After the 2016 election, I stopped using Facebook. It wasn’t a deliberate political act, more a queasy, desperate move toward self-care during a time that felt precarious. As the years passed and I remained happily inactive, I embellished my reluctance with rationalizations like “I don’t want to support the misinformation infrastructure,” but I kept my account active because there are some people I’m not really connected to in any other way. I took up with Twitter a little, but only felt a little less queasy about it.
But now That Guy has bought the joint, and I’ve stopped using it as well. I doubt he’ll do much more with it than juice his ego and his assets, but enough people are concerned that he’ll wreck it that there’s now a fairy decent chance that we can get the sharing platform we deserve, not just the one that makes the most money for the richest assholes.
I’ve been yelling at the moon for years demanding a non-profit sharing platform, something as invisible as email or texting, something that doesn’t benefit from the propagation of misinformation, basically just a personal feed you can use to share thoughts, pics, links, etc., with anyone you want. Careful readers will look at this post and its platform and think “Oh! He means blogging!” And you’re not wrong…but not quite right enough.
My Gen X brain would be more than happy if I could weave together feeds from friends, certain friends of friends, some thinkers I admire, and maybe even a brand or two into one or more streams to follow when I need entertainment, info I can trust, or just a feeling of solidarity. No ads, no data harvesting, no queasiness. That could be done with an RSS reader and an unreasonable amount of effort from those friends and the rest. But that amount of effort–any amount of effort beyond account creation, really–is too much for most people, and it costs a bit more than most are willing to pay (~$100/year for me, which makes the gap between this post and the last a monument to my vanity and sloth).
And of course different people have different needs and expectations. This platform needs to appeal to vast numbers of folks if it’s going to work, so it has to be dead simple to understand and use–and it will need a respectable user base before it can really take off and potentially supplant the big social media platforms.
I’d love to hear about alternatives, but for now I’m asking you to consider joining me on Mastodon. It’s easy to get started, it mirrors my needs pretty closely (see below), and it’s got more users than any other non-profit social sharing platform. If you’ve got insight into other platforms you think are more likely to get us where we need to go, I’m all ears and will update this post or add additional posts as needed.
What I think we need
I’m appending this list of qualities I think are necessary for a post-Twitter, post-Facebook social sharing platform. It’s just one person’s perspective so I’m sure it needs edits and additions, so please keep me honest if you feel differently.
- Easy to use: Setting up an account should be the hardest part of using the platform–and it should be very simple. This will require careful thinking ahead of time and flexibility as usability issues arise, but lots of hard UX problems have been solved over the past several years and we can build on these successes.
- Low- or no-cost: Anything that can be summarized as “like Facebook, only you pay for it” is doomed to fail. We all know by now that we are paying with our data and privacy and we all do it anyway. And of course excluding people who can’t pay even a nominal fee is both unethical and counterproductive.
- Not for profit: The temptation for a business to work against its customers is too obvious to require explanation, right? As long as the charter is clear about privacy, dispute resolution, and other relevant issues–and as long as it’s not exposed to hostile takeovers–NGO oversight and coordination seems reasonable. I expect there are many other options out there, and I want to learn more about them.
- Moderated: This does not necessarily mean an active community of volunteer mods like we see on Reddit and elsewhere, though it may need to start out like that. We may be able to prune bots, misinformation, and hate speech passively, though of course there ought to be some recourse for the inevitable people and posts who get blocked in error. I’m really excited to see what develops organically in this field once we break the shackles of the big companies.
- Open source: I can’t think of any reason the code and processes shouldn’t be public. Smarter people may have clearer insights into what, if any, info really ought to be locked down.
- Distributed: Centralization seems like a bad idea, though this may just be my personal baggage and/or overlearning the lessons of Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’m open to alternatives.
Note: I don’t think you need this to find me on Mastodon, but my handle there is @firstname.lastname@example.org.