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We Need More Alternatives to Facebook (technologyreview.com)
185 points by submeta on May 21, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 163 comments

This touches on so many issues at once I don't even know where to start (private versus public, social medial popularity cycles, distributed versus centralized services...)

I think it's not just an alternative to Facebook we need, it's a distributed paradigm, with a distributed network, with distributed services.

The tension/problem as I see it is this: we need distributed networks, where people run their own services, and are servers as well as clients, but at the same time a large proportion of people do not or cannot run their own services. Solving that problem seems key to me--have people act as servers without realizing it (maybe something like with torrents).

The success of things like Facebook and Twitter has never seemed like that much of a mystery to me: they basically allow people to have a web page without needing to make one. There was MySpace that did that, and then people wanted to add on privacy and discussions, etc. to their webpage, so Facebook supplied that; Twitter was basically providing a way for people to post rss/Atom feeds, etc. But then you cede control to these large providers.

I don't think that model completely applies anymore, with messaging, photo sharing, and what not becoming so integrated, but I think the fundamental issues are the same, in that that the internet was developed with a greater ratio of providers:users in mind than is the case now. I think there was a much more federated model in mind when the internet was developed than is the case today.

People here seem to always want their social media to be decentralized but I doubt that would happen unless you could convince the standard consumer that it's actually better, and I think that's a hard argument to make to them. When I talk to people about what their solution looks like it tends to sacrifice usability, which no consumer wants to sacrifice

To be specific-- the current choice is between well-understood, scalable, battle-tested centralized designs and half-baked, work-in-progress, decentralized designs that don't work very well.

Example-- building a centralized Facebook replacement is doable. Some idealistic developer can sit down one summer, break the problem into little pieces and iterate on it. If enough other developers and investors get interested, they can throw money at it to make it scale and attract a non-trivial userbase.

Building a decentralized Facebook replacement is simply not doable. An idealistic developer can sit down one summer, break the problem into little pieces but not all of them have viable solutions. I.e., how do you do discoverability? And more importantly, how do you do discoverability in a way that justifies the expense of decentralizing-- e.g., how do I query an untrusted node and receive an answer without that node knowing what I was searching for? The only extant solution I've seen on that is from Gnunet. And it doesn't do stemming or partial matches, so it's quite brittle and untested.

I think it's important to keep reminding people to describe the current decentralization efforts as an open research problem. Otherwise people get it in their heads that decentralization always has a particular set of inescapable costs, and not all of them are inescapable.

Edit: clarification

Youre setting the bar too high. RSS support in "microblogging" apps (including Facebook, ideally) gets you a simple federated social network. Discoverability could be handled by any number of third party aggregators, like Google. Publish your email to receive "DMs".

Something can be decentralized without bleeding edge p2p crypto tech.

The article criticizes Facebook because it "vacuums up information about our tastes, our shopping habits, our political beliefs, and just about anything else you might think of—is too powerful in the first place."

So what good does it do to push discoverability to the company that is currently vacuuming up all your searches and browsing history?

edit: typo

Mastodon, which is decentralised, looks like it's gaining traction, and I find it very easy to use.


So what will happen that drives the adoption to scale? In other words, what is the Mastodon's decentralized equivalent of investors throwing tons of money into marketing a centralized Facebook competitor? (I'm wrongly assuming that centralized means proprietary here, but I already made that wrong assumption above so I'll stick to it for the moment...)

Probably nothing except more people using it, it doesn't have any (to my knowledge) unique features that Twitter and co. don't, so I don't think people are going to move there; rather I expect the same users of Twitter to go there and keep both their accounts; a few people I know have deleted their Twitter accounts to switch full time to Mastodon, with varying degrees of success.

So I'll echo what was said elsewhere: people aren't going to move and abandon their old social networks, at least in my opinion.

If we're going to build things without any likelihood of scaling them to replace centralized services, we'd be much better off spending the time on the UX side rather than the business logic side.

I'd much rather play around with some slick, futuristic-looking UI with stop-gap business logic behind it just to garner an idea of what would be possible if we had better decentralized platforms. How about a nice simple interface to choose N trusted friends to help me archive my posts? How about simulating a ransomware attack, then leveraging M/N friends to set up the account on a new device and having the system estimate how many posts the ransomware could access? Actually how about one that replaces passwords with M/N friends?

I'm probably being unnecessarily conservative in my ideas because I'm still stuck on our current technological limitations. The point is that if all the "alternatives" developers had been doing stuff like that instead of ineffectual Facebook/Twitter clones, there would probably be a lot more value in all that effort since the Snowden leaks.

I don't like it too much, as most people will just sign up for a public server and be be stuck there.

But, even if stuck there, they can subscribe to any user on any other GNUSocial compatible server.

>People here seem to always want their social media to be decentralized but I doubt that would happen unless you could convince the standard consumer that it's actually better, and I think that's a hard argument to make to them.

We need a well designed pretty home server that's as easy to set up and use as a smartphone. That's all, really.

The killer app would be ultra fast backup from your phone and laptop over a local network that subsequently drips over the internet (encrypted) to a friend or family member's home server.

Then, just put an app store on top. An ecosystem around that would spring up with all sorts of stuff that would sometimes be worse and sometimes be way, way, better than the centralized web. Any facebook equivalent would probably be way better.

I kind of wish this was what Mozilla was getting in on - it's way more disruptive than building Yet Another Smartphone/Desktop OS.

Most of the software to do all of this is actually already there, it just a matter of putting it together in an easy to use way and putting some lipgloss and snazzy marketing on it (not necessarily an easy task but very doable all the same).

It's worth remembering that smartphones were pretty uncool, nerdy and uninteresting to 'normal' people in 2006.

> We need a well designed pretty home server that's as easy to set up

What do you do about all those people whose ISPs don't allow them to run public facing server on residential connection?

VPN, maybe.

How do you get the typical consumer on a VPN?

Sell it as part of a service provided with the box.

Wikipedia was a technology that was at one point capable of becoming a competitor, but the found their niche and stayed there. I am working on an app (sbnode.com) that I hope WILL become a facebook + twitter killer some day. I want this software (not necessarily SubNode) to become "commodity software" just like Linux is as a OS. I would like to see a world where most instances of Linux are running SubNode and sharing the load of being the backbone of a new internet built directly on content repositories and JCR standards. It's a lofty goal, and my small part has been to at least create a working example of what such a system would be like.

