The Open Source Alternative to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
Today I am talking to Bill Ottman, the founder, and CEO of Minds.com – the social media platform, which unlike Facebook, Twitter, Instagram is 100% open source – meaning their software code is completely public. That’s right anyone can read their code and see what data Minds gathers and how they use it. What’s more, Minds.com leverages the blockchain with its ERC-20 token which users earn by contributing to the platform and they can spend to promote their content on the platform.
Among many other things Bill shares first – what sets Minds.com apart from existing social media giants, second – he gives us a recipe on how to build your profile and grow your followers on Minds.com so that you get way more engagement than what you are getting on FB, Twitter, etc…., third – Bill provides us with a list of open-source products, which fully respect your rights and do not sell your user data.
Minds and Bill’s Contact:
- Bill – https://www.minds.com/ottman
- Minds – https://www.minds.com/
- Minds on Twitter – https://twitter.com/minds
Bill recommends: Open source alternatives to closed-source products – www.prism-break.org
Full Episode Transcript
(00:03) George Manolov:
This is the Borderless Crypto Podcast.
(00:14) George Manolov:
Hello everyone. I’m your host George Manolov, and in this series, I bring you exceptional entrepreneurs, investors, hustlers and thought leaders from the cryptocurrency and fintech space.
Today I’m talking to Bill Ottman, the founder and CEO of Minds.com, the social media platform, which unlike Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is 100% open-source, meaning that their software code is completely public. That’s right, anyone can read their codes, they can see how the platform works, they can see what data the platform is gathering and how they use it. What’s more Minds.com leverages is the blockchain technology with its ERC-20 token which users earn by contributing to the platform and they can then spend to promote their content on the platform
Among many other things, Bill shares; first, what sets Minds.com Apart from existing social media giants? Second, he gives us a step by step recipe of how to build your profile and grow your followers on Minds.com so that you get way more engagement than what you’re getting on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Third, Bill provides us with a list of open-source products which fully respect your rights and do not sell your user data.
Please note that anything that I or my guests say in these talks is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as investment advice. And although during daylight, I’m part of the team behind the crypto lending platform Nexo, at night when I do these talks, I share only my personal thoughts, which in no way represent Nexo’s opinions.
Now, it’s time to get the podcast started in three, two, one
(02:16) George Manolov:
Bill, before you tell us a little more about Minds.com and how you’re trying to disrupt the social media space, can you give us a little bit of background about yourself? Where do you come from? What did you do before Minds.com? How did you enter into the cryptocurrency space?
(02:33) Bill Ottman:
Sure. Thanks for having me. I started out in an unexpected place; I studied English and music in university and was much more into live events. So, Minds’ first incarnation was called gathering the minds, where we would do these live forums that were mixed with the music festival atmosphere. I’ve also organized music festivals on a large scale. And I’ve always been pretty fascinated by bringing people together, particularly for different types of advocacy, I’ve always been obsessed with freedom of information and transparency, in both governments and corporations. I was also very disillusioned early on, even just after college in 2009, about the effects of social media on human psychology and how there were negative consequences of everyone being on Facebook and what not.
I did not really like social media upfront, but then I went down the rabbit hole of realizing that there’re essentially different worlds of technology; on one end of the spectrum you have free and open-source software, encryption, decentralization and these types of frameworks, then on the other end you have more proprietary closed-source, surveillance based tech. So, once I realized that, I realized that there’s so much good to be done on the Internet and it’s actually very essential for humanity to take back the Internet and not let these gigantic companies control everything.
That’s what we’ve been doing; we knew that there needed to be an open-source social framework. We’ve seen open-source encyclopedias rise up, CMSs and blogs, but it hasn’t really happened in the social space yet.
And simultaneously, I discovered Bitcoin in probably 2011, we’ve been playing with integrations with it, then we realized that there is an immense potential in fusing together crypto and social media and actually that is a great way to bring it to more of a critical mass.
(04:53) George Manolov:
Okay, how did you discover Bitcoin?
