It's an interesting time for social media, to say the least. In the past week, Twitter and Facebook have lost one of their most fruitful attractions by banning President Donald J. Trump and numerous accounts on their services.
The social site named Parler is fighting to have courts declare Amazon's AWS must carry its service.
And competing networks Signal and Telegram, and perhaps many other such apps suddenly have new relevance as users flee or are removed from Facebook and Twitter and YouTube.
To Rob Rosenthal and David Gelernter, it is as they had foreseen.
"Whether you are right or left, the blatant arrogance with which people like Zuckerberg and Dorsey have stepped into the political world is a shock to people who trusted these guys to be fair-mind, neutral messengers," said Galernter in an interview Thursday with ZDNet, referring to Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey.
Galernter, a famed Yale University computer science professor, invented in the mid-1990s a program called Lifestreams. It would come to be regarded as one of the very first social network programs.
He has teamed with Rosenthal, a career investment banker, to form a privately backed startup called Revolution Populi, whose mission is to replace Facebook with a distributed, blockchain-based infrastructure that no one owns, in which individuals are owners of their own data and can even make money off their data, such as by getting paid by fans.
"Humpty dumpty has fallen, and it was only a matter of when," is how Rosenthal views the current chaos. The market, as it were, is coming to Revolution Populi, said Rosenthal. "It's about competition, about allowing other platforms to survive and thrive based on their merits or lack thereof, rather than having other people have total control over what is said on a platform."
"It was always natural to have a lot of chip makers, to have a lot of developers on the West Coast, and not just one," is how Galernter, the technologist, analogizes the social network situation. "I don't think it's going to come down to one [social network] again, I think people want to have a choice."
Galernter and Rosenthal first talked with ZDNet in the summer of 2019. Since then, "We have made tremendous progress toward implementation" of their blockchain-based technology, said Rosenthal.
Friday morning, they announced in a Medium post that their code is integrating with Matic Network, a company that has adapted the Plasma programming framework for the Ethereum blockchain.
In fact, new social networks, from Revolution Populi and others will be popping up this year, enabled by the company's code, Rosenthal promises.
"Let a thousand flowers bloom," said Rosenthal with a laugh, quoting the famous remark of chairman Mao Tse Tung of China.
Galernter tends speak in broad, philosophical terms, while Rosenthal, a former Goldman Sachs banker, will often cut to the chase, and likes to discuss the business prospects of Revolution Populi.
But the two are equally blunt when decrying the mess of social networks.
"Three or four guys have colonized the Internet, and it's wrong," said Rosenthal of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey. "The model is broken: you can't have a neutral public square and have one guy determine what can be said."
Zuckerberg and Dorsey, Galernter observed, never advertised themselves as being neutral. The problem, though, as he sees it, is that they overstepped their role. Like the phone company, they were supposed to provide a service, period.
"Nobody knows about the phone company's politics, or wants to know," said Galernter. "We don't want to chat things over with the phone company, we don't want to chat things over with Zuckerberg and Dorsey."
The Revolution Populi code, which has been put on GitHub, will serve as a database for applications that will be developed using Matic's framework. In an analogy with the open systems interconnect model, the OSI stack, Revolution Populi's open-source database code is "layer 1," while Matic and its tools are "layer 2."
Revolution Populi plans to offer its own social network service on top of that open-source code, but it also envision its social network "kit" as what it calls a "Facebook killer kit," for any developer to drag-and-drop components to create their own social network. Matic developers, in fact, have already built alternative social networks, but the Facebook killer kit will presumably accelerate such efforts. "Anybody will be able to do it," said Galernter, referring to creating new social networks.
User data will be portable "with one tap" across dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands of social networks, as Rosenthal and Galernter see it.
Revolution Populi, which plans to hold an initial coin offering in coming months, will make money as a clearing house for the transactions of the blockchain underlying the social networks.
"I think we are going to have a striking new system," said Galernter, "with a strikingly usable, easy to use, and worthwhile using, social net, as well as a rock-solid infrastructure." Revolution Populi, siad Galernter, doesn't want to "build another Facebook."
"There is a demand and a need," he said. The young generation has grown up not merely familiar with computers since birth, but also assuming the availability of computing resources everywhere.
"They've shown me how many good ideas are out there; there are loads of good ideas out there, and it's important we make it easy for them to try new ideas," said Galernter.
Sandeep Nailwal, the co-founder and chief operating officer of Matic, said in prepared remarks, "This is a win for both ecosystems, and we're excited about the road ahead." The integration will "allow developers everywhere to reach into, and contribute to, the RevPop layer-1 database and be a part of an ecosystem designed to return data control back to users. Users are hungry for this kind of self-sovereignty."