I have a lot of capability now in SubNode, but it doesn't yet 'federate', beyond what the JCR can do insofar as storage distribution. However it does show what an internet 'could' be like if most everything was build out of 'SubNodes'... or at least in the area of Social Media, having this kind of open standard would revolutionize the internet, and make Facebook and Twitter look like Bell Telgraph: You know, the old, unneeded, proprietary, manipulative, 'sell your data to the highest bidder' type of social media that the world needs to get off of.

> I think it's not just an alternative to Facebook we need, it's a distributed paradigm, with a distributed network, with distributed services.

> The tension/problem as I see it is this: we need distributed networks, where people run their own services, and are servers as well as clients, but at the same time a large proportion of people do not or cannot run their own services. Solving that problem seems key to me--have people act as servers without realizing it (maybe something like with torrents).

I think this is spot on. In case you haven't come across it already, IPFS is trying to do this, and already works today for many applications.


This talk is quite good if you have an hour to spare: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jONZtXMu03w

I've been working with IPFS a lot more recently thanks to their efforts to snapshot Wikipedia to get around censorship in Turkey. This immediately made me realize the advantages of learning the system, and once you wrap your head around content-based addressing, everything makes sense after that.


I think the biggest thing they're going to struggle with for adoption is their addressing system, which is brilliant from a technology point of view, but impossible to memorize for regular humans. Some sort of naming system (or, ideally, several such systems) needs to emerge I think, before the network will be properly usable by casual folks.

There is already DNS integration.

Here is an IPFS path to my blog: /ipns/jes.xxx/

No longer than the corresponding HTTP version: http://jes.xxx/

Of course, DNS isn't distributed or trustless, but if it can work with DNS it can work with the likes of Namecoin or ENS (https://ens.domains/).

Currently you need to prepend an IPFS gateway URL to the IPFS path in order for it to be backwards-comaptible with existing browsers (e.g. https://ipfs.io/ipns/jes.xxx/), but I don't think it will take too many years to get native IPFS support in browsers.

I'm really really excited by what's going possible already, and what's going to become possible soon, with IPFS.

>The tension/problem as I see it is this: we need distributed networks, where people run their own services, and are servers as well as clients, but at the same time a large proportion of people do not or cannot run their own services. Solving that problem seems key to me--have people act as servers without realizing it (maybe something like with torrents).

We already have a model for this: email.

You and I can use whoever we want as email providers, including hosting our own, and if you don't think I'm a trustworthy provider, you can drop my messages.

The system isn't without it's corner cases, but it's certainly proven to be a robust model over the last ~30 years.

The only thing it requires is standards. We already have one for facebook messenger: XMPP. Facebook and Google used to support it, but they both shut it down because they wanted to lock their users in harder. We have CalDav for events, but again, none of the big players want to know about it.

We could have a "social status" standard, allowing you to send a robustly versioned life update to other servers from whatever social service manager you'd prefer, but you and I know that no amount of user outcry could persuade any of the major players to adopt it. Network effects, peer pressure and social expectation (e.g. please submit a snapchat along with your job interview) power their meteoric growth.

What we need is a "Regulating the Gauge of Railways Act 1846" for the digital age. We need international bodies to review software that has become mandatory to the modern world, distill it down to a set of living specifications, and then ram it down the throats of software vendors.

> We already have a model for this: email.

Come to think of it, you could build a Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter clone on top of email pretty easily. All it would take is a slightly reimagined client. Just whitelist addresses of people you "follow" and display their emails in a separate, more visually rich feed (e.g. automatically downloading and displaying images). Make the UI/UX of "posting" an email to your feed feel more like composing a social media post (e.g. "post a photo" instead of "add an attachment"). You could have a separate inbox for emails from people you weren't following/connected to, which would be just a traditional email inbox.

How would you keep rich messages from polluting the traditional inbox? I mean, I'd want to keep my existing address and use it as regular email, too

I think Facebook and Twitter work presicely because they take the free form content mode of an email (often a rich text document) and severely restrict it to a handful of more readily digestable options.

On any of the platform, there's only so many ways you can format a post. Facebook for example lets you do plain text, dress it up a bit, or attach some piece of content with optional text (a photo, video, or site embed), and then presents your post in a standard way after that.

It seems restricting when I put it all down on paper, but that restriction is downright liberating when you want to get something out quick. Choice can be overwhelming, and for better or worse, the lack of freedom in Facebook's post editor makes it much easier for folks around the globe to pick up and use. Email won't ever have that, and that's okay! Different tools for different jobs.

> Choice can be overwhelming, and for better or worse, the lack of freedom in Facebook's post editor makes it much easier for folks around the globe to pick up and use. Email won't ever have that, and that's okay!

I agree that restrictions are often liberating, and likely played a role in the success of the big social networks. But I disagree about email not being able to have the same kind of restrictions. It absolutely can. All you need is an email client that controls what you can put in the email body when you're composing an email. Most email clients allow pretty free-form messages - from plain text to hundreds of lines of HTML. But they don't _have_ to.

By the same token, there's nothing in HTTP or any other internet protocol that restricts the content of a Facebook post. Those limits are imposed by Facebook's clients (and presumably APIs).

Email has a widely understood delivery protocol and identities. That's really all you need to let people publish and subscribe to each other. The rest is just UI and marketing. (Which, of course, is no small feat!)

I don't agree that the minimalist approach is favorable to growing the platforms.

There are a bunch of email headers you could backwards shoe-horn into serving the purpose of allowing clients to recognize the difference between a life update and a traditional mail, or you could create a new one. You could then make it standard behavior to handle emails with that header via a social client if one is available, and otherwise discard/hide them.

Another possibility to ease UX in a traditional client would be to use the same subject line for all activity. Most clients nowadays will collapse those messages to a single thread, making it friendlier.

my question is, how to keep a standard email from being completely overwhelmed by traffic of the social network, assuming it isn't aware of the headers? Or, you'd just have to tell users to set up a suitable filter?

I think we already see some of these things to some extent like Github pull requests having a lot of usability via email.

I'm assuming that people participating in this network are all using a new kind of email client designed to work with these feeds.

On the receiver or "follower" side of things the client would filter emails coming from addresses you follow into a separate social feed box. All your other emails (e.g. from other random people, or the notification that the shoes you just bought online have been shipped) would be displayed in your standard, traditional inbox. Your list of actual, non-social-update emails would never be polluted by all the noise from your social update feed.

On the sender or "poster" side of things when you post something it would just send emails to your list of followers. Presumably all these people are using clients that are designed to filter the emails into either the social feed or the standard inbox. So you'd never end up spamming people with photos of your lunch on a Greek island with people who haven't signed up to see it.

