Build a better social network, without profit pressure – The New Stack

David Kassel

David Cassel is a proud resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, where he’s been covering tech news for over two decades. Over the years, his articles have appeared everywhere from CNN, MSNBC and the interactive edition of the Wall Street Journal to Salon, Wired News, and even the original HotWired, as well as Gawker, Gizmodo, McSweeneys and Wonkette. He is now expanding his professional skills by becoming a part-time computer programmer, developing two Android apps, co-producing two word games for Amazon Kindle and dabbling in interactive fiction.

In late 2019, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales launched a new social network – and WT.Social has since grown to 491,326 subscribers. “We are seeing an influx of Twitter users,” Jimmy Wales said on Tuesday, attributing the jump to disgruntled Twitter users fleeing Twitter’s potential new owner. Elon Musk.

And Mastodon also reported that 28,391 new users joined their service on Tuesday, according to Vice – the day the Musk acquisition was announced. According to The Street, this brings its number of subscribers to 4.4 million.

Yet there have also been smaller acts of rebellion, by developers who dare to dream their own dreams. Several have built their own local, lovingly crafted alternatives on a smaller scale – lingering proudly on the web as their own individual acts of creation and some very personal projects.

“Like many others, I tend to waver between loving and hating social media,” said a recent announcement on Hacker News. “So that’s my take on what I think a better solution looks like.”

Social slowdown

This announcement came from Slow Social, a site that embodies its own thoughtful touch. Its homepage promises connection “in a more intentional and lasting way”, describing itself as “a social network designed for friends, not influencers”.

Its low-pressure premise?

  • Post at most once a week
  • Read your friends’ messages once a week
  • Coldness

There is no character limit on messages. “Let the memes, hot takes and transient updates live elsewhere,” reads its homepage.

Screenshot of the Slow Social registration process

A message at the end of the Slow Social registration process.

Slow Social’s mission has aroused a lot of curiosity. Some users have even suggested limiting the frequency of reading the site – perhaps with something like a weekly digest – but “there’s some kind of consolation knowing that I’m only ‘supposed’ to write at most once a week”, commented Andrew Duensing, the founder of the social network, on Hacker News.

And he seemed to enjoy the flurry of comments from fellow Hacker News commentators. (One even suggested running the site as a cooperative, so “every user has an equal stake in costs and benefits and an equal voice in decisions.”)

“The post and the site have been much more successful than I ever imagined,” propelling his site to around 1,500 signups, Duensing said in an email interview with The New Stack. Although only 160 posted, that’s not bad for a site that launched two weeks ago, Duensing noted.

And he stressed that his targeted growth rate is – of course – “intentionally slow”.

By launching Slow Slow, its creator hopes to inspire an essential question: why do our social networks become for-profit businesses?

“I want the product to be something useful for people, something reliable, predictable and durable.”

He follows this most human impulse: to be of service to others. “I want it to be something that I can continually build on without having to answer to stakeholders other than customers and users themselves.”

And by giving this example, he hopes to inspire an essential question: why our social networks become for-profit businesses?

“We don’t really condone it for almost any other community center (like book clubs, churches/mosques/temples, running groups, schools),” Duensing wrote to The New Stack. “But for some reason we tolerate it as soon as it becomes 1s and 0s.

“I want to show that there is not necessarily an economic reason for it to be so.”

The cost of social media support

While the nonprofit American Association of Retired Persons has funded its own social network called Senior Planet Community, other smaller examples are hard to find — and why exactly? Duensing wonders.

“With today’s tools and technology, the costs of running a social network are actually quite low,” he noted.

Duensing estimates it could support 100,000 users for less than $500 per month. “The biggest cost to me is my time… If you limit the feature set and investors don’t expect to maximize ROI, you can actually create something lasting that does not sell advertisements, information, or coerce the user with dark motives.

Slow Social post window. Users are requested not to post more than once a week.

In a mid-April blog post on development site, Duensing noted that the other major platforms are all publicly traded companies with “a legally binding responsibility to maximize financial return” – including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and TIC Tac.

“I am saddened by the toll this has taken on our society, as well as the lost opportunities we have had to leverage the incredible technology and resources we have to create something better,” he said. he writes.

And ultimately, Duensing argues that this business model has failed to deliver meaningful interactions, with a product that instead focuses on metrics like time spent on the app and number of interactions (so than earned advertising dollars and other sources of revenue).

“If you limit the feature set and investors don’t expect to maximize ROI, you can actually create something that’s sustainable that doesn’t sell ads, information, or coerce the user with dark patterns.”

—Andrew Duensing, creator of Slow Social

Right now, there is now a lot to see on Slow Social. (Before there is anything to read, your friends must join the service, create a message, and then also approve your friend request to reading their posts.) But the site’s existence offers inspiring evidence of an ongoing dream.

“Slow Social is my idea of ​​what I want social media to be and what I think it can be,” Duensing said on his blog, likening his creation to a personal mailing list or a blog at small audience. The fledgling social network is for people looking for “more connection, no attention”, according to its homepage. “Keep people in the loop without giving daily play-by-plays.”

Among Duensing’s lofty goals: to stay ad-free forever, while providing free access to all of its current features.

“We build it because we want it to exist”

In the comments on Duensing’s post, Edgar Verona, a backend developer, said he thought “along the same lines” and even built a prototype of something similar. And on Hacker News, developer Alex Ghiculescu posted that he had also built a site with the same principle – a social network “designed to be checked only once a week, on Sundays”, according to a January 2021 article by his co-founder/wife, Jillian Schuller.

Posts written during the week on the site, called Sundayy, remain hidden until the big reveal on Sunday, Schuller wrote. “You can think back to your friends and family’s week as they experienced it; day after day, in their own words. She described Sundayy as “centered on conscious reflection”.

“It’s just my husband and I at the moment,” Schuller wrote in January 2021, “and we’re just building it because we want it to exist.”

Sundayy’s homepage describes it as “the only social network designed to be used lessOr, as Schuller posted on Hacker News, “All is signal, not noise,” describing it as the only social network she uses now.

And 16 months later, “it still has active users,” Schuller said in an email interview with The New Stack. There’s also a desktop version, and “There’s been a lot of initial growth from Hacker News and a few podcasts I’ve done. Over a thousand users signed up (often out of curiosity), but over the months it stabilized at a smaller number of “core” users.

“It turns out that once people start thinking and get something real out of it, they keep thinking.”

Of course, there is also a contingent of “lurkers” who don’t post, who read other’s thoughts without sharing. But again, “A lot of social media is consumption rather than creation,” Schuller said, “so I think it’s a pretty inherent state that it would take a lot of things to change.”

“The experience of building it was very cathartic and the most fulfilling I have ever felt, building something that I knew was worth it.”

—Jillian Schuller, co-founder of Sundayy

And Schuller describes his and Ghiculescu’s original vision – daily reflections shared with a small group of trusted people – as “yet another vision that we hold very close and dear…It has led me to better versions of myself. himself and did the same for others.”

Robert Louis Stevenson once argued that knowing what you prefer, “instead of humbly saying ‘Amen’ to what the world tells you you should prefer, is keeping your soul alive.” After creating his own social media platform, Schuller credits “the experience of building it was very cathartic and the most fulfilling I’ve ever felt, building something that I knew was worth it. sadness”.

So like Duensing, Schuller isn’t following an investor rush for a massive subscriber base. “When the time is right for this approach to social media and interaction,” she said, “it will happen.”

Featured image by Conny Schneider via Unsplash.

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