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?


One thought on “Anonymous social networks

  1. Hi Tom,

    Data protection has been on my mind for a little while as I am concerned over the ability of networks to care as much as me about my details. I’ve been working on a venture that works in similar way described in your article in that I allow users choose an identity (just a username); set a number of parameters that don’t impose they share real-life details such as birth date, gender, address, and more importantly any info that might lead to identity theft; and buy stuff. We don’t even store credit card numbers or bank account details. It’s all anonymous.

    Businesses have been keen to store user data for marketing purpose and possibly for a sense of “customer ownership”. I believe that if the service is producing the “dopamine” that David Feinleib mentions in his blog (http://www.vcdave.com/2012/02/08/how-to-keep-users-coming-back-to-your-site/), users will just continue to use the service, and even better refer it.

    I’d love to talk to you about what it is I’m doing if you want: info@dwaggle.com

    Take care

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