Have you ever wondered why using email does not (have to) cost you anything? And if this would be the same if there were only a few email providers, let's say about three?
Have you ever wondered why a full account of a business network like LinkedIn is this expensive?
The answers are very simple:
Between email providers there is a lot of competition as everybody can offer this service and there is no barrier between users of different services.
With actual business networks, it's just the opposite.
So business networks can set their pricing based on the customer benefit, not based only on the real (mainly much lower) costs of running these networks.
At least until now.
What we need is a prototype of a social network which can be implemented at least by any provider, ideally even by any single person with a minimum knowledge. And which makes sure that there will always be a healthy competition between providers - but no barriers from one provider to another.
The so-called 'decentralized social networks' will not meet these conditions adequately because there is often too much effort to participate actively.
(And as it seems the process of searching other people and contents is too complex at least at first glance.)
However, we should consider including the decentralized elements, but make it much easier for active participants to implement them and so we should take a glance at all the things which participants should not have to implement themselves!
On the other hand, we need to look at what should (or must) be implemented by the participant at least.
For a moment, let's think about ownership and responsibility:
A big problem of most social networks today is that the network provider can be made responsible for user contents in many countries, especially those in Europe. For this, extra laws had been established with high penalties, which can be interpreted in a wide range of manners and therefore cause great fear among network providers. This even results in threads being deleted if they only contain obvious quotes from old books! A sick situation? This regrettably the reality there.
Why are web hosters not made to be responsible in the same way?
They aren't because they only provide technical services for their customers. They even require an explicit contract for that within the European Union (or at least I know this exactly from Germany). Anyway, they manage to escape court sanctions.
Anyway, our prototype of a social network must be safe from getting under such sick censorship laws as mentioned above.
Obviously, this means that the user content must be owned and always be controlled by the user himself, ideally by hosting it himself / on his own webspace.
Just like a website owner owns its contents, but not like a participant of a conventional social network.
To get back to our question above "What should (or must) be implemented by the participant at least?":
The user content! Also, protecting the user content and/or secret key components from being visible for everyone on the web - we would need an interface for exchanging this content (a lean one if possible).
Let us take a look at what should not be decentrally hosted. As this is some kind of directory, how deep information is stored may be determined by the user himself! But if he wants to easily be found by anyone he has not given his address, he needs to customize such a directory to make that possible.
To keep such a directory free of content responsibility, no content itself may be contained there, and also no information that is too close to being juristically regarded as content or for being made responsible for content behind it.
And this leads us to the answer of the question what else can (or should) be implemented by a participant himself, except for his own content: Information that is near to content, e.g. a referral list concerning discussion group content etc.
So a participant is not only owner of his own content, but also of referral lists to contents of other users who participate in groups etc. under his ownership. Perhaps we can break down this further, especially for big groups to prevent the owner from being juristically regarded a social (sub-) network provider, but I would like not to discuss this in this place and at this moment. For the moment, at least for rather small discussion groups, the described solution should be practicable already at this state.
Up to this moment, the described sort of directory seems to be a really central element, so its owner seems to have main control and this network seems to be endangered to be (or to become) a proprietary network. So we have to prevent this, and that's really simple: The directory has to be provided with properties that make it possible for other providers to clone it without limits. And the only condition for this is that it contains no secrets! No private info, no access keys and so on.
And yes - this is possible! Especially as there can be an 'owner' for nearly any kind of content and content collection. So all this does not need to be hosted on the directory. And therefore a directory may be made public without limitations to prevent it from being proprietary. Of course, the public availability should be regularly checked, but this is a job that other providers will love to do - and so they can offer the check results to all participants.
Until now, I have written about user owned content, user controlled content collections and a (quasi-) central element called 'directory'.
What is still missing? The user interface! Nothing more and to be short: The user interface can be an app, a browser plugin, a local HTML/JS site or still an online portal site.
As a variation of the latter, it also can be a portal that combines data on its backend instead of (like the other variants) on its frontend and so can be quite faster at e.g. displaying a group discussion. But this could at least from today's point of view lead to content responsibility, but perhaps in the future, it will not anymore when this type of social network is established... who knows?
This is the main structure a new prototype of the social network should have - so a user can easily host his data and interface himself, or providers can offer such accounts as a nice feature (possibly also without extra costs) on top of other conventional offers. (Perhaps email providers, regular web hosters, etc. will offer this as a standard in the future? This should be the long term aim!)
Participants can, but do not have to, also host directories and their own user interface, but these can (and should) regularly be seperate from each other and from the user content and interface, so each of these components can be taken from different sources and the competition between suppliers of such scripts can develop such as the competition between hosters of these components. So the prices for participants can be at a minimum, to be exact not much more than the real costs, or perhaps even at zero, depending of the provider's revenue model.
This kind of quasi-central / quasi-decentral social network gives the participants and probably also the providers real freedom as there is just the kind of responsibility that also acts for website owners. And if this concept continues growing, it has the potential to become the new standard for social networks. The same technology for a business network as for a hobby discussion group. One 'user space' for all networking activity per person. Regardless of whether this user space is on his own webspace or provided by any third service supplier.