Imagine a social network that has no knowledge of its users identities or their communication. That’s the idea that Christina Cacciopo poses in her fascinating blog post about Bitcoin. Given all the concerns and questions about web services using personal data to their advantage, there probably is some market for an anonymous network.
Bitcoin, a digital payment system, allows a user to pay another without Bitcoin parent system having knowledge of who is paying whom. The trick to this kind of network is keeping the both the list of transactions and the list of accounts on users’ computers, instead of in Bitcoin’s cloud. When a user wants to make a payment, she clicks on a name and money is sent to the recipient via the internet, not through a Bitcoin payment network.
The only roles the Bitcoin system serves is to verify user accounts and provide new users with a secure transaction key as well as maintaining the local application logic that accepts and records transactions.
What if a social network did the same? In other words, what if Facebook didn’t manage and store all your photos and communication, but instead built a client app that did this as a peer-to-peer service like Napster did for music?
One could argue Skype is the closest. After all it is mostly peer-to-peer. But Skype keeps a global address book and sometimes offloads calls to its cloud to ensure quality when peer-to-peer connections are weak. Clearly, a social network without a global address book would suffer much slower growth.
The result would be a more anonymous, potentially more secure system, that would likely be much less valuable a company. Other ramifications are harder to think through but I think targeted ads would be a near impossibility because the service would know far less about its users. A gaming platform might be feasible. Payments may work. But it all depends on the implementation of the client app.
What do you think an anonymous social network might look like? Have you seen any others?