Decentralization Unleashed: How Mask Network is Rethinking Social Media and Privacy

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Decentralized social networks remain a hot topic as concerns over data privacy, censorship, and corporate influence continue to escalate. People seek more control over their digital interactions, so the promise of Web3, offering a decentralized, user-controlled alternative, has intrigued both technologists and ordinary users.

BeInCrypto sat down with Suji Yan, the founder of Mask Network, to explore the current state of this narrative and the Mask Network’s role in shaping the future of decentralized social networks.

Mask Network, led by founder Suji Yan, develops blockchain-based tools that allow users to perform cryptocurrency transactions and access decentralized applications directly through social media platforms. Suji Yan, whose background includes roles as an AI engineer and journalist, is driven by a commitment to privacy and free speech. He envisions Mask Network as a cornerstone in creating an independent cyberspace where users govern themselves and interact without traditional corporate oversight. His ambitious goal is to transform social media into a secure, decentralized environment that supports a fully autonomous digital society.

Early Development and the Evolution of Mask Network

Suji begins by tracing the origins of his company to the early ideas sparked by the limitations of traditional finance. «Bitcoin is great… it saves the money, right? Bitcoin is the peer money and digital gold. And Ethereum is the programmable machine, the infinite machine on a smart contract», he articulates. 

His vision, however, extends beyond these pioneering technologies towards a grander aim of creating a fully autonomous digital society.

“My bigger dream, my bigger perspective for our industry is that we eventually can become an independent cyberspace”, he explains, envisioning a new kind of governance, society, and communication platform grounded in blockchain technology. “If you want to create a society, you will need your own platforms where people can gather and talk without worrying that one day AWS is going to kill the Facebook server and you will be de-platformized”.

Suji enthusiastically recounts the early days when Mask Network was still taking shape. The team was officially assembled in 2016, with the company forming in 2017 amidst a bull market with its ICO craze. Mask Network, however, was keen on building a sustainable long-term vision. “We did a lot of research. We write a lot of codes. And we built something that people never seen before”, he says, emphasizing the innovative spirit of his team.

Mask Network quickly garnered support from key figures in the blockchain community. Ethereum co-founders Vitalik Buterin and Mihai Aliesie were early users of the Mask extension. This period of subsequent adoption of their technology laid a solid foundation for Mask Network’s ambitions, setting the stage for further development and continued evolution toward a decentralized digital society.

The Long Road to Social Networks Decentralization

Suji recognizes the journey toward decentralizing social networks as a long-term endeavor. Reflecting on discussions in 2018, he noted how major platforms like Facebook initially flirted with decentralization before stepping back. Interestingly, they are revisiting these ideas, paralleling X/Twitter’s intermittent experiments with decentralization strategies, including during Jack Dorsey’s tenure and more recently under Elon Musk’s direction, who has shifted his focus towards integrating AI.

This narrative underlines that developing a comprehensive suite of technologies for decentralized social networks presents significant challenges. Unlike more straightforward financial applications in the blockchain space, such as DeFi or cryptocurrency exchanges, which benefit from clear, measurable success metrics like trading volume or total value locked (TVL), social platforms require nuanced, complex solutions that must evolve to meet the diverse needs of users and the nature of social interaction online. This complexity makes the path to decentralization innovative and fraught with continuous learning and adaptation.

Despite all hurdles, Suji remains optimistic about the future, drawing parallels with the early days of DeFi, which also faced skepticism and slow initial growth. He anticipates a similar trajectory for decentralized social networks, with gradual acceptance leading to more significant breakthroughs.

“Social [networks] is very different… it needs a series of events to make people realize we really need decentralization”, he explains, citing pivotal moments such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal and recent regulatory actions against TikTok. “For DeFi, it took 7 years: from the BitShare story, BitUSD story, and then EOS, then people moved to Ethereum, then the DeFi summer. If history repeats itself, we’ll see decentralized social networks boom in 2028, maybe 2029”.

Suji believes that these foundational shifts in the digital field, catalyzed by major public events, serve as critical moments that will eventually drive widespread adoption. The awareness and understanding of the importance of user control over personal data increase, so will the demand for decentralized solutions.