Of course, it could get tricky if, say, alice@example.com is following bob@example.com and bob wants to send alice a plain old email that isn't part of his social feed. Using headers, as suggested above, could be great. Or maybe the social feed would be set up as a mailing list, and posts would go through a reflector address. Or else, maybe people would just set up a new email address from which to send posts to their network?

Or, maybe I'm misunderstanding your question?

I dunno. I haven't thought through everything, but I'm pretty confident that existing email infrastructure has all the raw material you'd need to build a workable social network.

Agreed that the existing infrastructure is sufficient.

My main question is how to support both direct and indirect (via a "social" client (as if email wasn't social)) usage in a sustainable fashion. Otherwise I don't see it gaining traction.

Yeah, supporting both uses would be critical. I think you're right that making sure it could interop with existing email clients in as painless a way as possible would be critical.

I'm not sure how much of a chance it would have of succeeding (I'd like it, but would anyone else?). One thing that gives me a bit of hope is the rising popularity recently of email newsletters on specific topics or from specific writers/thought-leaders.

>I'm not sure how much of a chance it would have of succeeding (I'd like it, but would anyone else?)

It may, because it doesn't have to build it's own network effect, it can piggyback on emails existing userbase, which is basically everyone.

I was talking with my housemate, we came up with the idea of a combination push and pull following mechanism. I can offer you the option to follow me by sending you a mail with the X-SOCIAL header and a "follow offer" header content, plus a really simple mail body that says "hey, substance just asked you to join their social updates list. it seems you don't have a social client, <click here> to get one". If you've got a social client installed already, the body gets hidden and you get the follow offer in your social client.

However, you could also send me a mail with the X-SOCIAL "follow request" header, and a similar introductory body: "Hey, skewart wants to keep in touch with you via social mail. Download a social client <here> to connect with them". If I have a social client installed, I get a friend request instead.

The great thing is, your email inbox has a timestamped record of all these requests, so it's like a somewhat unreliable replayable social history, which means if I don't have a social client, I can read the introductory body, go grab a social client and come back, and it will re-parse my inbox and offer me the same follow request, no need for you to resend it.

God damn it, now I like this idea.

I like the header idea, and letting it market itself by way of invitation emails.

Man, now I want to build this thing.

I'm going to start talking to a few people that might have good input and have a swing at writing a comprehensive draft specification, as best I can. Might not be a bad idea to have a proof-of-concept/reference implementation being developed alongside. Wanna take this to a different medium? Skype, wickr, steam, email?

Sounds good! You can reach me at hn_skewart@yahoo.com.

People using socially non-aware clients would have to set up a filter. I would also include friendly "I see you don't have a socially aware email client, get one here" bodies with all messages. The data transfer becomes the marketing tool.

The W3C Social Web Working Group [1] is working on this. Relevant standards through that lens include Micropub [2] and Activity Streams [3].

[1] https://www.w3.org/Social/WG

[2] https://www.w3.org/TR/micropub/

[3] https://www.w3.org/TR/activitystreams-core/

I didn't know that, but that's excellent. I've got some reading to do!

Email is insecure and was overwhelmed by spam, driving people to use systems (such as Gmail) that are good at filtering spam.

Any distributed system will need to figure out how to deal with spam and abuse. That's hard to do without there being a dedicated team to deal with flagged messages.

It's hard to deal with spam and abuse even when there is such a team or effort. That's one reason Twitter is struggling, because unlike Facebook (where people can at least be semi sure only friends/family/connections view their content) Twitter is open to the public to view anyone's profile that isn't explicitly private.

Moderation ends up becoming an awkward balancing act between not completely restricting freedom of speech and stopping trolls/bullies flaming the hell out of anyone they disagree with while simultaneous trying to make it scale. Which is perhaps even harder than determining between what's free speech and what's a threat/harassment.

If someone can come up with a social network that doesn't discriminate between people from different backgrounds/with different political stances while filtering out actual trolls and which manages to do this on a large scale without a huge team of human moderators, then they'll likely pose a massive threat to the existing sites in the market.

It's very true, but this is a known and heavily researched problem. We have solutions to it, compromised solutions perhaps, but solutions none the less.

The current state of social networks vs email is night and day. I would never host my own email (despite self-hosting almost all my other online services) because the anti-spam techniques in wide usage are so punitive if you get your config wrong (your IP and domain basically get permanently sin-binned), but I use gandi.net as my email provider, I'm able to choose to pay them money and in exchange get my mail handled by someone I trust.

I'd gladly pay to use facebook, but run by someone I trust. However, social services are centralized to such an extreme even vs email that I actually cannot pay to have secure and respectful social networking, as facebook has successfully locked everyone else out of the game.

I digress. Email is not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than social.

Eh, if you set up your social email client like Twitter, you only get messages from those people you follow. Done.

Then you miss out on the social discovery aspect which is a key part of social networking. You're just avoiding the problem of where to go by cutting off your own legs.

Seems contextual whether that's good or bad: one theory of sleep is that we lose consciousness so that we don't go out and get ourselves killed in low visibility conditions.

Social discovery is obviously something people want or they wouldn't use social media services in the first place. Pointing to the existence of other contexts where that doesn't matter is neither relevant nor insightful.

It's like saying 'why worry about these problems, just don't don't use the the internet at all.' I still like paper books and other things and usually spend a day a week off the internet but that doesn't help anyone who's trying to solve an internet problem, does it?

That's a rather simplistic model of how Twitter works. People use @ replies and hashtags for impromptu communication between strangers.

It's not how email works either.

Except that gmail is an ever bigger influence on email...

How do you mean? Whatever EEE-type strategy they may be pursuing, you can still switch from GMail to another provider and keep corresponding with the same email users without any effort. This is not true for modern social media.

If you haven't read Jarod Laniers book, "Who Owns the future", you might find it an interesting. He refers to this problem as "Siren Servers" and thinks the problem is structural to web technology.


Facebook as a website builder hasn't been true since the news feed appeared.

Its main value-add at this point is discovery and messaging by real name and social graph (you can find people you met in real life but don't know well enough to exchange phone numbers).

Secondarily, it's a long form town-hall forum on, for example, campus-specific pages where students discuss goings-on and outrage-of-the-week.

In distant third, it's a way for people to broadcast content to their followers. Really only important life milestones, travel photos, and political outrage are socially acceptable here.

Website publishing is barely even used anymore. No one fills in a public profile. A specific person's Facebook page is just a WHERE clause on the larger News Feed.

At least, these are my observations as a Millenal going on 10 years of Facebook membership.

