"The Abandonment of Clean Algos is the Suicide of Mainstream Social Media" - Minds CEO Bill Ottman by@David
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"The Abandonment of Clean Algos is the Suicide of Mainstream Social Media" - Minds CEO Bill Ottman

by David SmookeSeptember 7th, 2020
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Minds CEO Bill Ottman is the co-creator and CEO of Minds, a free and open source social network with crypto rewards. Minds came up with a Jury System for content moderation, where 12 users vote on specific cases of content moderation. In the last 30 days 5,566 actions have been taken by Minds in 30 days, there have been 13 appeals, and 1 action overturned. In the future we may bring the jury to the initial decision and other types of decentralized governance.

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Bill Ottman is the co-creator and CEO of Minds, a free and open source social network with crypto rewards. They continue to make waves as an alternative to the incumbent social network business model of surveillance capitalism. Bill has also been a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast. Today, he kindly took the time to answer some questions for Hacker Noon. 

Hey Bill, what’s the best thing you read on the internet today? 

That would clearly have to be the breaking expose of ‘boneless chicken wings’...

Minds came up with a Jury System for content moderation, where 12 users vote on specific cases of content moderation. How is the system coming along? Would you like to share any numbers around pieces of content moderated, users banned or outcome percentages? Disclosure: I’ve used Minds for about a year and to my knowledge have yet to be summoned for digital jury duty. 

It’s working beautifully for the appeals process. In the last 30 days 5,566 actions have been taken by Minds, there have been 13 appeals, and 1 action overturned. Not bad! In the future we may bring the jury to the initial decision and other types of decentralized governance. 

Why did you choose the Manila Principles for your users’ Bill of Rights? Where has the implementation worked well and not so well? 

The Manila Principles are really a general compass, but it isn’t dogma to us. We reference them because they are a powerful document drafted by hundreds of leading digital rights groups including EFF. They are a set of standards that cannot be lost down the memory hole. 

That being said, things like bots, spam, threats of violence and other harmful activity isn’t always going to have a court order and we do believe there are certain cases that require action without a court order to protect the network. We firmly align our content policy with the first amendment and simultaneously call out malicious activity when it is obvious. 

You recently built a tool to migrate Youtube videos to native Minds video hosting. We started using it on the Hacker Noon Minds channel :-) Video hosting is inherently expensive when compared to text or even image hosting. How did you technically and financially structure it so that the site growth from videos would outweigh the additional hosting expenses? 

This is one of those issues that we are simply biting the bullet on because native video is so essential. We may actually have to limit the migrator to only premium accounts because of this issue, but it has been amazing for making account maintenance easier for big creators. 

What is the skillset breakdown of your team? And what IQ/EQ/expertise/life-experiences do value in potential hires? 

About half our team are badass fullstack developers well versed in Angular, React Native, Node, PHP, web3, Cassandra (nosql) and the rest of our architecture

The other half are highly competent in support, product design, viral marketing, management and network theory. 

It’s all about intuition and being able to deliver super clean products without a babysitter. We want to be students of our employees. 

How does your team decide what functionality to build next? 

I would say we consider the following:

  • Top community requests
  • Revenue generating features for BOTH creators and the company
  • Highest impact, lowest effort
  • What brings us closer to our core principles of transparency, privacy, decentralization and monetization
  • Much of the path is already laid out looking at the top social media apps in the world. We have a unique social network with the monetization, decentralization and crypto components, but society to a degree has reached a consensus on key features. Our challenge is building them with ethics and in a fully open source manner. It takes longer...

Is there any feature or functionality or process that a first time visitor may not even notice, but has been monumental for growing Minds? 

Definitely Boost. You can earn tokens for receiving engagement and then use tokens to get more reach. 1 token = 1,000 views. It gives Minds higher value than big tech apps to many creators. 

Overall, what primary metrics do you use to measure the progress of your business? 

Certainly growth of key indicators like active users and revenue which we need to build a sustainable business, but definitely also team happiness, productivity, stability of products and proximity to fulfilling the core principles. The more we can engineer ourselves out of the process the better, putting the community in charge.

In an average work week, what do you spend time doing? 

