Former Reddit Cryptocurrency Engineer Hosts Hackathon For Reddit Alternative

RedditWhen fired from Reddit, the world’s first cryptocurrency engineer at a large corporation, Ryan Charles, hadn’t seen it coming.

“I was shocked. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have been shocked in hindsight. It was obvious that my project was not going to work after some changes at Reddit, but only in hindsight,” Charles tells Hacked. He concluded he needed to leverage the newsworthiness of his firing to ensure he could continue earning an income, as he had no backup plan.

“Since it was newsworthy it led a whole bunch of people to reach out to me, which opened up new opportunities for me,” he said. “I deliberately talked about it in public to make sure I met a lot of people.” The experience was not easy, as anybody who unsuspectedly lost their job knows.

“I had never been fired before,” Charles told me. “On day one, I was super, super stressed. A bunch of people contacted me and I was able to interview at companies right away.” For a few weeks, the uncertainty about his future caused him stress. “In San Francisco, my rent is very expensive, so it is stressful without income,” he said. In the end, he sees the change as positive.

“In hindsight it all makes perfect sense,” Charles said. “I feel like I am better off any way. If I had stayed with Reddit, I couldn’t have done what I was interested in doing.” His new project fits better outside of Reddit.

ryan charles
Ryan Charles // Twitter

According to much press coverage, Charles has embarked upon a decentralized Reddit project. Charles does not see it that way exactly. “It’s a bit of a misnomer because I don’t think things are going to look and feel like Reddit.”

The former Reddit cryptocurrency engineer believes a solution is possible, and will hold a hackathon on Saturday towards that end. His new project, Datt, which stands for “Decentralize All The Things,” represents a decentralized platform where users own their content.

Using the core technology behind Bitcoin, Charles envisages a mainstream application that functions like Reddit. Employing the power of Bitcoin’s distributed public ledger, Charles envisages an alternative to Reddit distributed across thousands of computers known as nodes.

“If we pull this off, the goal is to make a mainstream applications where users can directly award each other and achieve that vision of leveraging Bitcoin in a way so that anybody can participate and pay each other for their content,” Charles said.

Charles’ idea calls for a P2P network that runs like a normal web app. Each user funds an app with a small amount of Bitcoin, which functions to download content. Users pay a small amount of Bitcoin to incentivize people to keep the app connected. An upvote triggers a transaction of a small amount of Bitcoin to the content creator.

“I think it will be better for people who want to produce really valuable content,” he said.

At a technical level we have to implement a bunch of stuff to make this possible. However, it is possible in theory. I think we will probably want to integrate the Lighting Network, where users can enable micropayments.

The reason the Lightning Network would be useful is Bitcoin’s limits when it comes to tiny transactions.

“No one has implemented the Lightning Network yet,” Charles points out. “We are going to need to make it user-friendly and integrate it into the world wide web.” Not only technological challenges face Datt. There’s also the ‘community problem.’

Many people have tried to build a community. But if no one uses it, you don’t have a community. It’s harder to build a self-sustaining community through a website or an app than the technology itself is at this point.

There will be similarities in layout between Datt and Reddit.

“The application will look like Reddit, I think, but the technology underneath will be completely different because anyone can run a node and share content and host content sans a central server.” The technology incentivizes users completely differently than Reddit.

“Money will be integrated into the very core of Datt, so the incentives would be much different, inspiring users to produce quality content so they get paid.” Currently, people are frustrated with the tools made available by Reddit, as well as the lack of communication from the company.

Charles posits that Reddit’s centralized nature causes these problems. One of Datt’s goals would be to monetize user content, ensuring it stayed their intellectual property. DATT strives to create a system in which moderators and contributors earn money mostly through a tipping system like ChangeTip.

“Reddit, the company, controls all the content, so it is lose-lose for the moderators and users,” Charles explains.

My system will empower them to own their content, so many of the issues Reddit currently faces are non-issues.

A block chain grounded system would ensure content cannot be removed retroactively. Operators of nodes on Datt would pick-and-choose information they would like to hide. If individuals grew frustrated with a specific nodes practices, they would switch to another node.

“They can just share their own node and moderate themselves without worrying about a conflict while benefitting financially from creating good content.” In Charles’ mind, this is a huge missed opportunity for Reddit.

“This technology makes things possible not previously possible when Reddit and all other social media companies were invented. Back then, advertising was the only way to earn revenue, so the products were all designed around advertisements,” Charles, who publishes his ideas for Datt at Medium, observes.

Bitcoin and related technology makes new business models possible. It’s a missed opportunity for Reddit to make new types of products that could have been revolutionary. If Reddit initiated peer-to-peer payments in the website, there could be a whole Reddit economy possible.

Charles believes the easiest path for this would have been to integrate further with ChangeTip.

Reddit has already seen its market share drop due to redditor’s discontent with recent changes made by the company. Some have signed up for Voat, a Swiss-based Reddit-esque website with a marketing campaign that highlights commitment to free speech.

Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson penned a blog post in which he entertained the notion of something like Charles’ idea, stating there is a “very interesting opportunity to build a truly decentralized media platform.”

To join in the hackathon, learn more here.  Hackathons will be held in Mumbai, Buenos Aires and San Francisco. An online version will hopefully be available at the Slack channel.

Images from Shutterstock.

Justin O'Connell is the founder of financial technology focused Justin organized the launch of the largest Bitcoin ATM hardware and software provider in the world at the historical Hotel del Coronado in southern California. His works appear in the U.S.'s third largest weekly, the San Diego Reader, VICE and elsewhere.