For both content creators and regular users, there has been an increasing demand for alternatives to Youtube and various other “Big Tech” social media platforms. Having used sites like Vid.me (now defunct), Gab, Parler, and BitChute, I’ve recently decided that one of the more promising “new media” creations is LBRY. LBRY insists that it is a “protocol and not a platform.” I won’t get into the technical distinctions cited, because they would read like stereo instructions to most people (including myself), but I will note the practical implications of what LBRY is.
Here is a brief description as it appears on LBRY :
First and foremost, LBRY is a new protocol that allows anyone to build apps that interact with digital content on the LBRY network. Apps built using the protocol allow creators to upload their work to the LBRY network of hosts (like BitTorrent), to set a price per stream or download (like iTunes) or give it away for free (like YouTube without ads). The work you publish could be videos, audio files, documents, or any other type of file.
There you have it. Sites like BitChute allow controversial speech, and that’s great. Functionally though, that’s all they really do. Their sole purpose is to serve as websites which happen to allow controversial speech. LBRY on the other hand, exists as an elaborate content ecosystem (as much as I hate to use a scammy, tech marketing buzzword), offering a greater degree of autonomy to creators and users. More on this later.
The content available through most media outlets—whether broadcast or print—is indirectly determined by advertisers and investors, whom these outlets typically rely on financially in order to operate. It’s all fun and games for a while, until activist campaigns pressure companies to pull their advertisements over so-called objectionable content. Fearful of the resulting damage to the public’s perception of their brands, the companies cave in. As advertisers bail, the loss of ad revenue, and the fallout from the negative PR leads investors to get restless. They in turn demand that these media outlets adopt more stringent restrictions on content. To varying degrees of reluctance and enthusiasm, the CEOs and management eventually comply, lowering the ban hammer on those of us on the lower end of the totem pole. Most of you reading this are familiar with the cycle by now.
LBRY however, does not rely on advertisers to make money, and—as of right now—there appear to be no ads on LBRY at all. Monetization is driven by cryptocurrency. The network utilizes its own cryptocurrency (in the form of LBRY Credits) which is listed on several major exchanges (such as Bittrex) and can easily be traded for other cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, which can then be exchanged for cash. There are various mechanisms by which both content creators and viewers can earn LBRY credits, but I’m not going to dive into that too much here.
Avoiding many of the pitfalls of Gab, so far LBRY has done a great job of staying true to the principles of free speech while attracting an ideologically diverse user base and hosting a wide variety of content. There is a ton of entertainment, technical, and financial related content on LBRY. The layout is also refreshingly mundane and academic (the logo is a book after all). Users who visit the site aren’t immediately inundated with bonkers conspiracy videos and other ultra edgy material and won’t come away with the impression they’ve just arrived at another LiveLeak or Infowars-tier ghetto.
My sense is that LBRY should actually resist the temptation to excessively market themselves as yet another a “free speech” outpost fighting the juggernaut of “Big Tech.” Obviously, free expression is an important component to what LBRY is about, but people want to be part of something that is imaginative, groundbreaking and provides a better quality experience than what currently exists. Those are fronts by which LBRY can genuinely claim to be competitive (although video buffering and lag are still ongoing issues). LBRY should instead emphasize that their network represents the future of how internet content creators and viewers interface with one another, as well as how independent media itself is monetized.
LBRY doesn’t limit you to just hosting videos. You can upload ebooks, mp3s, documents and even plain old images. What does this mean? Instead of hosting your podcast on Soundcloud or Spotify—where you’ll be promptly be shut down the first moment anyone complains—you can upload the episodes to LBRY. You have the option of making them available for free or set a price, charging people a few LBC for immediate access. Instead of blogging on WordPress, where your site can completely vanish overnight, you can upload your posts as downloadable PDF essays, offering them either for free or for a small fee. If your book has been banned from Amazon, you can sell it on LBRY as a PDF. One of the biggest obstacles alternative media sites and “canceled” creators have faced is payment processing. Even those who manage to secure a free speech friendly webhost end up getting shut down by credit card companies, online banks and payment processors.
Cryptocurrency allows people to circumvent this problem. Ironically, one of the good things about mainstream industries co-opting cryptocurrency is that they have become too invested at this point to pressure the government to ban it outright, just because “a few bad apples” are also using it. At the same time, it is simply too difficult to completely prevent people from conducting transactions in crypto, since its usage is worldwide. For nationalists, this (again) represents a comically ironic silver lining of globalization. Direct micropayments of cryptocurrency in exchange for access to content is the future. We dreamed about this kind of stuff on forums twenty years ago, and now it’s here (finally in a practical and convenient form).
Whether or not LBRY will remain committed to its noble vision after it becomes wildly successful—and political dissidents like us become an expendable liability —remains to be seen. I’m old enough to remember when Google had no ads, and their motto was “Don’t Be Evil,” as they were angling to position themselves against the “evil empire” of Microsoft. I want to stay optimistic though. I like LBRY better than the current alternatives and hope to see it succeed. I’ll even go a step further, and say that I’m going to help LBRY succeed. From where it currently stands, LBRY offers a panoramic preview of what the emerging internet 3.0 landscape is shaping up to look like.
If you found this article useful, feel free to donate LBRY credits:
$LBC address: lbc1q9luk04kn8rc03gm28lzyv0x7d064yua4gg0y0x