Contentos’s Mick Tsai: It’s Impossible to Circumvent the Regulation Issue and It’s Not Just About China
Content is the main product of consumption and the chief breadwinner for Web’s denizens. As user-generated content is steadily rising to the top of the food chain, the new Web will have to provide fair and lucrative platforms for millions of independent content creators to thrive in.
Centralized solutions existing today come with a bunch of problems we have discussed in previous articles. But decentralized solutions so far failed to provide creators with comparable financial opportunity. Creators cling to YouTube for dear life for the same reason traders still trade on centralized exchanges.
Yet people are still trying. The latest arrival to the market is Contentos platform, a self-proclaimed “decentralized global ecosystem for digital content, where assets can be freely produced, authenticated, and distributed by leveraging blockchain technology and token economy.” The platform having close ties with Chinese businesses provides unique upsides and downsides. On the one hand, we can expect an increased audience. On the other hand, there are always censorship concerns. Today we have talked to Mick Tsai, the Co-Founder of Contentos Foundation, about the product his team is building.
Constantine: Hello! In my opinion, the weak spot of every YouTube competitor is that they have limited monetization opportunities. Creators just don’t make as much money on other platforms and thus are disincentivized to leave YouTube despite its obvious flaws. How will Contentos address this? Will its monetization plan be competitive? How can this be realistically done?
Mick: We must admit that monetization capability is crucial for attracting content creators, and YouTube has the largest video audience in the world which provides very strong monetization opportunities. Creators cannot leave YouTube since it’s the best place to monetize the content.
But let’s not forget that there is no guarantee that any YouTuber can monetize their content and the revenue is also significantly controlled by the YouTube algorithm. Take recent massive crypto YouTuber channels being banned as an example. YouTube has the ultimate right to determine not just the monetization but also each channel’s life or death.
Creators need an alternative place to share their ideas and connect with fans, that’s the opportunity of cos.tv and Contentos. We first want to create a fair, transparent content ecosystem based on the characteristics of blockchain, this is Contentos, then build a truly community-owned video platform for global video creators, this is cos.tv.
We want creators to be sure that any monetization or viewership distribution algorithm will not be changed by any black box policy (like on YouTube).
Lastly, the monetization mechanism such as today’s GiftingVote or the advertisement system to be rolled out this week will be the way to help them monetize the content. If they make $1 from cos.tv, it’s $1, there will be no black box demonetization. I believe that this is the best way to attract video creators who are producing content on centralized platforms.
Constantine: On your home page, Joey Salads is listed as one of the top creators. He’s a famous YouTube prankster, who as far as I know was recently demonetized. He’s definitely a controversial figure, accused among other things of race-baiting. Will Contentos have any sort of censorship at all? How will “controversial” or even illegal content be monitored in general?
Mick: Controversial content is different from the prohibited (“redline”) content. On cos.tv, pornography or violence is absolutely forbidden. Both A.I and human moderators are employed to monitor and prevent this type of content from being seen publicly. On the other hand, controversial content means certain audiences enjoy this type of content. Pranks are just one of the many types of controversial content, more serious issues come from racial, gender, political or even cultural/religious discussions.
There is no right or wrong in these types of content, there are always two opinions, two sides of the story. Today’s YouTube also suffered from the same issue, but the way they handle it is based on their own judgment and criteria, and almost every time these types of controversial content cannot be dealt with easily. The key reason is that there is no trust. No one can see how Youtube or any centralized content platform makes the final judgment, what’s the guideline or who has made such a call. The fundamental problem is the lack of transparency and community involvement.
That’s why I believe it’s a problem to be solved by the blockchain technology. This is also the reason why today when you report content from cos.tv, we will get community members involved to do the voting and judgment based on their understanding of the community and culture. Their behavior and guidelines are also based on public community rules. Everyone can propose a new rule or amendment. I believe this is the biggest difference compared with any centralized content platform.
Constantine: One thing that was not immediately obvious from the whitepaper is the structure of governance. For example, how shall community operators be elected? Who will set the rules for which content is deemed inappropriate?
Mick: Since cos.tv now has a large audience in Brazil, the “guardian” program has already been operating live for a while. Any cos.tv community member can apply to become a guardian as long as they hold a certain amount of VEST (staked COS tokens). There are two major responsibilities to a guardian:
- Vote for the controversial content which is reported by the community. Only guardians from that country or culture can really understand whether the content has a potential risk.