(04:57) Bill Ottman:
Probably just some articles online, but then I started hanging out at the Bitcoin center in New York City. I got some, I started paying for dinners with it and spreading it around. We had a Bitcoin wallet in our app for a little while, but we took it out because it wasn’t really as good of an implementation as we want. We’re hopefully going to be bringing it back this year along with more multicurrency support. But I don’t know if I can pinpoint it actually.
(05:24) George Manolov:
So, walk me through the process of deciding to build a social media network. Quite honestly, I think this is super complicated. Many people have this idea of it being not so hard, you just copy the features of existing networks out there, but I think it’s super complicated and you probably also need quite a significant amount of capital, both financial but also intellectual capital, which costs money. So, what was the process? Did you start alone? Did you start with a few people? Did you raise capital? How did it go?
(06:03) Bill Ottman:
Yeah, it’s super complex. We started the company in 2011, we’re eight years in and we’re still trudging up the hill. I started it, just me, then I met our CTO, Mark Harding, who has been instrumental in piecing together a bunch of really essential open-source social frameworks. We basically started with a framework called Elgg, which is a great tool, but it’s not really scalable. So, we ripped out MySQL and put in Cassandra, which is more of a scalable NoSQL database. Then we completely rewrote the whole front end in Angular, and then, we brought in great tools like Elasticsearch, React Native, Redis, and the list goes on.
Standing on the shoulders of giants is really how we see the world, and almost all apps, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or whoever, are standing on the shoulders of giants; they exist because of an application development software, they used it to build their apps, they just chose not to share their final result. We do share all of our software with everyone. It’s really hard; we raised money from friends and family at first and then we did an equity crowdfunding round in 2017 where we raised $1 million from 1500 members of our community, which was amazing. Now, they all actually have stock in Minds, so we really are a sort of community owned corporation. Then, we did a series A with Medici Ventures which is a blockchain focus group, last year. And that has been huge; we’ve been able to scale more and hire more developers and admins and people focused on crypto specifically, but it’s been a very long road and we continually are facing challenges, whether it’s algorithms on the big social networks, we’ve even run into some censorship issues. It’s a battlefield.
(08:06) George Manolov:
Okay. On the side of you raising funds and building this thing for a really long time, you said 8 years.
(08:15) Bill Ottman:
(08:15) George Manolov:
So, how big is it today? And how many users do you have?
(08:20) Bill Ottman:
We have like 1.75 million users registered.
(08:24) George Manolov:
For these 8 years, when I compare this or I think of the really big successful networks, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, most of them have this exponential type of growth; they start fast, they move very fast, they raise shitloads of venture capital, they just grow exponentially and throw a bunch of money in so they can attract as many users as possible, they can then gather the data of those users, right? And then at some point, once they have a big enough pie of users and of user data, they can start monetizing this. In your case, let me, so to say, play the devil’s advocate here, you’re moving quite slower or at least that’s what it looks from the side and you are not gathering consumer data, or you are? Correct me if that’s wrong.
(09:23) Bill Ottman:
Yeah. Let me walk you through. Yes, our growth is a little bit slower, but our growth is also slower because we don’t spy on people. The major apps have been able to achieve their network effects because they’re dipping into everybody’s contact book spying on you. There’re many manipulative tactics that they use to grow, which we’re not willing to use. We’re sort of putting this obstacle in front of ourselves voluntarily, because we believe in protecting people’s digital rights and taking the long road. It’s going to be a longer road; they were able to achieve this, because there weren’t as many social networks back then, there are more now. There’re all kinds of new challenges, but we keep seeing organic growth; we’re not even spending any money on advertising and we’re still growing.
So, there is a demand for this, it’s going to be much more challenging. But it also feels inevitable that something more community focused that protects privacy and rewards users is coming, because why wouldn’t it? People aren’t just going to accept being abused and surveilled for the rest of their lives. I think that we’re all addicted to these platforms and they do provide important communication services, but eventually if you have the option; one communication tool that exploits you, and another that at least puts good faith into respecting your freedom, which are you going to choose? So, this is going to be a long road and also, I think the network effects can happen pretty unexpectedly. We’re even still just getting our localization and translation engines lockdown which has unfortunately taken a long time because Angular, the front end framework that we use, this is a little bit technical, but the runtime translation feature that allows you to bundle all the translations into a single build has not been released by Angular yet. You have to actually create a whole new build of the app every time you do an update for every language, which is a huge amount of overhead for developers. We’ve already seen a lot of demand in non-English speaking countries but we just haven’t had the human power to do all the translation, but despite that we’re still getting people globally, who don’t even speak English, are using the app, just because they want to use apps that respect their freedom. Airbnb took about 7 years to start gaining adoption, sometimes it does take longer.
