Mosaic: A Viable Human-centered Alternative to Facebook

  • Briefly describe how Facebook is a threat to a free, open, and healthy society.
  • Enumerate the challenges in building a viable Human-centered alternative to Facebook that addresses the various problems that Facebook currently presents.
  • Introduce the high level approach to building Mosaic, a decentralized and self sovereign human-centered social media network.
  • Inspire a critical mass of relevant actors to support and engage in a holistic design process that will produce an actionable plan to build out the network.

Outline

The Problem with Facebook
What is the Solution? Mosaic!
Why Haven’t Facebook Challengers Succeeded Yet
A Holistic Design Process, a Next Step
Mosaic’s High Level Design
— A Self Sovereign Architecture
— — Personal Data Vaults
— — Decentralized Identifiers
— — Verifiable Credentials
— Community Spaces
— News Feeds and Peer-to-Peer Messaging
— Moderation
Issues We’ll Need to Grapple With
— Censorship
— Social Health & Mental Well Being
— Fake News & Sensemaking
— Democracy
Business and Organizational Models
— The Mosaic Foundation
The Art of the Possible
Call to Action
Appendix
— Why Other Efforts Have Failed or Floundered

The Problem with Facebook

While social media has the potential to empower people to share, connect, and act in positive ways, it is now mainstream understanding that the current social media paradigm is taking an unacceptable toll on society. From issues of fake news, civil liberties, mental health, and our democracies, Facebook is fundamentally unequipped to deal with the unintended problems it has created and unable to course correct to foster a human-centered social media paradigm. In some cases Facebook’s attempt to address these issues with censorship tactics may ultimately be worse than the problems they are trying to address. Facebook is not built and operated to lift up humanity, it is tuned to maximize profit for its shareholders. This is not a dynamic that Facebook can unwind even if it wanted to; it’s hands are tied.

What is the Solution? Mosaic!

The Web and social media will continue to be a prominent part of modern life. It is incumbent on us to design, build, and evolve our digital infrastructure towards our highest principles. Mosaic aims to be a human-centered social media platform optimized to preserve civil liberties, address the mental and social health issues associated with Facebook, and enhance our Democracies. It will be a decentralized network that gives total ownership and control of data to each user. The underlying code and algorithms will be available for all to see and thus can be audited. Each person will be empowered to select custom algorithms to shape their experience to their liking.

Why Haven’t Facebook Challengers Succeeded Yet?

If a far better social media network than Facebook is possible, then why hasn’t one emerged to compete with and even replace Facebook? My best answer is because it is a multifaceted hard problem that requires a strange combination of conventional and unconventional solutions and the audacity to take on a Goliath.

A Holistic Design Process, a Next Step

To deliver on the promise of Mosaic and “solve” the multifaceted hard problem, we’ll need to bring together diverse stakeholders into a holistic design process to thoroughly explore the critical challenges. We’ll have to arrive at superior approaches to addressing the difficult issues related to civil liberties, the health of society, and psychological well being. In the rest of this article I will present possible solutions to some of these hard problems. I have many more details to share once the holistic design process commences and there are many unknowns for the design team to illuminate.

Mosaic’s High Level Design

A Self Sovereign Architecture

Putting people in control of their data and digital identities will radically change data power dynamics and improve social media and the Web. There are emerging Web standards and technologies that when combined would empower this new paradigm. These tools enable the development of decentralized Web applications and encompass what many are calling Self Sovereign Architecture.

Community Spaces

Community spaces will play a crucial role in the usefulness, meaning making, and growth of Mosaic. Community spaces are groups, clubs, organizations, effectively smaller networks within the Mosaic network. They are distinguished from the rest of the network by who moderates and governs the space. A global scale social app can’t be expected to have the exact features and administrative tools that specialized groups require. Rather than being like a generic Facebook group the features and governance can be tailored to specific needs and goals of these digital spaces. Examples include:

  • Clubs: School, Book, Chess, etc..
  • Groups: Sports, Interests, Regional, etc…
  • Organizations: Corporations, Nonprofits, NGOs, Government Agencies
  • Civic Spaces: Town Halls, Participatory Budgeting, etc..
  • Networks: Marketplaces, Mutual Aid Networks, Political Parties, etc…

News Feeds and Peer-to-Peer Messaging

In addition to community spaces Mosaic will need to include a news feed as well as a messaging service. People will be able to connect with friends and follow others. More likely than not notifications will come in from connections and community spaces and aggregate into a news feed-like area. These are basic features of modern social media.

