A #newsocialnetwork

James Wrubel
Apr 10, 2018 · 7 min read
Oy veh

#deleteFacebook sure is gaining steam, huh. The criticisms of Facebook are well-founded, as are criticisms of twitter’s seeming inability to ban or remove hate groups from its platform. I got to thinking that it would be fun & interesting to design a new social network. Facebook has always had problems but you don’t get a billion accounts by providing value to users. Likewise, twitter can be both infuriating and beautiful at times. So why not try to find the best of both social networks (and pull in some great things about others) to make something that truly works for its community. Somewhat related: I use Instagram casually, never really got in to Snapchat. I know both ello and mastadon launched within the last few years but I’ve never really used either of them. I’ve also briefly seen a bunch of other new social networks launch, but I haven’t tried any of them. There are also niche social networks out there that might have some good ideas.

I have a ton of Product Managers, UX Design Professionals, Software Engineers, and other technically-minded folks in my social networks, so I’m hopeful that this spurs some discussion, even if it’s just a thought exercise. The hashtag #newsocialnetwork is lightly-used right now so if you want to help with this process, even just for fun, use that. Also just so we’re clear I’m not looking to build anything here as part of this exercise, even as a proof of concept, but if people are interested in working on that, definitely @ me.

This is not necessarily a complete list of functionality you’d need to build a social network, but if we get some dialog going I’ll update this article based on the consensus of the people who provide input.

Friends & accounts

By default, content you post from an account is private, visible only to people with whom you are mutually connected. Connections work a little differently than both Facebook and twitter. Like twitter, you can follow anyone you want in order to see their public posts. If two accounts mutually follow each other that becomes the equivalent of a Facebook friend, and each account can see the other’s private posts.

More account info

Details you provide are public. Individuals can make a lightweight CV if you wish (🖕 LinkedIn).

Your handle works like twitter’s does. You can @mention someone in a post. Organizations can create accounts which are actually grouping mechanisms, similar to DNS. So Ford Motor Company can register @ford, which gives them a brand presence page but also the ability to set up individual accounts for notable representatives or departments, such as @ford.CEO or @ford.customercare.

In addition to different account types for individual and business, individuals can choose to verify their account. Verification involves confirmation of an email address and phone number as well as potentially a nominal annual fee. This may cut down on troll accounts. Additionally, the network should support Notable accounts that would work like the current twitter verified accounts and provide additional levels of account security and support.

Unverified users can still interact with the site and use its features but their interactions with verified or notable accounts will be limited. This should definitely cut down on trolls.

Your Feed

Social networks get a lot of valid blowback for algorithmic timelines. But a purely chronological timeline has a lot of limitations. Facebook actually has a pretty good option for viewing timeline by recent posts, ‘best posts’, and ‘posts from friends’. It’s just that these options are buried. Those should be prominent and easy to switch between.

Also, it should be possible (dare I wish, even easy) to go back and find material you’ve shared. This is basically impossible with either twitter or Facebook, with the notable exception of the ‘On This Day’ function. Give me a keyword search, image gallery by date, and a view of my posts ranked by most interactions.

Posts (length, interaction)

By default your feed will show the first 140 characters of any post + a hero content (URL preview, image, or gallery of images). Posts can be of any length however. If your post is more than 140 characters there will be a ‘click for more’ button that will take the user to a post detail view. Every 280 characters of the post, the user will have to click to unfurl additional material. When you are authoring, the app will show you when you are reaching a boundary and will insert ellipsis as needed. This will hopefully be a replacement for tweet storms/threads. The original poster can get reports of how much of their message was read. Post detail pages will have highlight & share functionality like Medium does (so the hero image is a highlighted block of text with a link to the original story). If there is an embeddable share widget it should use the same flow and generate a hero lesson.

Keep the gif library. It would also be great to include a meme generator engine and Instagram/Snapchat-y filters. You know, for kids.

