Private online communities?

I’ve been working on this thought for months. In fact, here at RocketBuild, we’ve been working on technology related to these thoughts for months! More on that later…

In the midst of our work and my procrastinating, Facebook announced the following:

“…we’re rolling out a fresh new design for Facebook that’s simpler and puts your communities at the center.”

Well, now it’s time to at least start the conversation I’ve wanted to have since late in 2017.

Facebook is missing the mark (pun intended)

While the move to a focus on communities and events is overdue, it distracts from the core of peoples’ mistrust of Facebook. Yes, we need to focus our collective efforts on organizing in more controlled and meaningful ways (ie. groups and events). But no, we don’t need to be doing it on Facebook!

Why not, you ask?

Two simple reasons. Purpose and privacy.

Purpose in online communities

Long gone are the days where bulletin boards dominated the online landscape. But it was in those times, before the rise of social media, when people organized online around a specific purpose. These were the digital equivalents to Meetups. Each group had a purpose, and the members shared that purpose. They organized around topics, events, and similarities. They had open discourse around a “digital campfire.” People participated because they had shared passions and interests, and because they wanted to listen to what others had to say.

Contrast that with Facebook, which is less of a campfire format and more of a series of pulpits and soapboxes. Your friends, both practical and digital, all broadcast into the ether of Facebook. These broadcasts, while often meaningful, are even more often just shouted into the void. Or worse yet, into an echo chamber. The discourse on Facebook, if it can be called that, is often about rousing rabble and finding bears to poke. It creates a platform for bullying and pandering, and an audience to propagate it. People participate because Facebook is the only place where they can find an audience. They just have to hope it is the right one!

Privacy in online communities

It used to be that we moved around online quietly, secretly, and without the worry of monitoring by outside forces. The internet, and later the World Wide Web, was a place for discreet conversations to take place over great distances. We valued being able to see and learn new things, using the internet as a tool to explore. When we chose to interact with others, it was in small doses and in private settings like the aforementioned bulletin boards. Aside from our ISPs, and to a lesser extent our browsers, there wasn’t much data being collected on our movements. The data that was collected was used primarily to tailor and improve our experience online. These are sweeping generalizations, of course, but they tend to be true.

Again, contrast that with Facebook. Facebook exists to make money. That isn’t a problem in and of itself, of course. The problem is how they make money. They leverage your data to sell your exposure to advertisers. For a nation (that being the United States) of rugged individualists and privacy proponents, we have not been shy about giving away our data online, at least in recent years. Now the internet, with social media being the primary driving force, has become less a place to explore and more a place to broadcast. We have embraced the idea of telling everyone everything we can about ourselves, both our audiences and the behind-the-scenes machines that bring those audiences to us. In the process, we have willingly foregone any sense of privacy.

Control issues

Knowing what we know about how we have been willingly exploited and have given up on private online discourse, there has been a recent shift. We see it within Facebook (as evidenced by this article), but we have also seen concern at all levels of government, within businesses, and even at Apple.

Furthermore, we now realize that we don’t know how to reclaim control over our online privacy. The methods to limit data acquisition by Facebook, Google, and others are arcane at best. Even if we do figure it out and manage to increase privacy, we still get advertised to, and usually in egregious fashion.

We’ve lost control over our online experiences, and we want it back!

The answer will be to develop and join private, curated, secure, online communities. RocketBuild hopes to lead on that front with an upcoming project. Keep your eyes and ears open for more on that in the coming months!

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