(12:09) George Manolov:
So, you think that you’re basically placing all or most of your chips, so to say, on the fact that you’re open-source, you’re sharing openly what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and this is what you believe will convert users to your platform.
(12:29) Bill Ottman:
Yes. We’re also not necessarily trying to become the next Facebook; this idea that you’re going to have one big new freedom respecting network taking out Facebook, Google and all the others. Sure, it would be nice, but it’s more about building a sustainable business, building an app that has an active community and is generating revenue and surviving
(13:11) George Manolov:
At some point in my earlier life, I was involved in investing in early stage startups, and since you have received funding, especially from professional investors like Medici Ventures, they expect you to grow, a lot, right? That’s why they invested in such an early stage.
(13:17) Bill Ottman:
Oh absolutely. That’s why we’re here, make no mistake, we are here to go to the top, but it’s a David versus Goliath task to say that our measure of success is beating Facebook. You could build a technology company that has half a billion-dollar exit, which only has 10,000 users.
(13:38) George Manolov:
(13:38) Bill Ottman:
It depends on how you’re able to monetize and then on what your product is. We also have an enterprise product because anyone can actually take our code and create their own app with our code. So, we’re pursuing multiple unique business models that is not necessarily the same path as Facebook. All the signs are pointing towards us being on the right track. If you just look at what is happening in mainstream social media; there’s constant uproar about privacy issues, lack of transparency, censorship, it’s every day. There’re all kinds of demonetization problems.
Crypto and blockchain world is doing great; all-time high development activity. I don’t focus so much on the price and the markets in crypto, I like to think of it as more of a new infrastructure and as long as people keep building, it’s going to keep growing and realistically the prices is going to follow that. For instance, we use Ethereum and we have an ERC-20 token, the MINDS token, on the Ethereum Blockchain, we use that for all of our peer to peer payments between users. Users earn our token every day for the engagement that they receive. One token is pegged to 1000 impressions on the site, so if you earn a token, you can get a thousand impressions on whatever content you choose to promote. This is probably our most popular feature. You can also subscribe, monthly recurring, to other users in exchange for exclusive content and other rewards and we’re playing with other decentralized services.
It’s a new infrastructure, that infrastructure has to be free and open-source, it has to be at least moving towards being more peer to peer in decentralized. This is just pretty obvious trend to anyone who’s paying attention, we need to be encrypted, we need to be protecting people’s privacy, and we need to be operating on an opt out by default basis, in terms of surveillance. There’re certain principles like the newsfeed, for instance, on Facebook, you’re only reaching 5% of your own followers, their newsfeed is basically a sloppy mess of posts that you have no idea why you’re seeing what you’re seeing. Even Twitter is starting to bring in algorithmic stuff. Instagram’s bringing in algorithms to the default newsfeed.
This is super problematic for basic communication. The original purpose of social media is: I subscribe to you and I see your content, and you subscribe to me and you see mine. They have betrayed that social contract, they now think that they know better than you know what you want to see, they also want to feed you ads and they want to monetize better. I’m not saying that they don’t have the right to do that, but I think that they broke the social contract, particularly Facebook. For instance, we had millions of followers on Facebook, we still have those pages, but we never post to them because it’s a waste of time; we spent years driving traffic from Facebook, a lot of our original user base came from Facebook. This isn’t just us; this is thousands of brands. This is a whole industry. The whole media industry took a massive hit when Facebook started changing the algorithms because now brands could no longer reach their fans and that affected ad revenue, they put half of an industry out of business. To rely on these networks for your access to your audience and your customers is suicidal, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not to say never use third parties, there’s certainly value to them in certain regards. But to rely on them for your social communication. Social communication should not be at risk of being disintermediated.
