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Do you remember the days of the good, old internet? The internet of co-creation, connectivity, and infinite possibilities. For some of us, this is the internet we created, for others — pure mythology. Whether your first encounter with the internet was Hello, world or Skibidi toilet, we can agree that nowadays the internet seems to be kinda…broken.

Not broken as in get off the phone, I’m playing Runescape or is the WiFi down for anyone else, but broken as in a state of accelerating decay brought about by inequitable systems of tech builder-ship and ownership.

Decisions affecting our lives, rights, and entire political systems are not made in the agora, they are made in the fricking Google Campus. The most important stakeholder, the dehumanised ‘user’, hardly gets a look in. Do you feel like you’ve ever changed the course of any decision at a large tech company? Do you feel like you could, if you really tried? This might seem like an asinine thought experiment, but the reality is — ‘the system’ isn’t designed for user-driven decision making. That being said, there is a system that can flip the script: DePIN. It’s an idea that could help reshape the conceptualisation, organisation, and creation of technology — and it’s gaining momentum.

Hang on. What is DePIN? 🤔

DePINs (Decentralised Physical Infrastructure Networks) are community-operated networks of real-world infrastructure used to provide services (such as data storage or data transfer). Operators can be decentralised, organised, and incentivised using blockchain tech.

DePINs are used for all kinds of services, but they’re particularly useful in cases where decentralisation is an advantage – for privacy, accountability, transparency, and equitable participation.

This is a new way to organise user-driven and user-interested tech creation.

One of the most difficult requirements to meet when platform-building is the actual computer networking infrastructure required to operate said platform. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and requires specialised expertise to operate. Our friends at Signal released details about the cost of running their E2EE messaging app, and although they aren’t dealing with the scale of capital-B Big Tech, it gives us a sense of the cost and complexity of platform infrastructure. Apps like Signal survive thanks to people’s determination to have human-rights preserving tech – contributing through things like direct donations. Others, like Tor, take it a step further than Signal – and have their determined community contribute the actual networking infrastructure that keeps the project spinning.

On top of this, DePINs can use a blockchain layer to further organise, incentivise, and align all participants – whether they are providing infrastructure, services, or they’re just people using the end product.

Who owns the platform🏠

It might seem like a silly question, but who really owns a tech platform? Where does the value of a platform actually come from?

Common tech industry wisdom says a platform is only as valuable as its users. This is the thinking that has triggered the extreme scrutiny placed on active user numbers of Twitter/X since Musk’s takeover – a blunt tool used to hammer home claims the platform is holding (or gaining) value under his leadership. Similar emphasis has been placed on Meta’s Threads, a venture with oodles of cash and ecosystem buy-in – but which will ultimately live or die based on whether it can get enough users.

I’m sure you’ve felt a sense of ownership of your own communities on various platforms. Well, that shouldn’t just be a ✨feeling✨, that should be real.

It is often up to the users themselves to generate and maintain a platform’s community. They form sub-communities, create the content that keeps others coming back, recommend and refer, and this is the soulfire of all platforms. If people stop doing these things – the platform is pretty much worthless (in fact, it may end up being a straight-up liability). The community is the capital.

But if all the value is with the users, shouldn’t they be getting a better deal? Can’t we basically hold tech platforms hostage? People are agentive, and if a platform isn’t suiting their needs…won’t they just move onto another? Well, not quite. In fact, these platforms are hoping to create such a mass of users that they can rely on the difficulty of collective action and the inertia of established networks. At that point, users are soft-locked in – and they’ve locked the door on themselves.

Big Tech is not looking out for us. They’re not looking out for the world. People are obviously not satisfied with how things are going – regulators and policymakers are waging war against platforms they see as aloof towards people’s wellbeing. The people themselves have fired a couple of shots off at the techies, too – users tried to buy Twitter several years before Elon Musk swooped in. Try as we may, our tech landlords have a knack for stifling meaningful change and clutching onto the status quo.

Right now, the rules of the game are stacked against us: it’s hard and expensive to meet the logistical requirements of tech creation (software development, infrastructure management), and it’s really, really hard to opt-out of big tech platforms once everyone else has already opted-in. Fines and tech-cynical headlines aren’t sharp enough to pierce the silicon-plated armour of Big Tech – so let’s approach the problem from another direction.

Let’s change the game completely. We can write rules that let us build and protect the internet we deserve.

Connecting people🫂

Connection is a core principle of the internet. The advent of online messaging – and all the innovations have come along with it – have completely revolutionised how we connect with each other in the modern world.

There has been some good, some bad. Tools like end-to-end encryption have given us the ability to connect across the globe with privacy, safety, and security. However, we’ve also seen unprecedented surveillance, dehumanisation, and rampant abuse…so, that’s not so nice.

Still, the utility of private, online communication cannot be denied – and a lot of the negatives arguably stem from the systems in place around online communication, rather than online communication itself. Social media algorithms which amorally amplify content based on how successful it is at locking users onto a particular platform have caused some seriously anti-social outcomes.

That’s where DePIN comes in. Together we can co-create a platform that values connection and prioritises the function of messaging.

Session DePIN 💬

Session is an end-to-end encrypted messaging app owned and operated by people just like you. It is run by people who recognise and value the importance of online messaging.

So far, Session has around a million users. These users are activists in Tehran, office clerks in Oklahoma, and everything in-between.

So, how does Session’s DePIN actually work?

Session runs on a decentralised, community-operated network of nodes called Session Nodes. These nodes provide the infrastructure required for a communication network: message sending, message storage, and message delivery.

In order to run a Session Node, the operator must ‘stake’ network-native cryptocurrency. This stake gives them some ‘skin in the game’, encouraging nodes to act in the best interest of the network – performing all their duties to their highest ability, and not sabotaging or attacking the network. This ensures that individual operators act in line with the collectively-held mission of the network: communication.

Session Messenger is software which uses this network to send and receive messages. Many of the operators running Session Nodes are also users themselves, of course, and all are active and engaged members of the community. Absolutely anyone can become an operator and contribute to the network infrastructure which Session runs on.

At the end of the chain are rewards. The same cryptocurrency which is used for staking is also used as a reward. When operators provide services, such as storing Session messages for users, they earn rewards. This is a simple system that aligns and connects all the crucial elements with the needs of the people who actually use Session.

Outside of this, software development is all open-source, with community contributions and a core team of developers working in line with Session’s vision.

The end result is a messaging app with an uncompromising approach to user privacy, safety, and security. Session is just one case of a DePIN – it can also be utilised for all kinds of tech (and non-tech) applications. Our friends at NYM and Arweave are doing similar things, with a focus on private networking and perma-storage respectively.

DePIN is a radical new model for technology building. It gives us a framework for building tech that is more people-focused than ever before. Let’s leave the era of extraction and co-create something better. It can be messaging – and it can be even more.

Let’s send it.