Yes the network effect is not to be underestimated: it’s demotivating to make posts into the void if most of your friends are absent.
What we need though is for “each person’s mastodon instance” to be unstoppable: friends should pin each others’ content. “Normal” people don’t have computers that run and stay online 24/7.
There are many definitions of this term “social network”. Some want to send short messages in real time, but even that means different things to different people (twitter, telegram, tox, xmpp, matrix and slack are all different, for example, and don’t get used in the same ways). Some want a way to broadcast their posts as widely as possible, and even for search engines to find those posts (something like instagram I guess); so then privacy doesn’t matter. Some want to go even further with that: have a blockchain and a chance to get paid for posting, as on steem. That is IMO not a social network, it’s a self-promotion machine. If you want posts to be freely accessible to everyone, wide-open plain HTML pages were OK in the 1990’s but nowadays how do you know there aren’t crawlers doing the same thing facebook is doing, profiling you and figuring out how to track you elsewhere and target you with ads and other kinds of manipulation? If you have to engage in self-promotion because of the gig economy or because you’re a celebrity or want to be one, tracking seems the likely consequence.
For me what’s more urgent is a way to replace facebook, stay in touch with actual friends and family, and feel free to post all the trivia that people post. I’ve gotten to the point that I’m afraid to post on facebook because I always think what are they going to do with it… it’s so creepy that every post helps fb know me better than I know myself. But everyone is there so I can’t stop signing in either; it’s just gotten to be a more passive and loathesome experience now.
At the opposite extreme for privacy are things like peergos and ssb: the content is encrypted and simply not accessible to non-friends at all. I kindof like that model theoretically, and I think it’s a good fit for an IPFS social network, because the set of friends who want to read your posts probably includes a subset who will pin your content and keep it online for the benefit of those who haven’t yet read it. I’m not a cypherpunk but I started to understand a few things: 1) it’s possible (but more expensive) to encrypt a message in such a way that many people can decrypt it with their own separate keys. gpg can do this. So you could write a message intended only for a specific group of friends and publish it via IPFS with no worries (right now!) about unintended recipients; but then the downside is when you add a new friend, (s)he can’t read your old posts, unless you decrypt and re-encrypt them all with that additional key, which of course changes all the CIDs for everyone else too. 2) A fundamental tenet of Web 3.0 is: there is no such thing as access control; if you want to limit availability of data to certain users, you just have to encrypt it. 3) Most asymmetric ciphers (public-key crypto) are expected to be broken by quantum computers, so are we really going to trust that Web 3.0 model? Can we pick a quantum-safe cipher then, if there is such a thing? If we don’t get past that hurdle, IPFS doesn’t seem suitable: maybe we’re better off actually limiting access too. Or, well, nothing to hide, nothing to fear… just don’t be so paranoid… that’s what most people would say.
Another thing I’ve noticed: a “free speech platform” where anyone can publish without moderation, especially if it looks anything like a broadcast medium, always comes across as having libertarian values, by its nature. And that attracts a certain kind of people: in the best case, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, everyone from the right wing; and usually it gets much seedier than that. The attraction of joining some elite subculture is stronger for such people who feel rejected elsewhere, whereas reasonable people stay on mainstream platforms where the eyeballs already are. Just try to find any good videos on d.tube, for example. I logged into mastodon a couple days ago and started to see some crap there too. As we know, the big social networks hire human moderators, who then develop mental problems from spending their days judging the badness of all the crap that people are posting. We’ve got to be able to do better than that! But how? There are plenty of people in my facebook network, actual friends and family, whose posts I mostly don’t appreciate. So it’s complicated to build the sort of social network that I’d actually want to spend time on. Algorithmic feeds: are they always bad, or only bad when they are optimized for the attention economy? I need an algorithmic feed to weed out all the crap from my friends. But an AI that figures out what each user likes to see and weeds out everything else is by definition a way of creating an echo chamber, so that you never get your opinions challenged too much. Besides, are you going to run such an AI on your own machine, if there’s no cloud to do that for you? That’s the only way for such an AI to be secure, to avoid giving away that intimate knowledge of yourself that the attention economy is trying to gather. But it’s hard to train the AI with so little data, whereas facebook has it easy to put users and posts into categories.
In my experience people are acting more authentic and civil on SSB for some reason. Not many of my friends are on it though, only a few people I met at IPFS Camp. Evangelizing these things always feels a bit creepy too, like trying to sell something to somebody, already knowing what their answer will be, and not wanting to grovel and beg. I wouldn’t recommend SSB to normal people anyway because of technical issues; first it’s not a web site; second, your identity is non-portable: you are expected to use it on a single computer. Pretty much the opposite of what we’d want with a distributed system.
If “normal” people actually had friends who were already using a new independent social network though, maybe they could be persuaded to run a monolithic tray application. So it should be possible to write a social network daemon, probably in go, that encapsulates IPFS plus the rest of the code, and can be left running all the time. If friending automatically implies pinning, it wouldn’t even matter if most of the friends are using laptops that are sleeping sometimes: most of the content would stay available most of the time. So I think that’s what we should build, and yes it should be able to integrate into the fediverse somehow for the sake of discoverability and for friending people who aren’t on this new network. It should be possible to discover it like an ordinary web site and use it via IPFS gateways for a while, without installing anything; but the experience should get so much better when running the tray application that most users will. Otherwise it won’t become viral enough.