Status as a Service (SaaS) - lots of insights for SAFE & Solid

I posted this on the SAFE forum here, but putting it here too because I think it is equally relevant

I’m only a quarter through reading this long article, but it is gold. He’s analysing social networks, but the insights are much broader, for example into how to grow SAFE and Solid, what matters, how scarcity and proof of work (in social terms) is a vital ingredient in successful social networks.

See his three axes for analysing social networks: Social Capital v Utility v Entertainment.

Then let’s consider the questions this raises. For example, which are relevant to SAFE Network or Solid as a whole, and which apply to different aspects, subsets and components (such as farming, app development, users, different application categories, storage / music / comms / social etc etc)?

Here’s another taste of how this post is giving us new ways to think about this (well me anyway :smile:):

Proof of Work Matters

Why does proof of work matter for a social network? If people want to maximize social capital, why not make that as easy as possible?

As with cryptocurrency, if it were so easy, it wouldn’t be worth anything. Value is tied to scarcity, and scarcity on social networks derives from proof of work. Status isn’t worth much if there’s no skill and effort required to mine it. It’s not that a social network that makes it easy for lots of users to perform well can’t be a useful one, but competition for relative status still motivates humans. Recall our first tenet: humans are status-seeking monkeys. Status is a relative ladder. By definition, if everyone can achieve a certain type of status, it’s no status at all, it’s a participation trophy.

One of his points is that social networks succeed or fail at accumulating social capital, or rather by incentivising users (status seeking monkeys) to compete to create it on their platform.

In which case, how do SAFE and Solid disrupt this? Which has two sides: 1) in what way do we want change this game (eg by shifting ownership of capital, and the platforms, from centralised profit seeking companies, to those who create the social value - ie everyone using them)? And 2) if we do this, how do the dynamics of these ‘games’ change?

The second seems important to keep up front as we explore these issues, because if we assume the game is unchanged, and try to replicate Facebook etc in a different environment, we will fail. First because even if we succeed we really haven’t changed much (if we’re still incentivising status seeking with little social purpose or value - just follower counts), and more pressing - we may set ourselves up to fail if the models just don’t work in a more democratising environment.

So tbh this means looking at what makes those models work and figuring out whether that still works, and looking for things that might work better. In turn, we can then look for things to build that are both workable and meet wider goals - such as unleashing human creativity rather than finding ways to accumulate and exploit the value created by others without them even realising. But maybe that’s just me :wink:

Anyway, this looks like fertile ground for us, here’s the article:


I do not think that either of these two arguments are true in the case of Solid.

  • If I host my own Solid POD Server, and if friends and families host their own Solid POD servers (which can be done extremely easily and cheaply) then I would not need to 'accumulate social capital. We can simply create and take part in our own social network.

  • Such a dynamically linked series of Solid POD Servers could ‘replicate Facebook’ and allow the sharing of images, comments, etc. that would appear similar to images and comments that are currently shared on Facebook whilst in reality those images and comments remain solely in the Solid POD of each of my friends or family members that makes them. That, to me, doesn’t imply that ‘we will fail’.

  • In addition to doing this, and if we were to aspire to some sort of additional ‘social capital’, also take part in other more ‘status enhancing’ social networks if we want, but if we do so using Solid, our own images and comments still remain on our own Solid POD servers, even if we do allow the ‘status enhancing’ network to view them or comment on them.

Maybe I should clarify what I mean by fail - and this is a subjective test, so it is possible you and others will disagree.

First I’ll start with a question for each of us: in what ways is Facebook a problem from my perspective and why?

If you think it is essentially benign, then replicating it is obviously no problem, but I don’t think that is your point. So perhaps we see different problems?

BTW did you read the article - if not I recommend it because what I’ve written are a couple of relatively insignificant things by comparison.

Anyway, I think the article highlights many ways in which Facebook and other networks are problematic - even though that is not the purpose of the author. Taking one which I think is well known here, is their hunger for our attention. This is one of the things which drives the whole way it works, and so to replicate that, without any need or greater benefit - to us - is the kind of failure I’m alluding to. Surely we don’t want to build something that accumulates social capital and consumes our attention in addictive manipulative ways without very good reason, if at all. (I would argue, not at all, so for me just replicating almost any large commercial social network would be a failure).

I think to succeed we should not just remove our data from their hands, but create social applications that have different goals, and better outcomes. I hope that clarifies what I meant by failing.


I use my phone to keep in contact with people, but the act of having a phone means that I usually let Google know exactly where I am, what time I get there, what time I leave, and how I got there.

I use social media both to keep in contact with people, but also to find out about people. As a result, Facebook probably knows who I am, when I was born, who my wife is and when she was born, who my children are and when they were born, what schools and universities we all went to, what jobs we have all held and for how long, when we’ve been in hospital and what for, when we’ve been on holiday and for how long.

Both Google and Facebook make their money from either selling the information they hold, or by channeling advertising.

Anything, such as Solid, which will allow me to do all the above from my own home server, or from several servers, rather than the servers of two large multinational companies, has my vote.


I’m with you on that Richard!

I could be wrong but in my mind Solid makes “social capital” / “proof of work” not really that important anymore.

That’s an intention, but not necessarily the outcome which is why I still study these issues.

