Can we build a social network that serves users rather than advertisers?

Find out how Human Connection puts transparency and community first.
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358 readers like this
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Today, open source software is far-reaching and has played a key role driving innovation in our digital economy. The world is undergoing radical change at a rapid pace. People in all parts of the world need a purpose-built, neutral, and transparent online platform to meet the challenges of our time.

And open principles might just be the way to get us there. What would happen if we married digital innovation with social innovation using open-focused thinking?

This question is at the heart of our work at Human Connection, a forward-thinking, Germany-based knowledge and action network with a mission to create a truly social network that serves the world. We're guided by the notion that human beings are inherently generous and sympathetic, and that they thrive on benevolent actions. But we haven't seen a social network that has fully supported our natural tendency towards helpfulness and cooperation to promote the common good. Human Connection aspires to be the platform that allows everyone to become an active changemaker.

In order to achieve the dream of a solution-oriented platform that enables people to take action around social causes by engaging with charities, community groups, and social change activists, Human Connection embraces open values as a vehicle for social innovation.

Here's how.

Transparency first

Transparency is one of Human Connection's guiding principles. Human Connection invites programmers around the world to jointly work on the platform's source code (JavaScript, Vue, nuxt) by making their source code available on Github and support the idea of a truly social network by contributing to the code or programming additional functions.

But our commitment to transparency extends beyond our development practices. In fact—when it comes to building a new kind of social network that promotes true connection and interaction between people who are passionate about changing the world for the better—making the source code available is just one step towards being transparent.

To facilitate open dialogue, the Human Connection team holds regular public meetings online. Here we answer questions, encourage suggestions, and respond to potential concerns. Our Meet The Team events are also recorded and made available to the public afterwards. By being fully transparent with our process, our source code, and our finances, we can protect ourselves against critics or other potential backlashes.

The commitment to transparency also means that all user contributions that shared publicly on Human Connection will be released under a Creative Commons license and can eventually be downloaded as a data pack. By making crowd knowledge available, especially in a decentralized way, we create the opportunity for social pluralism.

Guiding all of our organizational decisions is one question: "Does it serve the people and the greater good?" And we use the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a foundation for our value system. As we'll grow bigger, especially with our upcoming open beta launch, it's important for us to stay accountable to that mission. I'm even open to the idea of inviting the Chaos Computer Club or other hacker clubs to verify the integrity of our code and our actions by randomly checking into our platform.

When it comes to building a new kind of social network that promotes true connection and interaction between people who are passionate about changing the world for the better, making the source code available is just one step towards being transparent.

A collaborative community

A collaborative, community-centered approach to programming the Human Connection platform is the foundation for an idea that extends beyond the practical applications of a social network. Our team is driven by finding an answer to the question: "What makes a social network truly social?"

A network that abandons the idea of a profit-driven algorithm serving advertisers instead of end-users can only thrive by turning to the process of peer production and collaboration. Organizations like Code Alliance and Code for America, for example, have demonstrated how technology can be created in an open source environment to benefit humanity and disrupt the status quo. Community-driven projects like the map-based reporting platform FixMyStreet or the Tasking Manager built for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap initiative have embraced crowdsourcing as a way to move their mission forward.

Our approach to building Human Connection has been collaborative from the start. To gather initial data on the necessary functions and the purpose of a truly social network, we collaborated with the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO) at the University Sorbonne in Paris and the Stuttgart Media University in Germany. Research findings from both projects were incorporated into the early development of Human Connection. Thanks to that research, users will have a whole new set of functions available that put them in control of what content they see and how they engage with others. As early supporters are invited to the network's alpha version, they can experience the first available noteworthy functions. Here are just a few:

  • Linking information to action was one key theme emerging from our research sessions. Current social networks leave users in the information stage. Student groups at both universities saw a need for an action-oriented component that serves our human instinct of working together to solve problems. So we built a "Can Do" function into our platform. It's one of the ways individuals can take action after reading about a certain topic. "Can Do's" are user-suggested activities in the "Take Action" area that everyone can implement.
  • The "Versus" function is another defining result. Where traditional social networks are limited to a comment function, our student groups saw the need for a more structured and useful way to engage in discussions and arguments. A "Versus" is a counter-argument to a public post that is displayed separately and provides an opportunity to highlight different opinions around an issue.
  • Today's social networks don't provide a lot of options to filter content. Research has shown that a filtering option by emotions can help us navigate the social space in accordance with our daily mood and potentially protect our emotional wellbeing by not displaying sad or upsetting posts on a day where we want to see uplifting content only.

Human Connection invites changemakers to collaborate on the development of a network with the potential to mobilize individuals and groups around the world to turn negative news into "Can Do's"—and participate in social innovation projects in conjunction with charities and non-profit organizations.

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Dennis Hack, founder of Human-Connection.org
Dennis Hack is a German entrepreneur and managing partner of Eurotramp Trampoline Kurt Hack GmbH. He founded Human Connection, the non-profit social, knowledge and action network headquartered in Weilheim-Teck, Germany, in 2012 with the mission to turn negative news into positive action and connect people around philanthropic causes and social innovation projects.

5 Comments

I love these sorts of initiatives. I love the idea of there being a full and open social network experience to replace the Facebooks, Twitters, etc. of the world. However the big thing I struggle to understand is the financing. It costs a lot of money to run that infrastructure and to pay the developers and management team. Where does the money come from? The FAQ says crowdfunding. The target for that is 1 million euros. That's probably less than a month of cloud capacity or development team members for a modest sized social network. What then is the mechanism for paying for these sorts of places? Would the old fashioned subscription models still work? Would it use ads but ones that aren't built on top of the user's data thus having far less efficacy and have far lower ad rates than on other social networks.

Likewise this network is concentrating on fully public knowledge development and transfer. What do people do for private data? Their favorite pictures, their personal thoughts they want to share with friends, etc. These are not what is being targeted by Human Connection, it seems, so is a more general question.

Hi Hank,

Thanks for your interest! Yes, financing will be critical and as Human Connection is growing we will need to make sure that our crowdfunding mechanism is solid. We currently encourage people to become recurring monthly donors with a goal to have 30,000 Euros per month as a base amount to fund the beta launch.

Regarding private data, also a very important aspect. We ensure private user data, including personal thoughts or content users categorized as private, will always remain private and never shared.

I'm happy to go into more detail in answering your questions in our next open team meeting. Join us on Thursday, April 5, at 5pm EST in our Zoom Room (no RSVP needed): https://zoom.us/j/816930522

Best from Germany!

In reply to by HankG

My perception is that today (June 2018) people have to spend money first to get a chance to get an authorization key to use - and have a first look - to the platform.
From my point of view, this will not work. Maybe 10 years ago this was standard procedures. Nowadays 30 days trial period is standard (and thery are many good and tested reasons to do so). People nowadays will just not pay for something they do not see first. Especially when it's a complex system like hc. Everybody needs time to explore such complexity hands on to make a decidions whether they are able and have the time to deal with it.
The other way is to go crowdfunding the crowdfunding way where not meeting the target means stopping the project!
Your approach is half, half. People have to buy in onto an idea that eventually might never meet the financial target. So all the risk is with the customer - not the entrepreneur.
I think it is REALLY important to talk and study to people who will touch the platform for their first time from an UX perspective. I feel, that you way how hc is currently handling first touch and inititial sign on will make people feel unconfortable and potentiall cheated - just because the hc sign up is so much different from what is standard today.

In reply to by Dennis Hack

Kudos for the thoughts to treat people as people but not as addicts from which money is made.

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