Occupy Facebook: innovation in the era of social protest

December 29, 2011 | Leave a comment

Occupy UMWired reports that a group involved in the Occupy movement is working on its own decentralized social networking platform:

“I don’t want to say we’re making our own Facebook. But, we’re making our own Facebook,” said Ed Knutson, a web and mobile app developer who joined a team of activist-geeks redesigning social networking for the era of global protest.

Dave Winer notes that it probably won’t succeed:

There is no market for that. Facebook is the Facebook for the 99 percent. The goal should be to make something open and non-monolithic that provides many of the most valuable services of Facebook without the silo walls. It should not be something that an individual does, or a small group laboring heroically, rather it should be something that the Internet does.

In principle, I agree with Dave. It’s a fundamental mistake that a lot of people make when they build a social site. I used to spend a fair amount of my time at Elgg dissuading people from trying to make the new MySpace (which was the hot thing at the time), and inevitably, none of the neo-MySpace generic social networking sites worked out. Where open social networking did work out was for specific use cases: connecting people inside charities, providing platforms for reflective learning in education, rallying around causes or products.

However, that’s also an argument for why a social engine for Occupy might succeed. If it’s geared specifically at the needs for protest, while using existing technologies and simple solutions where appropriate standards don’t exist, it may become the first broadly-adopted decentralized social platform. From the backbone of Occupy using it, I can easily imagine other progressive organizations and individuals picking it up, eventually spreading through the academic sector – until it finally reaches the commercial world. Sure, there’s no market for that, but there’s a drive and motivation.

In an age where laws like SOPA are considered – where the threat of sites being yanked off the Internet without due process is real – decentralization in platforms underpinning progressive causes makes a lot of sense. You can easily imagine the “retweet” or “reshare” feature found in the likes of Twitter or Tumblr being used to create a copy of information so that it spreads across the network like an old-school Usenet post; a kind of social multicast which ensures that nothing really dies. Some nodes may live in the cloud, some on dedicated server clusters, and others on always-on home computers linked via a Comcast router; the same free speech, everywhere, indelible and impossible to control.

That’s a future I can get behind, and a platform I’d love to be involved with. In comparison, taking on Facebook just seems so small.

Occupy photo by Sasha Y. Kimel, released under a Creative Commons license.

The Facebook Timeline in the New York Times

December 15, 2011 | Leave a comment

Facebook Timeline: lost a loved one?I’m quoted in the New York Times article about the global release of the Facebook Timeline:

“We’ve all been dropping status updates and photos into a void,” said Ben Werdmuller, the chief technology officer at Latakoo, a video service. “We knew we were sharing this much, of course, but it’s weird to realize they’ve been keeping this information and can serve it up for anyone to see.”

Mr. Werdmuller, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., said that the experience of browsing through his social history on Facebook was emotionally evocative – not unlike unearthing an old yearbook or shoebox filled with photographs and letters.

Regular readers will know that my opinion goes beyond it being “weird”. Here’s how I described it back in September:

Except now, when someone clicks through from anywhere on the web that uses Facebook Connect to see your profile, they’ll really see you: your life in context. It’s a contextual identity; something you won’t get from a real name, a passport, an ID card, or even a DNA profile. Whereas previously profiles were a collection of hand-picked pieces of information coupled with some things you’d shared recently, now you’ll see wedding photos, pictures of drunken nights on the town four years ago, and perhaps a status update you made when you were hurt and upset after something you’ve long forgotten that happened in 2006 – mixed up with more professional status updates and links, of course.

You can read my entire Facebook Timeline post over here, and here’s today’s New York Times article.