The Network I Want

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Over on the NYT Blogs Jenna Wortham has written a piece about Instagram and the internet’s “secret” places. It’s a great piece and she discusses a number of things really interesting to me, especially given the recent acquisition of Instagram. I’ve written before about how the personal nature of Instagram was very appealing and I think that their focus was on just one thing (they didn’t even have a web UI) really worked well for them. It felt private, even if it wasn’t, and that was attractive. But with Facebook, arguably the least private place on the web, taking over the controls there, it’s no longer even a pretend safe haven. Jenna writes:

“…privacy is an illusion. There is no fail-safe way to publish privately online. Top-secret tweets and conversations can always be captured by screen shot and texted or e-mailed.”

Which is true, and something people need to realize more often. I had high hopes that Path would be a private place but it’s hard to feel private when updates are published to Facebook, and it’s hard to see the value in limiting connections, when in a click of a button you can share with everyone. I desperately want a place that doesn’t share with everyone. I recalled a few notes I made last year, kind of a wish list…

– No main bucket of friends
– Friends have to be added to a group immediately
– Can have as many groups as you want
– No more than 25 friends in a group
– Groups are shared completely (all members need to agree on people in it)
– You only choose who you share with
– No way to know if the other person watches you or not (silent pausing)
– Can invite, but no notification if declined
– No visibility of how many circles you have

– photos
– video
– audio
– locations
– tips
– text (long)
– text (sms)

– Hosting distributed, look to bittorrent perhaps with shared pieces – no central db
– maintain user list, but not content
– key is super secure and private
– hosted outside of the US

I started making this list of things I want in this social network. Mostly I want something private and useful. I want to have
a core group of people who I can share things with, without it turning into a status situation of who is sharing more with who, or who has more people following.

I can’t overstate the “privacy” aspect of this enough. It has to be safe and comfortable, not another place where people follow celebrities. I want a place were only real friends share with real friends. I’d like a way to distribute the central point of it so that there is no batch of data about people that could be requested/stolen by anyone.

I think keeping groups under 25 is the key, maybe 24 because then you need to be hyper selective of who you choose for what group. From a dashboard perspective I don’t know that I want to lump everything together ever, perhaps it should just have a list of your groups and the updates in each of those so you can click through. Default would be an overhead view of all the groups you are involved with

– how many people in them
– how many updates since last you looked (syncing will be key)

I like the idea of the mutually agreed upon group
– By joining a group you are agreeing to share with all (up to) 25
people in the group.
– Any member can add a member
– Any member can remove a member
– Who added/removed details are visible within the circle
– People will be accountable for the people they bring in, as well as
for their actions once in.

I think this will help keep the groups very private and trusting, and coupled with the assurance that there is no built in way for anything to be published out to the web this could be highly appealing to a lot of people. A secure meeting place for businesses, friends, boards, etc. There are a lot of “inner circle” uses for this kind of network.

It’s interesting because in an environment where people are constantly trying to get more attention from more people and more likes and more followers, I find myself wanting less. I don’t want yet another place where the same people share the same things with the whole world. I want something more intimate. And having the option to have a private group on Facebook or a small circle on Google+ isn’t intimate at all. It’s a step in the right direction, but a very small step and in the context of these giant “share with everyone” atmospheres, nothing ever really feels private.

Which gets back to the genesis of this post – Instagram felt private. And it doesn’t anymore. I think there’s a really big market for sharing with fewer people. I guess we’ll see if anyone else agrees.



  1. Path has a choice to head to privacy or more toward openness, and I think they are heading toward open.

    What are you are talking about it a kind of mashup of the old WASTE file sharing system with a mobile app display system. Not terribly hard to implement, but addressing the “mutually agreed upon group” issues would require some serious brain power on key revocation and redistribution.

    Making it into a business would be difficult. And finding enough privacy minded individuals to scale and be involved would also be a challenge.

    But I think what you are dancing around is reputation. Knowing whether or not friends know someone and vouch for them is a huge opportunity as long as both positive and negative issues can be surfaced. Also, being able to anonymize your group’s rating on a person would allow more truthful ratings of individuals. Being able to know whom’s opinion to trust on what topics will become crucial. For example, I would able to trust your knowledge on brewing coffee, but not on how to BBQ meat.

    Comment by Michael — April 12, 2012 @ 1:17 pm
  2. I think what I heard as the original concept for diaspora is the next step: a physical device in your domicile that hosts all of your shared content, managed like a virtual file system, on which one can grant unix-style permissions. Michael is right, the issue is authentication and key management.

    I can see the UN as a model. You’d have to have something like a security council, members with key revocation privs on everyone else’s keys. That’s absolute trust in PGP terms (and I only give that out in person). But, that could cascade to a group managed by a shared key, which people could opt in and out of, but they’d need permission from the security council, unanimous permission, to join.

    Yeah, makes my brain hurt.

    Comment by Richard — April 12, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

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