(17:28) George Manolov:
All right. In that sense, are you attracting businesses to come and open up accounts with you? You cannot do that, right? I mean you need to first get the audience, the end consumer. For example, I’m a big fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, Gary is huge in social media in regards to his knowledge and his insights there. At the end of the day, I think he’s right that the mass consumer cares about convenience, and so most people don’t really think or care about data the way that you and I probably are considering, you’re probably even caring way more than me since you’re building this. So, I’m thinking that you probably have to just make it super convenient and more attractive for people, and to find your unique place in people’s hearts, so they start using Minds.com. Or maybe you have to build your network to be appealing to a particular type of group of people, your niche.
(18:31) Bill Ottman:
Put it this way, it doesn’t matter if you don’t care about privacy, everybody cares about reach. If you’re a teenager, hosting memes and your likes start going down on Instagram, guess what? You’re pissed, and make no mistake, the youth is unhealthily addicted to their engagement on social media. They’re all tracking each other’s likes. They all, oh my God, do you see how many likes she got on that post? In fact, their mental health is tied to this, and Facebook knows this and they still continue to grade the algorithms, they actually know that they’re making people depressed. So, what we’re finding, even though we’re a fraction of the size of Facebook and Google, users are finding it easier to be heard and to gain an audience on Minds. Now, you can’t achieve necessarily the same scale of network affects, the biggest users on Minds have like 100,000 followers. But for a normal social media creator, it is easier to get thousands of followers on Minds and good engagement and build a community than it is on Twitter and Facebook, because you can earn tokens, you can then use those tokens to get more exposure. There is a super thriving community of artists, crypto people, musicians and journalists. There are brands.
(20:02) George Manolov:
I just wanted to make it a little more practical. For myself, for example, I have my podcast and I do resonate with what you are saying that it’s not easy to spread my content across the bigger established social media, so I just created an account on Minds.com. I haven’t really put in too much time in growing it, I basically just built an account. So, haven’t really posted much and haven’t really done effort there. What would be your advice to me? You say there’re crypto people in Minds.com. So, what would be your advice to me as a content creator to build a following on Minds.com.
(20:45) Bill Ottman:
What’s your username?
(20:46) George Manolov:
It’s George Manolov, at this point.
(20:48) Bill Ottman:
My advice would be to post a diversity of content, set up your whole channel, post big combination of images, articles, videos and status posts and then get your hands on some tokens. You can get your hands on tokens by either engaging with the community and getting people to engage with your content or you can buy them at Minds.com/token. Our revenue is basically people purchasing tokens and using them to advertise, get Minds Plus or get all of our premium features. You can also use them to launch a note, though that is in its early stages. Once you have tokens, you can start getting exposure, there’s a little boost button on your post, you click boost and then you decide. I would recommend boosting everything for five tokens, you get 5,000 impressions and you will just start seeing the engagement, you will likely start seeing higher engagement than you get on Twitter.
This is a strange paradox, but it’s what’s happening. You could have 500 followers on Twitter for 10 years and have thousands of posts and literally never grow because they don’t really give you an easy opportunity to emerge from the void of all the noise on social media. Most people are not going to pay to advertise and there’s no gamified reward system. In Minds, you have a wallet, you just keep track of your tokens. One token is a thousand views and that is the best thing that you can do.
(22:24) George Manolov:
So, there’re two ways for me to get tokens; either I buy them or I can earn them, how exactly? Just by posting content or sharing or replying to other people’s content.
(22:36) Bill Ottman:
You get a small reward just for being active and checking in, but you mostly earn them through receiving engagement, not creating engagement. We used to have more rewards based on your activity, but people were gaming it and we needed to make it more unique. Essentially, when people upvote your stuff, comment and share, you’re earning based on that unique engagement that you receive. You can also earn from making referrals to the network, and we’re going to be continually adding in more rewards. There’s a little counter in your wallet, which counts down to the next airdrop, and every day there’s an airdrop, you may only receive a token, maybe less or maybe more, but once you start to build up an organic following, you’ll start to earn more and people are really happy with it. They feel like they have the ability to be heard and this doesn’t really exist in other places.
