An open social network for activists

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

Find out how Human Connection puts transparency and community first.

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

Dennis Hack, founder of Human-Connection.org
Dennis Hack - 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. For more information on Human Connection, visit: https://human-connection.org/