This might be why a federated system like Mastodon or GNU Social could win out over a fully decentralised one like torrents. Because for a lot of people, the individual services that act as network nodes could work like Facebook/Twitter does now whereas more technically advanced users could host their own nodes instead.

Which reminds me. Why are all these decentralised/federated services focusing so much on trying to replace Twitter?

I mean, maybe it's a silly question, but replacing Facebook, Instagram, Reddit or any other number of services would be just as valid a goal. Why is every one of these systems seemingly going for the microblogging market in particular?

> Why is every one of these systems seemingly going for the microblogging market in particular?

Because OStatus is tailored for microblogging


> The tension/problem as I see it is this: we need distributed networks, where people run their own services, and are servers as well as clients, but at the same time a large proportion of people do not or cannot run their own services.

cloudron.io is tackling this very problem. sandstorm was trying to solve this as well but the project is not active anymore.

It's not as active as it used to be, but yeah, we're still working on it.

See also: https://sandstorm.io/news/

Cloudron is great but how do you get non-nerds over the fear of running VPS?

I've just started using mastodon.social as a replacement for FB and like it just fine. Give it a look.

I think it's more of a replacement for twitter. And I am genuinely excited about Mastodon, with ~600k users and 1400 instances, I think something special is happening there.

I guess diaspora* is supposed to be the decentralized facebook replacement, but I don't think it's any good. I dare say that it's too late for even a good replacement to compete with facebook. Google tried while there was still time (and failed). But now? I don't think you can.

> I dare say that it's too late for even a good replacement to compete with facebook. Google tried while there was still time (and failed).

Google hasn't had a great track record with these things in general. The problem with a lot of Facebook alternatives is that they make a somewhat better Facebook and then hope everyone will switch over. Of course that's going to fail. Sites that succeed have reasons for people to use them even if there aren't mass migrations.

We know that people have a need for social sites other than Facebook. Slack's been successful, so has Discourse. Heck, meetup.com is still going even though by a naive understanding of things Facebook should have subsumed it (it has a much smaller base, and you need to pay something like $140 a year if you want to start a group). A Facebook alternative will eventually catch on, but it's not going to be a site that starts out by trying to mimic Facebook with a few extra bells and whistles attached.

We need 1 instance for every individual, that's the problem. Non techies who already have privilege to access internet should be able to instantiate their own instances very easily.

I'm all for it if we can get there, but I think a wide range of individual, federated instances is a good step in that direction, and even that would be a huge achievement.

I think something like Opera Unite had the potential to be a single instance per person if that ever caught on.

I think Mastodon as a native or Electron app that uses bit torrent protocol should do it. Not sure what's the problem with that or I am too optimistic.

That would be optimal, but I don't think it's strictly necessary. The fundamental requirement is that, if the owner of an instance behaves poorly, users should be able to move elsewhere without being cutting off from the larger network.

The name Mastodon is bad. Doesn't say anything about what the site does. Compare Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat....

Yes, it's just a twitter clone where people 'toot' instead of 'tweet'. It's fine work but they don't seem to have any idea how to make it desirable for people to use.

I can't look at the word "toot" without being reminded of a terrible, terrible Alvin and the Chipmunks song where it's an euphemism for farts.

Twitter should be a public utility like water. It shouldn't rely on surveillance capitalism to make money. There's another social network called Ello and it's essentially a registered charity. Twitter should be like that.

>Twitter should be a public utility like water. It shouldn't rely on surveillance capitalism to make money. There's another social network called Ello and it's essentially a registered charity. Twitter should be like that.

A charity? Sure, if you can make it work. But a public utility? That would link it to governments, which I think is the last thing we should be pushing. I think there is already enough concern over how Twitter interacts with governments, especially those looking to censor speech. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_of_Twitter

Why? Twitter is in no way essential.

It's not, but it's clearly highly useful and is the incumbent in the short public messaging market.

Highly useful and is the incumbent should be criteria for something to become public utility like water?

You can always copy twitter but you can't get the traction. You think TV companies will advertise your network 24/7? If you think Twitter should be utility either govs have to force some standards to every social network or nationalize it.

The people in the offices are too dumb to even grasp what servers are, let alone distributed services or why would standards be beneficial for the society. Maybe next generation knows better if we by then are not under the iron rule of few SV companies.

It's more like Twitter than FB, and it works, but it has some problems. You can't stop someone from impersonating you unless you run your own instance (fine for tech people, useless for the average user), and while the feature is good there's no way to get list of trending hashtags, so finding people/topics is a pain.

You might want to take a look at - https://zeronet.io/

Every time I see a sentence that starts with "we need..." I automatically think "shut up and build it, or you're just complaining."

If it's a real need, then building it is a good idea, and will probably make you money. But 99.9% of the time, it's just a turn of phrase way to bitch about the way the world and human kind actually works. Yeah, if we had another Facebook the world would be better. And if I had wheels I'd be a cart. What's your point?

We don't have another Facebook, and we aren't likely to get one, because we don't actually "need" that enough to pay tens or hundreds of people to build it. You just want to wish it into existence.

TL;DR: shut up and build it, or stop complaining.

I've actually spent quite a bit of time working on a design document for an open source version of the Facebook platform. I got a fair bit of the architecture and requirements down for what I believed would make the project successful. Then I came to the slow realization that the world had categorically no use for a Facebook alternative.

The features of Facebook are largely meaningless. What matters is the absolute stranglehold Facebook has and will maintain via acquisitions of users. It's not a question of simply getting the user to register for another site. Many Facebook users will have as many as five or more Facebook products on their mobile. They'll also be logged into a half dozen other properties on the internet with Facebook's OAuth scheme.

Icing on the cake? Tinder. Every college aged person I've spoken to has little interest in Facebook. But they've all reinstalled it in order to use Tinder.

You cannot get a mass migration to occur unless their is an absolute PR Apocalypse at Facebook or if you can offer absolute parity to the slow dopamine drip provided by constant notifications and social validations coming from all their products. At once.

I think there is space for an alternative - keep in mind that that doesn't mean that they have to be hugely popular.

For example, some online communities I am a part of subsist mainly in chat rooms, or forums. Those communities are so tightly knit in many ways. While a lot of us are also friends on FB, our ties in these communities are still very strong.

I'm in some such communities too, but efforts to get anything going on other sites outside fb come to nothing because you just end up with more social media to keep track of for no real benefit - you can't do anything sufficiently interesting that you can't already do on FB, and you've lost all the network effects for content discovery, rapid dissemination of news or sufficiently entertaining content etc.

