A little while ago in too Big To Fail, I wondered when we’d notice how powerful global organisations like Twitter, Facebook and Google are (those last two account for around 70% of all mobile advertising in the world) and how they trade on our identities as their stock in trade.  I wondered what might disrupt their dominance.  Maybe what might even kill say, Facebook,  or at least cause them to have to evolve, lest they die.

@TheBakeryLDN tweeted a sequence of these back in March this year, one each for G+, Twitter and this one that shows what Facebook shares with organisations that you login to through them.  They use it in others ways, especially for advertising. It is fine, it is what we agree to when we click, “I Agree”, to the terms and conditions.  We all think that through don’t we? It’s a deal we do consciously, diligently, isn’t it? Well, no, mostly we don’t. We just like being sociable and its free, so what the hell. Except it isn’t, is it… I hate not being in some kind of control. Total control is of course impossible, but that’s no reason to despair and give up altogether.  I really object to the way the that power in the web has been centralised and is owned by so very few.



Let’s say we invent a new company called MyChoiceBank.  It might be a not for profit.  Better still we might just embed it as a standard component in the internet.  What we’d do is store all our preferences there, like those above.  Keep ownership but better still get some control back and re decentralise it, you know like the internet is supposed to be.  We’ve let that big, open, standards based thing we call the web fall into a very few hands.

Let’s take a use case for MyChoiceBank. This is a bit like Paypal in some ways, you can store money there, have an account and conduct financial transactions through it.  It would need regulating, likely at a national level unlike Paypal.  Unlike Paypal, MyChoiceBank is first and foremost an open, interoperable standard.

Now let’s look at one of the earliest social media platforms for a second to see how MyChoiceBank might work.  Email.

What?! Email a social media platform?  But we hate email, don’t we?  Social Media will replace it! Well it is rather over used in corporations, when we should just talk to each other, and the volume of spam in our personal email is very irritating. But as a tool for quickly defining an audience (a To: list), a topic (a Subject:) and getting a conversation going, adding or removing people as you go, its rather effective really.  The conversations tend to be closed and other social media platforms are better at the open stuff, but email has some good features.

The best things about email is that it is open, anyone can set it up, it is interoperable, one email conversation can be received and interacted with by people on any implementation, and it is standard.

Now of course I bloody hate email, it tyrannises my working life, but in my personal life I rather like it.  Except that is for the spam and for the way my provider machine reads my email and sends me adverts, so it can be “free”.

Let’s say I set up a new email company called ChoiceMail.

It can be free if I am happy to get adverts and spam. If I make that choice then it is no different to any other provider.

Or I can pay £1 per month for it if I want to be in control.

How to I exert control? Easy,  I set a price for inbound email.  I manage the money through my MyChoiceBank account (not my ChoiceMail account, I pay them £1, though I could of course pay for that through my MyChoiceBank account, I might even make some money, especially from my MyChoiceTube work).

Here it gets weird:

That price for inbound email is 0p (yes, zero) for people I decide I trust.  That can be anyone I identify, but to keep it simple it might be anyone in my ChoiceMail contacts list, my Facebook friends, Linked in contacts, Twitter followers.  If we’ve lost touch, that means you can connect on Facebook first and once we are friends you can email me for free.

For everyone else the charge might be £0.001p (yes, one thousandth of a penny).  I might increase that if it does not have the desired affect.  I might make £1m just for a a laugh!

That thousandth of a penny is a killer to a spammer who sends billions of emails.

Simple, I get my privacy back, I get rid of spam and I get personal email that is no longer a tyranny but a well functioning utility.

I can imagine a ChoiceTube (for my stop motion Lego movies), ChoiceBook (for interacting with friends without adverts), a ProffChoice for professional connections where I pay from my MyChoiceBank account to highlight my CV to recruiters when I want to move, a Banter for streaming but without adverts and so on.  But I’d also like all those to be open, interoperable and standards based too.

Anyone fancy disrupting things a little so we can be in control and re decentralise the web?


Tribes and Civilisations

I listened to a podcast from This American Life yesterday. It was called Tribes. That’s a terribly fashionable topic. I also read by @flipchartrick which is always interesting.

They made me think how we behave sometimes, especially on social media where our more conscious civilised conventions have yet to catch up with our more instinctive tribal behaviour.

