Decentralized Social Media Platform HyperSpace Looks to the Future
In January, HyperSpace, formerly known as Synereo, released the beta version of its cryptocurrency-powered social media platform. The company is building what its founder, Dor Konforty, describes as a combination of Reddit and Patreon, and which also could be compared to fellow blockchain startup Steemit. But the question remains whether there is room for a new social network in a field dominated by some of the richest companies in the world.
UPDATE: This piece has been updated with background about HyperSpace.
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HyperSpace’s Beta Release Is the Latest Version of Decentralized Social Media
Founded by Israeli entrepreneur Dor Konforty in 2014, HyperSpace began its life as Synereo and raised $4.7 million USD in an ICO in September of 2016. The ICO saw the creation of the cryptocurrency AMP, which the platform still uses. Synereo announced it would be rebranding as HyperSpace in a November 2018 blog post. The next month, it launched the alpha version of its revamped social media platform, which was similar to a product called Wildspark that Synereo had been developing.
The original goal of Synereo was to build a decentralized social network using blockchain technology. Its Chief Technology Officer, Lucius Greg Meredith, was developing a custom blockchain technology that was supposed to make transactions on the platform faster and allow it to scale. But Meredith was removed from the project in late 2016 by the Synereo team for reasons that remain in dispute. He went on to found a blockchain platform called RChain, which raised $30 million in late 2017 before suffering from financial problems in 2018.
The New HyperSpace Focusing on Social
CEO and founder Konforty describes HyperSpace as a combination of Reddit and Patreon, and a video on its website claims it has benefits to users that giants Facebook and Twitter don’t offer.
Konforty graduated from Tel-Aviv University and then began a Ph.D. program in interdisciplinary education between the psychology, biology and medicine faculties. For five years, he conducted research into simulations of neural networks for the purpose of rehabilitating damaged brain tissue. Over time, however, he became more interested taking the information he learned about how the brain works and applying it to what he calls “human socio-economic networks.”
When the the Arab Spring/Occupy movements started, Konforty began working to organize people and produce consensual and operative decisions and actions in Israel. These efforts led to him acting as architect/head of product for a non-profit creating deliberative-democracy tools for mass participation. Around the same time, Konforty also became interested in bitcoin and the potential societal benefits of blockchain technology. He decided to leave his Ph.D. program, instead receiving a master’s in neuroscience from Tel Aviv University. Later on, he was a participant in a Silicon Valley accelerator program called NFX, which has invested in companies like Lyft, Patreon, Doordash, and Trulia.
Konforty’s goal with Synereo was to create a different economic model from dominant social media platforms like Facebook. He told CoinTelegraph in 2015 that Facebook’s business model limits its benefit for users, and that “to create a truly benefiting experience, to evolve what is achievable in a social setting online, the network and its users must be free to experiment in ways that are currently impossible on Facebook.”
Decentralized, to a Point
HyperSpace promotes itself as being decentralized, though Konforty said there are limitations to this as having a good user experience requires some level of centralization. The company makes use of what it calls the “decentralized cloud,” which relies on the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) to host the content. In practice this means HyperSpace hosts its content on servers it controls, though IPFS makes it possible to download a file from many locations that aren’t managed by one organization.
Another way that HyperSpace isn’t completely decentralized is reflected on its content moderation policy. When asked if HyperSpace would remove content from neo-nazis or similar groups, Konforty said it would, at least partially. He told Bitsonline that:
I would only remove from the platform, which serves as an index since posts are uploaded to a decentralized cloud, what the company – which is an entity subservient to the law and powerless to push back against it – what we’re legally obligated to. The post will still be available on the cloud, just not viewable from hyperspace.app.
We’re working on a system of community-arbitration even for this phase, where the blockchain space hasn’t offered tech that is mature enough and there’s still some centralization, so that HyperSpace is as far removed from the position of a centralized decision-maker with regards to the flows of information and money in the system as possible.
The company’s roadmap shows that it plans to decentralize further aspects of HyperSpace, including a content delivery network in the third quarter of 2019. Other decentralization plans include a peer-to-peer messaging system and data storage network, but those features rely on further technological developments.
Cryptocurrency AMP Plays Key Role in HyperSpace
The other decentralized aspect of HyperSpace is its usage of the cryptocurrency AMP. Like many other cryptocurrencies, AMP has fallen dramatically from highs reached in early 2018, when it traded for more than $1 USD. Currently, each AMP is valued at less than $.02.
Each active user of HyperSpace automatically receives a daily allocation of AMP, which the company likens to the concept of universal basic income. Users can then spend their AMPs to support other users who produce, promote and curate content.
HyperSpace also has communities called Spaces which are organized around topics or interests, and the administrators of these Spaces earn AMP for managing them. Users can also stake AMP in Spaces and earn a cut of the AMP generated by posts in that Space.
As AMP is traded widely on cryptocurrency exchanges, Konforty told Bitsonline that successful content creators would be able to sell the AMP they earn on HyperSpace. Konforty also said that those who are skillful at using HyperSpace could also buy AMP on exchanges with the prospect of using it to earn more.
HyperSpace Faces Steep Competition from Steemit and Tech Giants
Many of the features of HyperSpace are similar to Steemit, the Dan Larimer-created social network which has a similar, though more convoluted, crypto payment system involving two cryptocurrencies, Steem and Steem Dollars.
Steemit, however, has hit troubled waters in recent times, announcing in November 2018 that it had laid off 70 percent of its staff in the midst of a wider structural reorganization. And with founder Dan Larimer possibly moving on to yet another blockchain project, it’s unclear what future Steemit has.
HyperSpace of course also faces steep competition from established social media players such as Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram. Facebook, despite suffering multiple data breaches and repeated controversies over its use as a disinformation platform, still managed to report record profits in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Despite the challenges, Konforty expressed optimism over HyperSpace and future of blockchain technology more generally. He said the company was still was operating from the funds it had raised in 2016, and that it is looking to raise more capital in the future.
But the firm is likely impacted by the ongoing crypto bear market, which has reduced the amount of funds that blockchain startups like HyperSpace are able to raise. It remains to be seen what will come to pass with the blockchain space, though startup accelerator Techstars recently announced it was funding ten blockchain companies in a new program.
What’s your take? Can HyperSpace succeed in such a challenging arena? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
Images via HyperSpace, Pixabay