The challenge of social networking in Wikipedia sauce is to survive without getting paid in data. But it is more complicated than it seems.
by Andrea Monti
Jimmy “Wikipedia” Wales launches WikiTribune (wt.social), a social networking platform that bets on being able to survive without getting paid in personal data from users.
For only ninety Euros a year, in fact, a user can enjoy all the advantages of a stable and mature platform – discussions, feeds, profiles and so on – but without being invaded in their own privacy and ideas.
The basis of the sustainability model designed by Wales is – in other words – to unhinge the data-based economy: what is not there cannot be sold or manipulated.
For once, what is too good to be true is, in fact, really true: Wiki Tribune is operational and already allows you to interact in a much more natural but, above all, safe (because there are no “applets” or other devils out of control) and neutral in the sense that content is pre-selected based on stated preferences and not on more or less hidden or more or less effective profiling.
With these premises, and considering the paroxysmal hysteria that is unleashed every time the words “privacy” and “social network” are associated, it would be natural to imagine that the platform in question has had a resounding success, to make the most distinguished competitors pale.
But no: at the moment this article goes to press, wt.social users don’t reach half a million’s users.
To try to understand the reason for this – at least for the moment – substantial flop I tried to talk to the many people to whom I showed this social-network and who – while declaring themselves “worried” about their privacy – preferred not to abandon other platforms to converge on Wiki Tribune.
Disarming and revealing the motivations: “it’s boring!” who can I find on wt.social?” but, above all, “what? Ninety Euros!!!”
Among the answers, the last amazes the least as it shows how, all in all, the rhetoric of the “free that isn’t free” works and works well. Hard currency, in other words, is worth more than an idea that you can’t touch and the “privacy” that… “I don’t have anything to hide anyway.”
On the other hand: if WikiTribune really supplanted with its ethical model that of the current dominant operators, with whom would the journalists, politicians, and consultants who are screaming loud against the business practices of large technology companies?
Even wt.social, however, has its issues, particularly concerning the control over the content published by users.
Traditional social-networks, although they have adopted systems for reporting inappropriate content and behaviour, still rely on their own contractual conditions to eliminate in a substantially discretionary way what is “undesirable” or “inappropriate”.
WikiTribune, on the other hand, replicates Wikipedia’s mechanism and relies on bottom-up control, i.e. control by users, who can directly edit misleading titles, mark “problematic” posts and “put theirs” on them. Which brings us back once again – for those who still remember that era – to the scenario of Fidonet’s Era, where the “moderators” of the areas exercised absolute and discretionary power, not always transparently and reasonably.
Another aspect to consider is that the only guarantee of respect for users’ rights is the “word” of Wales and the group of people working with and for him.
There are no “information”, “contractual conditions” or “consent to the processing” that give us the possibility (even only theoretical) to react in case of abuse. There is only a promise, a “word of honour” that the commitments will be respected.
This is probably the most important challenge of wt.social: to show that we do not need the law to “do the right thing”.
And for the good of all, it is to be hoped that WikiTribune will win it.