I balance between doing podcasts and interviews with product calls, roadmap, networking, board strategy, using the app myself (I end up doing QA lol), pushups, walks. Always listening to podcasts and interviews and tuning in to what’s happening on this planet. 

Do you think Twitter’s recent decision to break out “retweet” into “retweet” and “tweet quote” is a good, bad, or meaningless product decision? 

Meh. Until twitter open sources their code they aren’t in the conversation ;)

Do you think Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram was legal? And how different do you think the social media landscape is today if that deal never occurred? 

Haven’t investigated that specific accusation, but I definitely think the world is in a trance loving instagram. Most people don’t even know facebook owns them. It is a beautifully designed app but has poisonous tentacles throughout...

Should Facebook be running political ads? And for the good of the world, if you ran their fact checking strategy on political ads, what would you do differently? 

I don’t have an issue with political ads necessarily. Social media itself is propaganda of sorts, but I do think they are doing fact-checking backwards. We are currently working hard on this issue and bringing in a decentralized reputation system for both users and content where the community can build a web of trust in different categories. Rather than hiring a subjective team of ‘fact-checkers’ why not empower the whole community to provide citations, vote and show both sides of the debate. Most controversial issues aren’t clear cut and transparent representation of the debate and data would be way more useful than telling people what to think. Certain issues certain are clearly true or false and in those cases the contextual data layer on content/users would clearly show that. 

Does it matter who owns TikTok

I think it matters who owns the apps we use and how they use our data regardless of locale. 

You’ve been an outspoken critic against some of Google’s business practices. Do you think that helps, hurts or has no effect on how Minds indexes on Google search results? 

I don’t want to speculate about the impact of my public statements but we are 100% being throttled and have evidence. 

How does the Minds newsfeed decide what content appears next in the feed?  What user behaviours most determine moving content into or out of your newsfeed? 

Easy. Reverse chronological with a boosted post showing about every 12-15 posts. We will never mess with this and you will always be able to see all the posts from people you subscribe to. The abandonment of clean algos is the suicide of mainstream social media apps. They are all doing it.

It isn’t that we are against algos for alternative feeds, but we believe the core feed should be unrestricted.  

Can you break down the licensing strategy to the software and IP created by Minds Inc.? 

Everything is free software under AGPLv3 right now. We will forever and always be 100% FOSS. To us, an app is not respecting their users freedom without being fully free and open source. 

Why did you choose to host your open source software on GitLab over GitHub or anywhere else? 

Gitlab is open source! They align closer with our principles not to mention it is a better product. We do all of our project management and roadmapping there as well. We still mirror to github but I don’t really understand why so many open source projects use github when it isn’t open source itself. 

Should the government intervene to make more software open source? 

That’s a great question. The FSF would probably say yes. Ideally you wouldn’t have to legislate people to respect others’ freedom and would hope public pressure would push companies to do this voluntarily. The open source trend is on fire for many reasons, even economic. 

About a year ago, you started Change Minds, a “Deradicalization Initiative about encouraging the world to get talking, to find common ground, and to speak civilly to those with whom we may disagree to build a stronger world, together.” It’s very hard to change minds. People so often crave affirmation that what they believe is true. What have been the highlights of progress and/or key learnings from this program so far? 

It certainly is hard to change minds. It can take many years and we don’t approach it with the expectation of it happening every time. As Daryl Davis, the leader of the project would say, ‘if we’re talking we’re not fighting’. But if you limit speech, you are in a sense forcing fighting to begin. We have also recently teamed up with Parallel Networks who works with Daryl as well to provide open channels of communication to anyone on Minds whether radical or not to just talk. Mental health on social media is key and ultimately we believe the more we communicate, the more peaceful the world will become. Check out this recent study from Nature showing how the FB censorship makes extremism worse. 

If you could permanently change one thing about how the internet works, what would it be?

There are way too many people without the internet, which is mindblowing when you think about it because we sit on it all day. The internet is the greatest force for education the world has ever known. It is possibly the primary tool of our current evolution. We need to push the infrastructure towards something radically more inclusive, incentivized, transparent, secure, decentralized and affordable. Does that count as one thing?

Connect with Bill on Minds.