Some Users May Want an ‘Everything App’, but What We Need Is Digital Sovereignty

Jameson Lopp argues Twitter's recent rebrand falls in line with big tech's obsession with data. Nostr, an increasingly popular social network, is one alternative.

AccessTimeIconAug 7, 2023 at 2:22 p.m. UTC
Updated Jun 14, 2024 at 3:21 p.m. UTC

In late July, Twitter’s logo suddenly changed to an X, followed by Elon Musk’s official announcement. “Twitter” is officially no more, and the website used by millions around the world is now called “X.”

According to the platform’s CEO Linda Yaccarino, the rebranding was the next step toward “the future state of unlimited interactivity,” morphing Twitter into “a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services and opportunities” — a unified “everything app.”

Jameson Lopp is the chief technology officer of and co-founder of Casa, a self custody service.

But who asked for this?

At a time when our lives are only becoming increasingly digital, why should we hand all of our information to centralized, opaque organizations that have a track record of using it unethically? Sure, these services can be profoundly convenient, and many people undoubtedly enjoy having one user-friendly application that can manage so much of their digital and real lives, but what’s the price?

Is convenience worth our freedom?

The idea of Twitter as an “everything app” was seemingly inspired by the popular Chinese platform WeChat, which allows users not only to chat, make calls and send media but also to make payments and access a wide range of financial and personal services. As Elon Musk has said, “You basically live on WeChat in China. If we can recreate that with Twitter, we’ll be a great success.”

Despite sounding convenient on paper, there’s a genuine concern about what happens when you use a single point of access for your entire digital world. If you do anything deemed “unacceptable” – generally by algorithms designed by people you will never know – you can be cut off in a second, often with little to no recourse.

Each and every individual should be able to decide for themselves how to approach their presence online.

Last October, for example, some WeChat users in China reported that they were banned from the platform entirely – effectively “killing” their digital self – just for reposting some “questionable” banners condemning Xi Jinping. More recently, X itself literally hijacked a 16-year-old account that used the @x handle, replacing its name with @x12345678998765 — without any prior warnings, consent or compensation.

Twitter’s rebranding was happening alongside the launch of Meta’s new community messaging service called Threads. It joined Meta’s other social media offerings including Facebook and Instagram and is designed for sharing text updates and joining public conversations in competition with X.

Considering Meta’s complicated history with customer data, it’s unsurprising that many are concerned that Threads is simply a new avenue for information gathering and potential abuse. Many big tech companies like Meta and X have tried to create “everything platforms” by expanding into new products because being present in users’ day-to-day lives is a way to gather untold gigabytes of data on people worldwide.

But without owning your account, “everything” can be unilaterally taken away in an instant and “everything” becomes a single point of surveillance and potential failure.

The case for digital sovereignty

Examples like these help showcase the problem of centralized services holding full control over user access — but what’s the solution? Digital sovereignty.

As almost every aspect of our lives becomes digitized, the ability to control and manage your own data isn’t just a privilege anymore; it’s a human right.

Fortunately, one of the major boons of blockchain and other cryptographic breakthroughs is the ability to disintermediate big tech platforms and take charge of your identity and data. It’ll no doubt take a while for the masses to really grasp the gravity of this, but more are coming around to the notion. For the already enlightened, platforms exist that cater to this type of digital sovereignty.

Nostr, for example, is a protocol for sharing data like simple text posts, and it doesn’t rely on servers operated by any one entity. Nostr isn’t itself a blockchain, but the entire system is built around cryptographic keys and signatures to authorize and track events posted by pseudonymous identities — much like Bitcoin. (If you’d like to do a deeper dive into just what Nostr is and how it works, I’ve written about this at length before.)

What makes Nostr important for this discussion is the fact that it offers a true path to censorship-resistant social media as well as digital sovereignty. Yes, there are some other platforms that claim to offer a similar experience, but to ensure you can’t be deplatformed you must run your own server which is typically a major bottleneck to adoption.

Nostr doesn't require people to bootstrap servers and so is comparatively very easy to start using. You simply choose your client, be it a web browser or some app, create your public and private keys and can immediately begin surfing through content from other users or post your own. Different clients will provide somewhat varying experiences – some more technical, some rather streamlined – but many will seem quite familiar to anyone with at least some social media experience.

At this point, the experience is like Twitter. You get the same basic service with no ads and no threat of data harvesting whatsoever. Furthermore, considering a social network is only as good as the people who use it, you may be surprised just how many famous names are already involved with Nostr. Most notably perhaps is Jack Dorsey, the original creator of Twitter. There are even services that allow Twitter users to import anyone they follow who have linked their accounts to Nostr. This makes switching easy and can get current Twitter users free from centralization in no time.

The journey begins

Ultimately, each and every individual should be able to decide for themselves how to approach their presence online. Some may prioritize convenience and continue to use platforms like Twitter/X and its peers, while others may see the writing on the wall and decide that their digital sovereignty is more important.

Hopefully, by continuing to build and attract more people, we can create powerful alternatives to toxic social media today that challenge even the biggest centralized services. And perhaps the best way to do that is to offer a more transparent, fair and censorship-resistant experience where users will always remain in control of their private data.


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Jameson Lopp

Jameson Lopp is the CTO and co-founder of Casa, a self custody service.