What is Decentralized Social?

Decentralized social media refers to social networking platforms and applications that are not controlled by a single entity. Instead, they are built on peer-to-peer networks and distributed ledger technologies like blockchain, allowing users greater control over their data and content.

In recent years, decentralized platforms have emerged as an alternative to mainstream centralized networks like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. Several factors drive this shift, including concerns over privacy, censorship, monopolization, and the misuse of user data and advertising on large corporate platforms. Decentralized platforms offer solutions that run on open-source software and transparent protocols and use consensus mechanisms for governance.

This article will explore the history of centralized social media, their prevailing challenges, and some of the most game-changing and disruptive decentralized social media projects aiming to revolutionize how people connect, share, and create online.

These platforms give creators and communities more control over the value they produce by doing away with centralized intermediaries. They leverage robust peer-to-peer networks and encryption to facilitate private communication and seamless worldwide value transfer.

The History of Centralized Social Media

The early 2000s saw the rise of centralized social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit. These platforms fundamentally disrupted communication and information sharing, allowing people worldwide to connect and share ideas.

Initially, these platforms were hailed as agents of free speech and open communication. However, over time, centralized social media revealed significant problems, such as:

  • Bans and account suspensions: Platforms frequently ban accounts and remove content that violates opaque terms of service. Users often feel these bans are arbitrary, unjustified, or politically motivated.

  • Censorship: Centralized platforms remove or restrict access to inappropriate, dangerous, or illegal content. However, these decisions are made unilaterally without oversight.

  • Algorithm manipulation: By tweaking algorithms, platforms can amplify, suppress, or moderate content. This allows the editorializing of content to drive business incentives over user needs.

  • Data exploitation: User data and activities on centralized platforms provide immense economic value to the platforms with limited user benefit.

  • Lack of portability: Social graphs and content created on these platforms are locked in and not portable, creating high switching costs for users.

While centralized platforms democratize publishing and communications, their challenges increasingly overshadow the benefits for users seeking agency over their data, connections, and online expression, thus prompting the need for decentralized alternatives.

Most popular social networks worldwide as of January 2024, ranked by number of monthly active users. Source: Statistca

The Emergence of Decentralized Platforms

The rise of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology influenced the emergence of decentralized social media platforms. This culture promoted ideals like censorship resistance, privacy, and individual empowerment. Platforms like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other Layer 1 and 2 blockchains demonstrated the potential of decentralized networks governed by code rather than centralized entities.

This technology inspired a new wave of social media projects aimed at giving users more control over their data and online experience. Their promises include no censorship, user ownership of content, transparency, and privacy protections.

Early decentralized social platforms like Mastodon and Diaspora paved the way. Mastodon is an open-source, federated social network launched in 2016. It allows users to run their servers while interacting with the broader network. Diaspora emerged even earlier in 2010 as an open-source, decentralized competitor to centralized platforms.

Other prominent decentralized social projects include Farcaster, Lens Protocol, Friend.Tech Steemit, Minds, Memo, and so forth. Each takes a slightly different technical approach but shares the same ethos of empowering users through decentralization. They aim to serve as "digital commons" free from corporate and government control.

The cryptocurrency boom has accelerated interest and investment in building Web3 and metaverse applications. Social platforms are a crucial focus of this expanding landscape of user-controlled networks.

A Deep Dive on Farcaster

Farcaster, established in 2020 by former Coinbase employees Dan Romero and Varun Srinivasan, is a decentralized social media protocol designed to empower developers to create censorship-free applications. Operating on the Optimism network, Farcaster emphasizes privacy, user autonomy, and interoperability. Farcaster has emerged as a transformative force in the decentralized social media landscape in response to the increasing demand for privacy-centric platforms.

Farcaster's genesis is rooted in the growing desire for user-controlled, privacy-centric social platforms. The project gained momentum amidst significant industry shifts, including Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter in 2022, prompting a renewed interest in decentralized digital communities.

Farcaster Homepage. Source: Farcaster

Farcaster's Architecture

Farcaster's architecture revolves around a sufficiently decentralized framework, amalgamating on-chain and off-chain elements for an efficient decentralized social media protocol. Here are the key elements of Farcaster’s architecture:

  • Blockchain Basis: Utilizes the Optimism blockchain, a Layer 2 scaling solution on Ethereum, ensuring transparency, security, and decentralization.

  • Interoperability: Emphasizes interoperability, allowing seamless interaction with other blockchain networks for data and asset exchange.

  • Smart Contracts: Employs smart contracts to govern social interactions, introducing programmability and customization.