One of the points made in the podcast was about how destructively exclusive tribes can be. How if two members of two tribes meet accidentally in an isolated spot they may be fearful and spend time talking carefully, desperately seeking common ground, say trying to identify a shared cousin. When no common ground is found there comes a point where the two may fight or one may simply run away. 

That struck me as an extreme representation of the general case, but properly reflected a situation I found myself in about 25 years ago in a tube station in London. 

Me and a group of friends had been to a football match. Crystal Palace vs someone, I can’t remember.

Later, after a few beers, we were approached in a tube station by a group of snarling, drunk Millwall supporters. You didn’t mess with that lot. Even in a more gentrified footballing world, where white socks and Fred Perry shirts have mostly been replaced by an otherwise beige M&S man sporting (ok, inhabiting) a replica shirt with, “Dad”, written on the back, I dare say you still don’t.

“Are you Stoke!?”, they snarled. I assume they’d played Stoke that afternoon.

The implication was clear. 

“You’d better not be, or else”.

The thing is, I’m from Leeds and two of the others were from Lancaster and Scunthorpe. We weren’t from Stoke, it was much worse than that, we were northerners and one of us was from Leeds!

The fourth member of our group was from somewhere in South London. 

He raised his hand, which we rightly took to mean, “Keep your mouths shut.”, and talked us out if it in the most bizarre way.

It was alarming, but what followed amazed and, later, amused me.

Our guy, John said, “No, we support Leyton Orient, we got thrashed 3-0 by so and so utd today.”

The knuckle draggers, “Shame, so and so utd are **insert extreme insults to ability and parentage**, better luck next week lads.”

And that was that. We wandered off, a little bewildered at the ease of our escape, having lived to avoid fighting on another day.

It turned out that there is / was a non aggression pact between Leyton Orient and Millwall based on some link or other, perhaps Leyton Orient is a feeder club or something, who knows. By invoking Leyton Orient, John had been able to be imprecise as well, so as to avoid any detailed cross examination, and we’d got away with it.

John knew this trick because he was actually a Charlton fan and had used it before. It seems highly likely that that’s who Crystal Palace were playing now I think. I’ve no idea what relations between Charlton and Millwall were like. I guess bad enough to not be an adequate alternative to being, “Stoke”.

Basically, Leyton Orient were the shared cousin.

Rick’s latest blog is about how we behave on Facebook (etc) and the things we’ve yet to learn.  It is explicit in our culture that we shouldn’t be racist, homophobic or sexist.  We don’t all obey the rules but we know them, and when people break them we can confidently call it wrong when people do.

Other rules are still implicit. One is that ridiculing people we don’t know on Facebook (etc) is wrong. 

A confession, if I’m in a pub with friends and someone comes in wearing sandals and socks, I may nudge and wink, we may snigger. He is not of my tribe, the smug tribe. That’s bad but it’s contained in a group in a pub and my tribe will likely shush each other and change the subject so the sartorial buffoon won’t know he’s the butt of our jokes. We’re quite nice really. It’s wrong but contained. We are human yet humane. Tribal yet civilised.

It is in our tribal nature to isolate, humiliate and attack those outside our tribes. People who don’t support Millwall or who wear sandals with socks (though I read in today’s The Times that this is now fine, but then so are unruly beards.).

Overriding that instinct is part of what makes us civilised, with all it’s benefits.

Facebook (etc) is not a pub.  If it were, then it would be a huge one, where it would be acceptable to stand on a table with a megaphone and a theatrical spotlight, repeatedly pointing out men in socks and sandals. It might even be acceptable to wear a mask so we could be anonymous while doing so.

Public ridicule and humiliation is wrong.

Espousing views anonymously, unless perhaps you might reasonably fear those you are criticising, is wrong too.

Those rules are obvious and so implicit in real life. On line we will likely have to make them explicit and repeat them for a few generations to make them stick.

Perhaps it’s about time we started adding a few simple rules like that to our culture so as to make them explicit.

Boringly, we might have to add them somehow to our laws too.

I’d love to know what you think, but if you do comment, feel free to be forthright but let us know who you are and try to be polite.

PS I’ve not forgotten the piece I promised on the death of Facebook. It’s got a bit long but will doubtless see the light some time soon.