How to build a new Facebook

So I’ve been thinking about this problem. #deleteFacebook. There’s a simpler way. And a better way. It’s probably worth a lot. And someone should write it. It needs fleshing out, but here’s roughly how it would work.

Let’s start with the problem. At its core the issue is quite simple. Facebook is Big Brother. It’s a central database. It owns everyones information. That is a fundamental problem. And a huge problem. No entity that has this kind of information can ever be trusted. And no tweak or fix will work. But, it must be admitted that FB has many benefits. Rather than list them here, in short: you can stay in touch with a wide array of friends, and friends of friends. And you can ‘see what’s going on’. With all the benefits and disadvantages of that (and there are a few of the latter, as there are in social life).

So here’s the idea. Build a social network based on peer-to-peer technology*. Every user keeps their own data themselves in their own private cloud service (e.g. iCloud, Dropbox, on their own machine/device, or whatever service they use). And have their client (the App) ‘talk’ and connect to other clients that are ‘on-line’ of friends they are aware of. Those clients in turn can talk to other clients and thus establish in ‘real time’ a social network for the user. But importantly in this arrangement the user keeps complete control. Their data stays in their cloud. Their contacts are their’s and these App/client exchanges data with other user’s clients when on-line in a peer-to-peer sense.

This system and approach offers the vast majority of the functionality that FB does today. The functionality that people value, e.g. the news feed, sharing of updates, sharing of pictures, etc. But it would also allow users complete control – as their data stays with them. When online their network is established and ‘live’**. When off-line they are completely disconnected. A user could decide in real time and at any moment what to share and what to see. In essence what’s being described is like a large virtual cocktail party, with your App standing in for you. And the room spanning your entire contact list, and their contact list, and theirs***.

Implementing this program is not particularly complicated. It’s probably an interesting summer vacation project. The App can be built using pretty easy coding, and on top of existing cloud storage and peer-to-peer protocols. The key for this to work well is not technical. However it is key for this service to achieve network ‘economies’ of scale quickly.

These network economies of scale can be established in two ways. Firstly, the App when first set up should guide you through deauthorising your FB account. In the process, your data from FB that you value can be imported: the friends list and the photographs basically. Deauthorising is an involved step which many people can’t navigate through. And FB makes it hard because it threatens their business. So this App can help there. Once it’s imported your friends list and relevant data, it can simply send out invites to your friends (under your control) inviting them to this new network.

Secondly, the client App can be left on running in the background (persistently), keeping your network live, or switched off, as any given user desires. It would, obviously, offer the same features to post news to ones newsfeed (which is only public when you’re on-line) and messaging. And it’s completely under the users ownership and control.

What’s described is simple. It offers the benefits of FB. And it does away with Big Brother. Whoever does this first and manages such a land grab to get scale, with a compelling application, stands to do the world a big favor. There are also multiple business models that can be wrapped around this. On the other hand, it’s so simple to write — and a commercial model may be an impediment to uptake — it should probably be under the GNU license, with an open protocol for the client-to-client communications.

So there it is. A New Facebook. One that kills the naive corporation this now rather pathetic company has become. It puts the benefits of social networking back into users hands and under individual controls. That’s where it belongs.

– Carl J. Harris

* For those old enough to remember this, the architecture described is not new, it resembles the old Fidonet from the 1980s, or even dare I say it Napster. The App ‘talks to’ other Apps on line by other users in the given users own directory. And it’s only aware of them. It would be significantly easier to write these days given all the components above exist as modules and APIs.

** It’s perhaps worth mentioning that such an arrangement wouldn’t have been practical back in 2002–3 when FB was developed because the clients weren’t on-line frequently enough, so a central database was necessary for the network to hit critical mass. With connectivity today, that is no longer the case as most users are on-line most of the time, the data can be kept in their client. There is no need for a centralized database at all.

*** The depth of connections which the App ‘sees into’ and your App allows others to see into would be under your control.

