Image: Jack Wallen

After I wrote Why it’s time for a new social networking platform and how to make it successful, I was contacted on Twitter by an account I’d never heard of. The account was Minds, and they invited me to give its social networking platform a try.

Minds was launched five years ago by Bill Ottman; since then, the site has continued on in the shadow of the Facebook juggernaut. With a nod to irony, a large portion of Facebook users complain about the service on a daily basis–some even go so far as to say they’d leave Facebook if only an alternative existed. It seems that alternative does exist.

Case in point: Minds is surprisingly similar to Facebook in layout and features, though Minds isn’t a simple clone of Facebook. Minds offers much of what I detailed in my previous article about a new social networking platform.

  • It’s open source and transparent.

  • It offers free and paid accounts.

  • Its ownership and management enforce no political or social bias.

  • User data is not monetized.

  • It offers all the features users are accustomed to.

  • It minimizes hate speech without infringing upon free speech.

Minds uses cryptocurrency that users can earn and spend. The earned tokens can be used to boost posts, and a paid user account costs five tokens per month. The paid account earns users features like:

  • Access to exclusive content;

  • The ability to become verified; and

  • The ability to banish all the boosted posts from their feed.

Users earn tokens by:

  • Posting;

  • Commenting;

  • Receiving upvotes (similar to Likes on Facebook); and

  • Inviting others to join the platform (referral link).

So my curiosity was piqued. I created an account and began to poke around. After a few days, I drew the conclusion that Minds could very well be that social networking platform we’ve all been waiting for.

To that end, I reached out to the CEO of Minds, Bill Ottman, to ask the questions that were on my mind about the site.

SEE: Cheat sheet: Facebook Data Privacy Scandal (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Jack Wallen: What made you start Minds?

Bill Ottman: I have always considered it an absolute necessity and historical inevitability that a free and open source social network rises up to become competitive with the proprietary tech titans. The top global communication platforms of humanity need to respect the freedom and voice of the community; otherwise, we end up where we are with a status-quo of surveillance, algorithmic manipulation, and exploitation. We knew we could not possibly be a sustainable network without building an independent social engine from the ground up, totally non-reliant on big tech APIs.

Jack Wallen: What is it that the likes of Facebook and Twitter are doing wrong?

Bill Ottman: There’s minimal transparency with regards to both governance and software. Proprietary software should not be acceptable from our top networks, as it is impossible to audit. Their content policies are essentially indecipherable, inconsistent, and subjective. They prevent you from reaching your audience with hidden default algorithms. We are not anti-algo, but believe users should decide if they want to use them or not. They pretend to care about your privacy, offering a number of visibility controls, but ignore the ability to be invisible from them.

Jack Wallen: What is it that Facebook and Twitter are doing right?

Bill Ottman: The UX and design is excellent. Clearly they have brilliant developers and product designers who are able to build out robust features from live streaming to messaging services all interoperating cross-platform. They have vast resources to make acquisitions and deeply understand the functionality that people want. Unfortunately, the foundation of everything is upside down.

Jack Wallen: Explain, to the uninitiated, what sets Minds apart from other social platforms?

Bill Ottman:

  • We try to push the boundaries with radical transparency with open source code and even financials.

  • We are community-owned from an early stage with over 1,500 users who actually own stock.

  • We have implemented revenue-sharing and monetization tools to help people earn money, both fiat currency and crypto.

  • We believe that you should be rewarded for your contributions to the network and the engagement that you drive.

  • We don’t require any personal information and encrypt any given.

  • We want to minimize hate speech with free speech, not censorship. In fact, we launched a whole initiative about this at Research shows censorship may in fact cause greater polarization and radicalization than facilitation of legal civil discourse.

Jack Wallen: What made you opt to go the crypto route?

Bill Ottman: Prior to moving to Ethereum, we had a centralized virtual currency called points. This was one of our most popular features, as 1 point=1 view and could be used to Boost posts for greater reach, which people were losing on Facebook at alarming rates. You earned points for many types of engagement. Once Ethereum emerged we saw every reason to migrate the whole reward system to it, as this allows the token economy to become decentralized where users can hold their tokens in their own wallets and transact on-chain, which provides greater transparency as well.

Now, users can accept fiat (via stripe), Bitcoin, Ether, and Minds tokens which are ERC-20. The crypto community typically adheres to values aligned with internet freedom. You can’t and shouldn’t run everything on a blockchain, but we are committed to the P2P route everywhere that makes sense and isn’t an impossible UX. Providing people with options and control is paramount. Do I want to publish this post to an immutable distributed system or not? That’s a choice we want to provide rather than forcing a particular path.

Jack Wallen: How will Minds deal with some of the issues that have faced other platforms such as hate speech and groups that espouse such speech?

Bill Ottman: We launched the Change Minds initiative with our advisor Daryl Davis, who famously deradicalized over 200 members of the KKK through open discourse, basically, befriending them. This human approach, based in free expression and civil dialogue, is much more aligned with our values and peer-reviewed research than blanket ban policies. The goal is to provide a breeding ground for changing minds via civil discourse as Daryl has proven can work, even if it takes years. We also built a jury system for the appeals process to bring the community into the moderation structure. Our approach is long-term and synced with the First Amendment. We care a lot about building tools for people to not see anything they don’t want to see as well as reporting truly harmful content. We think policies involving censorship should be data driven. What actually works?

My take on Minds

I’ve continued using Minds, but do find the small user base to be the one thing in the way of mass adoption. When new users create accounts, they might be hesitant to continue because of the lack of interaction. This is only because we’ve grown so accustomed to our social networking platforms being saturated with users. The easy fix for that is to have people join Minds and experience a Facebook-like service without all the issues that plague the platform.

If I’m being completely honest, Minds is superior to Facebook in all the ways it should be. If only Minds could entice the masses to migrate from their current social network of choice, I think Minds could easily usurp Facebook as the leader in social networking.

There are a few caveats. After doing some research, it seems there’s been (over the years) a number of complaints about unsettling content found on the site.

After some searching on the Minds, I did come across a lot of conspiracy theorists, the spread of a good amount of memes that have been debunked, a large amount of finger pointing that ventures very near hate speech, and although Minds allows NSFW posts, such content is blocked by default (users can opt-into NSFW content through their account settings). There are also a lot of complaints that the boost-via-tokens feature has severely limited how people can use the tool effectively, such as only allowing the use of five tokens every 24 hours.

Of course, these caveats could point to the users that are currently on the platform. Remember, a number of user groups have been banned from certain platforms, so it could be possible that those users have migrated to any site that they can gain access to. Minds could be one such site. With the platform’s mindset of “changing minds” and not blocking free speech, they almost put the onus on the user base to have civil discourse to reach some level of enlightenment.

The unfortunate reality is that a large number of users on social media platforms want nothing to do with civil social discourse, so it’s hard to say if the Mind model will work in the long run.

In the end, to those who’ve grown tired of how Facebook is run, I would recommend you head over to Minds, create an account, and see firsthand that a viable alternative does exist. Hopefully, if the user base grows, it can drown out any of the unsavory content to be found on the site and develop a robust platform for friendly and civil discourse.

Use caution, use kindness, use your mind on Minds.

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