(23:34) George Manolov:
Okay. So, maybe the best strategy if I want to test and grow very fast is that I buy some amount of tokens, use that to advertise my content and try to make my content interesting and engaging so people react to it, which generates me more tokens, which I re-invest, and I get this ball rolling. Is that correct?
(24:01) Bill Ottman:
(24:02) George Manolov:
Okay. I might actually do that because it sounds attractive.
(24:06) Bill Ottman:
Well, I just sent you 10 tokens.
(24:11) George Manolov:
(24:16) Bill Ottman:
You can use those to play around with it first. It’s very interesting; this organic audience feels like the way social media used to be, but also never has been. Facebook is starting to play with Blockchain, they’re probably aware of what we’re doing and they realize that they need to gamify. They keep talking about privacy, it’s probably all going to be a manipulation and proprietary and not real privacy and some sort of strange interpretation of the values of crypto. But our opinion on Facebook’s crypto rollout is that, if it’s not transparent, if it’s not open source, it’s not even part of the conversation. It’s just our opinion, it’s a little bit intense of an opinion, but I think most people in crypto agree with this; open blockchains are what most people are interested in,
(25:46) George Manolov:
Right. As I was exploring Minds.com, it was kind of a weird animal to my eyes as a user because it wasn’t exactly like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat nor Instagram, they all have their particular use case. On Twitter, it’s so to say more of the place where people try to look smart, write stuff in a fancy way or are just very active in expressing their thoughts. On LinkedIn, it’s all about professional engagement. On Facebook, it’s some sort of a mixture. On Minds.com, it’s a little different; it’s not just about pictures, it’s not just about tweets, it’s some sort of a mixture, at least from what I’ve seen so far. So, how would you position that? Would it be that users substitute Twitter for Minds.com? Would it be that they substitute Facebook? Or is it a substitute comparable to several platforms at the same time?
(26:10) Bill Ottman:
Yeah, I think that there’re elements of many; our subscribe features are more like Twitter, so you don’t have to mutually subscribe. There’s not a friend system. Everything that you’re posting is public. We do have a groups feature with video chat as well. In sort of a slack style collaboration, we host videos, images and multimedia. You have your wallet, which you can integrate with MetaMask, so you can hold your own tokens with your own keys. We have a pretty good discovery tool where you can find top ranks content. There’re actually elements of Reddit; more ranking based on votes and categories as well.
At the end of the day, and I say this a lot, I think that most apps are becoming the same thing and maybe that’s a bad thing and we all need to be thinking about how to be different. I think that we’re most different because of our crypto system and our reward system, and that we’re focusing on helping creators earn and get exposure. But if you look at Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, let’s be honest, they’re basically all the same app; you can do stories and you can post photos, they have slight differences, like you can’t do links on Instagram, but generally speaking, they’re all getting into live streaming where we hope to be supporting livestreaming late this year.
People just want a really good messenger; they want to do stories, they want to post photos. This is what every app is doing, and I think that there’s a collective consensus that these are the features that people want, popular demand has naturally caused this to be the case. It was pretty shameless when Instagram just completely took stories from Snapchat and then even YouTube started to do it and everybody’s starting to do it. It’s like these short ten second little video clips are really a valuable sharing medium now.
We also have a blogging feature just like Medium. We do have a number of different elements, so it’s a bit of a diverse group of features, but at the same time, like Facebook has a notes feature, which is sort of a blog feature. So again, it’s about giving people as many tools as possible to best express themselves.
(28:41) George Manolov:
That’s an interesting perspective, because with two of my previous guests on the podcast: Clay Collins from Nomics and Jamie Finn from Securitize, they were all about, when you’re building your product or your company, focus is the most important thing and this’s in regards to what you’re not doing, focus on one or two things and become super good at them.
