To understand the DNN proposition, it is best to begin with a quick overview of the issues that we see within the online print media today which can largely be sourced back to two specific phenomena.
Firstly, there is the dominance of a small number of actors who capture a disproportionate percentage of the audience, and exercise as a result what many consider to be undue influence over the public. The phenomenon is so widely known, of course, that it even has its own dedicated Wikipedia page.
The second issue – which has largely arisen in response to the first – is that the internet itself paved the way for an alternative media landscape which, whilst democratising the arena in some sense, has also brought its own set of problems, particularly in relation to the quality of content on offer and a fall in journalistic maturity – although this is not to tar all alternative media channels with the same brush as some are notably excellent.
In the case of the mainstream media, its issues have been well documented for a number of decades, not least by a set of notable works that include Ben Bagdikian’s The Media Monopoly, Noam Chomsky’s
Manufacturing Consent and Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News.
Bagdikian’s work emphasises issues arising from the concentration of ownership. Chomsky covers some of the same ground but also incorporates in his work the undue influence of advertisers, strong ideological tendencies and political flak as major factors in skewing our news content.
Davies’ work, on the other hand, focuses on the journalistic profession itself which, he argues, is increasingly dictated by commercial concerns which undermine traditional investigative journalism. Such journalism is seen as resource-intensive and not particularly profitable, and it is now losing out to a kind of factory / press-release template journalism which places priority on quantity over quality.
In the case of online print media, you can also throw clickbait headlines and their associated exaggerations/distortions into the mix.
The problem is, then, pervasive. And in response to this, a whole host of independent and citizen journalism-type initiatives have emerged. Whilst some of these do produce first-rate quality journalism, they have nonetheless collectively failed in their challenge to sway a critical mass of the public away from the mainstream media mastodons. That is not a reproach as such, but rather a reflection of the strength of corporate media.
So it is in this context that the team behind DNN (Decentralised News Network ) believe that they have a powerful proposition. They are setting out to create a blockchain-based news economy which in turn leverages the technology’s inherent decentralisation to offer up a platform that aims for consistently high-quality output that is both immune to censorship and the range of harmful influences touched on above.
There are two essential pillars to the DNN proposition that are outlined within the white-paper. Firstly, DNN outlines within the document a news production model that sees readers themselves dictating the contents that they wish to read about. Whilst writers can expect to continue to create content of their own choosing as per the traditional model, readers will now also be able to flag subjects for which they also want to see engagement from professional writers. The relationship between writer and reader, then, is no longer uni-directional.
Secondly, in reaction to the questions raised by the phenomenon of questionable journalism – or “fake news” in the modern jargon and which, evidently, is not at all a new phenomenon but simply one that has been reduced to a political buzz word in the Trump era – the platform’s creators are proposing a “witness” model that sees all content submitted for curation. The idea is that no news will get published without having been cleared for source due diligence and factual soundness. We will elaborate on this below.
To understand the DNN token economy, you need to focus on the four essential types of actors on the network.
Publishers: These are the blockchain nodes who are paid by the network for hosting the content. They are the Bitcoin network’s equivalent of miners. Instead of being rewarded in Bitcoin for mining transactions, however, publishers are paid in DNN token in return for hosting software and content.
Each publisher will have an identical copy of all the articles which pass curation for submission to the network. Publishers are rewarded in proportion to the amount of DNN tokens that they themselves hold in what essentially amounts to a proof-of-stake miner rewards distribution model.
Writers: Writers – who may be anything from professional journalists to part-time free-lancers – earn DNN token through a variety of ways: they will receive payment in DNN for content which is published onto the network, or as tips from readers, or for suggesting subjects for upcoming content.
In the case of payment for writing the content, the payment is weighted according to the writer’s own reputation – which is itself a function of his previous history of previous content which has passed curation. Specifically, payment is watered down in direct proportion to the percentage of previously submitted articles which have been rejected by the curation process. The mechanism is designed to ensure that the writer engages with the DNN platform’s own guidelines for creating factual content.
Reviewers: These are the actors on the network that are responsible for reviewing content before it is committed onto the blockchain. They are assigned with the responsibility of determining whether or not submitted content is factually correct and correctly sourced.
There is, of course, no guarantee that any one reviewer can be trusted to perform their role diligently. This is the reason for which all content is subjected to seven reviewers, each of whom remain anonymous to each other. The idea is that, with a law of large numbers-type approach, good reviewers will generally outnumber bad reviewers. And since each reviewer is tracked by a reputation score that assesses his or her performance against their peers, poor reviewers will either be kicked off the platform and/or receive reduced payment for their work.
Once again the incentives are – theoretically – aligned to the production of good content, particularly as reviewers themselves will have to stake DNN token of their own in order present their candidacy as a reviewer in the first place. Should their review verdict run against the verdict of the majority – defined (or perhaps assumed) to be the correct verdict by the platform – then they lose their stake.
Readers: these are the consumers who bring liquidity to the network by paying for services in the first place. Some will earn DNN, however, by suggesting their own topics which, if picked up by a writer, will result in a reward for the reader themselves as a proportion of the overall number of rewards set aside by the network for the topic in question.
The road map focuses on two core aspects of the project: the release of the platform itself (Q4 2018 beta / Q1 2019 full production) which should not have too much difficulty meeting its deadline, given that the platform will be integrating pre-existing third party services to help in the construction of the platform.
These services include Ethereum for the blockchain-based aspect of the platform architecture; IPFS for the file storage aspects – only hash references to the articles are stored on the blockchain to ensure the integrity of their contents, the articles themselves are stored off-chain; and finally ZeroNet, a distributed web-architecture which will be required to ensure that the platform does not rely on traditional centralised web servers which form an obvious attack vector for bad actors wishing to take the network down.
After release of the platform, the project’s mission will then be focused on growing the network and signing up the kind of partnerships that will give it global visibility.
The DNN project’s two founders are Samit Singh (CEO) and Dondrey Taylor (CTO), long-time collaborators who are behind the MiniChat platform (a video dating platform which has also been released as an app.
They also share a background in crypto-currency mining, having set up an Ethereum mining rig together. Whilst Taylor is more full-stack focused, Singh handles more responsibility for the UX/UI apsects of their projects.
The pair have been working together on the DNN project for the last eighteen months, the groundwork for the upcoming token sale in July. Fifteen other team members – of which twelve are listed as advisors – can also be found on the project’s website, almost all of which are provided with a mini-biographies and Linkedin profile links.
There are currently a number of new blockchain-based new media economies doing the rounds, but where DNN arguably stands out is on its focus for readers to dictate content. The project’s other emphasis on the use of designated reviewers to help curate content is, on the other hand, something for which the precise mechanics have yet to be finalised – the team are expected to flesh out those details within the next few weeks.
This is not a project that is struggling to get its message out there, being one of the very few ICOs to reach the maximum capacity 0f 100,000 followers within its Telegram channel. There appears to be a large number of people waiting in the lines for precisely this kind of solution – media bias is a passionate subject for many.
A censorship-resistant platform that provides fact-verified content on subjects that themselves are determined by its readers has all the makings of a disruptive model: one to watch.