OK you gain privacy but that's really a negative freedom. I assume everything I do online is visible to spies and corporations anyway unless I go to the bother of running Tor (and probably even then), so moving some of my social activity off FB isn't much more effective than virtually waving a fist in Mark Zuckerberg's direction.

Let's be realistic here, small specialist forums are simply not going to overcome large-scale network effects absent massive functional advantages.

> I assume everything I do online is visible to spies and corporations anyway unless I go to the bother of running Tor

Not quite sure what's your point here but most subject specific forums on the web have a huge bunch of users with nicknames and not their real names. With the same reasoning you could also say: no need to close the door to WC when you go there to do your needs since people outside know what you're doing there anyway! If you use VPN and a lot less of your personal information will be sold to advertisers.

You can sign up to Tinder with your mobile number now.

This is one of the dumbest and most self-defeating ways engineers shoot down, and exclude themselves from, important discussions.

Sometimes social problems actually require society to talk about them rather than run off and build yet another product.

Most people who say "We need to.." are also users who are very well aware of the problem, but may not be able to solve it themselves, or don't know what the solution looks like, or like a PG essay just inviting action.

But by collectively trying to identify the nitty gritty details of the problem, hopefully that will prepare the spec for engineers and makers to build from. So yes, we need to listen!

Edit: Just realised that previous reference to PG was a bit too casual so have adjusted

"Need," in the "greater good for society" sense, is often disconnected from profitability. Shut up and build it? There have been several attempts at undercutting Facebook in the last decade and they failed. Their failure is not evidence of Facebook's divinity, of a mandate to rule all social networks. To assert as much is to claim that consumers are rational actors through and through, which is not true.

The road to hell is littered with "solutions" "for the greater good" foisted upon a population that did not actually want it.

Facebook is popular by and large because the people that use Facebook like Facebook.

Your generalization lumps short term want/enjoyment with long term need.

Let's stop making diabetes medicine. If people actually wanted to not have diabetes, they'd stop eating candy.

Your comment presupposes market failures aren't a thing -- they are, ergo, your reasoning doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Further, even if that wasn't the case, advertising what's wrong with Facebook is a valid way to try and make competitors more viable: by writing critical articles, people without the technical skills to make a new Facebook change the market conditions, making it easier for a Facebook competitor to become viable. So they're doing exactly what you suggest -- using their labor to increase the chances of success for an alternative. Free markets at work!

tl;dr: Your suggestion is wrong if you either do or don't believe free markets are the solution.

You want Technology Review to build a social network?

What an immature and offensive attitude. People are trying to express their demand and invest some imaginative effort in describing the sort of service they'd like - not least because they may not know how to go about building such a thing - and you're coming along saying 'supply your own demand or STFU.' Maybe you should take your own advice.

Basically, you should not talk about anything except your daily job. Got it.

i mean i could see what you're saying if it was an engineer who was complaining. But if this is a journalist then i think it is fine. Perhaps someone will read the article and build it and we'll all be better off.

While I agree that building an alternative is better than complaining, I think the author is right to publish a story like this. The idea being that folks that are able to build a viable alternative might happen to read the MIT Tech Review article and build it. Complaining about how people that complain aren't productive is counterproductive in this case. Additionally, more articles like these are needed to remind people to snap out of it and do something else.

The alternative increasingly is to simple delete facebook and live a more offline life. Starting to see it become more and more trendy nowadays, especially among teenagers. It's considered retro and hip to just schedule social time and disconnect completely

Here's one bit of anecdata in response. I've tried to disconnect from social media and get out in the real world. I took an improv class in NYC with about 15 other people, a range of ages & backgrounds. On the last day of the class, a number of the students were asking around for Facebook profiles to keep in touch. When asked, I replied that I didn't have a Facebook account anymore and it was...awkward, to say the least. Like, giving someone an email or a phone number seems much more formal and/or like more of a commitment, I think. Anyway, I came out of it feeling a little disillusioned about the viability of an offline social life. Though this was a group of mid-20 to 40-something people, without the teens you mention.

I have had similar experiences, more than once, but it wasn't awkward. Most of the time, people just say OK, and go on with their life. A couple times, we talked about it, and they commented that they wouldn't be able to get in touch with me again. We talked about whether being connected on Facebook vs. never talking again really would amount to much of a difference in the long run, and agreed that it really would not.

At the end of the day, a Facebook connection from someone that you otherwise don't communicate with, or run into in the real world isn't important. So those conversations are only awkward if you make them so.

Well said, similar experiences myself. If someone is worth being a friend then I get their email or phone number. If it's at a professional level then LinkedIn is more than enough.

I think Facebook is sad, very sad, and the majority of people waste their lives away on it.

The fact that exchanging a phone number or email is more formal is a feature, not a bug. Very few people's Facebook "friends" are actually so. That's why it's an annoying time sync.

They are not friends, but when you post "I am looking for a job" they will still respond if they know about one. They will also respond if you post "I am going to Barcelona for weekend anybody there"? Or sometimes they post invitation to interesting activity and you have general idea what is going on with their lives if you accidentally meet them.

Things like that.

Interesting. In my experience Facebook as a way of connecting has been replaced by WhatsApp. People seem to be exchanging numbers for that purpose. This also deals with the issue of adding someone you don't know on Facebook and then feeling too awkward to delete them a few weeks later when you don't hit it off.

I wish this anecdote were true, but I bet this is a rose-glasses thing where the metrics show things getting worse. While a minority of Americans might avoid Facebook, places like Fiji have been completely colonized where everyone has zero-rated Facebook on their mobile devices and so the development of anything outside Facebook has been sabotaged and Facebook is the new AOL with network effects destroying the potential for an open internet.

If Facebook is the new AOL, the analogy fares poorly for Facebook's future.

Becoming a global media monopoly, Facebook is going to have trouble. They may be able to skirt US anti-trust authorities at home, but not abroad. More local jurisdictions will demand global jurisdiction over what Facebook chooses to do. The bigger they become the more targets are painted on them. They are already far too large to escape scrutiny. At some point, the damage will be done and Facebook will cease to be effective.

Here in the US, I have almost zero need to anything Facebook provides. The people I am friends with on Facebook are the ones I see once every 2 to 5 years. I don't miss anything besides pictures of someone's latest baby. Google, however, is a whole other monster.

I wish that Facebook as new AOL would just have the same outcome and give way to a free and open internet. BUT Facebook gets to be AOL2 in a world where they have far far far more clout (order of magnitude larger user base and many orders of magnitude more significant impact on real life — not just an online diversion but central to politics, life, work, business, etc) and are smart enough to learn all the lessons from AOL's history in order to not repeat the same mistakes. Facebook's internet.org lost in India but won elsewhere. We're talking major power struggles where it's not clear that Facebook will lose in the end.

