In the past seven days Americans stormed the U.S. Capitol building, Twitter and Facebook banned Donald Trump from their platforms, Google and Apple banned Parler from their respective app stores, and AWS stopped providing Parler with infrastructure services. Stripe and Shopify also stopped providing cloud services to Trump and Twilio cut off Parler. I didn't keep track of all the enforcement actions, but they're easy to find if you're interested.
I'm going to fast forward past the debate about the merits of these actions, the novelty and importance of the precedent, and the likely outcomes, because we've gone off the rails long before this point. But when? Was it inevitable? Can we fix it?
A year ago I built a small hobby project— an alternative Twitter client on top of Twitter’s public API. For fun I made it look like Hacker News. I dropped all the engagement elements from the UI (it was easy because "dropping" meant "not adding"). I didn't build support for notifications or individual likes— you could tell how many people liked a tweet, but not who the people were.
I used a different algorithm for the timeline. The algorithm picked thirty of the top tweets and arranged them on the front page in the same way that Hacker News arranges submissions. The redesigned timeline immediately made it obvious that viral divisive tweets came from a handful of people. I added a handy link to filter them out.
When I started using this client I was stunned. The lack of notifications and inability to see which specific people liked the tweets completely changed the experience. I found myself being... calmer? I could evaluate the tweets on their own merit and I was able to enjoy the content without Twitter's hamster wheel. No more knee-jerk reactions. It's difficult to overstate how different the experience felt. A few slight UI changes made a dramatic difference.
The argument that giving everyone in world the ability to talk to everyone else is what radicalized people was never compelling to me. With billions of people online there will always be abuse. But there is nothing inevitable about social media putting people into a constant state of agitation. This state is a consequence of the business model of the social media companies. Change the business model and you change the incentives. Change the incentives and you change the experience. Change the experience, and you may be able to walk everyone off the ledge.
We've explored a small fraction of the design space for social media. Can we build a platform that’s both engaging and prosocial? To find out I'm starting a new social network Myrme (pronounced "murm" as in "murmur"). The north star for Myrme is to promote civil discourse. Myrme will not be ad-supported. It will use a new business model that will incentivize civility rather than agitation, and new technology that will accrue power in the hands of the users rather than a single corporate entity.
I'm recruiting the first 10 users for Myrme. This group will help set product direction and influence the cultural tone for the next billion users. If you're interested in becoming an early user, e-mail your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word "Myrme" somewhere in the subject. Note: this is not a job opportunity (yet). The makeup of this group is extremely important, so the selection process of initial users must by necessity be rigorous.
More details coming soon. See you on the other side.