Social media. It’s hard to even imagine life before it. The benefits go without saying – they serve as a way to keep in touch with friends and family with minimal effort. They provide us a soapbox for our thoughts, a way to reach out and organize events with a like-minded community. They can foment social change and mobilize populations against oppressive governments, as in the Arab Spring. They offer free showcasing for our digital photo albums, and they enrich our lives with games like Farmville.
However, never have the dark sides to social media been more overt than they have this past year. Twitter and Reddit are notorious for abuse and cyberbullying from trolls and bots. Instagram inundates us with carefully selected images of other people’s filtered, “perfect” lives. And, of course, Facebook looms over them all, a behemoth of fake news, overwhelming ad campaigns, and exploitative, in-the-shadows data harvesting.
Since Facebook’s inception, Mark Zuckerberg has used the fact that Facebook is free to justify his increasingly invasive methods of selling our personal data to advertisers. However, since the Cambridge Analytica scandal – and following Facebook’s role in the aggressive and misleading campaigns which resulted in Trump and Brexit – it has become clear that the old, centralized model of social media is prone to abuse by its very design.
This is where Sapien steps in, with a revolutionary new social news platform, built on the Web 3.0, that is modeled to return control of personal data to its users, incentivize creators to create accurate, high-quality content, and reduce fake news.
Here we take a closer look at just how it plans to do that.
You’ve Got Problems? Sapien Has Solutions
Built on the Ethereum blockchain, Sapien seeks to build a decentralized platform for disseminating news content. By committing themselves to upholding free speech, privacy, and democracy on their platform, they intend to combat the problems that proliferate in traditional social media, specifically:
- Lack of versatility for different types of content
- Unfair system for rewarding content creators
- Bots and fake news
- Centralized control of personal data
The Sapien Platform
Sapien provides a robust, democratized platform for its users to publish and access a wide range of content. For example, as things stand now, you would go to Twitter to create text content, YouTube to upload videos, and so on. Sapien offers it all: articles, videos, images, gifs, and so on.
But the platform itself will act as much more than a virtual bulletin board. Powered by the SPN token (more on that below), Sapien offers users a variety of features. The ability to toggle between public and private browsing means that users can visit and interact with content as themselves or anonymously. A subscriptions feature allows you to customize your Sapien account, staying up to date with both news stories and latest posts by your friends.
Sapien offers the ability for you to add friends to your network, form groups, peruse through their public profiles, and share and comment on posts. A chat feature allows for both text and voice chatting. But where Sapien truly excels is in its encryption feature, ensuring that all of your data – and even your chats, if you opt for it – are secure and private.
And, of course, the Sapien platform is customizable, with users able to tailor their experience to their own preferences.
Content Creator Reward System
As it stands now, creators of content – whether they be article writers, YouTubers making viral videos, etc. – are barely compensated at all, while centralized platforms like Facebook and YouTube are making billions off of ad revenues.
Sapien turns that pyramid scheme on its head – cutting out the intermediary who is taking their profits from the creators, Sapien pays its content creators directly through peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions. So if you spend your time and resources to create a post, a podcast, a meme, etc., you will be compensated for it in cryptocurrency.
And the more the community likes your post, the more it earns, which will both grow the Sapien platform and incentivize users to make high-quality content.
However, you might point out, internet users are spoiled for choice these days – why would they opt to pay for content when there’s a glut of it out there for free? In response, Sapien provides a unified media portal that will provide diverse, quality content at no fee. For users who want to pick and choose what they pay for, there is an option to access content a la carte in exchange for cryptocurrency micropayments.
For readers willing to pay a subscription fee for a consistent stream of high-quality content, creators will be able to provide a premium branch and charge a fee to access it. This returns both motivation and control to the creators, who will be incentivized to keep the standard of their content consistent to what their paying subscribers are expecting. Finally, to protect creators’ intellectual property, any user found leaking premium content will be banned and blacklisted from the platform, and have their SPN frozen.
Battling Bots and Fake News With Proof-of-Value
Social media bots and fake news are being used to undermine ethical journalism and democratic practices at an unprecedented level. A key element of Sapien’s mission is to combat misleading content by incentivizing well-researched and valuable material. They will accomplish this on a number of fronts, and with various strategies.
The Proof-of-Value protocol is built on a reputation system within the community. Creators’ reputations are scored by their peers according to their expertise on the content’s subject matter. A user’s reputation will be weighted according to how much time they spend contributing to a community, thus allowing them to share quality content more effectively and clamp down on junk content.
Thus, the more a user is created to the Sapien community, the more they will be able to shape it for the better.
The spread of fake news has become so sophisticated that it can be very difficult to discern fake from real. Algorithms are being developed to distinguish between reliable news sources, and Sapien will use one called “stance detection.” This will analyse titles of articles and posts and flag those that disagree with the majority of articles on the platform.
Taking into account the reputation of the user who created the material, the algorithm will then label it with the probability of whether it’s real or fake, leaving users to trust it at their own discretion.