- Recommend good content. An algorithm cannot fully understand emotional or culture-related content, that’s why we rely on the local guardians who can understand which content is good, especially the content from new creators who have no favor from the algorithm system yet. This is one of the major differences compared to YouTube.
Certainly, it does not mean guardians have unlimited power to affect the whole ecosystem. If a guardian constantly makes decisions that oppose the majority’s consensus, this guardian may lose the qualification. Meanwhile, we intend to have as many guardians as possible, as it can guarantee decentralization and make sure we can cover different opinions.
Constantine: Do you remember Gab? I think it was launched when Twitter started the unfair and arbitrary crackdown on people representing certain political views and demand was growing for an alternative platform without censorship. But then Gab quickly got overrun by the actual extremists, which pretty much killed it for normal people who were just disgruntled by censorship. Contentos will have rating and a guardian system, but shall it be enough to prevent “problematic” communities from spawning, which might, in the long run, discredit the entire platform?
Mick: Different opinions and voices have always existed in society, the best thing we can do is to make sure more people can participate in the discussion and let the truth prevail. Make sure the audience has a way to hear different sides of stories and there’s enough context.
On Twitter or YouTube, it’s not just about the censorship, it’s about how decisions are made and who makes them. If the moderator has a different opinion to yours, they may make the decision based on their own preference. This was the reason behind Twitter’s issues with political disputes.
To me, the best way to handle this is still enlisting the community’s help. Moderators should just facilitate the process. Let the community vote for the controversial subject and make sure the process and decisions are recorded transparently and publicly. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but the return is more trust within the community.
Meanwhile, the function of the rating system is to encourage those who constantly contribute positive feedback to the community. For instance, the blind voting results of a member who constantly participates in the controversial content judgment always match the majority of the community.
Constantine: What is blind voting?
When controversial content requires community judgment, guardians will be invited to partake in “blind voting.” No one will know who else will be in the group of judges, and you cannot know other judge’s decision until everyone completes the vote. We believe this is the key ingredient of a self-governing community that takes action against the unwanted content type but is still able to protect everyone’s freedom of speech.
Constantine: Just like Steemit, Contentos is a DPoS system. How do you make sure it avoids the same issues, currently vexing Steemit? Does the Contentos team or any other entity behind the project hold a significant amount of tokens? How will you guarantee they will not be used to hijack the platform in a centralized manner like it was done by Justin Sun with Steemit?
Mick: Based on the public information, Contentos has many top tier investors such as Binance Labs or DHVC, they are holding around 20% of the total issued tokens. The Contentos team also has 15% of the total issued tokens, which are still locked. Now, most of the tokens can be acquired via “Contentos mainnet rewarding” or “Content Mining.” In total, we have 40% of tokens allocated for content mining, which will be distributed among users based on the various content engagement indices every time a new block is produced.
What happened to Steem can also happen to any existing project. As long as someone is willing to spend a significant amount of resources to acquire the majority of the project’s circulating tokens, this person will be able to get in a position to manipulate the project in terms of direction or token price. In this case, the tokens held by the foundation and early investors actually may become a good balance force against this type of malicious acquisition.
On the other hand, unlike Justin Sun to Steem, the Contentos foundation and investors are the founders of this project, which means most likely the tokens held by them cannot be used to vex the project itself or it will jeopardize the value of the tokens they own.
Constantine: You most certainly know of Decent and similar projects. Would you call them your predecessors? Do you expect Contentos to be more successful? What did they do wrong? Which Decent’s mistakes will you try to avoid to fare better?
Mick: There were so many similar projects, some still active but most of them already ceased to operate. The reason was always the same: no actual creators and no audience.
