Imagine a bar where the beer is free. All of your friends are there, but every few minutes the host interrupts the conversation and tries to sell you something. If someone tells the wrong joke or says a banned word, the bouncer throws them out. How long does the list of banned words have to get before the beer isn’t worth it? Welcome to today’s internet.

The coordinated cancellations of Wallstreetbets and Parler are a reminder that the internet as we know it has become a collection of dictatorships. You would think that virtual worlds would provide humans with more freedom, but the opposite is true today.

To understand why, remember that the internet was built by tech companies, but paid for by advertisers. If you say something that jeopardizes the flow of ad dollars, they will remove you. Free beer is for those who comply.

Freedom of speech and assembly are what disrupt the establishment and drive civilization forward. Previous generations died for these rights in the real world, but we gave them away in the digital world. It’s time to bring these freedoms back into the digital world by building a parallel system without censorship and spam.

Centralized & Free = Ads & Spam

We’ve mapped popular apps in the graph below based on their centralization and payment structures. Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok all grew by centralizing human interactions on a ‘free’ service. The resulting network effects keep people hooked. You tolerate the bar because your friends are there.

If your account can be deactivated, it’s centralized. If you’re not paying, you are the product. The lower left corner shows that censorship and spam are inherent to the structure of these apps. They have no choice.

Spam comes native with the free model. Apps sell engagement to advertisers. Advertisers can’t tell the difference between spam and real engagement, so the apps aren’t eager to spend money to make less money by weeding out the spam.

Each ad and spam message consumes a few seconds of your time. Think about it this way: Bits of your life are being drained at a price that you don’t set. For those who value their time, ‘free’ is the most expensive business model.

Decentralized & Free: Moderator Burn-out

Decentralized systems can solve the problem of censorship. Decentralized alternatives like Mastodon and Matrix have been around for years. Any individual can download the code and create a community. However, as these communities grow, problem users make their way in and require increased moderation efforts. There’s no built-in way for the community to cover the costs of running the system. Eventually, the effort outweighs the benefits, and most of these communities max out at a certain size or have to bring in advertiser support.

The Answer: Decentralized & Paid

Adding the ability to require a micropayment with each message prevents spam. The payment is too small for the sender to notice, but it’s enough to make spam unprofitable at scale. These tiny payments are the immune cells that push out the junk content that plagues Reddit, Discord, and Twitter.

If decentralized systems with micropayments provide the answer, why don’t they already exist? You can decentralize the code, but until now, you could never escape corporate control of payments.

Before Bitcoin, all payment systems were centralized. Just ask Pornhub after Mastercard and Visa cut them off from accepting credit cards. Try typing the word ‘cuban’ into a Venmo payment description and see if they lock your account.

Before the Bitcoin Lightning Network, it wasn’t practical to make micropayments in Bitcoin. Now, for the first time, we have a decentralized payment system with global reach that’s free of government and corporate control.

With Lightning, anyone can pay anyone instantly, anytime, anywhere, and in tiny amounts for nearly free.

Introducing Sphinx: Freedom to Say, Earn & Pay

Sphinx is the first platform that handles money and speech in the same protocol built on top of Bitcoin. The Lightning Network is made up of thousands of servers that can send and receive Bitcoin instantly at almost zero cost per transaction. With the Sphinx app, you can use this network to send text messages, make video calls, form tribes, listen to podcasts, and more. All of these interactions are encrypted end-to-end and can require a small payment.

Freedom to Associate

Anyone can create a tribe in Sphinx and invite users to join. Tribes are similar to Discord servers or subreddits, but with Sphinx tribes, you can set a joining fee and have paid interactions within the tribe. A spam bot could join, but it would have to pay.

To discourage spam, the admin can require a deposit with each post. If the post is marked as spam, the admin keeps the fee. If not, it’s automatically returned to the user. Imagine using Telegram without the spam.

Giving group admins a way to earn Bitcoin for their efforts and providing built-in spam protection tools enables Sphinx tribes to scale far beyond the size of previous internet groups. Ask Reddit mods if they would prefer earning ‘reddit gold’ or Bitcoin for their efforts. Running a tribe will feel more like owning a business than a charitable act.

Tribes can be used for work, as well. Tribes can be linked to web services like GitHub to receive automated notifications, and you can initiate video and screen-sharing from within the conversation. The Sphinx development team has replaced Slack and Zoom with our own tribe.

Freedom to Earn

Sphinx supports recurring payments, paywalled images, and the ability to charge for streaming content. Think of it like a decentralized Patreon with a podcast app built into it. Users can set the amount of Bitcoin per minute to donate to the podcast hosts. The payments stream in real time to the host as you listen.

As Apple and Spotify start to delist podcasts, it’s more important than ever to find ways around the corporate gatekeepers. The Podcasting 2.0 project is a big step in that direction.

What’s Next

We’ve built and open-sourced the basic tools people will need to build massive groups and businesses on top of Lightning.

Someone will create a tribe that becomes the next Wallstreetbets. With Sphinx, the group could pool funds to buy the stock instead of just talking about it.

Someone will meet with a therapist over Sphinx without revealing their identity, going to an office, or having it show up on their credit card bill.

Imagine going back to the 1995 era of the internet with the knowledge of what will emerge. It’s remarkable that companies the size of Google and Facebook were built with only the ability to send words and images instantly around the world. With Lightning, we can now do the same with money.

What will you build, now that you know? Reach out if you want to get involved. | |