With user identities being stored permanently on the Ethereum blockchain, publishers and users will be able to verify that the creator of a certain item is who they say they are. With their reputations, both on and offline, at stake, this should dissuade trolls from posting false information and nip the spread of fake news at (or close to) the bud.
Sapien utilizes an effective strategy among blockchain media projects – when a user posts content that they’ve created, they stake a number of SPN tokens as collateral to vouch for their truthfulness. If their content doesn’t make the cut, they lose their tokens. This staking system packs a double punch, in that it discourages trolls who don’t want to lose their money and it boosts the value of the SPN token and the Sapien platform as a whole.
Users Retain Control of Their Personal Data
When it comes to the internet and social media, our greatest assets are ourselves. We make websites billions by allowing them to track and monetize our data, and one of Sapien’s most revolutionary goals is to return control of data back to the users. We can keep it private, if we wish. Or we can opt to share monetization of our online activity with Sapien.
Should users choose to view ads, the revenue generated will be split 50/50 with Sapien. If the user stakes SPN on the platform, they can even increase their percentage of ad revenue earned. Users’ privacy will be respected, and no personal data will be collected without their knowing.
The SPN Token
SPN is an ERC-20 token that can be used as both a security and utility token. As we’ve pointed out above, it is used for rewarding creators of high-quality content, but it also powers various social actions of the Sapien ecosystem, including tipping, posting comments, voting, and more. This is all when SPN is in its staked form – otherwise, unstaked SPN are listed on exchanges and can be kept in users’ digital wallets.
The initial token supply is 500 million, and newly minted tokens will be released at a controlled rate to prevent inflation of price. The SPN Token is currently trading on IDEX.
The Company Behind Sapien
Sapien began in 2015, co-founded by Ankit Bhatia and Robert Giometti. They both studied Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at UC Berkeley, and that foundation of technological know-how is reflected in the rest of the the Sapien team, which consists of 20 people, a mix of developers and business development.
Although their listed advisors consists of only 5 people, it represents quite a mix of talent, including the former CEO of eBay in India, the head of a Silicon Valley angel investor group, and a PhD specializing in blockchain research.
Competitors and Challenges
Sapien’s stated competitors are the existing dominant social networks, notably Facebook.
Although the billions of Facebook users seems to be a high mark to shoot for, the timing seems right as people are expressing a lot of dissatisfaction about Facebook and other social network platforms. Just as MySpace was killed by Facebook, Facebook could just as easily suffer a similar fate.
However, Steemit is much more of an emulation of Reddit, and Sapien seems more suited to try and replace Facebook. Just as Facebook and Reddit have coexisted, it stands to be reasoned that so can Steemit and Sapien.
Roadmap and Partnerships
Luckily, the social media sphere is diverse realm, and it’s hard to imagine that there will ever only be one social network site at the exclusion of all others. Sapien has a lot of room in which to grow, and their roadmap suggests they’re up to the challenge. Having completed their crowdsale in Q1 2018, Sapien are now working to increase marketing and awareness, and porting their platform to a dapp.
Since their beta launch they have been building steam, and already have 1,400+ users, 6,000+ posts with 9,000+ comments, 900+ branches, and 135+ groups.
In the latter half of 2018, they will focus on user incentives, fine-tuning the UI for newcomers to crypto, and growing their user base to 10,000.
Their potential has not gone unnoticed, and Sapien have already gathered a few high-profile partnerships, including BitClave, Civic, DAOstack, 0chain, Blockchain Lab, Rocket.Chat, ComplyAdvantage, and Onfido.
The biggest hurdle faced by Sapien is possibly nothing to do with technology, though exactly how DAO technology can or will be used to offer truly decentralized data storage is a problem that cannot be understated. Overall, Sapien’s system for compensating contributors and protecting people’s privacy and compensating for advertising is entirely feasible.
The main problem here is the problem all social networks face, i.e. they are created and shaped by their users.
There are two big challenges social networks face to get off the ground. One is incentivizing its first users. Just like an empty restaurant, no one wants to be the first in. People want to go where other people are, which creates a chicken and egg problem that is hard to solve. Simply building it does not mean they will come.
The other problem is that social networks take on the personalities of their collective user base, and that can be detrimental to growth. There was a time when Reddit sought to make itself more compatible with advertisers by taking down some of its more offensive communities. People complained about a curtailment of freedom of speech, and looked for an alternative.
In Reddit’s case, this resulted in Voat, a similar site with a more hands-off approach to moderation. The people who flocked to that site ended up being the ones banned from Reddit, including people with hateful and extreme ideologies.
In a classic case of bad apples spoiling the barrel, this reputation of Voat is what prevented a large user base from joining. It’s a fate that could befall any social networking site, no matter how good the underlying technology, to have its image shaped by its users in a way that might not be what the makers of that site intended.
Sapien is definitely coming into the market at the right time, when there has been a lot of dissatisfaction expressed about the current state of social media. If they can cultivate communities of people who post content that draws in the interest of people outside the site, then they might catch a wave that they hope to ride over and past the existing social network offerings.