Inspired by an idea, two friends met at Free Speech Movement Cafe, busted out their laptops, and started coding. A Sublime tab was all it took to get started.
“At the time, we were just two college kids just frustrated with the state of social networks,” Bhatia said. “We thought to ourselves, you know, there’s probably a better way to build social from the ground up that really focuses on the user.”
This seed of an idea began to sprout into a company. In 2016, UC Berkeley alumni Ankit Bhatia and Robert Giometti launched Sapien, a decentralized social network that integrates blockchain technology to protect user privacy and democratize ad revenue.
Most people only understand blockchain in the context of cryptocurrencies, but the technology underpinning them is rapidly expanding to other markets, with social media moving to the forefront.
The founders started looking into blockchain as it was building momentum and were impressed by how systems could be built transparently.
“We saw multiple benefits of blockchain technology, particularly the ability to create a token economy and incentivize certain positive behaviors. This infrastructure could potentially reinvent the social experience and provide a number of benefits to the user.”
As they dove deeper into this emerging technology, it became clear to Rob & Ankit that blockchain was the perfect tool for the job. Thus, they embarked on a journey to create it.
Behind the scenes of this massive effort was a diverse network of programmers and blockchain enthusiasts. Sapien team members can now be found in different countries and cultures from all over the world, many of them doing their work remotely. They are glued together by the shared mission of creating the user-centric social network of the future.
Most of them joined Sapien at a time when several of the largest networks — namely Facebook and Twitter — were experiencing security breaches and problems with data privacy. Sapien wants to get rid of these issues before they become an accepted part of the social media experience.
“We want to be in a position where the blockchain magic happens in the background,” Bhatia claims. “The user feels like they’re using a regular social network, similar to what they’ve been using their entire life, but they are getting the benefits of blockchain technology such as transparency, easy access to monetization, governance, privacy, and more.”
This desire to change the state of social networks comes from an inherent rejection of the current “best options” that have been proffered. Bhatia explains that much of our online behaviors are being optimized by algorithms and experts who are A/B testing to see what exactly makes us tick.
“The core problem with many of these platforms is the way things have been structured. Everything is profit-driven and aims to keep users on for mere seconds longer. Keeping people as glued as possible is not a healthy metric. Why would we want this to be the primary way that we consume and spread information? Much of the design taps into primitive psychological behaviors of ours. Because of these systems, fake news has become pretty consequential. This news also keeps people on these platforms for longer, as it is controversial. All these factors together create the perfect storm for mass misinformation. This truly seems to be undermining our democracy.”
Clearly it is a big problem to tackle. So where are they now? After completing their ICO, the team of about 20 has focused heavily on UX development and blockchain partnerships in recent months. Among these partnerships have been two notable collaborations. Currently, Sapien is building out partnerships with Portis.io to bring the wallet experience into the platform and Matic Network to make exchanging tokens and rewards completely free to the user.
“We are at a stage where we will soon be launching the next release of our platform. Native mobile apps are coming out for both iOS and Android. We’re also thinking of launching a referral program to get more users on the platform.”
Sapien’s current engine includes an impressively smooth user experience. Users can stake SPN tokens and receive tokenized rewards for creating content, leaving comments, and voting on posts. This results in an interesting dynamic as users on Sapien can quickly monetize their content without a centralized authority taking half the profits. You can see Sapien’s entire short-term roadmap here.
Sapien envisions a future in which users will be able to choose whether they want to see advertisements or share aspects of their personal data, receiving rewards as a result. The platform allows users to take control of their most valuable assets: their time and their data
“The revenue is actually being redistributed,” Bhatia said. “It’s your data, you’re choosing to share it, so you’re going to be rewarded for sharing it. That’s the general approach that we’re taking.” For a deeper look into Sapien and the entire concept, we recommend reading the whitepaper.
Interested in checking out Sapien? You can learn more about the project and join the platform today!