On October 8, 2018, Google announced that it would shut down its social network Google+. End users have been promised a sunset period of 10 months and business customers will continue to have the opportunity to use the product as part of G Suite.
This announcement hit the still quite active users of Google+ unexpectedly, despite Google’s track record of shutting down useful services like Reader. This illustrates that end users can’t rely on centralized services. In addition, the top dog Facebook increasingly comes under fire. Incidents such as Cambridge Analytica, the problems of moderation and their effects in Myanmar, for example, are making more and more people think about moving elsewhere.
We’ve checked: Hardly any social media provider has truly analysed what the people using social media need. Or if they have, they ignore marginalized populations, focus on advertising or neglect other important issues. Commercial providers offer advertising-relevant target group analyses, but these have little to do with how and whether these people use the platform for better communication.
This is what we set out to do
We determine what social media can do, how people and whole groups can switch from one platform to another, which functions are indispensable and which are merely important. Building on that, we create a basic concept for safe and open social media that can then be made available to people and groups as a kind of prefabricated solution.
Safe in this context not only means safe from failures and attacks on the confidentiality or availability of the systems, but also security in case of changes in the team and security with regard to bureaucratic requirements. We provide concepts, methods and resources to ensure a free exchange of opinions without individual people having to fear for their health or even their lives. That means that we have to think hard about trust, privacy, threat models and use cases long before the first line of code is written.
Specifically, this project will work on three pillars:
Holistic product management
The product team develops a social media concept that identifies and consults with relevant target groups and behaviors, describes the necessary product features and brings them into functional relation with each other.
Further development of federated Pods
On the basis of the results from the product management, we will build on existing Open Source projects, implementing the functionality and UI that will enable the target groups to use social media, safely and under their own control with no data being used for advertising.
Moderation & bureaucracy as a service
We create an infrastructure of employed moderator teams, lawyers, accountants and coaches who advise new pods, explain the cost structures and donation mechanisms and take over the necessary work as service providers when pods reach critical mass.
The revenue from the third pillar (Moderation & bureaucracy as a service) will then finance further ongoing research and improvements through the first two pillars.
What we aim for
Internet communities all over the world will have a uniform, federated, secure social media platform at their disposal that can also be used by laypersons. Privacy and a positive user experience will be included from the start. In the end, we want to create a new civic space instead of just focussing on one that just looks civil.
Whoever runs a Pod is not left alone, but receives guidelines and training and can purchase additional services to run the infrastructure in a safe, reliable and legally-compliant way. People get a viable alternative to the current big social media offerings. Hobbyists, activists and interest groups can safely join together on a Pod and still remain networked with others. Government agencies can host their own pods and thus connect with citizens on a platform that is not under the control of a third party.
A full success of this project would be nothing less than the complete disruption of the current social media market, towards a more networked, advertising-free, privacy-respecting, and freer social media.