My view is that the techniques used to centralise the old Internet are still something we need to examine and use to test our assumptions and design for ‘vulnerabilities’ (to centralisation). As things stand and given the direction of travel I believe Solid is vulnerable in this respect, but in time I hope those issues will be addressed and am personally working on that, although pretty much alone atm.

The article in the original post is larger than the average blog post and takes some reading. I fully accept that success is usually described in terms of numbers, so a ‘successful’ social media site needs more than mere functionality, and also needs some gimmick or bandwagon or kudos that draws people in.

My own view is that there are two types of (for example) Facebook users, who sometimes (often) overlap, and that functionality alone is usually not enough for mass take-up.

  1. The first group of Facebook users comprise the majority. They may have a hundred or so online friends, business associates, family members, but they use Facebook because of its functionality and ease of use. They may also follow the users in the second group.

  2. The second group of Facebook users are a much smaller group, but they may have thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or even millions of followers. These are the celebrities or so-called celebrities, who use Facebook functionally to convey information to their followers, but who also use Facebook for the Kudos they get from having vast numbers of followers. They may also use Facebook in a similar way to the first group.

The growing concern about the sheer amount of information Facebook receives (and sells) is currently taking the sheen off the kudos of those using it for that purpose.

At least three things need to happen for Solid to become ‘successful’ (in terms of numbers) in the future as Facebook is now:

  1. The eventual user interface for Solid needs to be simple and easy to use, both on a computer and on a mobile phone.

  2. Solid needs eventually to be able to provide functions, and user experiences, that are similar to (and so which can replace) the functions and user experience currently enjoyed by Facebook users.

  3. Solid needs to be as easy to use from a home server as it is from a commercial server (otherwise, despite our best intentions, large Solid hosting companies will spring up and large amounts of money will be invested in advertising to persuade users to take out Pods from their companies). I envisage most homes hosting their own Solid Servers, and for always on Solid Servers to be as natural as routers currently are. If this does not happen, I fear that twenty years from now a single company may have bought out all the competition and almost all Pods will be hosted by that single company, giving that company access to a similar amount of information that Facebook has now.

I agree with you that the problem is as you set out below, but I don’t think the solution above can work.

If this does not happen, I fear that twenty years from now a single company may have bought out all the competition and almost all Pods will be hosted by that single company, giving that company access to a similar amount of information that Facebook has now

Without a solution to this, I also believe centralisation is inevitable.

I think the way to avoid this is to have an alternative to pods as a service, which is more attractive (easier to set up and use, and cheaper) than signing up to a service provider.

That is a tall order, and I don’t believe individual home servers will be attractive to or even feasible for the majority of the population (we’re talking about everyone who currently uses Facebook in this example).

What I’m hopeful can achieve this, and have the additional attraction of being simpler to operate, much more secure and with a features such as permanent domains/URLs (so no more broken links or lost websites) is decentralised storage without individual or centralised servers on the autonomous network being built by MaidSafe: Safenetwork. This is why I’ve been advocating for SAFE to support RDF and Solid protocols, and am working myself to make it possible to run Solid apps on SAFE.

I do also support making home servers as easy as possible to set up and maintain, and have talked to one of the folk involved in freedombox about this at length. That’s a great project and will be a good option, perhaps a stepping stone before Solid on SAFE or alongside it.

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I am old enough to remember some really educated and experienced people who said home computers would never happen. They were speaking during the days when computers took up half a room, used enough electricity to serve a small town, and were horrendously expensive. Their opinions were based on the computers they were currently using, but those opinions persevered even when computers were getting smaller and cheaper.

Then along came some more clever people who by that time may not have known much about large house sized computers, but who were not too influenced by the constraints of the past. Their expertise was in knowing know how to produce, market and sell home computers. The rest is history.

Most of the arguments made about home servers are similarly given by highly educated and experienced users of current commercial servers, the sort that use up a lot of electricity, and which generate a lot of noise and heat, and cost a lot to buy and to use. The comparisons are very similar.

A personal server, as opposed to a commercial server, doesn’t need to be either noisy, hot, expensive to buy or expensive to use, and I’ve written elsewhere (link below) about the business opportunities for selling home servers that are cheap to buy and cheap to run, ready to plug in, and which already contain Solid Pod server software.

If you buy a computer these days, or a phone, you don’t buy the hardware and then try to work out how to compile the software. You buy the hardware with the software already installed. You turn it on, log in, and away you go. I think that servers will be sold the same way in the future, and that Solid will hasten that day coming.

The link below is to a previous post I’ve written about my own experience of hosting a Solid Pod server on an inexpensive £50 Raspberry Pi, and the commercial opportunities of creating and selling Pi’s preloaded with a Solid Server.

I understand that, and you might be right which is why I said that I support that. I don’t though think we should bet our future and the future of Solid on any one option, but all options we think could deliver.

I’ll continue to support home servers, but I suspect it will take big business to deliver what you are talking about - as we have with the mobile platform which is owned by two companies, and results in the same problems were trying to fix on the web.

So I’m not confident that even if we can have individual home servers, the ecosystem will be democratised.

The solution to that I think needs a different model, both for businesses and consumers. So no business can dominate, and consumers can access Solid apps, storage, communications and other other services with no technical skill, no outlay, and no gatekeepers.

Your plan sounds good to me. That is the model the Solid Team are all working towards apart from the ‘no outlay’ bit. However free the software is, there will always be a hardware and running cost, and there will always be an option for paid upgrades to apps etc.

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