So, as many of you know, social media censorship is rampant these days, and not getting any lighter. Algorithms run the world, and people who are supposed to run platforms sit by and say “my hands are tied” as though there’s nothing they can do. Then, platforms are constantly used for purposes never assumed intended, like spying on the common person for the state, or manipulating their emotions for science… People want alternatives. Real alternatives. I joined Steemit awhile back over that desire for alternatives, and found it to be a censorious spamfarm. So when any other alternative comes up, I’m sure to give it a shot. Enter Pocketnet.
I joined the app as soon as I heard about it. A legitimate-seeming alternative to Facebook and Twitter, with a burgeoning community of people tired of censorship? Posts saved forever on the blockchain? Getting paid in cryptos (like it is on Steemit), but no “whales” or “minnows”? Sign me up! So sign up I did, and not too long chatting with the community in its global chat (before they installed commenting), I was talking to the devs.
The developers are active in the community, constantly asking questions. The app is still in Beta – doesn’t even have Android or iOS apps yet. But the team seems to take the beta very seriously, answering whatever questions they can, and trying to be as responsive as possible to user demand. But I had a ton of questions before I could throw any weight behind it. So I asked one of these very-interested team members if he’d have an email interview with me. Over the week, I’d throw a question at him, and he’d respond when he could, and now it’s finally done. This is that.
Alright, so first question is who I’m speaking to, and/or what capacity you have in the company.
Hey Jeremiah,My name is Daniel Satchkov and I am a Founder of Pocketnet. Pocketnet is not a company though, there is no corporation or central servers. It is just a decentralized open sourced software project. In some sense, that is similar to Bitcoin, though our focus is very different.My background is mathematics and finance. As everyone else in Pocketnet dev team, I have a full time job, so Pocketnet is our way of building something we really care about in our spare time.
Pocketnet runs on a public blockchain, with Pocketcoin token used as a reward mechanism. Unlike Steem, there is no corporation to take any profits.Pocketnet is a proof-of-stake blockchain with target block time of 1 minute.Nodes not only run the blockchain, but they actually run database infrastructure (anchored to blockchain) to support the Pocketnet interface. Pocketnet interface is available at pocketnet.app as web browser application, as well as a desktop application. Both of those connect directly to the nodes. Pocketnet desktop application is designed to work even in countries where pocketnet.app website might be blocked.All rewards are split between node operators and content creators, who post highly rated content. Content is rated on a 5 star scale. Any 4 or 5 star rating enters the author into a hash lottery to win coins in a subsequent block (with probability of winning proportional to the number of high ratings).Unlike Steemit, all ratings have equal weight, even if the user joined the same day.Pocketcoin’s main utility will be in supporting advertising on Pocketnet through trustless agreements between advertisers and content creators (using multisignature transactions). Pocketcoin advertising can be loosely thought of decentralized non-corporate version of Google AdWords with all of the revenue going to content creators (as opposed to fractions of pennies on the dollar in Google/Youtube).
Blockchain is public. Block explorer can be found here.To run a node just write to email@example.com . In the early stages it helps to be in contact with the core development team, because releases are very frequent. We will provide instructions on how to run a node. I am not as familiar with Steem blockchain (Pocketnet is a significantly modified Bitcoin blockchain), but there are no witnesses. Witnesses I think implies non-equality of nodes.Pocketnet is purely a system of equal nodes, just like Bitcoin. Every node processes all the transactions. In addition to the blockchain itself, there are off-chain storage facilities on every node for social network data. Those also synchronize and must always be in sync with the blockchain, otherwise node cannot create valid blocks. No voting. Every node is equal and verifies each block, which contains everything that happens on the network.
