Salah Zalatimo, CEO of Voice, the social media platform launched by Block.one in June 2019, has been on board since January 2020. The timing of his appointment is not accidental but will be instrumental in the next phase of the much-anticipated platform. Salah has an interesting background – in restaurants, food, digital content and digital marketing. While the mixture might not seem directly relevant at first glance, he stresses he is very comfortable with startups and in pivoting companies. He has spent most of his career in big media. He is a builder, he says.
“It doesn’t matter whether it is a startup or a large organisation, I love building from scratch or rebuilding an entire digital platform – I really enjoy conceptualising things and bringing them to life. Perhaps it is something that already exists, but it needs rethinking and unlocking some new value that might have been hidden or untapped.”
Coming to Voice has twin appeals for Salah. The first is that he very much shares cofounders Dan Larimer’s and Brendan Blumer’s vision for a new social media. They envisioned a world that addressed the misalignment of interest between social media platforms and the users. They were gunning for the negatives including data profiling, identity theft, cyber bullying and persuasive misinformation. Dan uses the expression where truth has a voice a lot in his polemics.
The platform has been in beta in the US since February 14. Salah says that the feedback is such that they will refactor much of the platform from scratch. To someone who is not a builder, this might be a tad daunting. Not so to Salah, it is part of the appeal.
“If we were to build Facebook from scratch today, it would be a very different entity. It would probably look a lot more like Voice if I am being honest. But Facebook was part of social media 2.0, we’re right into 3.0 now and we can take the lessons learned with us. And blockchain is the technology that can also wipe out most of the errors.”
Salah also believes that we live in a post truth era. He posits that we have lost trust in social media platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter and that we can’t distinguish between real news and fake news.
“It’s a very disjointed and confusing digital world we live in today when it comes to information and when it comes to engaging with others. The loss of trust in these platforms is really a major red flag to me. The role that media and social media is meant to play is one of empowerment. It should unite us. It should make us stronger together. Instead, it's deceiving and it's dividing.”
Accordingly, Salah believes that the opportunities offered by modern tech, such as blockchain in general and EOSIO in particular, enable him and his team to rearchitect platforms based on ideas such as transparency, accountability and fairness.
“This is a unique opportunity that I had not expected to have.”
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It is also a direct opportunity to counter recent norms where 2.0 social media platforms are reading personal data and people appear to have become desensitised to such data harvesting. According to Salah there is a cohort of younger people who will not stand for this. If an alternative platform is available, he feels they will take it, readily.
The results of the beta testing thus far have been very rewarding. Salah points out that building a social media platform that can scale on blockchain is extremely tough. No one has achieved this as yet, and to be honest neither has Voice in its first iteration. Much of the feedback, combined with inhouse testing, has led Salah and his team to want to totally rebuild much of Voice, and to that end a new major release is planned for the summer.
Salah is in an enviable position to do this, coming hot on the heels of the news of the cash injection of $150 million from Voice’s parent company Block.one at end of March. This injection will be mostly spent on hiring the team. Salah admits to wanting to get the best people available in this space. He also is locating this venture in a physical place, in Brooklyn, New York.
“Brooklyn is the creative hub of New York,” he says.
Naming a physical location seems counterintuitive in these days of COVID19 and the way the new world is learning to work at home, remotely and electronically. However, Salah can also view silver linings in the current crisis.
“We are hiring at a time when many tech giants are shedding jobs. We are also hiring at a time when the need for real news has never been more important. At the heart of real news is local, community news. On a very simplistic level, we feel compelled to preserve it, to protect it and to amplify it. Our timing could not be better.”
But the vision for Voice is not just to protect real news, it is to overthrow the current theft of data by the big social media platforms for their own profit. By operating transparently, using independent verification, and offering open data auditing, Salah sees Voice as a way to explode the ‘black box’ of media production.
“Existing social media platforms do not want the two parties to connect – the user and the brand. They hold all the financial strings while the connection is opaque at best. At Voice we will be doing the opposite; we are putting together a platform where we will connect these two parties and facilitate transactions between them. We are less a department store than an eBay of sorts.
“By enabling connection – between users, advertisers and content creators - we are generating attention that has integrity. And by offering to do that with sincerity, that’s what will make Voice truly different in the long run."