Building a Better Social Network Without Committing Profits – The New Stack

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David Kassel

David Cassel is a proud resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, where he has been covering technology news for more than two decades. Over the years, his articles have appeared everywhere from CNN, MSNBC, and the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition to Salon, Wired News, Suck.com, 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 users from Twitter,” Jimmy Wales wrote on Tuesday, attributing the jump to angry Twitter users fleeing Twitter’s potential new owner. Elon Musk.

And Mastodon also reported that 28,391 new users joined its service as of Tuesday, the day it announced its acquisition of Musk, according to Vice. According to The Street, the number of subscribers increases to 4.4 million.

However, there have also been smaller acts of rebellion from developers who dare to dream their own dreams. Some have built their own homegrown alternatives, lovingly crafted on a smaller scale – proudly lingering on the internet as their own individual creations and some very personal projects.

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

Slow down social

This announcement came from Slow Social, a website that embodies its own thought-provoking twist. The homepage promises connection “in a more conscious, sustainable way” and describes itself as “a social network built for friends, not influencers”.

Its low-pressure premise?

  • Post at most once a week
  • Read your friends’ posts once a week
  • Relax

There is no character limit for posts. “Let the memes, hot takes, and temporary updates live elsewhere,” the homepage reads.

Screenshot from the Slow Social registration process

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

Slow Social’s mission has aroused a lot of curiosity. Some users have even suggested limiting the frequency of as well read the site — perhaps with something like a weekly digest — but “there’s a kind of comfort in knowing that I’m only expected to write once a week at most,” Andrew Duensing, the social network’s founder, commented to Hacker News.

And he seemed to enjoy the flood of feedback from fellow Hacker News commentators. (One even suggested running the site as a cooperative so that “every user has an equal share of costs and profits and an equal voice in decisions.”)

“The post and the website have had a lot more traction than I ever thought possible,” which brought his website to about 1,500 signups, Duensing said in an email interview with The New Stack. Although only 160 actually posted, that’s not bad for a site that launched two weeks ago, Duensing noted.

And he pointed out that its target growth rate is — of course — “deliberately slow.”

By introducing Slow Slow, its creator hopes to inspire an essential question: why do our social networks have will for-profit companies?

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

He follows the most human of all impulses: to serve others. “I want it to be something I can continually build without having to respond to stakeholders other than customers and the users themselves.”

And by setting that example, he hopes to prompt an essential question: Why did our social networks do this? will for-profit companies?

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

“I want to show that there doesn’t necessarily have to be an economic reason for it.”

The cost of supporting social networks

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

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

Duensing estimates he could support 100,000 users for less than $500 a month. “The most precious thing about it is my time… If you keep the feature set limited and don’t have investors’ expectations of maximizing the return on their investment, you can actually build something sustainable that doesn’t have ads, information, or the user coerced with dark patterns.” “

The Slow Social posting window. Users are asked not to post more than once a week.

In a mid-April blog post on developer site Dev.to, Duensing noted that the other major platforms are all public companies with “a legally binding responsibility to maximize financial returns” — including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tick tack

“I am saddened by the toll it is taking on our society, as well as the missed opportunities we had to use the incredible technology and resources at our disposal to create something better,” he wrote.

And ultimately, Duensing argues, this business model has failed to deliver meaningful interactions, with a product that instead focuses on metrics like time spent on an app and interaction counts (as well as ad dollars earned and other revenue streams).

“If you keep the feature set limited and don’t have investors’ expectations of maximizing return on their investment, you can actually build something sustainable that doesn’t sell ads and information or force the user with dark patterns.”

— Andrew Duensing, creator of Slow Social

There’s a lot to see on Slow Social right now. (Before there is anything to read, your friends must join the service, make a post, and then approve your friend request as well read her posts.) But the existence of the site offers inspiring evidence of a dream in progress.

“Slow Social is my idea of ​​what I want social networks to be and what I think they can be,” Duensing’s blog post reads, comparing his creation to a personal mailing list or blog for a small audience. According to its website, the young social network is aimed at people who are looking for “more connection, not attention”. “Keep people informed without giving daily play-by-plays.”

One of Duensing’s lofty goals is to remain ad-free forever – while offering free access to all 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 was “thinking along the same lines” and even built a prototype of something similar. And on Hacker News, developer Alex Ghiculescu posted that he’s also created a website with the identical premise — a social network that, according to a January 2021 post by its co-founder, “should only be checked once a week, on Sunday.” wife, Jillian Schuller.

Posts written during the week on the site dubbed Sundayy will remain hidden until Sunday’s big reveal, Schuller wrote. “You can look back on your friends and family’s week as they experienced it; Day by day, in her own words.” She described Sundayy as “centered on mindful reflection.”

“Right now it’s just my husband and I,” Schuller wrote in January 2021, “and we’re only building it because we want it to exist.”

Sundayy’s homepage describes it as “the only social network that’s meant to be used fewerOr, as Schuller wrote on Hacker News, “It’s all signal, no 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 “Hacker News and a couple of podcasts I did brought a lot of initial growth. More than 1000 users have signed up (often out of curiosity), but over the months the number has settled down to a smaller number of “core” users.

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

Of course, there’s also a contingent of non-posting lurkers who read the other reflections without sharing themselves. But then again, “A lot of social media is consumption rather than creation,” Schuller said, “so I think that’s a pretty inherent condition that needs a lot of changing.”

“The experience of building was very cathartic and the most satisfying I’ve ever felt building something I knew was worth building.”

—Jillian Schuller, co-founder of Sundayy

And Schuller describes her and Ghiculescu’s original vision – daily reflections she shares with a small group of trusted people – as “still one we hold dear… It has led me to better versions of myself and done the same for others.” . ”

Robert Louis Stevenson once argued that knowing what you prefer, “instead of humbly saying ‘amen’ about what the world should choose from you, is keeping your soul alive.” platform, Schuller admits that “the experience of building was very cathartic and the happiest thing I’ve ever felt building something that I knew was worth building.”

So, like Duensing, Schuller isn’t following an investor-driven run on a huge subscriber base. “When the time is right for this approach to social media and interaction,” she said, “it’s going to happen.”


Featured image by Conny Schneider via Unsplash.

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