Why I'm Building a New Social Platform

By Commenter MarkStephenson on at

Social network sites are big money. Facebook, with its $104 billion IPO and $1b profit (2011); Twitter valued at around $10-$11b; newcomers Pinterest getting $200m at a $2.5b valuation, and the behemoth Google gaining traction with G+. With these and a plethora of other international and niche networks, why would anyone bother trying to launch their own? Because, I’m kind of a knob.

I’ll expand on that.

I’m the kind of guy that goes into a bar and asks for the beer they don’t have (even if I know they don’t have it). I’ll ask for mint sauce with a pork dinner (because I like it) and up until recently I was the guy that got annoyed by too many adverts on Facebook.

Like a lot of other people out there, I didn’t feel like I was getting quite what I wanted, so I complained, bitterly. That was until I heard the following quote:

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way” – Thomas Paine.

I had to google that. I heard it on a film called Idiocracy; nevertheless it stuck with me and I took it to heart. I’m definitely not the guy who just gets out of the way; I wasn’t going to accept the current offering (because it does 80 per cent of what I want), so that left one option. Do something myself.


What’s My Problem?

I share quite a few of the common complaints, but do have a list of many more, naturally --a lot more than the word-count of this column will allow. In an effort to be concise, I’m going to focus solely on Facebook, but I plan on writing “Why Google+ just isn’t enough (for me)” on my blog, too.

Like almost everyone else on the planet, I have a Facebook account. I do believe that they offer some pretty cool stuff, so it’s not all bad, but there is enough badness to irk me on a daily basis:

- Privacy & Adverts (symptoms of the real problem)
As a regular user, some of my biggest complaints are in relation to the use of me as a commodity, in the wrong way. The real problem is FOCUS.

From the off, Facebook’s plan for generating revenue was to sell targeted advertising space; as time went on, the amount of commercial messages on the site has become ridiculous. Even their signup page now features external advertising! 86 per cent of their revenue now comes from selling adverts, and this is annoying for a number of reasons...

1. Facebook uses your name; your image, and your data to make you unwillingly act as brand ambassadors in convincing your friends to click adverts.
2. You’re not getting the information you asked for. I opened Facebook the other day and 2/3 of the screen was used by stuff other than the information I wanted. Almost half of the screen was advertising (see picture).

3. Most importantly, because their focus is on selling adverts, it’s not on providing the service that we want and ask for. Simply, our goals are not aligned. And if you think the new (albeit beautiful) news feed will save you from advertising hell, you are wrong. The whole purpose of ‘de-cluttering’ was to allow larger images, to be used for larger adverts. Additionally, developers now have tools to create larger game ‘stories’ on your profile...which you still can't filter out completely.

If you think the adverts are annoying now, wait until they start with the auto-playing video adverts on your walls, pages and eventually, inboxes.

- Choice & Control (what choice and control!?)
You have no say in the direction the site takes. Your opinion doesn’t matter. Although I personally quite like the timeline feature, a lot of people didn’t want it. My objection, the same as many others, is that this feature (and others to come) was not optional. We gave the data that is being shared, not thinking that we wouldn’t have a say over how it would be displayed.
Coupled with the fact that there are no customisation options (other than profile pic and timeline header) I for one feel like my individuality is not being, or able to be, expressed.

As of last week, there is a new news feed. It looks great, but how about making the change optional, Facebook? I don’t want to be a follower, I want to be in control.

If nothing else, I would love better control over notifications (read: Game Requests!). You either have to block each app/game, or switch off notifications from ALL apps.

A small number of other Facebook grievances:
- There is no ‘Dislike’ button. Despite protest and petition it still doesn’t exist.
- Hijacked threads. People go way off topic on a reply and I have to get the notifications. Why not enable ‘reply to a reply’ and allow people to unsubscribe to a branch?
- You can’t reply to a message with media, which is a feature I really want. Admittedly, this might be to stop people comparing photos of what they have for lunch every day. But let’s filter that crap out too, eh?
- I can only access my Facebook email, and Facebook contacts through the site. I want a unified view of my messaging, events and information.


Business (Social Media Advertising and Interaction)

Once upon a time if you had a business page, you would type a message and people who ‘like’ you would see it. Now, because of ‘sponsored pages’ and ‘promoted’ posts, that number is artificially restricted. In order to get your message out, you have to pay. As an example, I came across a group with 8,000 likes, but each post only had around 200-300 views.

For smaller businesses, Facebook is billed as a solution to increase exposure at no cost. In fact, for most startups it now increases burden. Not only do you need your own website, you need your own Facebook page, and to spend time and money updating both with content, only then to pay to get your message out. If you want any custom content, you will also have to pay for apps to be written, as there is no in-built functionality for content management.


Leading the Way

Ok, so you’ve seen my list of gripes and no doubt have your own to add to the pile. You may now be even more annoyed with the FB affliction than I am.

But fear not. There is an antidote, from my fair hands: one with no more adverts or imposed changes, and one which offers privacy as a default: TheDownLow.

When creating my social networking site, I aimed to avoid all of the issues I saw in Facebook:
- TheDownLow won’t sell your personal data, or use your image to sell adverts.
- Our proposed revenue streams are focused on providing value-added services, not selling screen space, so to make money we have to give you the great features and functionality that you want.
- The site is customisable, modular, and allows optional aggregation of your existing social media accounts. You get to have your pages look the way you want, with the information and apps you want, where you want them. We won’t enforce unnecessary design changes; use the new features, or don’t.
- We will have a digital democracy. We plan on opening up our development process to the users who can actively suggest and vote on development priorities.

You could be part of a network where:
- You can turn off notifications by app category (or individually).
- Use Like, Dislike and Meh!-equivalent buttons.
- Threaded messages allow replies to replies, with media.
- You can use an intelligent, unified email system, with the option to only receive email from people you know.
- Enjoy amazingly beautiful, usable, features to better help you communicate, organise and manage your real life.
- As a business owner, our functionality will give you more control over your content, allow deeper engagement with your customers, all whilst reducing the overall time and cost needed to maintain your online presence.

Oh, and don’t worry about losing touch with your Facebook and Twitter friends, as the site reads/sends information between the two (only if you want to of course). So you get to have your cake and eat it too, so to speak.

Mark was an IT contractor...until he watched the film Idiocracy, and decided to set up TheDownLow. If you would like more information on the social networking site, visit it here, or leave a comment on this column and he'll endeavour to answer any queries.

Spiels From “Them Below” is our new series of columns written by “them below”; the thousands of readers who comment tirelessly, or tirelessly read, Gizmodo UK. Have you got something to lament? Extol? Ponder? Get in touch at kat.hannaford[at]futurenet.com, after reading the details here. Disclaimer: Spiels From “Them Below” doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of Gizmodo UK or its editors.

Image Credit: social networking, from Shutterstock

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