Google is indeed a whole other monster with a different set of issues. It's more of a blob with tons of parts, some more benign than others. Some parts comparable to Facebook, some more legitimate.

I think that Facebook is going to be like drinking, some people refrain and claim to be the better for it, most people enjoy drinking in moderation and then there are the 10% who get hooked.

I don't use Facebook as it allegedly does not make people happy if they spend forever on it. I believe it is as bad for your brain as a high sugar diet, no good for concentration spans.

> It's considered retro and hip to just schedule social time and disconnect completely

2 years off Facebook here, and while I didn't do it to be hip or retro, once I quit I started to rediscover... snail mail. I've kept in touch with some of my Facebook friends who are far away via handwritten letters, and gifts. It's been awesome to get unexpected parcels in the mail full of random items & gifts, candy & CDs (!) from overseas etc, usually with stories behind why the items were chosen. We could have done that while still on Facebook too, of course, but there wasn't the impetus to do so.

I've lived in four cities in two different continents in the past five years. Sure I have peoples' phone numbers, but many friends already have established group chats on Hangouts/Messenger.

Disconnecting from Facebook would mean disconnecting from a huge base of friends I don't want to lose track of.

I never read status updates. When I go to Facebook, I always go straight to my profile page. I pretty much just use it for the chat. If I like something a friend has posted, they usually know I specifically went to their page to look. For people who have blogs, I'd rather add them to my RSS reader and encourage RSS use.

I sometimes consider it, but I would miss keeping in touch with friends from around the world and, truthfully, I'm not good at keeping in touch with people by email. Facebook lets me drop in for a few minutes at a time and see what people are up to.

Even an online life without facebook and twitter is still fun. I think we're at a point where social networks are kind of pointless. At best, they're an easier to use alternative to the rolodex/black-book and email client. At worse, they make it harder to keep tabs on actual friends and family. So, I think everyone should weigh the effectiveness of their utilization of such products rather than being driven by fear of not being fashionable (leave that to the teenagers and celebrities).

I deactivated it for more than a year and don't even have time giving a shit to permanently delete it because IIRC there were no a dead simple way to do it currently.

I'm not sure where's life going but at least the old problem space has gone. New problem space more worth it.

I live all over the world, and have friends and family all over the world. If I want to stay involved in the lives of a large number of people who are not local, a social network is the most efficient way.

I did that for 5 years but I ended up being really lonely because it's hard to find people with similar interests and tastes.

From my perspective, problems with facebook:

1) Anti-privacy, megalomaniacal nature of network.

2) Social cost of having removed the normal ways we moderate each other's behavior. E.g. when someone is a narcissistic bore, you talk to them less and less at the barbecues and eventually events start happening they're not invited to. Facebook takes the people most willing to ignore social boundaries and customs and puts them center stage.

3) Opportunity costs of not having mechanisms to form more naturally-moderated social groups, but with a wider pool of potential people than are in your physical social graph. This has always been the dream of the social internet.

4) "Fake news", specifically the moral hazard of providing an environment that plays to the "worst" tendencies of media consumption. This is obviously dependent on our values, and how patronizing we're willing to be. But the hazard is a real issue especially when your network attracts people under one pretense--hang out with your friends/kids/grandkids--and then has this non-advertised effect of sticking you in a media echo chamber. This unlike when people choose to go out and fight their echo chamber in a way that's fairly important.

5) Like 3) but now for "good" media consumption, or a Healthy Democratic Civil Discourse, or whatever. I'm glib because this is on the razor's edge of smuggling in whatever values we daydream about imposing on the world.

A lot of us can come up with the David-and-Goliath dream of a distributed network, but I think it's interesting that this is probably neutral-at-best for 4), which is the issue du jour. One could easily see things getting worse and articles being published with the thesis that people need to be de-balkanized for the sake of civic discourse.

Also, the REAL contrarian take here is that things are close to optimal. People are succeeding at 3) and by extension 2), just in niche special interest groups that aren't salient to us in the steady state. The "problem" is that many of us lack the conviction or self-direction to quit media behaviors we don't like. Meanwhile 4) and 5) are really about the bankruptcy of modern ideologies, etc. etc.

I don't get your 2) because I have no problem ignoring people I don't like. But I agree that bad behavior is rewarded and that this is a problem on social networking in general (jackassery on YT, Twitter trolls, things like Infowars)

I'd add to your list the imposition of censorship with no feedback mechanism - Facebook's 'community standards' are wholly arbitrary, and I find it extremely disturbing that you can share almost any kind of violent content there with no problem, but anything too sexual risks a date with the banhammer. It's perpetuating standards of social control and sexism that actively hurt people.

http://scuttlebot.io/ is a distributed log file meant to be an application platform. It has some nice design choices and is worth looking at in the context of making a new social network.

Didn't know about that. Thank you – it looks like a well-put together project

It seems to me that a social network is one of those natural monopolies. It works so well because so many people use it. Remember the big reason many social network alternatives failed, no one else was on them.

There are some things (very few in fact) that just work better as monopolies. But that just means you need to regulate it differently. And there's an interesting discussion, how best to regulate natural monopolies.

The big reason many other networks failed, is because no one else was on them? Prove that as the cause, as opposed to them sucking as the reason. MySpace & Friendster were already very substantial when Facebook came along and destroyed them, because they were horrible services.

The better question is, why would you need or want to regulate it as a natural monopoly? Specifically: to accomplish what?

Let me give you some examples.

1) To force FB to open up, allowing other social networks to openly ride on its network / social data (the broadband one pipe lots of delivery companies premise). Ok, now you're begging for a radical increase in abuse of personal data. And you're going to need some new (or expanded existing) bureaucracy agency to manage it all, which will open up new government abuses without a doubt (happens every time; and said agency will radically slow down innovation, which also happens every single time). Some obnoxious SNEA - Social Network Enforcement Agency - will get created, and that'll be the end of any innovation in social media; if you give the Feds an inch of new power, they'll take a thousand miles.

Besides, you can already replicate your social network onto other platforms by allowing FB apps to access your list of friends. Most people don't care because there simply are not that many highly compelling social concepts to explore that are worth the effort to maintain/use. There will never be large numbers of compelling social offerings; there inherently can't be as people have finite time, the hurdle to acquire it is very high. It's work/effort to maintain these networks for the end user, they do not want to have to upkeep it all.

