The decentralization myth and whether we buy it anyway

Thought Leadership

Written by Katie McDonald, Sr. Strategy Director at We Are Social US

In internet time, it’s been years since Facebook announced its rebrand to Meta. But, in a culture where the postscript commentary can be more interesting than the real-time reveal, pouring over the reactions has been just as enriching as the promise of an “embodied internet.” The conversations with the most personal resonance because of their inherent tension begin to ask: Why is one of the symbols of big centralized tech promising a world of decentralized tech where communities and individuals have all the power?

To answer that question, it’s important to understand why Meta believes that people should believe them and why it may not matter if no one actually does.

In Mark Zuckerberg’s own words, Meta’s core brand mission is unchanged from what Facebook has always been about: bringing people together. The end goal of human connection isn’t different, it’s the way people connect that will change. The logic may go something like this: if you’re a product people use to connect, then aren’t you also a people-powered product?

The rise of Facebook groups may suggest this is true. According to Zuckerberg in 2020, more than 100 million users were members of “very meaningful” Facebook groups. But, the people who helped power these groups were struggling – spending too much time moderating (8 hours or more of their week) instead of cultivating. 

Photo source: Meta

In response, in early November Facebook launched tools to give every admin the power to “build the community they want, strengthen group culture and manage and sustain their communities.To make their groups “look and feel unique” admins will be able to “customize the colors, post backgrounds and fonts that display in groups, along with the emojis members can use to react to content.”

So, is giving group owners more ownership and creative freedom over their communities in the same spirit as a world not created by one company, but rather, “built by creators and developers making new experiences and digital items that are interoperable and unlock a massively larger creative economy than the one constrained by today’s platforms and their policies?”

No, of course not. Playing within the walled garden is not the same as letting the seeds grow wildly beyond the walls. And a behemoth cannot become an invisible orchestrator that gives up power and control.  But, the intent is the same – to make people feel connected in their own unique ways. And if the promise is rich and fulfilling and gives people license to create their own realities, then the people will come to play. And brands will need to come along to play with them. But, the truly innovative ones will interrogate the experience at every turn – and never assume that just because you can build it, you should.