(29:08) Bill Ottman:
Well, I hear that. I do think that it’s very important to focus. We have a pretty big product. Some companies just have notifications out or they do bookkeeping, but we are a social network and social networks have certain demands from the community for what features they require; you need comment threads, you need messenger, you need groups. These are just staples of social networking. So, we’re not really going to be moving into the bookkeeping business, and we’re not going to be moving into calendar business necessarily, though it would be cool to have an events feature, but this is why the open-source community is actually really important too, because we’re not necessarily building this alone. All of the most popular open source frameworks get major contributions from their community and you can leverage the power of developers all over the world. So, what we build is based on what the community wants, we’re not just going out there and saying, oh, we need to have every feature that Google has, we’re saying, what is the community voting on? What do they want to see? And we’re going to build exactly what our community wants to see, because for us to ignore what our community is demanding, that makes no sense. They’re the ones who are the active user base, therefore they should be the loudest voice in determining what we do.
(30:34) George Manolov:
Can the community also contribute with code by building as it is, for example, in a way with WordPress. On WordPress, I can create a certain plugin which enables some new functionality.
(30:48) Bill Ottman:
They can, all of our code is at gitlab.com/minds and anyone can get involved any time.
(30:56) George Manolov:
Okay. Then how can people make money this way? Why would people do that?
(31:00) Bill Ottman:
We’re going to be rolling out a bounty system for open-source contributions, in the same way people make money on WordPress.
(31:11) George Manolov:
Right. So, they have a free version and maybe there’s like a paid version.
(31:15) Bill Ottman:
(31:16) George Manolov:
Since you mentioned several times that your main differentiation is probably the fact that people can earn tokens. So, this system of earning and spending them for advertising, isn’t that kind of what Steemit is doing? And how do you compare to Steemit?
(31:32) Bill Ottman:
Yeah, there’s some crossover. On Steemit, the power of your vote is based on how much STEEM you hold, which is not how Minds works. On Minds, the most tokens go to the people who get the most unique engagement, so everyone’s vote is worth the same on Minds. Steemit also runs its own blockchain, they are more specifically just for blogging, and they don’t have all the social features that we have, but I think that there is an important similarity and we actually have similar audiences. I think there’s value in both platforms. I personally don’t like the way that their voting system works, because you are trying to get the attention of these whales, that is the only way that you can earn, it makes more sense to be earning more if you are more popular as opposed to if you happen to know someone with a lot of STEEM.
(32:30) George Manolov:
I see, and on Minds?
(32:32) Bill Ottman:
On Minds, what!
(32:34) George Manolov:
How is it there? How does it compare?
(32:36) Bill Ottman:
Yeah, I just said, your token reward day is based on the level of unique engagement that you’re receiving in terms of up votes and comments and shares and all of the other factors that I mentioned before. So, the more people that engage with your content, the more you are going to earn. Unlike Steem, where if you go and get the attention of five whales and they all upvote, you could have five votes and earn thousands of dollars’ worth of STEEM rather than someone who gets a hundred votes from a bunch of small STEEM users. Do you see what I’m saying?
(33:14) George Manolov:
Yeah, I guess that makes more sense. I mean it’s more acceptingly and more democratic in a way. You can use that. What is your biggest company challenge that you are facing and what are your company’s goals? I guess especially now that you have closed a series A funding, you’re after some specific goals. So, what are they? And what are your biggest challenges?
(33:36) Bill Ottman:
We need to get translated, we need to get a bit more stable, and we need to become functionally competitive with Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. We’re not quite there, I think by the end of the year we’re going to be there. It’s really hard. They have thousands of developers, we have seven. We have the open-source community though, but there’s a lot of competition in the open-source world for which projects to contribute to, so that’s a challenge in itself. But the other challenge is sticking to our principles and not giving into the temptation to spy on people for revenue, not giving into the temptation. There’s all of these temptresses on the Internet trying to partner with your company and put ads on your site and help you monetize in arguably unethical ways: hey, if you just tap into your users address books then you’re going to be able to grow faster.
I think that all of these conversations need to be had. By leaving the principals, even for short term gain, we’re going to lose in the long term. So, we need to find ways to make it impossible. Google has this thing of “don’t be evil”. We need to be unable to be evil, we need to engineer ourselves out of our own way, there’s this phrase going around called “can’t be evil”. That’s why things like end-to-end encryption, crypto and decentralized applications are so important because then the administrators literally don’t even have the ability to get in the way.