Great question. No, it is definitely not Wild West. Primarily because the Wild West platform has no chance to grow as much as we intend to grow Pocketnet.Because it is fully decentralized (no corporation, equal nodes, no central server), users have to take over and police the platform.Every user with a certain reputation (that is earned by posting highly rated content) is allowed to Flag a post as detrimental to the future of the platform. This Flag or Complain (a term that we use now, but we will switch to Flag soon) transaction goes on the blockchain. If the number of Flags reaches 10% of high ratings of the post (4 or 5 stars), subject to a minimum number of Flags, nodes stop returning this particular post into the feeds of users. It is on the blockchain, since it is immutable, but nodes do not return it.In the future, we will adjust the specifics of the algorithm with the feedback from the community. There will also be a penalty for those who repeatedly post stuff that is voted off the platform, like nodes won’t accept their transactions for some period of time. We realize there is potential for abuse of community policing. For example, a group of highly reputed users can join forces and Flag content that they simply do not like or disagree with. We do have mechanisms in the works to prevent this. As an example, groups that Flag different posts need to be different enough. If mostly the same group keeps lodging Flag transactions, they will be discounted, because some heterogeneity is required in those groups. In general, these types of problems of collusion and Sybil attacks are some of the most dangerous things for a platform like Pocketnet and we put a great deal of effort into creating mechanisms for defense of the platform.We are also adding a Block transaction within 2-3 weeks. That one will simply hide content from a given user for the user who selected Block. So, Block is used in those cases when a user finds some content offensive, disturbing or undesirable personally. Complain/Flag on the other hand is much more serious, when content is deemed by the high reputation user to have adverse consequences for Pocketnet as a platform.In the long run community of users will decide what is simply Blockable and what is more serious and should be removed from the platform with Flags. Our current request to the community is that any kind of porn is voted off, any direct threats or racism, and explicit propaganda of violent totalitarian ideologies like Nazism/Communism. There are grey areas and if there is doubt, we recommend users to use a Block.All of this will be evolving with input from users.
That is an interesting point, but not a cause of concern in the case of Pocketnet. Blocks are currently up to 8 MB, but blockchain does not store any content per se, only has hash pointers to a database that stores content.Images are stored in external storage like Imgur etc. Nodes store text and links in database and hashes of those in the blockchain.If there was ever a concern about a blocked post having some content that node operator needed to remove, we could implement it. A somewhat technical name for what comes to mind is “zero knowledge proof of a pre-image of a hash”. In other words, blockchain contains a hash of the post. And typically, the node stays consistent with the blockchain by having a post that gives that hash. But we could implement a way for nodes to prove that they had knowledge of that post “proving knowledge of pre-image of the hash”, while not showing the actual post “zero knowledge”. This could be implemented in select cases if this issue was of concern.
We are now deciding on that. The problem with torrents and IPFS are that load times can be slow and there is no guarantee that the content will be available. Not too bad now, but it could get worse.In general, we are convinced that the user experience and convenience has to approach and in some ways surpass the current centralized model, in order to free people from the censored web. People are creatures of convenience and not too many will tolerate inconvenience to defend freedom etc. (unfortunately). So, that is where our internal debate is happening.An alternative to IPFS/torrent is to create ability for our own nodes to store content and get compensated for it via something like proof-of-storage. If there is scale, then the economics might work. Particularly, if the idea of Pocketnet ‘appstore’ takes off. So, still deciding on that. Very likely we will do IPFS first, but then try to pivot to our own nodes hosting content.