  • Registry Contracts: Farcaster creates non-upgradable contracts with a limited lifespan. These contracts serve several functions:

    • Id Registry: Generates key pairs for newly created Farcaster accounts linked to Ethereum addresses.

    • Storage Registry Contracts: Manages and tracks allocated storage units for each account, rented annually.

    • Key Registry: Allows users to grant and remove account ownership access for writing and signing messages on their behalf.

  • Hubs: Hubs on Farcaster are servers that run on commodity hardware and maintain a copy of all the network's data. These hubs accept users' communications hash messages, validate signatures against registry contracts, and replicate data across other hubs in real time. This off-chain implementation enables quick and reliable data access, supporting the development of responsive applications.

Farcaster Hub Schematics. Source: Farcaster

  • Usernames: Farcaster supports two types of usernames:

    • Fnames: Off-chain ENS names issued by Farcaster.

    • .eth names: On-chain domains that are user-controlled and support applications built on the Ethereum network, allowing users to customize their accounts and enhance their user experience.

  • EdDSA Authorization System: Farcaster employs an EdDSA authorization system that powers features like Frames. This system ensures secure and tamper-proof interactions, eliminating the possibility of wallet drains, spoofing, and other malicious crypto hacks.

  • Frames: Introduced on January 26, 2024, Frames is a significant feature that allows users to transform their posts into interactive applications. Frames enable various functions within Farcaster apps without requiring users to exit third-party applications, including actions like making purchases, minting NFTs, playing games, and more.

More on Farcaster Frames

This game-changing functionality has triggered a remarkable surge in Farcaster's daily users, skyrocketing from fewer than 2,000 in late January to nearly 20,000, as reported by Dune Analytics.

Frames give developers a canvas to display content and create customizable functionalities within the app. This innovation distinguishes Frames from traditional social media posts, offering users a new level of engagement.

Developers can design buttons, enabling diverse interactions ranging from simple polls to complex actions like minting NFTs or even facilitating online shopping within a post. Frames have been significant in meeting users where they are, eliminating the need for additional installations or complex processes.

Chess on Farcaster; created with Frames. Source PERCS Medium: Top 5 Best Frames So Far

The feature's versatility has led to various creative use cases, from tarot card readings to chess games and even a shopping cart for buying Girl Scout cookies, all seamlessly integrated into social media posts.

Applications on Farcaster

Warpcast, Farcaster's flagship social app, mirrors traditional social media interfaces, allowing users to post, follow, like, and share. It differentiates itself by being decentralized and giving users complete control over their data. The introduction of Frames has spurred innovation, enabling interactive applications within posts.

Other applications like Paragraph, a decentralized newsletter publishing platform, and Kiwi News, a crypto media dApp, showcase the versatility of Farcaster, catering to decentralized newsletter publishing and crypto media aggregation.

Warpcast app on mobile. Source: GooglePlay

A Deep Dive on Lens Protocol

Lens protocol is a blockchain-powered, open-source social graph that challenges the centralized structure of traditional social media networks. Founded by Stani Kulechov, also the founder of AAVE, in early 2022, it introduces a decentralized pattern of data ownership, allowing users to control their digital content, connections, and identity within a Web3 framework.

Its goal is to empower users by giving them complete control over their data, fostering a decentralized and composable social graph.

Unique Features and Value Proposition

  • Decentralized Social Graph: Lens Protocol replaces the centralized social graph with a permissionless and composable structure, enabling users to own their content and control platform connections.

  • NFT-Powered Content Control: Leveraging NFTs, Lens Protocol associates ownership rights with each piece of content. This approach allows creators to dictate how their posts are used and shared, offering economic empowerment beyond traditional advertising models.

  • Modules for Custom Functionality: The protocol features modules—smart contracts with code running under specific conditions—enabling users to introduce unique functionalities like Follow, Collect, and Reference, enhancing adaptability and innovation.

Recent Developments

Lens Protocol recently shifted to a permissionless model, allowing anyone to mint profiles and developers to innovate. The move follows a decline in daily transactions and users.

Other notable advancements include introducing the Follow NFT feature, allowing users to mint and record connections, and the Collects feature enabling content monetization through custom terms. Lens Protocol's impact on web3 marketing emphasizes data ownership, privacy, and user agency.

Lens Architecture

Lens Protocol utilizes a graph database (GDB) structure, consisting of nodes, edges, places, and properties, to establish its decentralized social graph. Operating on Polygon's layer 2 scaling solution, it ensures low-cost data storage with on-chain visibility and immutability.

