I'm guessing you've heard of Facebook by now. Pretty much everyone has.
You watched it grow up, you heard all the stories, and you might have even bought a ticket to watch The Social Network. And you liked it!
So you have a pretty good idea of how Facebook works and why it's so appealing. Unless you've been living in a hut, you've also noticed some of its downsides. There's a few nasty surprises lurking behind its familiar mask.
It's time to imagine a radically different type of social network.
A Radically Different Social Network
Imagine a social network that inverts Facebook - and Twitter, and LinkedIn, and SnapChat - in almost every way, while still being an online social network.
At minimum, an online social network has these properties:
- Uses the Internet, computers, and mobile devices.
- Lets you connect with other people.
- Lets you share how you are doing or what you are thinking.
- Lets you give and receive feedback.
So we'll keep these as a base while inverting pretty much everything else.
Think of your experiences with Facebook over the years and the emotions you experienced along the way. There's a lot, take your time. Recall everything you know about how people use Facebook and what effect it has on everyone involved.
Now "flip the sign" on each item in your list. The longer your list, the closer you'll get to the inverse of Facebook. You might be surprised at how different a social network needs to be to provide undeniably positive effects.
I believe there's an ultimate positive effect a social network could have on me:
The best a social network can do is to help me get what I want out of life, with no hidden risks and without poisoning the well.
Really, that's the best anything or anyone can do for me.
For me to get what I want out of life, I have to take real steps in the right direction. Put simply, I have to take the right action - for me - at the right time - for me. A social network designed from the ground up to help me take the right action at the right time would invert the effect of Facebook.
For now, let's call this inversion the Anti-Facebook.
In the Anti-Facebook, you are the leader who is fully in control of what's yours. The focus stays on what is good for you as an individual, not what is good for The Company. No longer is it a system of zombified consumption but is instead a system of self-sustaining and meaningful social reciprocity. Gone are the sharing of thoughts, photos, videos, pages, events, and memes.
The Anti-Facebook involves your true friends and supporters, not barely-remembered acquaintances or obligatory relatives. It's where you share real information in a trusted environment for the purpose of getting more of what you want out of life, not wasting your limited time on Earth. It becomes about sharing the truth about how you're doing instead of sharing a carefully curated mask. And it's something you pay for directly with cash, not by slowly siphoning from the account of your personal power, as profiling and advertising do.
Structurally, this Anti-Facebook is like a population of individuals instead of a globally interconnected monolith. Each "cell" of the system, of which there can be millions, has its own purpose and its own network of connections that grow as needed. There's no need for all of the cells to link together into a single mass. This differs from both Facebook's global monolith and federated designs like GNU Social and Diaspora which link independently-owned pieces into a single large network.
Furthermore, the Anti-Facebook is effective with a single person, a dozen people, or a million independent tiny networks of between one and a dozen - or up to a few hundred - people. Some networks may grow into the thousands or millions, but they don't have to. Massive scale is no longer where the value comes from.
The Mystery Of How It Works
Now that we have a broad view of an Anti-Facebook, we still have to solve the mystery of how exactly it would work.
After all, there's some rather tall obstacles to overcome:
- Why would anyone commit to something new and different?
- Why would anyone choose to share the truth about themselves?
- Who would help you, and why?
- WHY NO ADS? EVERYONE LOVES ADS!
I'll expand on each obstacle, with more detail coming later.
Why would anyone try something new and different?
This is a classic problem. The path of least resistance basically runs our lives, making the status quo very sticky. But there is a force powerful enough to overcome it: self-interest. Or if you like, selfishness: the amplification of one's self, one way or another.
More completely, the force is a combination of self-interest and effective persuasion. Anyone who has succeeded in sales is familiar with this two-part formula. This formula is the foundation of any Anti-Facebook that has a hope in hell of gaining traction.
Why would anyone choose to share the truth about themselves?
Often it's best to avoid the unvarnished truth. Truth hurts. Truth about you often hurts you, truth about others often hurts them. So our social existence is mostly a bunch of harm-reducing half-truths and little lies. When we do share truth, it's with people we trust. Some, like our spouses, siblings, or closest friends may get to see most of the truth about us.
When we share our current situation - how we're doing right now - we often leave out exactly what we're having trouble with while still making it clear we're having a bit of trouble. In many cases, only our doctor, therapist, accountant, or lawyer are told the details. Everyone else gets vague complaints or mysterious behavior.
What if you could digitally share a quantified view of how you're doing with those close to you, but simply leave out the labels? Without labels, you'd feel more free to share enough information for many people to help you while avoiding the pain of sharing the whole truth. This sort of "anonymous" truth could be about anything, from mundane daily chores up to the hyper-personal parts of your life that you would normally share only with professionals. While what you share might be mostly mundane - the oft-challenging, never-ending daily maintenance - your friends won't know what is what when nothing is labeled.
Now, what if you shared this anonymous quantified truth automatically, with no thought put into when or why you shared it? This means you don't have to worry about the emotions of the other people and the subtext they might interpret from it. Now there's no fallout to deal with, no agonizing over the language, and no worries about what they'll think of you. This also makes it much easier to share.
Finally, what if the only reason to share this automatic and anonymous truth about how you are doing was because you needed help? That is, you are literally asking for help. By making it clear you want help, your friends are free to give you that nudge - or shove -that they can plainly see you need.
If it all added up to a ridiculously easy way for your close friends and family to help you, your life would take off like a rocket. The final ingredient is a dose of effective persuasion to ignite and fuel the process. As we all know, the people you care about have tremendous influence over you.
Who would help you, and why?
There are people in this world who truly want to help you and see you do well. Who? Everyone who depends on you in some way, even incidentally, and even prospectively. If you're a parent, your children depend on you, sometimes for a lifetime. It's in your child's interest to be supportive of you, even if they're too young to realize it. What if they had an easy way to help? If you're a grandparent, it's often a good idea to support your children, if only so your grandchildren don't become your problem and wreck your retirement. This is about self-interest, from end to end.
When you're a member of a sports team, you depend on each of your teammates to keep themselves in playing shape and available to play. It's in your interest to help them - if they want help- or you are risking your own fun.
And if you're an employer, you are best served by productive and focused employees, and anything you can do to help the employees get there (or for them to help each other) is in your self-interest. It flows the other way too. If you are an employee, you depend on the effectiveness of both your managers and the executives of the business responsible for its health. What if there was a method of mutual support that wasn't weird?
WHY NO ADS? EVERYONE LOVES ADS!
It's a common attitude that if you're doing anything "consumer" facing, you have to run ads and can't put a price on it. Then because you have to run ads, you have to go massive because that's the only way grossly-inefficient online ads can support the business. And a massive scale is necessary to build the moat of a network effect, without which you won't get your VC capital. Yet to go massive, you can't have any barriers to user sign-up. It's a vicious cycle that leads to things like Facebook.
But it's a cold hard fact that everyone pays for clear, quantified value. We each pay for value every day, like for housing, food, transportation, toys, and so many services. We already pay to feel good, for help, and for opportunities to connect with other people.
With the Anti-Facebook, which aims directly at what is important to each of us, there's plenty of reason to pay directly for it. Because it doesn't need to become massive for the sake of network effects, there's no harm -and even a significant benefit - in a slight barrier to entry.
When you pay for something, you tend to value it more. It's also natural to trust a business more when you know exactly how it keeps its lights on. By paying directly, you are the customer not the product and so you'll find that everything stays pretty well above board. With trust, you'll feel more free to share the truth about yourself, especially when it's anonymous and automatic.
More details to come. Stay tuned!