distribution, Facebook became a de facto surveillance apparatus for the young: Mommy and Daddy are watching, as well as future universities and employers and dates who will time travel back and scour your profile someday. As Facebook became less attractive as a platform for the young, many of them flocked to Snapchat as their new messaging solution, its ephemeral nature offering built-in security and its UX opacity acting as a gate against clueless seniors.

The article also links to The Evaporative Cooling Effect which was an interesting read as well. TL;DR:

"Openness is a major driver of Evaporative Cooling. If anyone can join your community, then the people most likely to join are those who are below the average quality of your community because they have the most to gain. Once they’re in, unless contained, they end up harming the health of the community over the long term. "

Although I do not really agree so much with the universality of this observation, it seems to me that the quest for exclusivity and a feeling of being special is more persuasive in Silicon Valley and other areas where there is a lot of cultural competitive pressure.

Off-topic I was surprised and disappointed given the content of the blog that there is no RSS/Atom feed option to keep up with the infrequent sporadic posts.


I could quote lots from this article, and try to summarise keypoints but I won’t because it is much better to read it yourself and see what comes up, and how it stimulates your own thoughts. The value is not only the specific points he makes, but the thoughts he enables you to have while reading.

But to contradict myself I am now posting another extract because like @krnelson’s point, it plays into the bigger debate about immutability, but not only that.

Wei makes a strong case for adoption of new social networks being the province of the young, and makes some interesting points about why. He says a lot about this, so the following is not representative or a summary, but quoted here because: a) it is relevant to the value young people may put on deletion (a current hot topic), and b) it points to the value of ‘best in class’ management of multiple identities when trying to appeal to this vital adoption demographic:

Add to that this younger generation’s preference for and facility with visual communication and it’s clearly why the preferred social network of the young is Instagram and the preferred messenger Snapchat, both preferable to Facebook. Instagram because of the ease of creating multiple accounts to match one’s portfolio of identities, Snapchat for its best in class ease of visual messaging privately to particular recipients. The expiration of content, whether explicitly executed on Instagram (you can easily kill off a meme account after you’ve outgrown it, for example), or automatically handled on a service like Snapchat, is a must-have feature for those for whom multiple identity management is a fact of life.

Facebook, with its explicit attachment to the real world graph and its enforcement of a single public identity, is just a poor structural fit for the more complex social capital requirements of the young.


Mark Zuckerberg has jumped onto the idea of ephemeral “stories” in his blog post, probably as that is what all the younger people appear want (need?), and FB is trying to stem the severe bleeding out of that demographic.

“Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication.”

I don’t get it. What does “social status” mean? If it means the amount of social reputation a person gets then that’s just another form of brittle hierarchies. Instead of focusing on users I think it’s better to focus on content. One user might produce something amazingly popular and mainstream at some moment in time, and then during the next month he/she might produce something that few people even bother to look at but that is enormously important and influential to just a few people. So my main point is that we should decouple content, services and value as being separate from the actual users.


The original article listed by @happybeing is about all these things being important, and that concentrating on only one may lead to an initial large uptake of users, but would not be enough to keep those users long-term. So good content draws users, good services draws users, and good value draws users.

To take the analogy to SAFE. A fast growing number of users may be attracted to SAFE when it is first launched, but in order to keep those users long term there needs to be good functions, good content, good services, and good value.


But isn’t there a contradiction in the article regarding what is considered valuable?

Value in monetary terms is related to scarcity and value in social terms is related to abundance?

You earn money by proof of work. You earn social standing on Facebook et al by proof of work. Both those depend on the scarcity of the reward - if either were trivial to obtain (little work) they would be worth less.

