The story on Venn, so-called, is a lot of what I DON’T want. I don’t want the entire world to be able to see all my posts; I want to control who does and have some granularity to it and define circles beyond just “public” & “friends.” I don’t want to ever see anything from people I don’t follow – no reposting, no bots, no things other people liked from randoms I don’t know. I also ideally don’t want the whole system to depend on one company and one app; I want interoperability like with email or web. But I also want security and encryption, which traditionally means you need one company holding the keys or else a complex public key sharing operation. It is honestly very difficult to square.
I want to prevent random unsolicited interaction. No trolls, no bots, no intruders. I want to let people follow without me having to follow them back or let them see everything I post, so that I don’t have to maintain multiple accounts. LiveJournal had this in 2003 for godsakes. I want a chronological list of every post from everyone I follow, rather than content surfaced out of order at the whims of an algorithm. I want as much of the intelligence as possible at the endpoint rather than in the server in between. I want a passive stream of posts that doesn’t notify me for EVERY SINGLE NEW MESSAGE the way a group chat does. I do want the ability to message 1:1 and get notified of that, though.
There are a lot of ways the current offerings fail. Let me think about it:
FACEBOOK: Too evil to require further elaboration.
INSTAGRAM: Evil, duh. No real granularity options beyond making the account private and using the “close friends” group in Stories. Algorithmic timeline, so who knows what you see when.
WHATSAPP: Evil, duh. Don’t know if the group chat can work without pinging you for every message. Facebook is pivoting to WA as a focal product and trying to bring in advertising, so expect it to get worse.
(smugly thinking That’s that sorted. The goal, after all, is to get away from Facebook. So what else is out there?)
TWITTER: Serious problem with evil. No granularity in posting aside from all-or-nothing private account. Algorithmic timeline, so some question whether you will even see everything, let alone in order. Constantly trying to snitch on your friends’ favorites and follows, to the point that it defaults away from just giving you the latest tweets.
TUMBLR: no real granularity or group model for visibility of posts. Just an option to password the whole thing and make it private.
SNAPCHAT: (this is not a viable option as I am 48 years old)
(Ugh. I don’t like the way this is headed. What if we get away from the traditional social media options?)
SIGNAL: Has some of the utility of WhatsApp, including the ability to create a group chat and mute alerts. Not suitable for adding large numbers of people esp. if loosely associated.
MICRO.BLOG: basically aggregates public blog posts. You won’t see any reposts or anyone you didn’t follow, but everything you post is of necessity public with no way to narrow it down to your circles.
FLICKR: costs money after the first thousand pics or so. Almost everybody had it, but nobody’s logged into it for at least six or seven years. Only has friends and family as granular levels of access, but that’s more than Insta has.
SLACK: based on a chatroom model rather than a post model. Granularity only consists of separating rooms and topics. App traditionally pummels your phone battery even when not on screen.
CLUSTER: looks kind of like Instagram, consists of multiple private groups with posts locked inside a group, but seems more optimized for something like everyone in a tour group sharing pictures.
(Huh. Maybe there used to be something that would kind of work?)
PATH: out of business. Dodgy. Not automatically public, but only real control was in limiting your number of friends to 50 at first, then 150.
GOOGLE+: out of business. Evil. Late to the party. Bad security on APIs. Suffered from being shoehorned into every other Google product. Very good model for circles and granularity though!
(Okay, I think we’re starting to get somewhere. What about a new app altogether?)
COCOON: very close to what I’m thinking of but limits a group to 20. Multiple groups even with overlapping membership don’t scale across multiple users.
And here we come to the problem: the most secure and reliable options, like Slack or Cocoon or Signal (or other group chats) depend on a pre-defined group that is not easy to add to and is all or nothing. If I want to follow a new friend, then everybody is going to see their posts, not just me. You more or less need the social media model for this to function – a passive stream that doesn’t notify you with every post, but also doesn’t have to be open to the entire world. If Instagram were owned by anyone else, it or even Twitter could each fill the role – so long as they ditched the algorithmic timeline. You can limit whether you see other people’s retweets in Twitter (and I have done so with a lot of folks in a private Twitter, using Tweetbot as its only interface, and very nearly curated an acceptable environment). The model already exists, but in the hands of people who have optimized for growth and clicks over safety, security, and simple human decency – and thanks to a lack of antitrust enforcement, it will be almost impossible to generate the critical mass necessary to lure people onto another platform.
I’m going to keep looking for something that can be Venn, because I think it’s an insurmountable ask to make it myself given that I can’t get through the first lesson module on Swift Playgrounds. But we either need something else, or we need the hammer to fall on Mark Zuckerberg and force Insta to be spun off, and bring an end to the notion that you can avoid competition by buying up anyone who has a better idea.