The Medium is the Message
a humanely designed, distributed, and nonprofit social network
[UPDATE 2/23/2019: We are in the last 70 hours of our Kickstarter campaign. We’ve raised ~ $82,000 out of $100,000. Funding is all or nothing so if you’re excited about what we’re building, please consider contributing. Thank you!]
Before we start, the purpose of this article is to shed light on our core design philosophy, why the current social media climate is the way it is, and how we are addressing these issues on a high level. You can learn more about how our actual product works here: https://medium.com/juntolove/junto-rebalancing-our-relationship-with-technology-52c1213fe60a
Now that that’s out of the way..
Welcome. It’s good to have you here. If you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’re familiar with the issues of social media and are eager to do something about it.
Over the past two decades, we’ve seen social media evolve into many different shapes and sizes. Twitter for concise thoughts and instant access to news, Instagram for clever captions and visual self-expression, Snapchat for raw, ephemeral moments, and Facebook for… birthdays?
There’s no doubt about social media’s potential to enable convenient communication, inspire creative self-expression and organize movements at a large scale. Yet, why do most of us find ourselves frustrated and dissatisfied with these platforms? Why is there a general consensus that social media has done more harm than good? Why is there an ever-present feeling that how we are choosing to engage with these platforms does not feel authentic?
These platforms have become a ubiquitous part of our lives, yet they perpetuate an unsustainable external validation of self-worth, struggle to foster a genuine sense of community, and are diluted with egocentric norms.
Now, are these norms an inherent flaw of human nature? Or is behavior conditional and can we make certain design decisions that inspire an entirely different atmosphere?
We believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle. As individuals, we exist in a constant state of flux. We are always evolving and how we grow is interdependent with the environment we choose to interact with.
Simply put, there will always be some level of superficiality, but it is possible to create an atmosphere that shifts the median of authenticity along the spectrum.
How do we know? Because we’ve done it.
After our first 7 months, we released a private alpha at Vanderbilt University in April 2017. We wanted to test out our core concept — that within every person exists a desire for authenticity and genuine connection, and that through healthier design patterns, we can evoke that depth and bring people together on a deeper level. Over three weeks, we witnessed members freely share their stream of thought. Conversations covered personal anecdotes on race and identity, sustainability, comedy, food, art, music, mental health and so on. A few even used Junto as a medium to journal their life stories.
Here‘s what some our first members had to say:
“Our whole generation has an undercurrent of thoughts like this, but we need something to help pull all those pieces together. I’m hoping Junto can be at least one of those tools to do that.” Noah Gertler, Vanderbilt
“Congrats on the launch. I think the app is generating some really honest, intellectual discussions about things that matter. The genuineness of the content and community you’ve created is definitely the coolest and most valuable thing about Junto.” John Sangimino, Vanderbilt
“So I’ve been using Junto. And I love it. I’ve been using it as a daily diary as a way to get my thoughts out there and hold myself accountable to not bottling my emotions up. I’m so thankful this app was created and I’m even more thankful for the team working so hard on this incredibly impressive app and acting on the desire to foster deeper conversation and helping others feel more included.” Sydney Silberman, Vanderbilt
So if this was possible, why hasn’t it been done before?
The answer was surprisingly simple. It hasn’t been done because it was never in people’s intentions to do so.
This may sound like a bold statement, but let’s have a closer look. If the platforms we use truly put our best interests first, why are we constantly fed targeted advertisements? Why do we feel addicted to these products and why do they seem to spark significant mental health issues among our youth?
Don’t take it from us. Take it from the founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker:
“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains. The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments…It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology… The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”
We are not trying to point fingers here. We simply want to bring to light what is really going on, so we can all work together to create a better solution. Online communication isn’t going away, and we need to find a way to leverage technology in a more harmonious manner.
The evolution of social media lies in shifting the current nature of interactions. We believe the forms we communicate through are just as important as the message itself.
This ethos has remained with us from the beginning and has guided every decision we’ve made. For example, the social media platforms we’re used to using are all for profit corporations. As these corporations scale and raise more venture capital, they have to continually justify their valuation. How do they do that? The most practical answer would be to generate revenue. Freemium business models (where you pay for premium features) are difficult to pull off, so many of these organizations rely on advertisements and selling your data to third parties. The more you use their platform, the more data they have. The more data they have, the more information they can sell. The more information they sell, the more money they make. They’ve become so dependent on this business model that there’s really no other way around it.
There are some cases where companies will postpone generating any sort of revenue. They will keep raising venture capital, presenting their DAUs (daily active users), MAUs (monthly active users), engagement rates, and so on to convince investors to participate in their next round. They won’t be able to keep this up forever though, and will either have to IPO (where they become beholden to public shareholders) or make an exit by selling their company in an acquisition.
The point is, these corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to their investors. They are beholden to them first, not you. You’ve likely figured this out yourself, witnessing products change to accommodate more advertisements and sell you more information.
This is why mid-way through our journey, we made the transition from a C corporation to a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. We’re a nonprofit because we value our independence. There are no investors or third parties that can alter the direction we take. At every angle, Junto is decentralized and led by you. We leverage distributed technology so you own your information. We are sustained by your conviction and generosity alone. Our growth is completely grassroots and the value in Junto lives in the stories you share and the community we will grow together.
We want to maintain as pure of a service as possible. By growing an environment that is genuine, transparent, and community-centric, we can establish social norms that encourage people to express themselves in way that is true to who they are and invite an era of free and open-minded communication. We’ve come a long way in our product development and are excited to share them with you here.
We look forward to shifting this new paradigm with you. It’s a long road ahead, and we need your support to make this happen. If you resonate with what we’re doing, waitlist our beta at https://junto.foundation/ and help grow this community by spreading the word within your circles.
Until next time..
- More on Junto: www.junto.foundation
- Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1958309948/junto-a-new-breed-of-social-media
- Product: https://medium.com/juntolove/junto-rebalancing-our-relationship-with-technology-52c1213fe60a
- Learn about decentralization: https://medium.com/juntolove/youre-an-individual-not-a-statistic-4e04408b3503
- Stay in the loop with our newsletter Flux: https://junto.substack.com/
- Instagram and Twitter
- (temporary) Facebook page
- help spread the word!