A Yale professor and Goldman Sachs veteran are teaming up on an eccentric new blockchain-powered social network to try to make Facebook irrelevant

David GelernterJohannes Simon / Getty

  • The Yale professor who invented Mirror Worlds has embarked on a new venture: an eccentric new social network meant to threaten tech giants like Facebook and Google.
  • The new social network, called Revolution Populi, will operate on the blockchain and is slated to launch next year.
  • Gelernter and Revolution Populi CEO Rob Rosenthal, a 19-year veteran of Goldman Sachs, spoke to Business Insider about their gambit to challenge social media monopolies.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Yale professor David Gelernter thinks you should be fed up with Facebook.

The Mirror Worlds inventor and professor of computer science thinks the tech company, along with the likes of Amazon and Google, has too much power to be publicly accountable. He objects to its business model of selling users' personal information to advertisers. And he believes recent scandals show Facebook shouldn't be trusted to protect people's privacy.

Gelernter thinks there's a better way: he envisions a social media that's collectively owned by its users, where terms of use are determined democratically and privacy is guaranteed by blockchain-based encryption.

Gelernter has teamed up with Rob Rosenthal, a 19-year veteran of Goldman Sachs, to launch the new social media, dubbed "Revolution Populi."

It may seem far-fetched, but they're counting on the general public becoming so fed up with Facebook - but still craving a social media outlet - that Revolution Populi becomes a global movement. A Facebook spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

"There has to be a different way, because that's not what the internet was built for. And we believe we've come up with a solution," Rosenthal said.

Gelernter and Rosenthal spoke to Business Insider about their vision for the future of social media. Here are some key takeaways.

{{}}

View As: One Page Slides

The internet is still "embryonic," the Revolution Populi creators argue, and is poised to undergo massive changes from regulation or competition.

The internet is still "embryonic," the Revolution Populi creators argue, and is poised to undergo massive changes from regulation or competition.

Gelernter and Rosenthal believe the age of massive tech companies is a temporary side-effect of how young the internet is. Soon, they argue, we'll look back at tech monopolies as a quirk in the broader history of social media.

"I don't think people see the internet as embryonic but that's what it is," Rosenthal said. "Ten years from today, there's no way that all the data that tracks across the internet is going to end up in the hands of Facebook and Google."

Gelernter and Rosenthal think competition, not regulation, is the best way to combat tech monopolies.

Gelernter and Rosenthal think competition, not regulation, is the best way to combat tech monopolies.

Gelernter and Rosenthal's proposal takes an eccentric approach to addressing complaints with Facebook that are becoming increasingly mainstream. The platform has come under scrutiny in recent months from regulators, lawmakers, and politicians for its handling of user privacy and content moderation.

But unlike Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has made regulating tech giants a central platform of her presidential campaign, Gelernter has a more libertarian outlook on combating monopolies.

"The real alternative for Facebook is either government regulation on the one hand, or free market competition, which instead of imposing arbitrary rules, limits, and procedures on Facebook, lets a thousand new social networks appear, or a million. We will aid that process by making our own database," Gelernter said.

Revolution Populi would allow users to own their personal data and sell it to advertisers using “smart contracts.”

Revolution Populi would allow users to own their personal data and sell it to advertisers using “smart contracts.”

Facebook makes billions of dollars in ad revenue, and maintains about $90 million worth of user data that could be sold to advertising partners, according to Investopedia. Revolution Populi would aim to return control of that data to individuals, who could share it or sell to others as they see fit.

"Smart contracts allow people to control who sees their data and who accesses their data," Rosenthal said. "Imagine using your social network but instead of Facebook getting the money, you get the money."

Gelernter and Rosenthal want Revolution Populi to run on blockchain technology, both because of the security it promises and because it allows for decentralization rather than a network hosted on centralized servers.

Gelernter and Rosenthal want Revolution Populi to run on blockchain technology, both because of the security it promises and because it allows for decentralization rather than a network hosted on centralized servers.

"Blockchain is a very elegant stack for doing this," Rosenthal said. "First of all, it's decentralized. You can create a decentralized database that's owned and governed and controlled by nobody except for the users. It can be democratically governed and it is a way to quit that ownership that those two companies have over people's lives."

That democratic approach would also apply to rules for content moderation on the site, which Gelernter believes wouldn’t face the same tensions that Facebook and Twitter are currently grappling with.

That democratic approach would also apply to rules for content moderation on the site, which Gelernter believes wouldn’t face the same tensions that Facebook and Twitter are currently grappling with.

While existing social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have faced harsh criticism for their policies on regulating speech, Gelernter believes a democratically run social media wouldn't face the same problems.

"This isn't the first time people have noticed the clash between unbounded free speech and the speech moderation requirements of a specific community, he said. "It's been done right a million times, just not in this field. If you have a network controlled by its own users, all they have to do is vote."

They hope Revolution Populi will inspire countless other smaller social networks to crop up in the coming years, which collectively will pose a threat to tech giants.

They hope Revolution Populi will inspire countless other smaller social networks to crop up in the coming years, which collectively will pose a threat to tech giants.

"Once we've demonstrated that new social networks with more things to offer can get off the ground, and interest people, I think we'll see lots more competition in this important area," Gelernter said.

Revolution Populi is still in its early stages, but might become a reality in 2020.

Revolution Populi is still in its early stages, but might become a reality in 2020.

The software for the social network is still being developed, but Rosenthal said he hopes it will be completed in early 2020. Rosenthal and Gelernter are also planning to ramp up fundraising, with an initial coin offering in the coming months for the cryptocurrency that will run on the platform.

Add Comment()
Comments ()
X
Sort By:
Be the first one to comment.
We have sent you a verification email. This comment will be published once verification is done.