Recently, I spoke with Justin Rezvani, the founder of Zion, a decentralized, open-source, utility-based social media protocol that is built on Bitcoin.
The conversation focused mostly on why Sion is needed, rather than what Sion is, and I found that revealed the larger intentions of the project. The focus was less on selling a product and making money and more on the need to decentralize social media as we know it today, challenge current power structures, and empower creators to have direct relationships with their consumers while focusing on education.
I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I do.
What is Zion?
Zion is a Lightning Network-based app that allows creators and their audiences to have a more intimate experience by engaging with each other.
Every person on the network is running a full Lightning Node and it’s a true peer-to-peer network. It is not a centralized system. It’s not like a traditional website. They are in fact peer-to-peer nodes, peer-to-peer computers, communicating via an open source protocol, which is the Lighting Network.
How does Zion help streamline the process of running your own Lightning Node, and what does that mean for user experience?
Using Zion is very fast, basically with one click payment and a credit card you can be up and running, not only have a full lightning node that you run yourself, but also have a pre-provisioned channel, while in a non-private way, your private keys being kept on the device itself. And I think that’s the innovation where, you know, you have this full sovereignty of your data and you have all the information stored on that node encrypted.
I think the future where we’re going is this ability of crypto to be able to secure messages on a non-centralized server in an individualized way and have self-sovereignty of not just your bitcoin, but also your data.
One key thing people may notice about setting up a Zion account is that there is a payment feature, requiring a credit card, which means you are paying for something. It’s a bit different from the pattern we usually see on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. What are you paying and why?
You pay to rent a full Bitcoin Lightning node. This is what you actually pay. And then our software comes as a relay, the custom software that’s built into the node, which is free.
So if you are using your own node, you are more than welcome to go to our GitHub and download all the relay docs. We dockerized everything. You can do it. If you’re using your own full node, the thing is, there’s a lot of complexity in doing that, because then you have to figure out how to create static IPs that quickly move the domain?
These are things we don’t have support for yet, but if you’re running your own node, you’re more than welcome to do so. So technically when you join Zion, you are not joining Zion. You don’t pay to join Zion. You pay to run a full Bitcoin Lightning node. And then there’s the software that lets you access Zion.
The real big distinction is that you don’t pay to join this social network. It’s your own Lightning Node. And you can do many other things with this Lightning Node. It comes with a pre-configured channel. All your data is then stored on this node as well. So, it’s a bit different than paying for a social network.
Sovereignty and censorship
Censorship and data harvesting are not new problems, but their solutions most certainly are. Bitcoin is an inherently trustless and permissionless system. We’ve started to see the rise of new companies, like Gettr, that promise not to censor their users. The problem with Gettr is that we place ourselves in the same trust systems of the past, hoping things will change.
How is Zion different from social media platforms like Gettr, and what will this new era of social media look like?
The future of social media, first, it must be built on a monetary layer. The second element is that it must allow innovation without permission, which means that it is open source. Next, the protocol should focus on peer governance versus platform governance. Next, it must be censorship-resistant, which means the protocol has layers of censorship resistance.
The next piece is that the creators own everything. And then the last thing is that there are digital property rights for people using the service through encryption. You own things through layers of encryption. This is my “north star” thesis on the future of social media. Gettr does not populate any of these network elements.
What about the big issue of censorship in today’s social landscape? How do you get kicked out of Zion?
Now investors have asked about illegal things happening and what do you do if illegal things happen? And the truth is [that would only apply] if we have a legal notice that this is an illegal act, and if we are somehow hosting the node, which is very unlikely, right? Let’s just put a scenario together, here.
If someone does something nasty on the internet, do you think they’re going to have a hosted node with a service to go do the nasty things they’re trying to do? Probably not. They will probably host it themselves in their house. But the honest truth is that, you know, we will comply with any legal requirement that is imposed on us.
Platforms Vs. Protocols
What is the main difference with Zion as a utility protocol, rather than a social media platform?
If people look at us and say, “Oh, Zion, just another platform,” you are inherently wrong about our technology. We are a protocol utility layer that allows nodes to communicate with each other on a peer-to-peer basis.
You have your own node. You are not seated on Zion. This is your knot. You buy a node, custody of your information. You might be running it at home, your own server at home. We are only a browser to access this information, right?
If two people are talking, like calling each other on the phone, are you going to blame AT&T because they had the pipe underground and it allowed a phone call to happen? Of course not, you would never say that!
The reason this illegal activity happened was because of the AT&T phone lines underground, that would be the most absurd thing to say, wouldn’t it?
It’s someone’s own sovereign phone and someone else’s sovereign phone and they talk to each other on the web. And I think that’s the same experience we’re talking about. Sion is not a platform. It is the protocol, the layer rails that allow nodes to communicate as peers. That’s the difference.
Big data companies have captured our identities as the most valuable asset in the digital age while imposing their own opinions on their users about how we as a society should act or disseminate information. Freedom and sovereignty are fundamental ideals for Bitcoiners, and I believe the people of Zion keep these values at their core.
What is the future of this dynamic and how does Zion fit in?
I think the future of where we go with audiences is the next layer of the creator economy, which is you can now be a professional consumer of content, which means if you are part of a community and you post a funny meme, other people can pay you in that community for it.