DeSo, short for “decentralized social,” is backed by major venture capital firms.
The pseudonymous founder of the controversial social media site BitClout has confirmed his identity and revealed some of the thinking behind the platform’s chaotic rollout. He’s also announced DeSo – a blockchain that’s already raised $200 million in financing from Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase Ventures, Sequoia and others.
The founder, hitherto known as “Diamondhands,” is Nader Al-Naji, a 29-year-old Princeton graduate who raised (and subsequently returned) $133 million for a crypto startup called Basis.
BitClout is a site that’s trying to put social media on the blockchain. Each user is tied to their own “creator coin,” which other users can buy into. The logic is that the more people value your content, the more people will want your coin. There’s also a native cryptocurrency, $CLOUT, which powers the blockchain behind the platform.
Now, Al-Naji is giving that blockchain a name – DeSo, short for “decentralized social” – and introducing a new ticker symbol to match. It’s a network that’s custom-built for social applications: in the way that Ethereum offers tools to build crypto-backed computer programs, DeSo purports to offer a framework that’s specifically geared toward social networks.
In a Zoom interview, Al-Naji explained that BitClout was really a proof of concept for DeSo. “We wanted to essentially launch a demo app that showcases the features of the DeSo blockchain,” he said. “But what happened, which is kind of weird, is the BitClout app kind of exploded. A lot of mainstream celebrities joined – Tyga, Antonio Brown, Diplo, Blau all have profiles on the DeSo blockchain through the BitClout app.”
But it wasn’t just the rapper Tyga and the DJ Diplo – BitClout also created zombie accounts for users who hadn’t yet signed up for the platform. Social tokens for Tesla CEO Elon Musk and singer Ariana Grande are among the highest-valued coins on BitClout, even though neither celebrity has actually agreed to promote the site.
People with smaller Twitter accounts, too, discovered their personal information on BitClout. One thread called BitClout an “influencer-pandering tirefire [sic].” A Decrypt article described it as “dystopian.”
“To the credit of the critics, I think when we launched BitClout, we were not expecting it to grow to the level that it was,” Al-Naji said. “And their concerns were actually valid.”
It didn’t help that Al-Naji was keeping his identity under wraps at the time, giving interviews under his BitClout account name, “Diamondhands.”
“I was anonymous because I believed that it would inspire the community to decentralize the ecosystem faster,” he said. “The less people rely on a centralized entity to call the shots, the more they feel empowered to improve and build on top of the ecosystem.”
That strategy appears to have worked: “Over 100 developers just started building on the DeSo blockchain without even talking to us first,” Al-Naji said.
Over the six months DeSo has been in beta, those developers have already created a cottage industry of BitClout-adjacent social apps. Pulse, formerly known as BitClout Pulse, is a dedicated trading platform for BitClout social tokens. Flick is a mobile client for BitClout, and BitHunt is a site for keeping track of other DeSo sites.
The DeSo blockchain was engineered with Al-Naji’s grand designs in mind. Each block on DeSoto holds 32 megabytes of information. By comparison, each block on the Bitcoin blockchain holds 1 MB. Al-Naji said he hopes that the platform will “scale decentralized social applications to 1 billion users.”
DeSo also relies on a a proof-of-work consensus mechanism, which means the standard environmental concerns apply, though Al-Naji says he plans to switch over to the less ecologically impactful proof-of-stake system “by the end of the year.”
$DESO is already trading on the Blockchain.com and AscendEX exchanges.
“I don’t know that people are really going to see the vision for what it is initially,” Al-Naji said. “But I’m very confident in what I’ve been working on for over two years, and I’m just gonna keep telling people the facts as I see them.”