Dr Nicolas Kokkalis, founder, Pi Network, the cryptocurrency adopted by more than 47 million people across 230 countries and regions worldwide, says that the organisation has KYCed (the process of verifying a user’s identity) over five million users, also called ‘Pi’oneers, so far. This exercise is a prerequisite to a Pi Network user’s migration of their in-app Pi mining balance to the Pi Mainnet blockchain. At the moment, the network is in an enclosed Mainnet stage, allowing KYC-ed Pioneers to move their mined coins to their respective wallets (ready to trade amongst KYC-ed Pioneers) and to allow as many non-KYC-ed Pioneers to migrate to the blockchain. Mainnet is a crucial milestone for any blockchain project, signifying that it is ready for public use and real-world transactions. The enclosed Mainnet period is also the time to test the resilience of the network and to fine-tune it before open Mainnet. Pi Network, launched on March 14, 2019, by Stanford graduates Kokkalis and Chengdiao Fan, was conceived by its founders for mining only on smartphones to enable its vision to be the most widely distributed and inclusive crypto. Open had earlier done a story on Pi Network and how it works (Life of Pi)
In this interview with Open, Kokkalis also talks about Fireside Forum, the Network’s new, Web3 social media platform that uses blockchain technology, and how it will incentivise positive posts as opposed to outrage-generating platforms that social-media organisations on Web2 have become. Web2, the current Internet, is dominated by social networking, user-generated content while Web3 is blockchain-based Internet that uses decentralised technology to operate.
At a time when social-media networks are busy fighting off virtual violence, fake news and misinformation, on Fireside Forum, a user needs to pay for a post and the cost can be recovered from tips from a decentralised audience who rewards the author for the utility of the content. For this, it uses tokenomics—short for token economics—which, according to Coinbase, is the analysis of a cryptocurrency’s fundamental characteristics that can help you compare tokens with each other and make better-informed decisions. In short, this social-media platform explores how to incentivise positive contributions and disincentivise negative behaviour. This platform can be accessed by Pioneers who are KYC-ed and have migrated their mined balance to enclosed Pi Mainnet. Excerpts from an interview with Kokkalis:
What is the main purpose of the launch of Fireside Forum, Pi Network’s new Web3 social media product?
The purpose of Fireside Forum is two-fold: One is to try to solve a real human problem. There are challenges that hinder online social experiences in Web2 that must be addressed. The digital world becomes increasingly integral to billions of lives around the world, as it transforms the way we communicate, share ideas and build relationships. Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency tokenomics, which Pi integrates with Fireside Forum, is an innovative potential solution to improve all of our digital lives, individually and collectively as to how social interactions, relationships, and movements are organised online.
Two is to deliver a new, human-driven utility for Pi’s users —“Pioneers” as they identify with. Fireside Forum complements the Pi ecosystem by providing another social application within Pi Network where Pioneers can connect, engage in discussions and interact with one another in a new way while facilitating the network to use the cryptocurrency for true utility. By adding Fireside Forum into the Pi ecosystem, Pi Network can make another step forward in exploring and building new types of utility and social experience.
‘Since we’re undertaking one of the largest blockchain migrations in history, completing these processes for over 47 million engaged Pioneers can’t happen in one day.’
Share this on
Let’s now talk about the so-called challenges to online social experiences. Web2 social-media algorithms are often designed to maximise engagement, capturing attention through means such as encouraging strong reactions—and often conflicts—that can be harmful. What are the major flaws of current popular Web2 social networks that Fireside Forum aims to address with blockchain-powered technology?
Undoubtedly, social media has tremendous potential for good. It has already broadened access to a wealth of information, fostering dialogues across all realms, from science to culture, and bringing markets to every corner of the globe. However, Web2 social media’s mass usage inherently brings with it challenges such as misinformation and disinformation, trolling, internet violence, information overload, low signal-to-noise ratio, and more. These issues can not only harm individuals but also, as we’ve painfully experienced in the last few years, whole societies.
Now, it is not to say that Web2 social media app companies haven’t taken notice or aren’t acting on tackling these issues. Centralised human and algorithmic content moderation is a tool that is often employed to counter these issues, but it is inherently limited and only goes so far.
Due to the sheer volume of information out there, Web2 must rely significantly on algorithmic content moderation to tackle information overload (that is, too much information to be manageable) and low signal-to-noise ratio (that is, too much irrelevant information drowning out useful information) on these online platforms. However, an overreliance on these algorithms can often create information ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ where people are presented with information or peers that iteratively validate and reinforce their pre-existing beliefs. While this, by design, fosters engagement on the platform, people in such spaces are then primed to close off or even actively resist alternative viewpoints, engage in conflicts or abusive practices, and in some cases, even get radicalised.
So, to answer your question, yes, we do see a lot of negativity in the Web2 online space. But we also see the massive potential of social media to correct these deficiencies with the help of blockchain and cryptocurrency.
Does Fireside Forum plan to address these negative issues rampant in Web2 social media?
Yes. Fireside Forum aims to leverage blockchain-powered technology—which inherently opens new opportunities unique to Web3—to create a more authentic and trustworthy social network, where information can be crowd-curated by real people in a decentralised manner, not by huge centralised institutions. Fireside Forum is an effort to actively address the pitfalls of Web2 platforms by decentralising content curation and moderation, mitigating the pitfalls of relying solely on algorithmic moderation while still ensuring scalability to millions.