There is nuance; it’s naïve think that everything is just going to be fully decentralized. We operate in centralized communities, we have teams, a team is a centralized thing, it’s a small group of people running a product.
Servers are important. You can’t just have the whole global infrastructure running through people’s phones. Sometimes you need servers and that’s okay. But we need to find that balance where we’re weighing towards putting the power into the users’ hands. All of this peer to peer technology is very new and young and has not hit the mainstream yet. Look at Bitcoin, it’s one of the biggest out there, and it’s still not even fully in the mainstream. So, there’s a lot of work to do and those are the challenges. But I think the Internet really started in this space of decentralization and encryption; everyone used to host their own email server. Now, everyone’s using Gmail, and Gmail is reading everybody’s conversations and targeting ads to them.
If there’s a good alternative, I think people will do it. It happened with organic food back in the day when we were growing up, you would just eat food, no one knew what organic was. Then we realized, oh, there’s a choice between nasty processed food and local organic food. People started making choices. I’m not saying everybody eats organic now, but I think that if they’re affordable enough, then sure they’ll make the healthy choice. I think that’s what’s starting to happen in technology; there’s a choice that is now being brought to people’s attention and it’s a healthier choice to choose apps that respect your freedom.
(37:18) George Manolov:
So, if I or our listeners want to make this choice of choosing such apps which are open-source and respect your freedom and respect your rights well better. What are the go-to-apps that they can use today? Minds.com would be the social network, so to say, the go-to-place. What are the other things out there?
(37:37) Bill Ottman:
That’s a good question. For operating systems, you have obviously GNU, Linux, up and to Debian, Fedora, whichever one you want to use, they’re all pretty easy. They feel basically like macOS and I highly recommend people to use them. That is the base layer for a normal person; what is the operating system on your phone and on your computer? Most people are addicted to macOS and windows. You don’t need to be, you can easily install Debian on your machine in the same way that you can install any other program on your computer. You put in a USB drive and click a few buttons, It’s not hard. On browser, you have Firefox, you have Tor, you have Brave and you have others. I typically use the combination of the three of those. For messenger, there’s Signal and there’s Wire, these are all open source.
There’s a cool site called PRISM Break, prism-break.org, and that takes you through all of the layers of technology and gives you alternatives. I actually don’t think that Minds is on here for social, but there’re actually other open-source social alternatives here, and it shows documents for everything; for routers, for servers and for anything you can imagine in tech. What the proprietary options are and what the open-source options are. So, definitely check that out. That’s where things are moving after. F-Droid is a free software app store for Android. There’s all these things and they’re still in their very early stages, but the movement is growing for sure.
(39:25) George Manolov:
Are you yourself using any of the big centralized intransparent opaque platforms or you stick to the ones that you described?
(39:39) Bill Ottman:
No, I’m off LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I use Ubuntu. I do occasionally get forced into using Google Drive, I’m trying to get away from it. There’s a cool site called SpiderOak, which is a fully encrypted cloud storage, I think they might be starting to work on collaborative cloud stuff, but there are projects working on ethical cloud collaboration tools. I’ve probably extracted about 90% of the closed-source tech from my daily use, which I’m feeling pretty good about. This year I’ve made a lot of progress, it’s just a constant evolution.
(40:23) George Manolov:
Don’t you think that Google for example might decide to become open-source? Do think that it’s possible that over time they open-source all of their development? They have a lot of open source stuff, right? I mean Android is open-source.
(40:38) Bill Ottman:
They do. That’s also a really good question. Google develops Angular and Android, Facebook develops React, React Native and GraphQL. All of these are really incredible tools and there’re brilliant people at these companies who are building these things. So, the big tech companies understand that open-source is essential, especially for base-layer infrastructure, the reason that they open-source these more base-layer frameworks is because they know that they need the developers on the side if they want them to survive. And you’re not going to get developers on your side if they’re proprietary frameworks because people can’t just take it and use it for their own purposes. I’ve said for a long time, I think it would be great if one of these companies would just open-source everything including their full stack apps, but they don’t and they should.