Posts are visible to friends only by default (and private posts cannot be shared by friends), but a user can long-press the post button to make it visible (or change visibility after the fact). An account setting could change this to public-by-default, long-post to set private, for those who prefer a twitter-style interaction model.

POSTS CAN BE EDITED AND SUPPORT SOME MARKDOWN FORMATTING for bold, italics, strikethrough, underline, etc!

If you choose to share a post you have a max 140 character limit for your own commentary. The shared post would contain your comments plus the original 140+hero content, similar to how both twitter and Facebook do it now.

Facebook’s multiple reaction model works well and should be carried through here, relatively unchanged.

For those who prefer to ‘check in’ to locations, the social network would support that, but those types of posts would always be private.

I’m not convinced a social network needs an integrated buy/sell marketplace to be successful, but I don’t have a strong opinion on that.

Governance

With active user counts exceeding the population of most countries, the idea of shareholders and a Board of Directors being the only answerable parties for a social network seems like it could, well, create exactly the mess we’re in right now. One concept l I’d love to explore, and I know it’s been tried in various configurations in the past, is a Parliamentary model for at least governing product backlog. Establish representation for users, hold elections, empower those elected to effect product change (and compensate them for their time). I don’t have all the answers for how you would divide the population (by country of origin or residence? do users self-identify? or is it all one population?) or how you balance the inevitable conflicts of priority between the Board and the product representatives, but I think it would be a fascinating subject to tackle.

Advertising

This is an area I admittedly don’t know much about, other than there are clearly problems with building an interest profile on users. Choosing to verify and paying a nominal fee should remove advertising from timelines. I recall reading that Facebook makes a little under USD$5 per user per year from advertising. I think a lot of people would pay $5 per year for an ad-free experience.

Supporting publishers

It should be a goal of this new platform to drive revenue for publishers/content creators. In addition to driving clickthroughs, content creators should be able to indicate that they are willing to include an advertisement with any shares of their content. This small, text/image only banner would behave like a sponsorship message and could be targeted to the category of information shared (but not targeted based on demographics of the user). Revenue from this ad would flow to the source, with a percentage going to social network, similar to the app store revenue share model. That way content creators can still drive revenue from posts even if users don’t click through to the article.

Supporting original content

One longstanding issue with social networks is that it’s extremely easy to steal and re-post content. This also hurts content creators. It would be good for this new social network to use AI to flag publicly-shared content that’s substantially similar to previously-posted content. This would need to account for parody use and other exceptions. I don’t have all the answers here but it’s an area worth researching.

Battling fake news

Here too I don’t have a lot of experience, but I wonder if it’s possible for a social network to verify news sources in a mechanism similar to individuals. A news source could verify that it meets certain ethical standards (independent editorial board, policies on sources, etc), or a parody/satire site could voluntarily register as such. Unverified sources would either not get visual prominence/previews in posts or not be hyperlinked at all, which would hopefully reduce their spread and influence.

Account privacy and security

The block/report/mute functionality from twitter should be carried through. However, users will only receive notifications from verified accounts. Users can tag other users in posts just as Facebook and twitter allow, however users will only receive notifications for actions by verified users (like replies, shares, reactions, and tags). This minimizes the ability for trolls to harass users (because the user would not even be aware).

Tricks and Misc improvements

Add a #spoiler or #spoilers hashtag to blur your post with a message that the post contains spoilers, so users will have to click through to see it.

Hashtags

Hashtags work like they do now, for organizing conversations. People & organizations can pay for ‘moderated hashtags’ that give them the ability to manage channels around the hashtag, with techniques like approval requirements, removal of offensive/offtopic posts, potentially get sponsors, etc. I personally get a lot of value out of the #devdiscuss and #edtechchat chats, and it would be great to make the backers better able to manage those experiences.

James Wrubel

Written by

Dad, husband, proud @umich grad. Former CTO @thinkthrumath, now hacking on @_beergoggles and other things. I 🏊 🚴🏻 🏃🏼 in whatever time’s left.

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