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The Future of the Social Web according to Are.na, Darius Kazemi and Twitter

Three learnings on how to build social platforms that people care about from the track we curated at The Conference 2019 in Malmö, Sweden

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At the beginning of the track we asked the audience how many would like to reduce their social media use. Turns out that quite a few seem to be unsatisfied with the platforms on hand today. Photo by www.jesperberg.se via The Conference

The Conference, one of our favorite gatherings exploring digital development and its impact on human behavior, returned to Malmö this year for two days packed with diverse perspectives and stimulating sessions covering an array of topics.

For this year’s edition, we teamed up with The Conference to curate a track on the future of the social web featuring Charles Broskoski (co-founder of creative research platform Are.na), Lisa Ding (senior product designer at Twitter) and Internet artist Darius Kazemi (Internet artist and Mozilla Fellow). Every single day, the three of them work and reflect on how the social web is evolving – so we invited them to share their opinions on how to design constructive public conversations, create spaces for diverse interactions and develop platforms that respect each member’s humanity. Below are our key learnings from the track...

Give people a sense of agency
 

Are.na is inherently designed for creators to actively connect ideas and build knowledge, rather than passively consuming content. “The onus is on the person to do the work on the product to get the most out of it,” said Broskoski. So the more members on the platform connect ideas to different channels, the more their content becomes imbued with perspectives from other people and the more they can make meaning from all kinds of visual ephemera. “It gives a sense of ownership to the people because any individual can shape the content that they see on Are.na,” he added. 

In addition to that, Broskoski said there are a number of ways for people to steer the direction of the platform, such as contributing to the public channels for feedback or feature requests on Are.na. One of their most-commented “blocks” was a request to remove the follower count on profiles. Seeing the overwhelming response of people who agreed with the sentiment in the block, the Are.na team reprioritized their tasks and made the change to better align with their members’ wishes. 


Social networks have been deeply criticized over the years, but Are.na founder Charles Broskoski wants to turn the subject on how to develop and improve them instead. He wants to start a conversation about the important questions, What is a good platform and what patterns does it have? He describes Are.na as a platform for connecting ideas and building knowledge and explains that the users have a lot of power and influence over the platform

"It gives a sense of ownership to the people because any individual can shape the content that they see on Are.na."

Charles referred to the book "A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander and compared our digital spaces to physical spaces. If you could choose how your digital spaces would look like, how would they be designed?

Show that you care
 

Programmer and Internet artist Darius Kazemi, who’s best known for creating thought-provoking Twitter bots, currently runs a private social network dubbed Friend Camp. “One of the things I’ve noticed about running a piece of software for 50 people is that a lot of assumptions that we make in software design hinges on the idea of ‘Can we scale?’” explained Kazemi, who challenges the idea that software needs to scale in order to be successful. In fact, there are all sorts of things that you can do with a smaller community that would be impossible in a larger group.

For one, you can take more time to care for the members of the community. Kazemi shared that he takes 1-3 hours to onboard every single new member, either in person or on a video chat, to address safety concerns and to help them get the most of the social network. Learn more about how you can build your own small social network site here.

 

Internet artist Darius Kazemi is known for his many (and funny) Twitter bots under the moniker Tiny Subversions. He is also the founder of Friend Camp, a Twitter-like social network with only 50 users which is run from a server in his own home. A more human scale social network built upon the input from the users. At The Conference 2019, Darius shared his vision of a radical new direction for social network sites.

"You can have weird and dangerous features in a platform if the core is that you are never gonna scale."

runyourown.social is the project Darius developed as part of his Mozilla Fellowship Residency. It teaches anyone how to run and maintain your own social network for a small group of friends.

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Lisa giving her talk at the Volcano stage at The Conference. Photo by www.jesperberg.se

Make sure people feel safe and they'll participate

Lisa Ding, senior product design at Twitter, shared insights and considerations from her experience working on twttr, the company’s prototyping app where new features are tested to make it easier for people to read and understand conversations on the platform. “Reading and participating in a conversation are two separate but related activities,” she said, “It’s important to acknowledge that participation also comes with a lot of other factors, for example, feeling like you’re safe on the platform.” For online spaces to see healthy participation, people have to feel safe enough to contribute publicly, which isn’t always the case.


 

Lisa Ding is a product designer at Twitter, currently the design lead on the twttr prototype project. Prior to this project, Lisa worked on a strategic visioning design project, Direct Messages, and Health/Safety feature.For her talk at The Conference, Lisa shares insights and considerations on how to design for a healthy public conversation in a digital universe. Drawing on her actual work and experiences at Twitter.

A simplified way of how tweets are structured. From Lisa Ding's presentation on the twttr prototype app.

Thank you Charles, Lisa and Darius for sharing your insights.
If you're interested in finding out more, follow them and check out their projects:

Charles Broskoski on Twitter
Are.na

Lisa Ding on Twitter
Sign up to become a tester of the twttr prototype

Darius Kazemi on Twitter
Runyourown.social

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