Over the past few years I have been trying to seek out alternatives to the mainstream social media platforms. Although I wouldn't go as far as saying I entirely dislike them, I feel I could experience much better and healthier communities and technologies than those I have found on the likes of Instagram and Twitter. I have made some decent connections, experienced good conversations, and discovered some inspiring people on these networks, but they are few and far between and there's significant issues with them that affect me. I have modified my use of social media over time to instil better habits and time efficiency, so I don't think I have an unhealthy relationship with social tech, but it's not ideal. And I'm looking for ideal. Yet, to be honest, I don't know what ideal means to me. It's only going to be through experimenting with other community platforms that this will become clearer to me.
First, I need to ask the question: what makes a community? It is a word that is massively over-used these days. At its core, a community is a group of people that come together around a shared interest or purpose for active and expansive collaboration and engagement. Communities are built to listen to what people want and let them drive the evolution of what it is. The idea is to listen to what they are looking for and provide them the tools they need to thrive and enjoy being present in that environment. This can be said for both offline and online communities.
Besides the mainstream social platforms, I have found and experimented with a few alternative community sites/apps. Let's breakdown where I've looked and identify the pros and cons from my perspective.
Note: I'm not active on all of the following platforms.
|good creative outlet, creative inspiration, strong networking tool, visual timeline of interests and experiences, effective promotion||overwhelming advertising, highly addictive, encourages unhealthy comparisons and envy, limited web version, poor feed logic|
|rapid news, strong networking tool, clear timeline of events, effective promotion, constrained content, encourages self-expression||random obtrusive content, allows anonymity, encourages toxic and reactive behaviour, highly divisive|
|Slack||invite-only, simple, accessible, expandable, allows breakout areas||disorganised, time sensitive, limited storage, distracting|
|LOT||innovative, brutalist, transparent, uncompromising, creative||expensive, unpredictable, limited community interaction, emo, feels a lot like a cult|
|Urbit||growing community, collaborative, peer-to-peer network, web3 enabled||ridiculously complex, unintuitive, expensive, unclear, technically immature, feels a bit like a cult|
|Discord||censorship resistant, invite-only, vast topics, moderation tools||ugly interface, too noisy|
A few honourable mentions would be Reddit, Mastodon, Are.na, and HackerNews. I have never really used those as an active member, so it's difficult for me to comment on them, but I occasionally use them as a passive reader. Are.na seems the most tempting to experiment with, but it also feels quite siloed with little direct interaction with other users, so probably not ideal. Great bookmarking tool though.
What I'm Looking For
I really like the idea of something bespoke and independent. It doesn't necessarily need to be decentralised and utilise web3 tech, although that does appeal to an extent. It should be a place where there are no distractions, no ads, no suggested content, and no interferences. It should also be accessible, simple, and intuitive. It should allow both synchronous and asynchronous communication. I'm quite drawn to the idea of setting up a matrix.org environment, but it's probably technically over my head. As for communities themselves, I'm not just interested in a single topic, so I would probably be looking to join several. In terms of size, I think a good digital community should consist of no more than 20 people. Therefore, if there's constraints on capacity, it needs to be a gated community.
- What is your experience with any of the aforementioned platforms? Am I missing something?
- Where else should I look? (don't say Facebook)
- Is there an opportunity to create something new and bespoke for a particular type of folk? If so, could it be easily replicated and expanded for others?
- Would it be invite-only?
- How would it be moderated, if at all?
- Would it be secure? Would there be privacy concerns?
- Can it be community managed?
- What tech would be a good fit?
Many questions and many yet to be asked.
Update: I experimented with Minus and Arbtr, but neither worked. Minus was interesting for a time, but soon become very noisy and unreadable. As Urbit continues to evolve, I'm going to give it another chance, if I manage to figure it out.