To address this—to promote positive behavior and positive societal impacts in a decentralised way—we’re integrating tokenomics into the social mechanism to better encourage accurate and reliable content through a novel cost mechanism: positive incentives reward users for good conduct and great content while negative incentives discourage inappropriate and inaccurate content.
Through these incentives, Fireside Forum gives users the tools to moderate content on the platform themselves, a crowd-powered way to counter some of the key challenges in the Web2 space.
Overall, it is intended to be a more authentic, collaborative, human-driven and sustainable approach to social media interaction, fostering a healthier online environment.
Can you explain how Fireside Forum integrates tokenomics into social interactions and how the cost mechanism works?
In short, in-app tokens, which can be purchased using Pi cryptocurrency, are required to use “Fire” for engagement and actions within Fireside Forum such as posting and replying to content. These posts and comments will then be ordered and shown in the relevant Fireside channel based on how much Fire they receive, and Fire will decay over time so new content can be promoted. Users who post content that receives Fire from others in the form of comments or “likes” will then be rewarded in tokens for a portion of the Fire that was sent to their post.
By implementing this cost mechanism as a vehicle to enforce accountability and improve authenticity, Fireside Forum discourages the negative behaviours and algorithmically-driven social feeds associated with Web2, while encouraging more thoughtful and valuable contributions. And what enables this model (that’s perhaps counterintuitive in Web2) is Pi Network’s millions of crypto-enabled individuals who can mine Pi for free with just their smartphones. This helps Fireside Forum mitigate the inherent challenges of the cost mechanism, along with the model’s balance of costs and rewards, disincentives and incentives, and intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, to achieve its goals of improving online social interactions.
‘Ultimately, Pioneers themselves will decide what Fireside Forum becomes and how it works––and it’s exactly that “power to the people” approach we hope will differentiate it.’
Share this on
In general, how does Web3 allow for these improvements to Web2 platforms?
Blockchain integration, an inherent component of Web3, provides the groundwork for improvements in three major areas: The first aspect is ownership: most Web3 networks focus on ownership and control over digital assets, enabling non-custodial access and storage on the blockchain and allowing more ownership and agency over online presence and digital assets.
The second aspect is distribution and decentralisation: some, but not all, Web3 networks offer a more fair, accessible distribution of network resources, so more people can participate. Pi’s unique mobile mining mechanism enables this: all you need to mine Pi is a smartphone, so the network is human-friendly and accessible to a widely distributed audience.
Finally, Fireside Forum is unique among Web3 platforms in the third aspect: improved social interactions and experience. There has been relatively limited innovation in integrating blockchain to address the flaws of mainstream social networks. The tokenomics model we just described is a unique endeavor by Pi Network to improve on Web2 by using Pi-integrated Web3 tools.
Where do you see Fireside Forum in five years—do you think Fireside Forum will have a similar impact and reach as Reddit, Twitter, or other popular platforms? How will Fireside Forum continue to evolve based on user feedback from its initial release?
Five years, what a scale to work with! As one early instantiation of Pi Network’s hypotheses about blockchain enabling the next generation of online social interactions, Fireside Forum or other variations of it are looking for longevity and continued use. As mentioned earlier, there are inherent benefits of Web3 over Web2, and the future of social media on Web3 will depend on its specific implementations and iterations to provide a compelling and unique value proposition to users, foster a vibrant and engaged community, and adapt to the evolving landscape of social media. The initial version of Fireside Forum will provide insight to inform iterations towards these goals. It’s too early now to give a five-year estimate. Ultimately, Pioneers themselves will decide what Fireside Forum becomes and how it works––and it’s exactly that “power to the people” approach we hope will differentiate it.
‘The purpose of Fireside Forum is two-fold: One is to try to solve a real human problem. There are challenges that hinder online social experiences in Web2 that must be addressed. The other is to deliver a new, human-driven utility for Pi’s users.’
Share this on
How many people have you KYC-ed so far on Pi Network, which has a presence in more countries than the UN or FIFA? What has been most challenging about conducting KYC on such a massive scale?
We’ve KYCed over five million Pioneers thus far, which is a prerequisite to a Pioneer’s migration of their in-app Pi mining balance to the Pi Mainnet blockchain. Since we’re undertaking one of the largest blockchain migrations in history, completing these processes for over 47 million engaged Pioneers can’t happen in one day. Our choice of strategy is in large part based on Pi’s philosophy of inclusivity, ensuring that people everywhere can KYC and participate in Mainnet, and we are committed to making sure that every eligible Pioneer receives the support to pass KYC. Pi’s current enclosed network period supports this process while we continue building and promoting the development of utilities like Fireside Forum.
At the same time, it’s important to note the parallel philosophies of Pi’s KYC solution and Fireside Forum. Pi Network has always had a strict one-account-per-person policy that is the basis for Pi’s vision for a truly human peer-to-peer ecosystem and online experience. The Pi KYC solution scalably verifies a true human ecosystem free from bots and other malicious actors, actualising this vision. At the same time, Fireside Forum instantiates Pi’s vision to leverage blockchain to solve real human needs—not just improving the blockchain and crypto world but also advancing the overall online experience, everywhere for everyone.