Recently I was listening to the Free Thought Project’s interview with Bill Ottman, the CEO of Minds.com, and thought it worth expanding on some of the points. If you haven’t already done so, Minds.com is worth checking out, if you’re a content creator, blogger or citizen journalist looking for an alternative to the mainstream platforms.
The Free Thought Project was one of 810 accounts that got booted off FaceBook and Twitter for ‘inauthentic activity’, in what seemed more like a co-ordinated act of political censorship. While the full list hadn’t been released, the main targets appeared to have been groups reporting on corruption within politics and law enforcement – you know, things we have a civic duty to discuss on the Web.
Quoting Brittany Hunter in Foundation for Economic Education article: ‘What began with the ban of Alex Jones last summer has since escalated to include the expulsion of hundreds of additional pages, each political in nature. […] one thing is absolutely certain: we need more market competition in the realm of social media.‘
What’s particularly worrying is that the Silicon Valley corporations aren’t simply private entities excercising their own rights, as is commonly argued in their defence. They represent a giant oligopoli that has a disproportionate amount of control over the means of communication on the Web, an oligopoli that’s engaged in a co-ordinated suppression of political opinion, an oligopoli with more influence on the democratic system and access to politicians than the Russian state could ever hope to gain.
An alternative is needed to democratise social media. For many people in the know, Minds.com seems to be that alternative. Here’s why:
- Minds is production-quality, can be deployed as a finished application, and it’s open source.
- Users don’t need to provide personal or identifying information when registering an account.
- Minds was developed for content creators.
- The developers are working on decentralisation solutions.
- Minds.com supports crypto currency and monetisation.
The first point is an interesting one. In Ottman’s opinion, a solution released as proprietary software cannot be a viable alternative, because of transparency or somesuch. I think he might have conflated administrative integrity with software integrity – that open source projects have been pressured into adopting a uniform ‘Code of Conduct’ demonstrates the problem with that reasoning. Personally I don’t think the open/proprietary thing has much bearing on a platform’s viability as an alternative to FaceBook, unless there’s a need to verify claims about certain features, such as whether true end-to-end encryption is being provided.
No, what’s more important is that Minds isn’t a half-baked proof-of-concept, but is a completed iteration comparable in quality and appearance to any mainstream social media site. This is the deciding factor that determines whether a solution would gain traction. Anyone could clone the software, deploy it on their own server and run their own version of Minds.com.
The option to register accounts anonymously/pseudonymously with Minds.com is probably the most important feature, because I strongly believe we should be setting boundaries between our online and offline lives, and between family, social circle, work colleagues and strangers. Such a thing isn’t really possible on a social network in which everyone’s posting under their real names. Also, I don’t think it’s possible, in our current political climate, to have any meaningful debate without pseudonymity, since it seems fashionable to ensure anyone expressing a dissenting opinion suffers disproportionate ‘social consequences’.
An undersold feature of Minds.com is the ease with which a citizen journalist, blogger, whistleblower, etc. can create and publish content. For the individual user, who wants to protect his/her identity, a Minds.com channel (with publicly-viewable blog posts) is cheaper and easier to maintain than a Web site, and it still provides the same benefits in terms of posting content and getting views.
Problems with the Design and Architecture
Now, for the things I’m not entirely sure about: My main criticism is that Minds.com is not (yet!) actually ‘engineered for freedom of speech, transparency and privacy’ in any tangible sense, as it’s still a centralised service hosted on AWS in the United States. Whether Minds.com defends its principles actually depends on the people running it – people who could sell Minds.com to a corporation, people who might face legal, financial and political pressures, and people who would eventually be hiring others.
When asked, by Neoxian, writing for Steemit, whether Minds could truly be considered decentralised, Ottman gave the following answer:
‘Good questions. It’s decentralized in that ultimately, yes, nodes will be able to optionally federate (this is still in dev). It is censorship resistant in that we allow all legal content, and in the future will integrate torrent options.‘
This is actually not an empty promise. The Minds developers have already been working on a decentralisation component called ‘Nomad‘, which is based on the Beaker browser and the DAT protocol. I’ve experimented with these briefly this weekend, and they really do work. If a P2P system does go mainstream, it’s likely to be this.