Posted December 29, 2011 8:36 am by with 7 comments

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Whether you agree with the Occupy (insert location here) movement or not you can’t deny that they have made a mark. Social media has played a role in that ability to make the desired impact. It seems though that traditional social media outlets like Facebook have reached their limitations with groups like this because of these folks’ desire to have a system that helps privacy rather than is always in the crosshairs regarding the same issue (read: Facebook).

So how do you overcome this issue? Build your own social network of course. A Wired article tells us:

“I don’t want to say we’re making our own Facebook. But, we’re making our own Facebook,” said Ed Knutson, a web and mobile app developer who joined a team of activist-geeks redesigning social networking for the era of global protest.

They hope the technology they are developing can go well beyond Occupy Wall Street to help establish more distributed social networks, better online business collaboration and perhaps even add to the long-dreamed-of semantic web — an internet made not of messy text, but one unified by underlying meta-data that computers can easily parse.

This is an interesting approach. Some would say that this is something that is best left to a big company but let’s remember that underlying the huge Facebook operation is a MySQL database which makes many cringe. While that has nothing to do with privacy it does have much to do with reliability and whether it holds up or not is not something people like the Occupy movement is apparently willing to trust.

Privacy and the attention the big social networks get by the courts, however, is the main driver though.

“We don’t want to trust Facebook with private messages among activists,” he said.

The same thinking applies to Twitter and other social networks — and the reasoning became clear last week, when a Massachusetts district attorney subpoenaed Twitter for information about the account @OccupyBoston and other accounts connected to the Boston movement. (To its credit, Twitter has a policy of giving users the opportunity to contest such orders when possible.)

So could the future of social networking be more niche oriented? Would the needs of various groups be so disparate that there would be a need for individual networks to handle the load without feeling like big brother is hovering over them? Can even a niche social network escape the view of the legal system? Not likely.

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These are all interesting questions that will crop up as we move through the online social age. If history is any indicator there will be cyclical movements going from general to specific and back. In the Internet space these cycles tend to be sped up so it will be quite a study to see if this actually does happen or will the Internet space act differently. Since human beings are behind everything the Internet is and does the likelihood of it acting differently is small. Let’s face it, people are people.

What’s your take?

  • It’s true that we all know that Facebook, Twitter, etc. provide no anonymity, protection from government intrusion etc. However, it is a little naive to believe that a grassroots-developed network can be free of government oversight — especially when you need no credentials to join it.

    On the other hand, I love open source efforts, and if this results in an attempt to create an open-source competitor to the Facebook software, I’m all for it.

    Additionally, I think the Occupy Movement needs a focused forum to develop intelligible positions. So far the objectives of these protests seem confused — which means that the folks they are protesting against are confused as to what to do.

    To get results, these protests need to be (each) tightly focused on some well-defined result that can be implemented by congress, the SEC, or specific corporations. It would be nice to see this movement transform themselves into a group of real problem-solvers.

    • Stephen Rowe

      “To get results, these protests need to be (each) tightly focused on some well-defined result that can be implemented by congress, the SEC, or specific corporations.”

      Problem is, these people do not want to work within these confines. They want to destroy these institutions, not work with or for them.

  • I agree with Glenn. The movement needs to develop into an advocacy group or something with more clearly defined goals. There needs to be a plan to get something accomplished.

    But as for the social network, whenever there is a benefit to be gained, there is an equal and opposite drawback. In this case, providing a network that allows for anonymity and privacy among its users will also allow their enemies the same protection while spying on them.

    • I think you both make a lot of sense. The idea of privacy online, no matter what you try, is a bit of a pipe dream unless you are in such an underground effort that you don’t want a public face any way.

      Escaping government’s reach? Not possible as far as I can tell.

      As for organization, I am not confident they can pull it off.

      It’ll be fun to watch.

  • Stephen Rowe

    The ignorance here just astounds me. Government intrusion in twitter and facebook. Did these companies ask the government to intrude? Did they willingly and enthusiastically give access to the government, or did the government just say, give it to us, or else?

    Also, given this particular group, who is going to pay for it? Are you going to monetize it? If you do and start making money from it, are you going to give it all away to people you feel are less advantaged than yourself, or are you going to pay yourself? Do you think that government is going to subsidize the endeavor by taxing the rich? If so, see paragraph one!

  • It’s already 2012 and the Occupy Movement should move to the next stage. They’ve shown their power and impact in 2011 but as Glenn says they should start focusing on becoming problem-solvers focusing on an actionable agenda. I think building their own network is a step in the right direction though admittedly there are numerous hurdles to overcome least of which is technology. I’ve come to know many of these people and their are a lot of extremely tech-savvy people in their ranks, funding is an issue but not a hard one to solve (Wikipedia continues to exist, right?) but other than placing their servers in some foreign country, I don’t see how to they can go about defying court orders for disclosure.

    Mark Johnson

    • @OSJOoie

      why dont we just use google wave? =p