Becky Peterson, Business Insider
A Mark Cuban-backed company is looking to take on social media giants like Facebook with the development of a new communication technology built on blockchain, the key technology behind the cryptocurrency bitcoin.
Cuban is an advisor on the project along with Nick Tomaino, an early employee at the cryptocurrency unicorn Coinbase.
The project, Mercury Protocol, is essentially a way to send messages over social media using blockchain technology. It's housed under the company Radical App LLC, of which Cuban is an investor.
The developers say that Mercury Protocol will increase user privacy and security, in part because blockchain anonymizes user identity. Behavioral data won't be linked to individuals and sold to advertisers, the way it currently is on social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Like all blockchains, it's also decentralized and lives across a network of computers, rather than a single server. This means it's more secure, because attackers would have to compromise the majority of the network, instead of just one access point.
In September, the project team will attempt to raise funding through an initial coin offering for a new cryptocurrency called global messaging token. Initial coin offerings, or ICOs, are a way of crowdfunding projects in exchange for tokens. Some of those tokens act like money. Others, like the global messaging token, can be used on platforms in exchange for services.
The team behind the project wrote in a release that users will be able to earn tokens by performing platform-specific actions such as reading a set number of posts, or by creating content. The tokens can be exchanged for premium services, and other in-app bonuses.
Mercury Protocol also has a way to address the trolls and bag eggs commonly found on websites like Twitter. The blockchain will include what the team calls "reputation points for positive interactions" — services will cost more tokens for people that act like jerks.
"Similar to a credit score or insurance claim history, users with weaker reputation score may be charged higher premiums while users with a stronger reputation will be charged a lower premium," the team wrote.
Mercury Protocol is already being developed by the existing team at Dust, a self-destructing messaging platform, which is also part of Radical App LLC. The protocol will be integrated into Dust in the next couple of weeks.
In theory, Mercury Protocol is platform-agnostic, and, if it takes off, could feasibly be integrated into other popular social media platforms. More realistically, however, new communication platforms will be built on top of the protocol. Because blockchains keep a comprehensive receipt of everything that's ever happened on it, new platforms will have the entire history of messages as well. It will also be possible to communicate across multiple platforms.
There are also plans to put it on a new platform called Broadcast. Broadcast is being developed by the same team and is expected to launch by the end of the 2017. The aim of Broadcast is to counter the curated social media feeds that are common in today's world, and encourage people with differing views to discuss topics live.
Critics often describe the current social media space as an echo-chamber, by which people only hear opinions that reinforce their world view.
It's been reported that Cuban is looking to buy back the domain name Broadcast.com, which he sold to Yahoo in 1999 as an internet radio company. The domain currently reroutes to the Yahoo homepage.
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