Can we build a social network that serves users rather than advertisers?

A collaborative community

collaborative, community-centered approach to programming the Human Connection platform is the foundation for an idea that extends beyond the practical applications of a social network. Our team is driven by finding an answer to the question: "What makes a social network truly social?"

A network that abandons the idea of a profit-driven algorithm serving advertisers instead of end-users can only thrive by turning to the process of peer production and collaboration. Organizations like Code Alliance and Code for America, for example, have demonstrated how technology can be created in an open source environment to benefit humanity and disrupt the status quo. Community-driven projects like the map-based reporting platform FixMyStreet or the Tasking Managerbuilt for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap initiative have embraced crowdsourcing as a way to move their mission forward.

Our approach to building Human Connection has been collaborative from the start. To gather initial data on the necessary functions and the purpose of a truly socialnetwork, we collaborated with the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO) at the University Sorbonne in Paris and the Stuttgart Media University in Germany. Research findings from both projects were incorporated into the early development of Human Connection. Thanks to that research, users will have a whole new set of functions available that put them in control of what content they see and how they engage with others. As early supporters are invited to the network's alpha version, they can experience the first available noteworthy functions. Here are just a few:

  • Linking information to action was one key theme emerging from our research sessions. Current social networks leave users in the information stage. Student groups at both universities saw a need for an action-oriented component that serves our human instinct of working together to solve problems. So we built a "Can Do" function into our platform. It's one of the ways individuals can take action after reading about a certain topic. "Can Do's" are user-suggested activities in the "Take Action" area that everyone can implement.
  • The "Versus" function is another defining result. Where traditional social networks are limited to a comment function, our student groups saw the need for a more structured and useful way to engage in discussions and arguments. A "Versus" is a counter-argument to a public post that is displayed separately and provides an opportunity to highlight different opinions around an issue.
  • Today's social networks don't provide a lot of options to filter content. Research has shown that a filtering option by emotions can help us navigate the social space in accordance with our daily mood and potentially protect our emotional wellbeing by not displaying sad or upsetting posts on a day where we want to see uplifting content only.

Human Connection invites changemakers to collaborate on the development of a network with the potential to mobilize individuals and groups around the world to turn negative news into "Can Do's"—and participate in social innovation projects in conjunction with charities and non-profit organizations.