Apps on Lens Protocol. Source: Lens Protocol

Evaluating Social Media Decentralized Platforms

Decentralized social media platforms represent an emerging and evolving space. When evaluating these platforms, there are several key factors to consider:

  1. Assessing Maturity and Adoption: Most decentralized platforms are still in the early or beta stages of development. User bases tend to be small compared to mainstream social networks. For example, Farcaster has approximately 5,000 users, while Facebook has over 2 billion monthly active users worldwide. Assessing maturity involves looking at metrics like the number of users, number of active posts/content, frequency of software updates, and stability/reliability of the platform. Adoption rates provide insight into whether a platform is gaining or losing momentum.

  2. Technical Drawbacks and Limitations: Decentralized platforms face technical obstacles related to scalability, speed, storage, and moderation. Blockchain-based platforms can experience sluggish performance and high latency compared to centralized networks. Content storage utilizes user devices rather than centralized servers, creating capacity constraints. Moderating harmful content poses challenges without centralized control. These drawbacks and limitations create tradeoffs compared to mainstream platforms in terms of user experience.

  3. Future Outlook and Predictions: According to Future Market Insights, the global decentralized social network market is predicted to grow from US$12,132.2 million in 2023 to US$101,200.8 million by 2033, with a projected CAGR of 23.6%. Future Market Insights attributes this growth to the increasing popularity of decentralized social networks, emphasizing benefits like improved content control and censorship resistance.

The future outlook for decentralized social media remains speculative. Advocates are optimistic about spurring mainstream adoption and overcoming technical limitations over time. Critics argue decentralized models suffer from poor incentives and discovery compared to popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Much depends on the evolving capabilities of blockchain and peer-to-peer technologies.

Regardless of adoption rates, decentralized platforms provide an alternative model aligning more closely with principles of free speech, privacy, and user control. Their lasting impacts may relate more to influencing centralized platforms rather than overtly displacing them.

The Role of Data Infrastructure

Decentralized social media platforms are redefining the landscape of digital interactions by offering users greater control over their data and fostering a more inclusive and transparent environment. The success of these platforms heavily relies on robust data infrastructure, and Covalent has been a crucial player in this transformative journey.

Covalent's Contribution

Covalent stands out for providing a unified API that enables seamless access to blockchain data across 200 chains. Covalent reduces the complications involved with decentralized data retrieval. by gathering and indexing data from many blockchains. This is instrumental for decentralized social media platforms as it enhances user experience, making data more accessible and usable.

Covalent emerges as a game-changer by addressing key challenges and fostering the growth of decentralized social ecosystems.

  1. Enhanced Transparency and User Control: Covalent plays a pivotal role in providing transparent and user-centric data infrastructure. Utilizing blockchain technology, Covalent ensures that user data remains encrypted, and accessible only to the users, enhancing transparency and control.

  2. Empowering Developers with Comprehensive Data: Developers are empowered through Covalent's infrastructure, gaining seamless access to comprehensive on-chain data. This accessibility accelerates the development of decentralized applications (DApps) within the social media landscape, fostering innovation and diversity in the ecosystem.

  3. Immutable Content and Censorship Resistance: Covalent assists decentralized social media platforms in ensuring content permanence by leveraging blockchain's immutability. This not only preserves user-generated content but also mitigates concerns related to censorship, providing a space for unrestricted expression.

  4. Seamless Integration with Blockchain Networks: Covalent's infrastructure facilitates seamless integration with various blockchain networks (more than 200 chains). This interoperability ensures that decentralized social media platforms can leverage the strengths of different blockchains, enhancing scalability and overall efficiency.

  5. Data Monetization and User Incentives: Covalent's infrastructure makes data monetization feasible, providing users with increased authority over the utilization of their data. This approach, centred on user preferences, is in harmony with the tenets of decentralized social media, wherein users receive incentives for their active engagement.


The rise of decentralized social media platforms marks a transformative shift in digital interactions, offering users enhanced control over their data within a more transparent and inclusive environment. Key players like Farcaster and Lens Protocol exemplify the potential of open protocols, emphasizing censorship resistance and user empowerment.

As these platforms mature, they present an alternative model aligned with principles of free speech, privacy, and user agency, influencing the broader social media landscape. The future outlook remains speculative, with advocates optimistic about mainstream adoption and critics highlighting challenges.

Covalent's crucial role in providing robust data infrastructure underscores the importance of transparency, user control, and seamless data accessibility. Covalent's unified API ensures seamless access to blockchain data across 200+ unique chains.