I was confident that Pocketnet would be huge when we started building it, and I am even more confident after the first few weeks of the beta test and the passion I witnessed from users (people literally wrote poems about Pocketnet).You are right in that it is my passion, but I would not call it a side project. Both me and the devs on the project are used to working extremely hard. We are in essence working two full time jobs and we are enjoying it (mostly). So, this situation could persist for a long time without making Pocketnet somehow disadvantaged or forgotten, even if the traction is not going the way we expect right away.In fact, I found over the years that when I work on a number of very different projects, it benefits each and every one of them with the perspectives I gained. Before Pocketnet my passion was genomics research, which I also did in addition to a full time job. So, it is important for us to tell our users that we are fully invested into Pocketnet and it is not something we will drop the ball on.Current infrastructure with optimization can support up to roughly 10 million global users. Beyond that, significant architecture changes need to be made. So, I would say, when we are getting over 2 million users, that would be the time to rebuild the core of the protocol and that would probably require a double full time job for a year or so purely on Pocketnet.We are certainly looking for more devs to join the project now, but they could continue to work on other projects, if they can handle our pace. They would get opportunity to disrupt Internet monopolies and some Pocketcoin to boot. We are releasing comments in days, search within a week. We are also working on a decentralized fully peer-to-peer messenger embedded in Pocketnet, which is a huge and fascinating project.Particularly, I am calling on all crypto devs. Crypto promise that was created by Satoshi was subverted in recent years, I believe, to work on various ‘bridge to nowhere’ projects.Instead of disrupting finance, most coins are fighting to raise more funds with ICOs. Then they become hostages of the projects they touted in their whitepapers, unable to pivot to solving real problems. That is not how disruptive startups work. That is why in Pocketnet we did not do any fundraising. It is far more important to have the flexibility to pivot to reach the ultimate goal that we’ve set, which is to make arbitrary internet censorship more or less useless. So, if you are passionate about the potential for crypto, reach out to us and join the team, even if it is on a close to full-time part-time basis. In fact, just as I was writing this, I got a letter from a very experienced C++ engineer who wants to join the team. So, don’t wait 🙂Current infrastructure with optimization can support up to 10 million users quite easily. Once it gets to 1.5-2 million, we will need to start rebuilding the infrastructure and some hard choices will have to made (that project may require our double full time attention).We are certainly looking for more devs to join the project, but they could continue to work on other projects, if they can handle our pace. They would get opportunity to disrupt Internet monopolies and some Pocketcoin to boot.
Pocketcoin is not a fork of anything, it is its own coin on a separate Pocketnet blockchain (which used Bitcoin Core as a basis, but was then changed in many ways).We decided against putting Pocketcoin on exchanges at this point to avoid the speculative waves that are inevitable at this point. But eventually it will happen. We recommend users to get active on the platform to earn/win Pocketcoin and hold them at this point. As the system grows in the long term, coin will be valuable. You can also run nodes to earn Pocketcoin (it is a Proof-of-Stake coin).Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject Node to get the package to run a node.Currently you can win it or send as a gift. However, if and when Pocketnet takes off, Pocketcoin will be the main method of buying advertising on the platform. Advertisers will be able to easily find content authors with the right audience and then offer them advertising opportunities. This will be a trustless endeavor (i.e. neither side can cheat), because of something called multi-signature contracts. Multisig contract requires a digital signature of both parties to be valid. When advertiser offers an ad to the content creator, he creates the first of two required signatures. He signs the actual ad and the amount bid. Content creator reviews this partially signed multisig and if it is accepted, then he appends the second signature. When a blockchain sees both signatures, content creator is automatically paid and an ad is automatically shown on creator’s channel. These transactions will only be done through Pocketcoin. Thus, if Pocketcoin becomes big, it will be a very valuable token. It is important to note that Pocketcoin has algorithmic elements of a stablecoin. The emission is roughly similar to Bitcoin, but if number of active users exceeds the number of coins, then additional emission will correct that. The idea is that we don’t want a token that people will hoard and that will go through boom/bust sequences. We need a token that will be used to buy advertising etc., not to hoard it.