If one of them does, then to be honest, we would probably start leveraging a lot of their software and it would save us a lot of work. We wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel and we could start building on top of that, but they’re not doing it. They think that they have some sort of competitive edge. There’re probably all kinds of IP patent issues and who knows what the rabbit hole of reasons that they’re not being transparent with their main application code, but that’s how it is. I think there’re probably too many interests involved to allow that decision to get made. But if they’re smart, they’ll do it because that is what will keep the communities on their side.
(42:23) George Manolov:
Yeah, that totally makes sense. That’s interesting that you say that you are going to be using a lot of what they’ve developed already and I think that this huge amount of data that they have developed is not necessarily a bad thing. Coming back to this topic of convenience, to be honest; sometimes I’m hesitant or I used to be hesitant of sharing my data and of giving access to do everything and anything. But at the end of the day, I really get so much convenience from them that I’ve decided, just screw it, I don’t care, I’m sharing everything because especially now that they’re advancing quickly, voice recognition and voice devices, you can just ask your phone for something, and it can reply. They’re connecting all of this infrastructure and all these data points that makes your life easier, so to say. So, that is something really cool for me.
(43:18) Bill Ottman:
Yeah, I agree with you. But think about what you just said. It feels like they pushed you into a corner and you just said fuck it. That doesn’t sound like a really respectful relationship, I think that it feels like they are bullying people into just accepting the way that they do things as opposed to if they had said, Hey George, is it okay if we take this? You have the ability to opt out. You have the ability to maybe make it totally anonymized, whatever types of clear consent and transparency about what they’re doing with the data. Even after you consent, they try to act like they’re giving you consent now in the ability to opt out. But the problem is, first of all, most people never know how to go and find the opt out. It’s opt in by default. Even when you opt out, you don’t truly understand what is going on with all the data and they’re certainly not compensating you for it.
The whole dynamic of the relationship is backwards. I think that they could be doing what they’re doing with all the voice recognition. All the software that they develop is beautiful, it’s amazing. We live in the future right now and in the next few decades it’s going to accelerate to levels where society is going to become unrecognizable. Probably in a decade, most cars on the road are going to be self-driving and automated, or maybe two decades, but that type of stuff is going to be happening. People are probably going to become cyborgs, not even joking.
So, we need to step back for a second and reevaluate the dynamic of the relationship that we have with these companies, because you giving your life data to them is a big deal, and the convenience they give you is also a big deal and it matters and it does make your life more convenient. But I just think that before we jump off the precipice, we need to understand that there is potentially another type of relationship that we could be having with technology companies that is so much more consensual and based on a foundation that is just the type of relationship you would have with a friend of yours; an actual relationship, not some sort of unevenly weighted power dynamic.
(45:55) George Manolov:
All right, it’s like: we know what’s best for you, trust us. Yeah, that makes sense. Could be really interesting to see how this evolves over time. Where can people find you? And where can people learn more about yourself and Minds.com
(46:12) Bill Ottman:
Find me at Minds.com/Ottman, I’ll just subscribe to you and that’s where I am. You can message me, comment. Let’s keep the conversation going.
(46:23) George Manolov:
Okay. Thanks Bill. It was really great to have this conversation. I think you are definitely working on some important points. I wouldn’t say that I know how this is going to develop, but I will definitely try Minds.com, try building an audience and will update you on how this goes, and if it goes well, I’m definitely going to promote you to other people as well.
(46:43) Bill Ottman:
All right. Good stuff. Let’s hold us to the fire and let’s see where you’re at in a month.
(46:48) George Manolov:
Will do. Okay.
(46:49) Bill Ottman:
All right. Thanks a lot. Bye.
(46:52) George Manolov:
A couple of things before you take off. First, if you enjoyed this episode, be generous and share it with your best friends. They deserve it, they will appreciate it and they will be grateful to you.
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I’m super pumped to be part of this financial transformation. That is why I’m doing this podcast, to spread awareness about crypto and to accelerate the removal of economic borders. If like me, you want to see a borderless financial world, help me spread the word about crypto even faster by spending one minute to rate this podcast, write a review and subscribe, so that more people learn about crypto and in this way, together with you, we accelerate crypto adoption.
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