Consumer-facing blockchain apps that are just decentralized versions of existing, successful products have somehow managed to sell themselves as the future, but they have an uphill battle ahead. A quick example are decentralized versions of social networks. The value proposition of these decentralized apps is mainly transparency and strong stances for freedom of speech/expression.
For example, Steemit is an almost exact copy of the popular social news site Reddit. It’s structure and theme are strikingly similar and the overall feel is uncanny, but with a single major difference: the voting system. On Reddit, individual accounts can upvote and downvote posts to push them to the top of a specific community, while on Steemit this voting is done with cryptocurrency. The content creators on Reddit are incentivized to make posts that attract upvotes to increase their Karma which is a counter of content popularity, while on Steemit upvoted posts receive tokens that have a market value. Today’s top posts pulled in over 600 USD for a post about how to monetize social media.
The difference in voting system makes upvoting no longer just a sentiment of agreement or excitement. On Steemit, upvotes are a transaction, and this changes the dynamic of the website. Users now feel more driven to get something from every article. Also, since it is a Dapp that doesn’t really advertise like Reddit, the discussions are largely tech-oriented and especially focused on money and cryptocurrency. The self-selection of members who even make an account curates a more specific type of developer/crypto.
Does Reddit need to become decentralized? No. It is fine as a centralized platform for information sharing, and the vast majority of its users don’t care about the philosophy behind their file storage systems. Does Steemit need to be decentralized? Absolutely. The entire appeal of the platform is that it is deep in the trenches of a new era of web technology. It embodies the topics and values that its users discuss, which lends an essential sense of authenticity.
Decentralization at this time appeals more to ideals than practicality, and especially when talking about decentralizing an existing product when only a couple of the users would even benefit. For topics where censorship is an issue, decentralization is a fitting solution, but for the overwhelming majority of daily content, there is no need to introduce undue complexity. Taking an app and “putting it on the blockchain” isn’t always a good idea for a business. I’m all for learning and experimenting, but doing something “because you wanted to see if it could be done” is not a solid strategy for a repeatable, scalable business. There are numerous strengths to using a blockchain, but in applications that don’t need extreme transparency and accountability, there is no need to further muddy the water of cryptocurrencies by adding a new, narrow-use case token.