Focusing too much on the tokenization of assets instead of encoding social relationships of trust was a key complaint regarding the current state of Web3 that found a clear voice in a mid-2022 paper published by Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin along with E. Glen Weyl and Puja Ohlhaver. Titled “Decentralized Society: Finding Web3’s Soul,” the paper explores soulbound tokens (SBTs), a unique form of nonfungible tokens (NFTs) that represent the credentials of a user.
Nontransferable by design, SBTs have the potential to play a key role in building a decentralized society, according to the authors. However, while an SBT verifies an individual’s credentials, affiliations and commitments, it lacks the social context required for a decentralized society — representing only half the answer by itself.
Decentralized social graphs act as a bridge between SBTs and society by representing each user’s interconnected web of relationships across social networks. Combined with publicly verifiable SBTs, decentralized social graphs present an opportunity to empower users with greater control over their online identities while addressing privacy, security and ownership concerns widespread by centralized social networks.
Decentralized Web3 society
Social media became a major use case for the internet during the 2010s, with the user base reaching 4.7 billion around the globe, according to reports from 2022. Onboarding even a fraction of the Web2 user base to Web3 would expand the blockchain and crypto ecosystem by a significant margin.
Social networks can benefit from the openness and decentralization of blockchain technology to give control and sovereignty back to users. However, while it’s relatively easy to integrate blockchain into one social network, people rarely use just one social media platform. In fact, according to research, users spend time on over six different social networks on average. Since blockchain is yet to have something like the HTTP protocol of the web or OAuth for social networks, interoperability comes forth as a major challenge.
Web3 startups are now racing to find the ideal balance between interoperability, privacy and user-centric data ownership to onboard the next billion people to a decentralized society. To enable users to create an online identity with a social context, Relation Labs, a Hong Kong-based Web3 company backed by the digital asset financial services group HashKey, developed Semantic SBTs, also known as EIP-6239, on Ethereum.
The “semantic layer” on SBTs enables machines to understand complex actions in a subject/predicate/object manner. When a person follows another on Twitter, the machine can grasp this by defining the follower as the subject, the act of following as the predicate, and the user who gets followed as the object. Coupled with the social connections between people, semantics make it possible for machines or algorithms to map the interconnected relation map of society.
Similarly, Semantic SBT captures the social information including connections, endorsements or network contributions linked to a person’s wallet address either with or without a profile name to represent an individual’s identity with a social context as an asset. These social assets utilize the core principles of blockchain — decentralization, immutability and transparency — to give Web3 users control over their social data and interactions.
How a decentralized social graph operates across Web3. Source: Relation Labs
Using the RDF data standard of the World Wide Web Consortium for better interoperability, Relation Labs enable seamless encoding and decoding of social data with other decentralized applications (DApps) and platforms. This helps users interact with their social graph and decentralized identity across different services. The high level of interoperability enables Web3 users to leverage their social connections and identity seamlessly across different applications, with the key to access in the user’s hands.
AI meets decentralized identity
As a decentralized social graph protocol, Relation Labs lays the foundation of social DApps and communities with a relation-based account system and decentralized data layer. Using the customizable privacy and interoperability features of the Relation protocol as a basis, the Web3 ecosystem can build complex and linked data structures.
To demonstrate how the integration of decentralized social graphs and social identity would benefit the Web3 space, developers launched Relation ONE, a Web3-native chat plugin. Users can chat with each other in NFT marketplaces, DAOs or communities by only sharing their wallet address, thus making pseudonymous chatting over an NFT for buyers and sellers possible. Relation ONE works with multiple wallets, including Metamask, Binance Wallet and WalletConnect, showcasing the interoperability of the protocol.
Relation leverages artificial intelligence (AI) on top of social graphs and identity data to more efficiently analyze user preferences, behaviors and social connections. AI makes it possible to create more personalized user experiences by utilizing the data from decentralized identities. With smart and automated privacy controls that take a cue from user behavior, AI also enhances data privacy and control. Transactional data also helps AI to patterns and detect potentially fraudulent activity. Using Relation Labs’ AI tools, DApps can build tailored user interfaces, identify reputable users and automate content moderation processes.
“Integrating the power of social identity, structured social data and AI, we’re revolutionizing the ecosystem,” said Jessica Chang, founder of Relation Labs. “Users can discover a personalized world where trust is nurtured, content is moderated with precision and recommendations bring serendipitous connections,” she added, calling all Web3 users to join a future “where social experiences are intelligent, secure and tailored for each user.”
By combining social graphs, decentralized identity and AI, Relation attracted over 300,000 registered users, mainly from Asia countries, the United States and Russia, with 40,000 average daily active users. The decentralized social graph protocol supports 17 wallets and over 150 Web3 and NFT communities. Aside from Chang, who is a researcher at the National University of Singapore and Imperial College London, majoring in graph research, Relation Labs has former Amazon architect Yann Ren as chief technology officer.
By adding a semantic layer to soulbound tokens, Relation Labs aims to shift the paradigm from tokenization to a trust-based, socially-interconnected web of relationships for Web3. Enhanced with AI capabilities, the decentralized social graphs would provide a better understanding of real-life human relations by machines and algorithms, resulting in a pathway forward to the decentrealized society envisioned by Vitalik Buterin and co. in their original SBT paper. The Relation Labs team will continue to develop its social graph protocol to help users authenticate their online presence and engage in social interactions with increased security and privacy.
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