It’s not every day that a 100% on-chain social media dapp releases an iOS app on the Apple App store — but it’s been a busy six months since the team behind distrikt launched the blockchain-based professional network.
After registering some 20,000 reserve accounts before the decentralized app was even open to the public, distrikt gained traction by empowering users to regain control over their identity and data on social media. Now, with a spiffy iOS app to complement distrikt’s earlier release on Android to increase user accessibility, the platform presents a compelling case-in-point for how a new wave of user-facing dApps is delivering mainstream momentum for blockchain.
Web2 social media platforms profit from exploiting user data and using it to manipulate user behavior, with profound implications for their impact on society. Blockchain-based systems hold promise for redistributing power and ownership over data and platforms back to users.
“For those of us who are mindful of our privacy and autonomy, for the users who don’t want to subscribe to a platform’s view of what is of interest to them, better alternatives need to be built. That is what we’re trying to offer them with distrikt,” says co-founder Andra Georgescu.
“We are building governance tools that will allow users to participate in the decision-making, change the rules, and determine the way the platform is being managed, developed, or monetized,” she adds. “This is a huge shift of power that takes a parasitic business model and turns it into a symbiotic relationship between user and platform.”
Distrikt will involve a native token that gives active users a stake in its governance, allowing them to vote on proposals that dictate new features and changes to the platform. Georgescu said that the positive community support and pace of growth so far have been dizzying.
“We now have over 80,000 accounts created on distrikt,” she notes, while acknowledging that the team has also had to combat a rise in dubious accounts. “Even though these metrics might not reflect the exact state of user adoption, they are a strong indicator, and are growing organically every month.”
Emerging Web3 Technology
The launch of dApps like distrikt, which combines elements of LinkedIn and Medium, is giving users an idea of Web3 technology in practice.
“dApps open up the Web3 world to people who otherwise would have been reluctant to embrace this new technology,” Georgescu explains. “For decentralized social networks to gain traction, they need to prioritize accessibility. One of our goals with distrikt was to make it free and accessible to anyone, anywhere as easily as possible.”
Distrikt runs entirely on the Internet Computer blockchain, allowing its dev team to easily code and deploy smart contracts over the web while ensuring that the dApp’s backend and frontend are both decentralized. Instead of logins and passwords or a wallet like MetaMask, users preserve their privacy by signing in with the Internet Identity authentication system through a cryptographically enabled device.
User accessibility is supported by a “reverse-gas model,” where developers pay for data processing and users don’t need to pay for interacting with the network.
“The Internet Computer has been an amazing technology to build on, and we’re happy to be able to deliver a great UX on a blockchain-native social network,” says Georgescu. “The reverse-gas model is a huge differentiating factor between IC-native social networks and other platforms that are emerging in the Web3 space. It’s also one the main reasons why distrikt will be so appealing to the average non-crypto user looking for a better alternative.”
Robert Turrall, distrikt’s head of product, led a team that developed the iOS app with help from AstroX, a Web3 infrastructure project.
“Our mobile team has worked closely with AstroX to optimize the workings of their library and overcome some of the initial challenges we had in connecting reliably with Internet Identity,” Turrell explains. “The fact that we were able to take the app through App Store review and have it approved is a testament to the work carried out by our two teams.”
From Web2 to Web3
Though venues like the Apple App Store and Google Play are still very Web2, such channels can be effective for onboarding users who are hesitant about taking the plunge into decentralized social media.
“Though we look forward to the day when we won’t need to rely on centralized distribution channels, we’ve made it our mission to improve both the accessibility and the onboarding process, especially for users who are not familiar with the particularities of the Internet Computer. The mobile apps have been very well received and are helping distrikt reach new audiences,” Georgescu notes.
Turrall echoed that the iOS release is part of a strategy for user adoption that does not compromise decentralization.
“A number of people have asked why we choose to distribute native iOS and Android apps, which, by necessity, means that these apps have to be submitted to and passed by a review process before being listed for download from stores controlled by Apple and Google respectively,” he says. “Given that our platform is 100% IC-based and that we strive to remain 100% on-chain, this is a valid question. The simple fact is that if we are to attain the sort of widespread adoption that we are aiming for with distrikt, there’s really no other way to ensure that the dapp lands on as many devices as possible.”
But he notes that the iOS and Android apps are exclusively methods of distribution.
“Once the app is on the phone, it’s running in its own sandbox and communicating directly with our Internet Computer-based backend via our own API,” Turrell points out. “True to our policy of not tracking users, we haven’t implemented any in-app analytics or tracking.”
The team says the approach is already paying off. As distrikt and other user-facing Web3 dApps build momentum, delivering on the promise of decentralized user-governed platforms that care about data ownership, it seems increasingly likely that the adoption of blockchain systems is just a matter of time.