Definitely the platform. If platform gets big, there will be lots of ways that token gains value, decentralized advertising is just one of the ways. We are not even looking to get our token on exchanges or anything. So, our approach is completely the opposite of much of the crypto community.We will expand into video, possibly with IPFS or node storage with some sort of proof-of-storage payout, but that is not our main goal right now. We are about to release comments (tomorrow), search is also very close.Regarding DMCA and European directives, we are still digesting them. But the gist of the direction is this. Pocketnet is a system of equal nodes. Neither I nor other team members have any control of the version of the software that the nodes run. I think that the community will make a good faith voluntary effort to comply with reasonable regulations, but if the number of nodes is large and geographically dispersed, then it is voluntary and up to the users, really. Especially with our desktop app that doesn’t even go through the website and speaks directly to the nodes. I personally advocate an approach where we act in good faith and respect the laws, except where they are clearly oppressive. Where that line is will be decided by the community of users and nodes. There are all kinds of restrictive laws coming out around the world, and I would imagine the community will take a stand somewhere. That is why true decentralization is so important and dozens of startup corporate social networks calling themselves decentralized just because they stuck a blockchain token somewhere is kind of ludicrous.
Very important point and we are well aware of that danger. For example, we have developed an algorithm that looks at the composition of the group of public keys (all visible on the blockchain) that flag material.To simplify, if two posts are flagged by a group of people that has 99% overlap, then their second Flag is discounted. Some heterogeneity must be observed, so groups of people cannot band together.Also, flagging content requires certain reputation, possibly staking a bit of your reputation in the future (for example, if you are the only one to flag the post).We cannot completely do away with that behavior, but we can make it difficult and costly. It is a work in progress and will be an arms race as the platform grows. But we are already head in that race with the algorithm described above and we intend to stay ahead of it with input from the users.
Our elevator pitch is this:Corporate platforms decide for you what you should and should not see. On Pocketnet, you decide for yourself!If you publish on corporate platforms, you make money for them, whereas on Pocketnet, you earn for yourself.We certainly have own worldviews, but we are not imposing them on Pocketeers in any way. We welcome all points of view, with the caveats discussed above. It will naturally happen that those who are censored now will gravitate toward Pocketnet, but we are not trying to create an echo chamber of any type. Censorship is a slippery slope and those who feel comfortable on Facebook today will be under censorship attack in a blink of an eye, so we’ll get a truly diverse crowd (not in the mainstream media sense though, as their diversity is fake and divisive).Right and left wing, to my mind, is a somewhat artificial separation meant to divide and conquer (similar to your view on that). Me personally (Daniel), I am a devout Orthodox Christian and I do not hide that fact. I have a strong suspicion of overly powerful governments/corporations, but I am not an anarchist. However, as discussed, on Pocketnet all algorithms are open for everyone to see and apply to everyone equally, so nobody has to rely solely on my word and integrity or even care about my worldview. And if we sell out, open sourced code can be used to run their version of the site. This is not a Reddit situation, where CEO could actually go in and change user’s posts as an extreme case or remove stuff arbitrarily like Facebook/Google do every day. You can call it Pocketnet due process 🙂We would prefer to stick to our guns and not remain a niche platform. I believe it is possible, because many people are looking for alternative points of view to make up their own mind. The goal before us is to make the tool easy to use from any device, censorship resistant, aesthetically pleasing. The rest will depend on contributors. I can say that I virtually stopped reading the web, because I see so many thought provoking posts on Pocketnet. I do not believe that I am that different from most people, so we have room to grow.We cannot fight the rampant corporate censorship, we just have to make it useless with the open sourced design and decentralized network with no corporation. This way, that can be forked by users if someone takes over Pocketnet. Users truly own the network in more ways than one. That is a key idea, don’t fight battles you cannot win, create designs that make the battle unnecessary.
That is not a problem. We have many anarchists on Pocketnet and everyone gets along. Because there is no MSM/Silicon Valley to sow the division. Hope it stays that way.Yes, commenting is up today.Next up is Search (big one!) and ability to edit posts (surprisingly difficult using a blockchain system).Geotagging we will probably not do. Tagging people, re-posts etc. are all within 1 month or so.After that we start work on private peer-to-peer encrypted messenger that does not go through any central server at all. First one-on-one and then group chats. Group chats will serve as basis for groups.That will take 3-4 months.In parallel, we will be rolling out multiple language versions, as well as way to advertise and open stores (for crypto) on Pocketnet. Much of that is done. We will be integrating other crypto beyond Pocketcoin for a full experience.Once all of these things are done, it is a true crypto internet ecosystem and we will open it up to other app developers. We are not just aiming for facebooks, but for the whole centralized architecture, which needs to be put out of its misery, I think 🙂
Oh wow. Okay, here goes.We attacked your privacy with big data artillery. But our weapons were useless against butterflies.