Moderation

Community spaces are key to getting moderation right. We want healthy social media spaces that protect free speech while minimizing hate speech, cyber bullying, and misinformation. Truly protecting free speech means protecting speech we don’t agree with. To strike this balance I propose that much, if not all, of the moderation be performed at the community and individual level. This is how society works in the physical world. It makes sense that moderators come from the communities of people they are moderating, that they are embedded in the relevant social context and able to understand and act on subtleties that global moderators just can’t tune into.

Issues We’ll Need to Grapple With

Censorship

Freedom of speech, freedom to assembly, and freedom of association are pillars of a free society — enshrined in the first amendment of the US constitution. While it is understandable why some think certain speech should be censored, it would be a mistake to relinquish our first amendment rights to Facebook and other large social media organizations. If it’s not illegal it shouldn’t be censored by the main network, moderation should happen at the community and individual level, not on a national or global scale.

Social Health & Mental Well Being

The current social media paradigm has serious negative impacts on social health and mental well being. This ranges from political polarization, social media addiction, to the inability to form healthy relationships. Unfortunately Facebook is built to maximize advertising revenue, which is accomplished by hijacking as much of our attention as possible. Facebook is not tuned to maximize social health or foster positive relationships.

Fake News & Sensemaking

Knowing what is and is not true is a cornerstone of a stable civilization. When our ability to make sense of the world and our collective understanding of the truth breaks down we lose social cohesion and some capabilities to function effectively as a modern society. Civilization decay, or even collapse, could result from the breakdown of collective sense making.

Democracy

Facebook is corroding the Democratic process by unleashing targeted advertising into the political sphere, enabling political forces to distribute personalized content that exploits our biases for their benefit. Facebook enables political forces and monied interests to anonymously spread lies, fear, and even hate on an unprecedented scale.

Business and Organizational Models

As previously mentioned, Facebook’s ad-based business model incentivizes them to maximize users’ time on Facebook, not the value users receive from the service. You are not the customer, the advertisers are. We can give Facebook the benefit of the doubt by assuming their negative impact to social health, mental well being, democracy, and civil rights were never intended, that they are natural outcomes of their organizational structure and business model.

  • Hosting services for Personal Data Vaults
  • Hosting services for Community Spaces
  • Community Space Design (think wordpress template)
  • Community Space Administration (e.g. club management)
  • Hardware providers (host your PDV at home or in your office)
  • A monthly fee (like a website hosting fee)
  • Access to our information (e.g. gmail)
  • Our attention (advertisements)

The Mosaic Foundation

I suggest that the not-for-profit that maintains the core code for the network be the Mosaic Foundation. As the design process progresses an initial stewardship council, similar to a board of directors, will be formed. This stewardship council will relinquish power as a new governance system evolves.

The Art of the Possible

Like society itself social media is inherently messy but certainly we can create a social media platform that is a massive improvement over Facebook. Without the profit maximizing directive in the way, we can prioritize the public interest. Not only can we build a social media that is better for our mental health, it will simply be more enjoyable and useful. We’ll have transparency for reasons of social health and democracy, and protect our civil liberties by baking in data ownership and control. Ideally Mosaic will be digital infrastructure that helps enable a global movement to create a more just, regenerative, and meaningful world.

Call to Action

We simply cannot allow the current trends to unfold, further damaging our personal and social health, our democracies, and infringing on our civil liberties. The long term health of our nation and world are at stake. The longer we wait the harder it will be to reverse the damage. There may be a temptation to switch to an existing platform rather than building something new as proposed here. I believe we ultimately need new digital infrastructure that bakes civil liberties into the core of the solution and prevents society from getting locked into a proprietary monopoly like Facebook ever again. If you are interested in this project I invite you to join me in doing the hard work to get this right, to advise, design, and launch Mosaic.

Appendix

Why Other Efforts Have Failed or Floundered

There have already been many efforts to improve on Facebook. I thought it would be useful to touch on some of the most notable and address why they haven’t succeeded, or aren’t likely to succeed, in supplanting Facebook. I share these shortcomings as a person that hoped each would succeed and for the purpose of learning from these experiments. It’s possible that one of them may yet succeed in taking over Facebook.

  • No sustainable business model
  • Poor marketing and/or fringe audience
  • Only marginally better than Facebook but fundamentally the same

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Mosaic Foundation (Adam Lake)

Mosaic Foundation (Adam Lake)

Bringing people together to build the next generation Web. mosaic.social