2) To enforce higher standards on privacy. Well, we can already pass legislation to do that comprehensively across all media platforms, if it makes sense. It'd be ridiculous to regulate one platform for that purpose.

3) To limit various corporate abuses by FB (Instagram/Snapchat, ala Internet Explorer/Netscape). Well, we already have anti-trust laws for that and thousands of other laws & regulations and numerous giant three letter enforcement agencies.

Meanwhile, while the argument is being made for regulating Facebook as a natural monopoly, the next technology paradigm is being born somewhere to make them far less relevant. That process has been repeating itself for 60 years or so now, requiring very little actual regulation by the government.

>Meanwhile, while the argument is being made for regulating Facebook as a natural monopoly, the next technology paradigm is being born somewhere to make them far less relevant. That process has been repeating itself for 60 years or so now, requiring very little actual regulation by the government.

^^ Just world fallacy

In reality, the DoJ deal with Microsoft is probably partly what led to the second internet startup renaissance. MS were still bullies and they still inhibited innovation by squashing smaller competitors but it would have been a whole lot worse if Microsoft were not defanged by that deal.

Unfortunately anti-trust enforcement seems to have gone out of vogue these days (starting with Bush, but Obama was worse than useless in that respect as well).

Well there are certain features that can't be done without the mass amount of people. All that ML that Facebook does? No one can replicate it without the data. Yes, they have fancy algos, but it is the data that drives it.

We definitely have seen plenty of Facebook clones that are better at protecting your privacy, have better messaging systems, and lots of other features. Everyone that has tried to use these networks gets the response from most friends of "eh, I'll just use Facebook. I don't need another account." Having the best product does not always mean you win. Marketing plays a big role, and it is hard to market against one of the biggest marketers. (If you're going to talk tech and markets, you do need to know "'better' doesn't always win")

But as to your questions, we would want to regulate natural monopolies differently than we would in the competitive market. Things such as: how data is handled and distributed; how privacy is handled (when you have so much on almost everyone); different regulations on how to check that news being spread is accurate.

AT&T was treated as a natural monopoly and that caused Bell Labs to be born. And we all know Bell invented the modern world. Since new tech has come out, AT&T lots its natural monopoly treatment.

I'm not suggesting to treat it like a natural monopoly forever, but while it is one. When some new innovation comes and competes, Facebook should then be treated as if in a competitive market (because it will be then). But right now it isn't in one.

Just tell me, who is Facebook's competition? Google+? Ello? People compete with parts of Facebook, but they have no real competition.

May also be a generational thing.

Facebook is pretty much where myspace was back in the day on the "hype cycle", where every aunt tillie and whatsnot is on there. Thus you see fewer and fewer young people being active on there, because they used to see Facebook as somewhere they could talk among themselves without parents and whatsnot peeking.

Network effects are well documented, demanding that people prove they're the only causal factor here is rude and unhelpful.

Yes, exactly. That's pretty much the reason I never really got into Google+; most of my friends weren't on there, and didn't care to be, so I was just reading a lot of the same things I could read on Twitter -- public posts by more tech-savvy people.

Unapproved third-party APIs.

Nationalise Social Networks

More "Facebook is not currently in a competitive market. Don't treat it like it is. When it goes back to a competitive market, treat it as such."

And what would you call that National social network, Fascistbook?

Many people miss the fact that Facebook as a product is not about the website and related services. It's your social connections that are the product for you (and for Facebook itself). The technology is just a wrapper and is secondary in this case. In order to create a viable alternative to Facebook one should find a way to create a new kind of social good attractive to many (which is much harder when Facebook already exists). So it's more about social good engineering rather than coding.

No, we don't need More Alternatives to Facebook. We need Less Alternatives to Facebook. That is, Zero Alternatives to Facebook AND Zero Facebook.

Stop wasting your time!

Why is keeping in touch with friends in one place online wasting time?

More like waisting your freedom, integrity, privacy etc...

Can you give me an example of how my freedom, integrity or privacy have been wasted? They're not taking anything I haven't willingly given them.

How do you know, if the latest reports is to go by they are buying personal information from third parties in order to construct better dossiers.


> Facebook is not about keeping in touch with friends

You are mistaken. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends. It's a pretty epic level of arrogance to try and tell me what I use it for.

So anyone who doesn't do things your way is wrong, OK. Thanks for clearing that up.

But forcing others to use unethically driven website by the means of social pressure is even more wrong. Two wrongs don't make you right.

I wonder what traits will define the Facebook transcender like the Windows transcender [1] mentioned in PG's essay.

You can argue that since that essay (2005) the iPhone/iPad and Android and then eventually "all meaningful apps becoming web enabled" has mostly made Windows the last choice amongst the candidates rather than the first when it comes to selecting personal computing devices. Right now, people who use Windows see it in the same way people see crusty old government bureaucracies - it is just one of those things you deal with because you have to, and move away from ASAP.

[1] http://paulgraham.com/ideas.html

We actually have alternatives. G+, Twitter, Gnu Social, Slack, Wechat. The question is what's your flavour and how do you convince your friends to switch with you.

My perfect Facebook would be crosspollinating Facebook and the structure of a RSS reader. I want to be able to skim through EVERY update on EVERY page and person I follow, star/flag the ones I'm interested in, and then read the ones I'm interested in. Because of its popularity, Facebook has all the content I'm interested in within its walled garden -- but its browsing experience sucks. IMO.

Shameless plug, but very relevant since it is literally built to be an alternative to the current mainstream social networks: I'm hacking on https://postbelt.com - a privacy-first, ad-free, text-only, discussion-focused social network.

Check it out if it sounds interesting :-)

What we need are (as much as possible) unbiased sources of news, or news feeds. Right now, there's so much bias in the media, and in news outlets to the point where it's hard to distinguish fact from fiction, or see news that might otherwise make things "difficult" for those organizations.

The profit above all else direction the large media news outlets have taken may serve their profit motives, but do little to actually further human knowledge of current or pressing events.

There obviously are bad news that no one should consume (i.e. "fake news") but I'd argue there is no such thing as good news in the sense that every one should read them to become informed.

To enable the public to make informed decisions every individual should come to face with a random selection of sources on a daily basis so that echo chambers get reduced and a problem-solving mentality can come into being.

The problem - as you've stated - is indeed that all news websites want to maximize views/profits. This, for one thing, leads to market segmentation (echo chambers). For another thing, Hotelling's law is at work within each segment so that the news from your preferred sources are very similar. If CNN writes about Trump's tweet instead of mass starvation then chances are very high that it's the same with CBS.

