How one innovative startup is taking on the established social media giants by taking their business models and turning them inside out.
As an entrepreneur, you are aware of the potential that some social media platforms offer as vehicles to promote your startup, attract users, and build brand awareness. Depending on your target market, some networks will be more effective than others.
You also have, no doubt, at least fantasized about the possibilities of building your own social media platform. After all, it looks easy enough at first glance, right?
In this article, we'll take a look at Minds, a startup which has taken a unique approach to enter the business. With around 1.5 million* total registered users, it's tiny compared to the top players but is nevertheless an exciting case study.
[* I recall hearing it in an interview - trying to find which one it was!]
The Problems with Social Media Today
In today's social media landscape, the top platforms all make their money primarily from advertising and selling user data.
They all operate with a variation of the same formula; offering the use of their platforms for free, maximizing use growth, and tuning their UI and algorithms to promote engagement. They then serve targeted ads to their users.
Since these platforms accumulate a great deal of information on their users, they enable advertisers to target based on demographics and interests finely. This approach has gained the likes of Facebook (which also owns Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger) great success.
However, there are several issues with this business model.
The ad systems on these platforms don't just operate based on information entered by users into their profiles, but by many more parameters. Most users are unaware to the extent which their online activity and even offline movements are monitored in order to build up a profile on which their AI-powered systems serve ads. This business model is known as surveillance capitalism.
Users post their own original content on these platforms, and then ads are run next to them. In most cases, the users don't share in any of the advertising revenue.
These systems are not neutral platforms. To present themselves as "advertiser-friendly," they restrict and, in some cases, censor user content that might be deemed as "offensive." The trouble with this is that humans are biased and prone to enforce guidelines arbitrarily.
Automated systems don't fare much better. Since the number of users and volume of content so vast, machine learning algorithms are deployed to find, quarantine, and remove offensive posts and ban repeat offenders. However, since machines are not contextually aware, there are many false positives, and perfectly innocuous posts are often taken down.
In the early days of these platforms, you would see a reverse chronological feed of posts from the people and brands you followed or subscribed to. However, today, sophisticated, AI-powered algorithms manipulate newsfeeds to serve content that has been calculated to be most likely to maximize engagement. Generally, material that fuels outrage fits this bill.
Since the source code for these platforms is proprietary and not made publicly available, it is impossible to audit them and know what they are doing with our data.
The Minds Solution
The cofounders of Minds set out to build a platform that would solve these issues.
Privacy: Minds allows users to be 100% anonymous, untracked, and free from surveillance. Communications are protected by encryption.
Compensation: Minds has its own internal economy based around a cryptocurrency token. This allows users to support their favorite creators and pay to boost their own content. The platform also rewards users with a daily airdrop of free tokens that rewards community contributions.
Freedom of Speech: As a US-headquartered company, Minds extends the US constitution's First Amendment to all users and generally will only remove content or ban users that break the law. Legal but edgy content is allowed as long as it is marked as NSFW (not safe for work). In an effort to be neutral, Minds has implemented a jury system.
User Control: There are no algorithms manipulating newsfeeds, and users can tune theirs to fit their interests.
Transparency: Minds' source code is freely available, which means it can be audited. Furthermore, anyone can get a copy to set up their own instance of Minds on their own server.
What's Next for Minds
Regular people are gradually gaining an awareness of the issues that plague social media and are increasingly open to alternatives. While Minds had been growing nicely until 2019, it was given a significant boost after their CEO, Bill Ottman, appeared on the popular talk show, The Joe Rogan Experience.
Minds was built by a small team with a tiny fraction of the resources of the big social platforms. However, as it is open source, its situation is somewhat different, as it has a community of volunteer developers contributing to the project.
Open source software is a big deal.
Wikipedia: Our favorite online encyclopedia is perhaps the best-known open source project in the world. Anyone can inspect and copy its code.
WordPress: In the website and blogging space, the open source WordPress has the largest market share.
Linux: In the world of operating systems, Linux grew from one man's project to dominating servers and mobile devices (Android is a fork of Linux).
Minds has a real chance to change social networking in a significant way. Even if it does not become the most popular platform, by making its code and operating philosophy so open, it is contributing to the greater ecosystem, and thus may sow the seeds for others.
How Xtra, Inc. Uses Minds
Xtra, Inc. operates two crowdsourcing platforms.
After researching and experimenting with several alternative social platforms, I decided to use the "Group" feature of minds to serve as a forum for Xtra's freelancer community. Since the group URL is a bit long and complicated, we use a custom domain, Xtra.community and forward it to the Minds group.
In addition, to offering features similar to what one might find in the likes of Facebook Groups, Minds lets us earn crypto tokens, which we can use to boost our content and attract more members. We've found that the easiest way to earn tokens is by posting our original photography, which attracts user engagement.
Should Your Startup Use Minds for Marketing?
For most businesses, Minds isn't worth considering as a marketing channel, as the user base is too small. However, I would recommend it to startups in the cryptocurrency and blockchain niches. Media startups dealing in edgy but perfectly legal content would also find it useful. Often these type of businesses finds that their content gets censored by over-zealous algorithms or moderators by merely having the "wrong" keywords.
On platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, those users who joined in the early days and regularly posted interesting content were able to build up large followings which could later be monetized. Using the analogy of a surfer catching a wave, if Minds is going to be the next big thing, now might be a good time to sign up!
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