This article first appeared on Medium here

Favourite Films

Okay so this follows an interesting late night dinner conversation. Hot on the heels of that is my absolute list of Top 20 favourite films. For now at least. Helpfully one hopes, with the relevant iTunes links where possible:

  1. The Shawshank Redemption. A haunting story of the strength of the human spirit (iTunes)
  2. Touching the Void. Perhaps one of the best mountaineering adventure stories of all time (iTunes)
  3. Heat. Crime. Big artistic shots of LA (iTunes)
  4. Shiri. From 1999 and an early global breakout for Korean cinema. Artistic. Stylish. Irrepressibly violent (IMDb)
  5. Gattaca. That it remains stylish to this day, 20 years later, says a lot (iTunes)
  6. Ronin. Works on many levels. None the least the fantastic scenes of the French Riviera (iTunes)
  7. Sliding Doors. Not only is Gwyneth Paltrow glowingly optimistic, but this movie is wonderful at conjuring up the different paths life can take, pivoting as it does on seemingly small events (iTunes)
  8. The Quiet American. Quite a lot about this adaptation of Graham Greene’s view of the American view stays true to this day (iTunes)
  9. Twelve O’Clock High. As memory serves, this movie is actually used in a leadership class at Harvard Business School. Quite right too (iTunes)
  10. Dr. Strangelove. Insane, logical, and fantastic (iTunes)
  11. Atomic Blonde. A recent addition to the list. Wonderfully snap shots the perhaps forgotten sense of depression, and of things falling apart, in the late 1980s. Great music too (iTunes)
  12. Flight. Robert Zemeckis is trying to say something here. Worth a watch (iTunes)
  13. The Insider. A whistleblowers story that says much beyond that (iTunes)
  14. The English Patient. A classic. Love, adventure, and broken hearts, in the desert (iTunes)
  15. Crimson Tide. A Big Movie. Leadership and character (iTunes)
  16. Dirty Dancing. For the sound track alone. It just makes one happy (iTunes)
  17. Margin Call. A statement on capitalism. In this humble writer’s view, under appreciated (iTunes)
  18. The Remains of the Day. Hopkins and Thompson’s wonderful rendering of Ishiguro’s best seller (iTunes)
  19. The Thin Red Line. Epic. Brutal. Clinically captures the Pacific Theatre War, and in so doing sheds a glimpse on the human spirit (iTunes)
  20. Apollo 13. If we could do all that in 1970 one, at times, wonders, what on earth are we doing today? (iTunes)

A decent coffee shop a button away

Not strictly a review of a coffee shop but useful, one hopes. The short version. It would be neat to have a button on the front of one’s iPhone that could pop up a screen suggesting decent coffee shops in walking distance, like this:

One could then press it and get, e.g. this:

The application Workflow achieves this. It’s great. Once the app is installed once needs to install a ‘workflow’ for the coffee location. The iOS version can be found here, with the link below it being the specific utility to locate the coffee shops:

Workflow by Apple

Goodbye, Facebook…

You know, I will always care about you. But it’s not you, it’s me. You see I’ve changed. I used to just want social sharing, and seeing what my friends were up to, and gossiping. I used to like the sense of being connected. And random news. It’s not that I don’t love you, but yes, yes, it’s me.

You see I just find you increasingly annoying. And — god, I can’t believe I’m saying this — but you’re manipulative too. And seriously, do you have to always go on about Donald Trump and Elon Musk? I mean who cares? Don’t you realise there’s a bigger world out there? Don’t you realise one is ill and the other is using your platform to pump his own stock? I mean, he’s a genius, as he himself would say, right?

But look, I think you will always be special to me — I mean you were my first long term relationship with a social network. But honestly, it just can’t go on like this. Every time I read your news feed, it gets me down. You only ever talk about how much better life is for other people. Don’t you realize that they only talk about the good bits. Don’t you see the cognative bias there? And the entire world doesn’t revolve around Silicon Valley, you know. And frankly, I just don’t wanna hear about it all the time. And yes, maybe I’m old but I miss how it used to be. Remember, with the internet and web pages?

You’re probably right, I might regret this. But I’m breaking up with you. So goodbye, Facebook.

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