Junto: a Social Tool

(why this release is exciting)

Jul 31 · 7 min read

In the past decade or so, the internet has decreased the degree of separation by which we are all related to one another from six to about three people!

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that the systems we currently have to facilitate these connections are not as rewarding as they could be. Maybe you feel their platforms fall short of reflecting authentic human interaction. A lot has been written about why social media needs to change, so rather than review all that, I’m going to take you through some of Junto’s creative solutions!

An untapped reservoir

First things to note if you are new to Junto, the mobile and web-app:

  • It is a non-profit, alternative social media platform designed with the intention of rebalancing our relationship with social technology
  • It has no ads, no like buttons and no mandatory follower counts
  • Junto does not use AI to make your feeds. Instead, you make them
  • It is built on a post-blockchain framework for distributed applications; called Holochain. This means every user will own their data and nobody’s information can be tracked or sold
  • Junto plans to release in the upcoming two months (2019)

Junto Foundation, the non profit organization behind this:

  • Is a grassroots and community-driven movement
  • To date, the foundation has raised approximately $200K in donations
  • It is growing a distributed and global network of offline communities
  • Nobody owns Junto. It exists independently of investors, shareholders or the founding team

Now that you’re somewhat caught up (although there’s more information here), I’m going to trace some of the practical applications of Junto’s interface and their implications in this rapidly-evolving age.

Some terms to know:

Expression: Analogous to the noun “post” (example: “I created an expression and shared it to the Collective”.)

The Collective: The public layer of content on Junto. When sharing to the Collective, you’ll be able to tag your expression to (up to) five channels.

Channels: Topics that expressions are tagged with, for example #travel #80smusic #cats. The community using Junto will create channels.

Perspectives: Perspectives are ways of creating your own collections of feeds. You can create a perspective by adding people to it. An example Perspective could be one containing only your family members, or one containing all your college friends. Within any feed, you can filter content by channel(s).

Spheres: Private or public groups/communities.

Packs: Your very close circle of friends.


The Collective: A digital public space

If you lived in a small town during pre-internet times, you’d probably actively check your town’s bulletin board. If you had something you wanted to share with everyone, you’d probably post it there. The Collective layer on Junto is a similar idea: a form of digital public space.

Independent Proliferation of Media

This setup opens a lot of doors. The possibility of reaching many is no longer confined to those with highest follower count.

Your expression is just as discoverable as anyone else’s.

The utility of this in 2019? Those who genuinely care about and want to see your content, or “expression,” will naturally discover it because they chose to surf the Collective in that particular path.

Search Function Within the Collective

You’ll be able to search through the Collective, discovering people outside your existing circle, using one or more words to filter through user-created channels (topics).

This self-directed way of discovering content means the delivery of information will no longer follow the thread of what you looked at yesterday or talked about earlier today (cuz no, we’re not listening to your conversations).

I’ll call it a more intentional version of the newsfeed experience.

Art

With the opportunity of sharing in a digital public space, discovery of music has the potential to expand beyond curated playlists, similar artists on Spotify or genre titles that many of today’s multi-dimensional bands and artists may not fit into. Overall, content sharing will become more inclusive of up and coming artists. We will also be able to filter content by local scenes or to a variety of descriptions (channels).

News

How can this impact the transfer of information and awareness relating to politics, economics and global affairs? It’s important to note that right now, our feeds on existing platforms are created largely using artificial intelligence. These algorithms operate to keep us scrolling and clicking. They encourage sensational, hyper-emotional engagement with content, rather than showing us what is good for us (yes, this is subjective) or what will sustain us.


Selective Perspective

As you explore the Collective, you’ll form your own unique Selective feed, of those you choose to follow. Additionally, you can create your own feeds called Perspectives. These are unique ways of organizing content you want to follow. For example, “Cat Videos” would contain cat video creators you want to group together (these people do not necessarily have to be people saved in your Selective feed). Within any Perspective, you can filter content by channel (example: #chubby #kitten).

