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This moment isn't about decentralization

I think it’s important to understand that what’s happening today in social media is not because decentralization’s time has come: it’s because Twitter’s time has gone.

The core need being expressed by millions of users isn’t “get me a decentralized protocol that nobody owns where I can have my choice of algorithms and apps”. It’s “get me a platform that works consistently, with less abuse”. Sometimes it’s also appended with, “where I can build a following for me / my brand / my employer and measure my progress.”

Now, of course, as product people, we can build that with decentralized tech, which will in turn yield benefits later on as an ecosystem grows around it. And third-party app developers probably do want the assurances of an open platform. But most people do not have a nuanced view on how social media is built or how it should be governed. They know what they want for themselves.

“We’ve built the infrastructure for nuanced moderation” is not an adequate answer to people who are suffering, or who are prone to suffer, abuse. “We are making sure you have a safe space to be social” is the only answer for them. If those measures happen to work as part of a nuanced decentralized protocol, great. But either way, it’s got to happen, and it’s got to be at least as good as it would be on any other social network.

Many of us have been wanting decentralized social networking for a long time — I’ve been a part of these conversations for around twenty years. It’s tempting to feel like people finally get it. But that’s a trap and a mistake. As always, quite rightly, most people want something that works for them. If decentralized tech gets them there better than the alternative (and I think it can!) then there’s a wonderful route forward for everyone. But decentralization is not the goal. The goal is always a human experience for people who do not and should not care how the sausage gets made.

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