In what is Mark Zuckerberg’s now-traditional New Year speech, the Facebook supremo pledged to fix the social network’s many problems which bubbled up in 2017. Perhaps understandably, that admission hogged the headlines but Zuckerberg also said he plans to study encryption and the blockchain “see how best to use them in our services.”
That statement comes amid a period of crypto frenzy, with the cryptocurrencies themselves rising in value significantly, and it’s already prompting some people to speculate on what companies Facebook should buy. It marks a rare time that the CEO of a major global tech company has committed to even exploring the blockchain.
It’s really a no-brainer for Facebook to look into these technologies since there is serious potential to advance the current tech status quo in meaningful ways.
In his post, Zuckerberg makes mention of international censorship and, in theory, a decentralized service could circumvent such measures — such China’s blocking of Facebook and Twitter, or Iran’s recent clampdown on Instagram and Telegram.
We know that appeals to Zuckerberg. The Facebook founder has long believed his company’s mission is to connect the world — to the point that he still makes much-mocked efforts to woo the Chinese government — and the blockchain is a technology that, if utilized correctly, could give Facebook a platform to beat censors worldwide, even in China.
For example, Steemit is a Reddit-like decentralized social network that operates on the blockchain. Beyond a more robust position against censors, the service rewards its users for good content with small amounts of cryptocurrency and has penalties for spam and fake content. It’s an early effort with a small community that has struggled to gain widespread adoption, but it might give Zuckerberg some early clues.
But censorship is just one of many areas where Facebook could utilize the blockchain and a decentralized network. It has invested heavily in peer-to-peer payments — perhaps in the hope of emulating the high level of user engagement WeChat sees in China — and fintech is a hotbed for blockchain-focused technology and startups. Beyond launching its own project or buying another, Facebook could also piggyback any number of decentralized payment platforms that are currently in development and aimed at making global payments cheaper (free?) and faster.
Others less obvious areas relevant to Facebook that others are attacking with decentralized projects including transparent online advertising platforms, local discovery platforms, artificial intelligence platforms, music/video streaming platforms and more.
Zuckerberg’s past New Year’s resolutions have focused on his own challenges such as learning Mandarin, making his own AI, and visiting all American states, but this time around it could impact Facebook’s tech and products.