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Decentralized finance leader Aave has raised $15 million to fund Lens, its NFT-powered protocol for decentralized social media platforms, the company announced Thursday.
Lens is a protocol built atop Polygon, the Ethereum scaling solution. Social media platforms built on Lens can use smart contracts and NFTs to tokenize social data—making a user’s posts, preferences, and network both proprietary to that user, and transferable to any other social network built on Lens.
“Users can have ownership of their profiles, of the presences they create, and of the audiences they build,” Stani Kulechov, Aave’s founder and CEO, told Decrypt.
Kulechov is betting that users of traditional social media platforms will want to cash in on— and exercise ownership over—their creative labor, something mainstream Web2 social media platforms currently do not provide. As Lens emerges from a year in beta, the protocol aims to onboard a mass usership, extending beyond Web3-native privacy and decentralization advocates. That niche crowd has historically comprised the main audience for Web3 alternatives to Web2 products.
The team behind Lens, though, is confident that their pitch will have broad appeal to social media users who desire ownership over their internet identity, as well as to everyday users and influencers who have thus far had to build online presences from scratch every time they move from Snapchat to Instagram to Twitter. As those platforms are not built on the same network, there is essentially zero compatibility between them.
“Whenever users create profiles on Lens, they only need to do it once,” Kulechov said. “If all the big social media platforms someday share a common network, everyone will benefit from building together.”
Kulechov hopes that Lens will become that common network, on which content and followers can flow freely between platforms. He says Aave’s social media network is distinct from other recent experiments in decentralized social media due to its prioritization of ownership.
In the last few months, multiple decentralized alternatives to dominant social media platforms have emerged, particularly since Twitter—under the new leadership of entrepreneur Elon Musk—has faced numerous challenges.
Bluesky, a decentralized social media app backed by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, recently attracted the interest of numerous celebrities and politicians. Nostr, a decentralized social media protocol also favored by Dorsey, has also recently gained traction. Neither Bluesky nor Nostr, however, live on a blockchain as Lens does.
The fundraising round was led by IDEO CoLab Ventures with participation from funds including General Catalyst, Variant, Blockchain Capital, and Palm Tree, as well as DAOs such as Flamingo DAO, Punk DAO, and DAOJones. Angel investors who participated in the raise include Web3 entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan, Polygon co-founder Sandeep Nailwal, Uniswap CEO Hayden Adams, and The Sandbox co-founder Sebastien Borget.
Editor's note: This article was updated after publication to clarify Aave's relationship to Lens.