How can a privacy-positive social media site gain meaningful adoption?

August 18th, 2018

There is a fundamental tension when designing social media software with a focus on privacy: The more posts are set to friends-only access, the harder a time the network will have in gaining adoption.

Since social media to a large extent lives and dies by network effects, some combination of these are necessary to grow the network beyond a critical threshold and keep it lively. It must also stay reasonably competitive with other social media systems in attracting users. There are many reasons a person might choose to 1) create an account and 2) "friend" other users rather than sticking with what they already have:

  • Being encouraged to by their existing friends
  • To see what all the fuss is about (if it's in the news)
  • By seeing interesting posts by people they may or may not know

Privacy-positive social media software is by default at a disadvantage in the last category. How can it be made competitive with the likes of Twitter and Facebook without compromising on values? In this post, I consider the notion of "socially local privacy" as a partial solution to the discovery problem.

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I want online social networks akin to offline social networks

April 18th, 2018

Ruminating more on what my ideal social network would achieve, I realize that it really comes down to one thing: Offline social networks ("meatspace", interacting with friends and acquaintances in person) are pretty amazing, and our current online social networks do a terrible job of replicating this. I'd like to capture some of what I think we're missing, without losing sight of what we also gain.

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Goals for an ideal social network

April 1st, 2018

I want social space online, but none of the social media software currently in existence meets my needs. Beyond that, I believe that many of the offerings are actively harmful to privacy, security, and democracy. I know many people feel the same way, but can't opt out for lack of alternatives. Clearly it's time to build something new. Something that's useful, efficacious, and responsible, but also attractive. What elements will it need?

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Can we have online journaling while maintaining privacy?

November 27th, 2016

I've been blogging for over 11 years now, for better or worse. I cringe a bit when I look back at some of my older posts, but I'm loathe to delete them, because it's who I was then. I've also maintained a Livejournal (LJ) or Dreamwidth (DW) account for almost as long, where I've made posts of a more personal nature. How did I decide where to post, where the dividing line was? It came down to two things: 1) How personal the post was, and 2) where my intended audience was. Back in the mid-00's, many of my friends and acquaintances had public blogs, but were no on LJ. That meant that if I wanted them to know how I was doing, I had to post for the world to see, even if that meant future employers with boundary issues would see those posts out of context. As the blogosphere slowly deflated and I entered Boston-area social groups where LJ was more common, the choice became easier. Then Facebook rose to supremacy, and I chose not to jump off that particular bridge... but now it's much harder to have an online social life.

I really miss that, but Facebook is not an option. How can we return to the days of easy journaling? I'd like to lay out what I see as (a) central problem, then ask you for ideas in solving it.

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