I have been thinking for years about my
project Unravel on how to redesign some fundamentals of the Internet. To
my delight, I now see a lot of other projects that in some way of
another are trying to take on how the Internet works, and the large
companies that have come to control it. There seems to be broad agreement
that something should be done, but there is not so much agreement on
what should be done. In my mind that is a good thing. The more things
that are attempted the better the chances are that someone succeeds.
Taking on some of the richest companies in the world wont however be
easy, and will take a lot of work, so I thought I would share some
advice to anyone else out there trying to change the way we use the
Internet.

Don’t depend on economy of scale.

I hear so many
pitches that includes: “Once we get to scale we can…”. You don’t have
scale. Facebook has scale, Google has scale, Amazon has scale. If scale
will make your product great, then you have already lost because your
competitors have it and you don’t. Your platform needs to be useful even
if only one person, or maybe two uses it. Instagram didn’t start out as
a social network, it was a filter app. It was useful even if you were
the only one using it. Unravel is designed so that I will use it every
day, even if no one else does.

Nobody cares if you are nice.

I
see a lot of people attempting to create the “nice and friendly”
version of existing services. Nobody will ever trust you to be nice.
Google used to say “don’t be evil”, but they don’t anymore. Not because
they decided to be evil, but because there was no way of defining what
is evil. Everyone thinks they are making the world a better place so
that doesn’t make you special. If you run a service of some scale, you
are going to piss people off. There is content out there that some will
ask you to censor, and some people will be outraged if you do censor.
You cant win that one. All the big internet companies are trying to be nice, but they are failing because of the structures they have built.If your entire image is to always be nice, you
are just going to make it worse for yourself, when inevitably people
will start to question your actions. If possible have nothing to do with
what people do with your platform. Delegate to your users if possible.

Monetization wont save the Internet.

Journalism
isn’t in a precarious state on the Internet, because there is no money
to be made from content on the Internet. There is plenty of money,
journalist just cant compete against click bait, cat videos, incendiary
opinions and fake news. The Internet has become what it is because the
incentives have asked people do do these things in order to make money.
If your platforms pitch is that it will enable people to make money (or
worse tokens,) it will attract the same people who ruined other
platforms, and they will work just as hard to game yours. My advice
would be to keep money out of it.

Use psychology, not rules.

Go
to Wikipedia, look up a controversial political figure, and then go to
the discussion page. Then go to twitter, and search for the same
political figure. The former will be a mostly sober discussion about
wording, attribution and fact checking. The later is likely to be a
cesspool of insults and name calling. Any user who can sign up to
twitter can sign up to be a Wikipedia contributor. So why are they so
different? Could it be that on twitter the wildest punch line gets
retweets and likes, where as anything on Wikipedia, that isn’t balanced
and references gets quietly deleted and rewritten? If you build a
platform you create the incentives, and the right incentives will beat
any ban hammer.

Find your competitors profit center, then build a future without it.

What
ever you build, your competitor can build too. They most likely have
more resources then you do. If you get traction they will copy you,
unless that is, if you make something they would never do. Almost all
massive corporations that has fallen, has fallen because they refused to
embrace the technology that threaten their profit center. The music
industry didn’t embrace the Internet to protect the CD. Apple didn’t
take on Microsoft to protect their hardware sales in the 80s. Xerox
didn’t want to get in to computers to protect their photo copying
business. SGI didn’t want to compete against nVidia because they made
too much money from their expensive workstations. If you want to slay a
dragon, figure out hat they would never do, then do that.

Or as
Keyser Soze put it: “To be in power, you didn’t need guns or money or
even numbers. You just needed the will to do what the other guy
wouldn’t.”