Thank you for this question.This is not a secret at all, our desktop app is using an open-sourced technology called Electron. It is used by a ton of open-sourced projects, because it gives you out of the box technology that you fully control as a developer, and that is compatible with many operating systems.You can read about Electron here:Electron combines an open-sourced browser called Chromium and some work in a language called Node.js (also open-sourced) . Chromium is not Chrome, it is used an open-sourced part of Google Chrome code. We have full control over the code base.If we never used any open source technology developed by Google or government, then we should stop using the internet altogether, since it was developed by the CIA and US military mostly.Why is Pocketnet Electron app called censorship-resistant:1. If pocketnet.app website is shut down, it can work directly with the nodes in any country, so when there are thousands of nodes around the world, it will be very difficult to censor.2. Same thing if pocketnet.app is blocked in some countries, which occurred recently after the tragedy in New Zealand.3. The thing that is shared across Pocketnet apps i.e. they are pseudonymous. You can open an account without verifying your identity or even email.Electron does not have the monitoring functions that Google Chrome has. And whatever things Google may have inserted we can turn off, because it is an open-sourced code that we took and modified. You can read more about it here: https://www.howtogeek.
com/202825/what%E2%80%99s-the- difference-between-chromium- and-chrome/Coupe of quotes:“Google Chrome includes crash reporting features not found in Chromium. If you choose to enable crash reporting in Chrome, information about crashes will be sent to Google. If you use Chromium, this crash reporter isn’t present and you’ll have to get a bug trace the old-fashioned way. Linux distributions may also modify Chromium’s code before giving it to you…Chromium also lacks the usage-tracking or “user metrics” feature found in Chrome. This is an optional feature that sends information about how you use the different parts of the browser to Google, giving them data they can use to base decisions on. (This was the sort of data Microsoft claimed they used when they said they removed the Start menu because no one used it, so perhaps geeks should start leaving such features on.)
In the past, users were worried that each Chrome browser shipped with a unique “client ID” and noted that Chromium did not. Google stopped doing this back in 2010.”
We will continue to investigate any aspects of Chromium that may present privacy risk and will disable those that we may have missed. If you have specific security concerns, please write to email@example.com to help us investigate them.
As it is now, Pocketnet is by far the most censorship resistant social network out there. That is not to say there is not room for improvement. We cannot and will not implement every technology from ground up, even much larger well funded teams don’t do that. If we did that, we would not have Pockentet for another 10 years, by which time internet would be dead. For now, we have an easy-to-use social networking app that will work even if the website is shut down, which is quite a lot. We are working daily on making it more and more robust, secure and privacy oriented.
So there you have it. I tried to get as many tough questions out of the way as possible, and battle-test this place, and I’m now relatively convinced of its merits, but how about you? Did I miss any questions you would have asked? If there are enough, I’ll consider doing a followup piece. And as to Chrome/ium, my two main browsers (when I don’t need Orfox) are Vivaldi and Brave so it doesn’t bother me much, but on the off chance an exploit was later found, I didn’t want to sit on info that might be relevant. Either way, I’m happy to be there – both my main username and Weekly Hellscape have accounts there, and my posts have already earned me over 100 Pocketcoins. What I do with that is another issue altogether, and one I’m sure I’ll get to when the time comes, but for now, I’m gonna start stacking coins. If you want your first five free, get in by clicking either of those links while it’s still in Beta. Join me over there, and let’s see if this can be a true alternative, and bring the statist content police to a grinding stop.
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