Let’s face it, the world does not need a content platform that only aims to issue a token and then list it on an exchange. It does not help creators, it does not help the audience either. If we want to build a content ecosystem that is based on blockchain technology, it must be 10 times better than any existing platform OR it must fix certain issues that today’s centralized content platforms cannot resolve. As for Contentos, I believe we are resolving the following issues which cannot be easily fixed by centralized platforms as of yet:
- Transparent content distribution and monetization policy. YouTube has the ultimate right to decide who can join the partnership program, which content is qualified to enable monetization and how your content can be seen. All these policies are a black box and only very few YouTube team members have the right to make the final call. In Contentos, we intend to make all these become part of blockchain infrastructure. You are the one who can enable and control the monetization (certainly, an advertiser can also choose to work with any creator, it’s their right!). It should be every creator’s right to monetize their content, that’s why today on cos.tv, we give every creator a way to receive GiftingVote from fans. There is no “partnership” program you have to enroll or criteria to meet.
- Transparent content moderation. YouTube can ban any content anytime, with very limited information or notice. They can de-monetize your content if you violate certain rules and they also are the ones who make and interpret these rules. In Contentos, we believe these black box practices can be changed with blockchain technology, which makes every decision more traceable and transparent. Not to mention the fact that we can let everyone become part of the team that decides whether certain content meets the community’s expectations.
- Transparent user engagement data. The actual viewership of an ad and the engagement (CTR) of an ad are at the core of any advertisement. These indices help advertisers understand how ads perform and decide if they are willing to spend real money on the content platform to access potential customers. In today’s centralized content platforms, this data is securely locked inside their system and the data they present to you is so-called “processed” data. You never know when or how this engagement data has been produced or whether it has been modified. Unless the advertiser has a way to track the actual data and make sure it has not to be altered, there is no way to guarantee that the ad performance is truly accountable. The Contentos blockchain can trace all these engagement data such as viewership or likes in each block, which makes it perfect to solve this issue.
All these three points are about using the transparency offered by blockchain to solve the trust issues that cannot be solved by any centralized technology. That’s why we believe Contentos stands a much better chance compared to any similar projects.
Constantine: How do you expect to circumvent regulation issues, especially given that Cheetah Mobile is a Chinese company and a large part of the user base is likely to be Chinese? What if people flood the platform with pro-Hong Kong independence materials? Just how censorship-resistant is Contentos?
Mick: To be very honest, it’s not possible to circumvent the regulation issue. It’s not just about China, it’s about how to comply with the mainstream opinion. Just like in any mature democratic society, there are many different voices, but the key is to build transparent rules and a community that respects the rules.
I believe the majority should still pay attention to the voice of the minority. On the other hand, the minority should still honor the majority’s decision. So what we want to build is a platform that can respect different ideas and opinions. If any important decision has to be made, it should be transparent and every record should be traceable on the chain. This was already reflected in Contentos in two previous major updates (CIP-0001/0002).
Moving forward, I believe there will be more controversial content on cos.tv, including being critical to the government. The key is not to remove it from being seen if Contentos’ team is facing the pressure (we cannot remove it due to the nature of blockchain), the key is to get the community involved and make the final call publicly.
Constantine: Cheetah mobile has been through a lot of controversies, being accused of illegal data collecting and selling it to other parties, as well as of click fraud. How will you convince the attentive user that he can trust you? Or at the very least, that you are more trustworthy than Google?
Mick: Cheetah Mobile is one of our strategic partners, among many others such as Tomochain, Harmony or Nebulas, which are all listed on the Contentos official website. Certainly, Cheetah Mobile can be considered as the most important partner due to the fact it has a significant global user base and product lines across many OS.
The recent incident that happened to Cheetah Mobile cannot change the fact that they still have tens of millions of global users, which probably no blockchain projects can compete with. The partnership brings this user base to Contentos and gives us a very unique strength.
Meanwhile, cos.tv, as an independent content product owned by Contentos, has nothing to do with Cheetah Mobile. It should not be affected by any advertisement dispute between Cheetah Mobile and third-party advertisement operators.
On the other hand, in today’s global ad business, the lack of trust is always involved when calculating the ad’s effectiveness. How many impressions? How many clicks? What’s a fair eCPM? These questions really make advertisers worldwide worry.
The real question behind it is the transparency of the data, which today is still deeply locked inside the centralized platform. The Contentos mainnet can trace all the user-engagement data and make sure it’s tamper-proof. This is the key difference compared to any large advertisement system, and this is the ultimate way to convince the advertiser.
This article is a part of our Occupy the Internet series, where we review the current trends in the nascent decentralized web and cover the burning issues of privacy and censorship.
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