I’m not seeing a contradiction. :thinking:

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Ok, fair enough, but I think a social “credit score” should be decoupled from the “value” of a person. Or else the old product/resource paradigm just moves into the social landscape. And such decoupling of humans and value is consistent with the future where automation such as robotics and AI will replace more and more jobs. For example, check out the new deep learner Alphastar: AlphaStar: Mastering the Real-Time Strategy Game StarCraft II - AlphaStar: Mastering the Real-Time Strategy Game StarCraft II - MIT Events

@happybeing asked some questions in the opening of this thread that I would like to react to:

The article makes a sharp distinction between utility and social capital a product (social network) can produce. But from an economist’s point of view they both are just parameters of a general concept of utility an economic actor might gain from a product or service. The same can be said about the third axis - entertainment - because we find something entertaining, if it fulfills some of our needs. The motivational model presented in the article can therefore be simplified, if we make na assumption, that what we as humans are after is as perfect a representation of the world in its entirety as possible (including the needs of other people). Then “proof of work” becomes a manifestation of our mastery in a specific domain, like making of music videos, or coding computer programs, which - if found popular (liked, linked to, downloaded…), confirms quality of that mental world representation … and “Social capital” becomes a measure of the feedback the social network provides about the quality of the mental world model.

That’s my re-interpretation of the article in a nutshell. Now to the questions. What (I think) @happybeing is after, is how to harness these human instinct to build a product that would provide universally shared benefits (economic primarily) to all users of the product/service. This is of course a question that humanity has been struggling with since the end of the hunter-gatherer era, when equal sharing of economic resources gave way to individual accumulation of wealth. I believe however, that the article provides a hint to how this problem can be solved. In particular, it reveals that what motivates people to produce any work is not a vision of economic gain, but what I call “merit” seeking - a desire to maximize non economic signals of our internal model quality. In fact, people often exchange economic value for merit signal and the author himself describes some of such cases in the article. He also mentions how status can be transformed back into economic benefit, but it is hard to imagine that this would be the case if that economic benefit did not itself serve as a merit signal. To support this claim - just imagine that folks would be paid for their social status in food stamps that have economic value, but carry a negative merit signal.

The fact that people are willing to trade work (economic value) for non-material signals can be the key to building an economically equitable society. This deserves stressing out, because it flies in the face of established economic theories: people will happily work for “diploma” (merit signal), ignoring the economic benefits their labor produce. If the discussed article is not enough of a proof, just think about the massive amounts of labor that lead to creation of projects like linux, wikipedia or openstreetmap. Economic impact all volunteer work has been estimated to place a virtual volunteerland into the top ten countries worldwide by GDP. The question then translates into a technological problem - how to implement in code a version of the “hunter-gatherer economic system” that constantly redistributes economic value, while unequally rewards exceptional contributors with unequal, non-material merit reward.

If this sounds plausible, a patient reader of this comment might learn about just such an effort at (and a related paper, that offers some “ideological” background). That project was since its conception envisioned to one day run on a distributed network like SAFE, but the existing proof of concept was coded in a classic paradigm.


@sano Interesting ideas and project, thank you.

Will social reputation/status of individuals be considered a form of value even in the future? Yes! I think that will remain. However, it will be similar to celebrity and authority/expert status of people today on a broader scale. Some people may choose to cultivate a high social status, while others bother less about it. And both approaches are valid. It will be a both/and scenario instead of either/or. So it will NOT (at least I don’t think so) be like China’s horrible mandatory and what seems to be an Orwellian social credit system:

“In 2020, China will fully roll out its controversial social credit score. Under the system, both financial behaviors like “frivolous spending” and bad behaviors like lighting up in smoke-free zones can result in stiff consequences.” - China’s social credit system penalizes those who spend “frivolously” - Vox

Also, another thing I came to think of: future social networks will be massively AI-driven. For example one person sends a tweet to an AI which dynamically delivers it to people interested in it, instead of only using the clunky and rigid follower structure of today. So depending on the content, the people receiving tweets from the user can differ vastly depending on the content of the tweets.

And instead of users only having friends and media delivering information to them, or the users manually searching and looking up information themselves, AI-services can deliver interesting valid content and news to to the users automatically.