Strategic Initiatives and the Ecosystem Support

Beyond developing its proprietary technology, Mask Network has played a crucial role in supporting decentralized social networks and infrastructure projects. In 2021, the team initiated the Bonfire Union – the venture arm involved in funding various initiatives, including social platforms, blockchain infrastructure projects, and other innovative technologies that align with the decentralized ethos of Mask Network.

Bonfire Union has invested in a diverse array of projects, including:

  • Lens Protocol — a blockchain-based open source social graph created to reshape the future of social media concepts. 
  • Orbiter Finance —  a decentralized cross-rollup bridge for transferring Ethereum native assets.
  • Alt Layer — an open and decentralized rollup service provider.
  • GoPlus — an open, permissionless, user-driven security service platform.
  • Sonorus — a decentralized music voting & rewards protocol.
  • Oasys — an eco-friendly blockchain built for the gaming community.
  • RSS3 — a decentralized network indexing and structuring open information.

“Bonfire Union’s AUM is over a $100 millions now, but when we launched it, it was just  $42 millions”, Suji reflects. “There are many other social things we invest in: decentralized social networks,  infrastructure. Financial VC, they don’t see what’s going on. But we’re early and true believers, so we know there are many things that are lacking in this industry”.

Mask also became one of the largest contributors to Mastodon, a decentralized and federated social network, and a key shareholder of Lens Protocol, demonstrating a strategic approach to nurturing the ecosystem’s growth.

The commitment of Mask Network extends beyond financial investments. In December 2023, Mask established a non-profit entity, Mask Network Academy, which provides financial and technological support to the world’s top universities and journalism programs to promote Web3 research and story-telling.

“We actively engage with educational institutions worldwide to foster a deeper understanding of blockchain and decentralized technologies”, Suji explains. “For instance, we’ve partnered with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and supported Korea University, focusing on encouraging young students to explore decentralized applications. We find it crucial to support these educational endeavors through donations, such as the one we made to the UOPI Foundation, using cryptocurrency to facilitate these contributions. Our goal is not just to fund, we want to inspire and collaborate with the next generation of innovators who can carry forward the vision of a decentralized future”.

This dedication to education and development highlights Mask Network’s holistic approach to advancing the Web3 ecosystem. By providing both financial backing and hands-on opportunities, they ensure that emerging talents have the resources and knowledge needed to succeed in shaping a more decentralized and transparent digital future.

New Era of Social Interactions

Suji believes it is still too early to fully assess the impact of their efforts, noting that many in the industry still need APIs, infrastructure, or SaaS solutions. In response, Mask Network plans to offer significant support by providing free infrastructure to their ecosystem, which has yet to be publicly announced. This initiative will cover server and gas costs, allowing emerging projects within their network to develop without financial barriers during their first year.

Mask Network’s founder explained that while the company cannot cover excessive costs for projects that secure substantial funding, the team i committed to opening a gateway for those still in the early financial stages. This support includes free SaaS and other resources from Mask Network and its DAO, removing the burden of gas fees and allowing developers to focus on innovation and learning.

In the broader narrative of blockchain and decentralization, under Suji Yan’s leadership, Mask Network aims to be more than just a technology provider. They are deeply involved in crafting a decentralized framework for social interactions, where privacy, security, and user autonomy are paramount. Suji emphasizes the importance of this mission in his own words:

“Our vision at Mask Network is to foster an environment where digital sovereignty is the norm, not the exception. We’re building tools that allow individuals to control their own data, communicate freely without censorship, and transact securely without intermediaries”.

Through ongoing product development, community initiatives, and strategic partnerships, Mask Network is laying the groundwork for what Suji believes will be the next major evolution in how we interact online. Integrating advanced blockchain solutions into everyday social media functionality is paving the way for a future where digital interactions are as secure and private as they are ubiquitous. Suji’s commitment to this vision is clear as he steers Mask Network towards a world where decentralized technologies redefine our digital interactions, making them safe and user-centric.

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