The Decentral Authority

We’ve been big fans of Reddit since it was part of the first Y Combinator class ten years ago this summer. We’ve watched closely as it emerged as a community powered mostly by its users. There was a period when the entire company was one or two developers. And yet not only did Reddit survive that period, it actually thrived during it. It is a quintessential example of the lightweight people powered app that we look for and love at USV.

The growing pains that Reddit is going through as it evolves into something more are particularly interesting to us. We’ve always wondered if a people powered community that is owned as much by its users as anyone can work as a traditional corporate entity. We’ve been through similar situations in our career (Geocities and Twitter among them) and we know how hard it is to reconcile the needs of the users, the management, and the shareholders.

I am not going to come down on the side of any of these stakeholders in this current situation. They all have very valid needs and desires and there are no easy answers to the struggle that Reddit faces. I am particularly sympathetic to the need to manage the trolling activity. Twitter also struggles with this issue. Free speech has an ugly underbelly and when you stare at it up close and personally, it makes you want to puke. And yet where do you stop on the slippery slope of deciding what is acceptable and what is not?

We have also wondered what the first killer app of the blockchain is going to be. Is it going to be personal finance (bitcoin), is it going to be peer to peer connectivity (mesh networking), or is it going to be something else?

There’s a chance that the answer to the struggle that Reddit is going through will also answer this question. It may be that there is no viable middle ground between a centrally controlled media platform and an entirely decentralized media platform. You are either going to police the site or you are going to build something that cannot be policed even if you want to.

The interesting thing about an entirely decentralized media platform is that you can have clients that choose to curate, police, and censor and clients that choose not to. Twitter, as originally architected, could have headed down this path. But for many reasons, reasons I supported to be clear, it chose not to.

But someone is going to go there. And I think it will happen soon. And I think it most likely will be built on the blockchain. There have been plenty of attempts to do this before. And none have succeeded. So why now?

Well for one, the blockchain is here and waiting for its killer app. And there are no shortage of entrepreneurs who want to build it. And platforms like Twitter, Reddit, 4Chan, and others have fed the desire to have something more but for reasons that are entirely valid are coming up empty for some.

The demand is there. The supply (technology) is there. And we’ve seen a bunch of teams working on this. I think one or more will get it right. And I think that will happen soon.

To be clear, this does not mean the end of Reddit or Twitter or any other of the current media platforms that are out there. They will likely move more and more into a centrally controlled media platform. I think that is the natural evolution of platforms that need to cater to the needs of management and shareholders. There is a good business to be had in a centrally controlled platform.

But there is also a very interesting opportunity to build a truly decentralized media platform. I am not sure it will be a good business. I am not sure it will even be a business. But it can be a very powerful community and platform. And there is a market for that. A big one I think.