Interview with Radu Prodan, ARTICONF project coordinator and Professor at the Institute of Information Technology, University of Klagenfurt, Austria, about the need to create smart, decentralised social media networks.
What are the main problems with current social media networks?
Social media today does not live up to its promise.
Radu Prodan: Social media applications connect billions of people worldwide, but they belong to single, centralised and proprietary organisations (Facebook, google, twitter) and this raises a lot of issues, especially with respect to privacy, trust and data management. Our aim is to create decentralised networks so no single operator or entity has control of the entire network. Instead, everyone controls their own data and can decide with whom they want to share it, connect with and trust. The entire community, by democratic voting for example, can decide who can be trusted to be part of the network.
How can you create decentralised networks social media networks?
Radu Prodan: Basically, it comes down to an issue of trust. There are various models of trust: traditional centralised ones, where the community trusts one person, and softer ones, based on recommendations within a community or friendships (friend -of-a-friend) for example. However, these only work to a certain extent; they create ‘echo chambers’ that reinforce certain beliefs and end up being biased.
We are using blockchain technology with enhanced capabilities to determine trust based on an anonymous person’s activities, defined as a sequence of objective and immutable transactions agreed and confirmed by the community. The problem we are encountering is that initiating this type of community discussion for every action is very time consuming and expensive in terms of computing resources and energy.
What progress have you made so far?
Radu Prodan: Our project started in January 2019 and our aim is to develop a generic platform that can be used in any kind of application. We believe that social networks will at the core of any new application in the future. The days when people work together in an office are over, collaborative work will take place through the internet, through smaller social networks. In the future, ‘teams’ will be social networks.
ARTICONF is working with SMEs to customise the blockchain platform for ‘use cases’. These are applications that allow the co-creation of videos, crowd journalism, smart energy trading and car sharing. They are but a few examples where the production and consumption of goods and services can be decentralised, allowing business transactions to be carried out through peer-to-peer connections, supporting what is called the collaborative economy.
What are your next steps?
Radu Prodan: We will be looking to apply our technology to other use cases. We are in the process of establishing interest group partners, mainly companies that are working in our use-case areas, and we are looking to work with academia on their e-learning platforms. At present student records are maintained in university databases, which creates a problem when the student moves to another institution. If this data belonged to the student, they would be able to transfer it with them automatically when they joined new universities, networks or peer groups. This would encourage and facilitate student mobility, which is an essential part of education today.
Our vision is that in the future people will no longer have to connect and trust the Google Cloud or Amazon Cloud, but rather they will each have their own individual cloud that, through blockchain technology for example, will be able to connect to other federated networks of clouds and at the same time establish privacy and trust.