You could still look at cat videos everyday if you wanted to, but it’d be your own active choice to go do that each time. Subtle change, big difference.

Spheres

You’ll also be able to create and share to ‘Spheres’. These are private or public groups/communities.


Pack: More Than You

Onward to the semi-private portion of Junto.

Anecdote about Finstas

Finstas” are a different way people have been using Instagram lately. In addition to maintaining a public account, some have created smaller, private accounts with fewer followers out of the desire to share more informal posts (in my world: funny ones or longer monologues that follow a more internal thought process and reflection of life).

It seems there is a widespread desire for more thoughtful and unstructured spaces to engage with close circles. This is the inspiration behind the Pack! Everyone using Junto will add their closest circle to their Pack. To me, my Pack is the group I’d tell my weird dreams and personal life happenings to.

Being in someone’s Pack

Joining a Pack or inviting someone to your Pack is mutual. When you’re connected by Pack, you’ll be able to explore content from that person’s point of view, which is to receive access to a feed showing everything the members of their Pack have publicly shared (if you’re not in someone’s Pack, you can’t see their Pack Feed). The idea is that your worldview goes beyond just you: it’s a combination of the people surrounding and influencing you.


A Network, By Degree of Separation

Quick recap: we’ll be able to explore content in the Collective by filtering through channels and explore through the eyes of close friends using Packs.

Additionally, you can explore content according to 1, 2, 3 and up to 6 degrees of separation from your Pack.

I’m very excited to see this one in action particularly because it reflects a simple restructuring of how we see our existing networks, an anecdote I often attribute to Junto’s initiative as a whole.

Perhaps we’d be more likely to begin conversation (or meet in person with) with someone new (in my case, for art related collaborative purposes), if we could understand the wider context of their relation to us.

It’ll be quite interesting to see how exploring content by degree of separation will impact the organic spreading of information and awareness within niche communities as well as globally. Maybe we will need targeted advertising less because we’ll discover recommendations from others organically. Also, I don’t know about you, but ads don’t usually make me want to buy things.


Den: A Headspace

The Den was originally inspired by the idea of a personal journal space, where you can save drafts of unfinished thoughts or store expressions you want to keep private. At any point, you’ll be able to make a Den expression public or share it to your Pack. The Den exists to encourage reflecting a more raw, authentic or intentional form of sharing, whatever that means to you. If you were to share something more meaningful from your Den, it might be a stream of consciousness train of thought or maybe an unfinished creative project. We’re hoping to encourage sharing in a much lower pressure, more fluid manner, hence Junto’s original phrase, “expression that flows”.

With many options for ways to discover content, we will need an efficient way to keep track of expressions we want to return to later. To do so, you can archive them in folders within the Den. I might incorporate “ NYC music”, “insightful writing” and “visual art” into mine.


A Social Tool

When it comes to how we currently receive content online, we largely rely on algorithms. First of all, there are important ways AI creates efficient technology. Some large-scale functionalities are required to keep a platform like Junto going.

The distinction I want to make is:

Currently, we are being fed feeds. The process of exploring content does not incorporate us humans primarily carrying out our direction and thinking; the pathway immediately presented to us is scroll, react, scroll, react. Additionally, there’s one feed we continually return to. Here’s where the experience of what “surfing the web” once entailed has become way too streamlined. What if we are the start point of directing and specifying our explorations each time we open Junto? Overall, our goal is to design social technology that acts as a tool and does not try to do what a person’s creative compass can do better.


We are really looking forward to seeing these ideas come to life! If you’re looking to try out Junto in its upcoming beta release (in a month or two), we’d love to have you. Feel free to sign up at www.junto.foundation.

Seeya in the Collective and stay tuned,

— Yaz

Yaz Owainati

Written by

a lover of music (making & listening), rabbithole-esque conversation, enthusiasm and sun :)

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