I liked the old term for "fake news." Before 2016 we just called it "news."

What seems like a free press in the US and the world is heavily controlled by less than a dozen conglomerates. They often game the system, mixing propaganda with news to create a narrative. Just look at all the pro-Monsanto comments on Hackernews and the recent court revelations that Monsanto had a big marketing program to post pro-company commends on tons of major/minor social networks.

There's a big difference between not being anti-gmo, and being pro-monstanto... I'm pretty biased against larger corporations and want a serious reversion of IP legislation and practice (though feel some of it has a place, we've just gone too far).

It really depends on the specifics. There's plenty of things in nature than can kill you. Most people are allergic to something. That said, it really depends, and most of what's done to GMO products aren't that different than the selective breeding that has gone on for millennia, and the stuff that actually occurs in nature.

Just because there's always been some manipulation of news/media, doesn't mean we should or have to accept that moving forward. I wish I had the time and could cover the expense of coming up with something better, at least a place to start.

HN has always been pro generit food, it's your bias talking. Just like someone who thinks 'this' site is too left or too right.

I think that if everyone in America read NYT or WaPo, we'd be a lot better off. Because they atleast live in a world where facts matter. But hey, that might trigger some people.

What we need are (as much as possible) unbiased sources of news

If you're using an absolute term like "unbiased" and modify it with "as much as possible," rewrite your sentence to say what you really mean. Weasel-words are a thing.

That is, don't we already have unbiased news sources "as much as possible?"

Google tried and failed. There are alternatives in other countries.. V Kontakte and odnoklassniki for Russia, WeChat and Qzone for China, though other countries other than those two are using what Americans use. There are a few other things like Snapchat and Kik that teenagers are using.

Basically, if you think about the time you were a teenager: your parents are old. If they are using Facebook, than Facebook must not be cool. If your parents aren't using it, than it must be cool. In Facebook's defense: adults are more valuable as users than teenagers are, as they are clicking on ads and buying things. So there wouldn't be any reason for Facebook to even try to be that "cool" place where teenagers go.

So for someone to capture that niche the way Facebook had done would be very hard to do. I'm around Zuckerberg's age and at first, Facebook never appealed to me, until they removed the .edu cap. So that was an important step of getting Facebook to the entire world. It made everything so easy to connect with people and "keep in touch" via messages, wall posts, and photos. The "Like" button seemed to be something the world had never really seen as well and made it even easier to "show" you acknowledged it, rather than having to respond.

I'm sure if Google Plus attempted to be a compliment, rather than be a replacement, it would've had more success. And the next big social media network that is an alternative to Facebook will need to focus on that. People don't really like "change". However, they are willing to learn and switch to things that are more useful and helpful. For the older generation, which on Facebook -- 25+ is probably the most prominent users -- they really don't care to switch because their friends and families aren't using anything else. This is where Facebook has great strength.

Where Facebook and Google tend to fail is: they want to be everyone's everything. They seem to want to dominate all aspects of our lives. And while it sounds great and it has worked in China (with WeChat), it is not appealing to everyone that uses their products. However, when you have so many products within your already-huge enterprise: those products get lost or belittled. How many features does Google and Facebook have that many people don't even know exists? Facebook is social media and Google is search. Both have a little bit of extra pull with the open source and developer community, BUT.. they need to stay focused on what they are best at doing.

As a web app developer, I keep an eye on those failed or lesser known products from Facebook and Google, and make my own and charge for them. It is likely that they are free on Facebook and Google, but people might not know they actually exist because again: Google is for search, Facebook is for social communication. Anything more than that... is lost.

> As a web app developer, I keep an eye on those failed or lesser known products from Facebook and Google

Could you provide an example or two? I wonder if you mean something like Buzz and Reader or something completely different.

Another thing that I think is becoming more apparent is the fact that despite the "privacy policies" of Facebook and Google, they will hand over information because they record it. With security and privacy a concern, more companies that advocate their stance and clearly state that they either do not keep the information or they do not share it is important and a big selling point, and will be in the future.

Look at ProtonMail. Secure email service. It is booming in business because people are seeking alternative to Gmail, Yahoo (notorious for data breaches), and Live mail.

So there is likely a huge market for this as more and more people become aware of just how much data about them is being sold to third-parties.

I have seen some Google Reader alternatives. Plenty of people were upset when they got rid of it. Google also got rid of a text messaging feature in one of their apps, and people were upset about that, so taking some of these things into consideration, and rebuilding them into your own apps would certainly have that appeal.

No, it's not about novelty and people hiding from their parents. That's a factor but it's far from being the only factor. Look into the history of Usenet, people didn't give up on it because their parents were on it.

Agreed; distributed, free and secure group communications is a much needed, missing piece of the puzzle. If only I could figure out how to make it pay the rent. A couple of extra brains/hands wouldn't hurt either...


To me, the alternative to Facebook has been around for a long time: email.

The people I keep in touch with online all have email accounts. Sending email to one, a few, or all of them is easy.

Email mostly works for me, particularly for friends and family. The problem is that many people prioritise Facebook over email and frequently forget to reply, or don't send email in the first place as they assume that everyone has seen their Facebook post. So, outside friends and family, not having a Facebook account tends to mean not getting information.

That's fine if you already have a strong social network. Email is a terrible tool for discovery of new things, which was why Usenet came into being.

Usenet was imperfect but great in many respects. I harbor a lot of resentment towards the people who wrecked it.

There's lots of alternatives to Facebook. Facebook is for people who don't care about alternatives.

No it isn't. I've had accounts on numerous alternative social networks and none of them are much good as general platforms because there aren't enough other people using them, or using them often enough.

Stop pretending network effects don't exist or that your social media usage habits must be true for everyone else.

replacement != alternative. Not using Facebook is a proper alternative to Facebook. What Facebook provides isn't necessary, and what's bad about Facebook is probably intrinsic to the entire social media model.

How on earth has Facebook become the arbiter of our collective morality?

There are plenty of alternatives already, you just need to use them.

We just need a modern version of Geocities.

... and Reddit!

I've developed a sort of 'core technology' that can be used to build out what can hopefully become another option in the social media arena. It's open source. It's supports a fully threaded 'tree' of content, rather than just a linear stream like Facebook and Twitter. You create SubNodes, rather than 'tweets' for example. Technology stack is Java, TypeScript, Google Polymer, Jackrabbit JCR, MongoDb, SpringBoot.

Demonstration site is: http://sbnode.com

Email and something like Google Groups does 80% of what Facebook does.

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