Internet DNA Podcast
Dan and Abi meet Bill Ottman CEO and Co-Founder of minds.com to discuss censorship v freedom of speech; unveiling what social media algorithms really do and how you are not in control of your own data or even in front of your own friends. Cryptocurrency, transparency, open source, open minds and open to other people's opinion. Check out minds.com if you have a moment - a platform without bias.
Hello, welcome to this week's episode, that DNA with me, Abby, best way, we have very special guests who would like to let introduce himself and then that is bill. Welcome to the show. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hey, thanks for having me. Yeah, so my name is bill, I'm the cofounder of mines or mines.com. It's a open source social networking application. You earn crypto tokens for your contributions, engagement, your receive referrals, you make a etc. And then you can use the tokens to boost your posts for more reach. One token will give you a thousand impressions extra on whatever content you want to boost. You can also send it peer to peer to users on a monthly recurring basis for exclusive content or just tips. You can launch your own node of the APP and make your own sort of white labeled social network. So we are really just trying to do everything the opposite of the way that social media companies is. Do it with regards to surveillance, secrecy, censorship, demonetization, uh, and so on.
So based on crypto currency, is it your own currency?
Yeah. The mines token is a Erc 20 on the ethereum blockchain.
And on this by interaction, is it also boosted by other people? So you get lots of likes, you get more stuff, or is it boosted them that way or is it literally interaction based? So the more you write, the better you get.
When you boost, you can earn more because more people are seeing it. So there's sort of a ROI on boosting. The more engagement you receive, the more tokens you earned
output into any value on the system as a monetary value on the system outside of the tokens? Or is it to method for expanding your reach and within that network only and then if you monetize outside that, that's up to you.
Yeah, I mean we're focused on on mines now, you know, it is an Erc 20 so people will do what they want with it outside the network. And we're actually going to be partnering with outside networks and sort of trying to integrate the token elsewhere. But we're really not, you know, pushing, you know, you're gonna make money on this. This is more about actual reach. That's the core utility. It's somewhat pegged to impressions.
So how did this idea come about and what came first? The idea of using the block chain in social media or the idea of needing an additional element? Social Media Blockchain
came after we had a point system before we moved to etherium. There was just on our own internal ledgers and you would earn points for activity and then you use it in a very similar way. But we started to realize that we want it to be more transparent. I mean we're an open source company so in our community is really eager to understand what's going on behind the scenes. So in Erc 20 is transparent token economic structure. It was really appealing to people so can be really clear to everyone what is going on with the inflationary system and the release of tokens. And additionally people actually are now able to store the tokens and their own wallets off of our servers. So there was a big value there. But originally when we first started, boxing wasn't, I mean it existed in bitcoin existed, but we etherium was certainly not as advanced as it is now. And so we, well in theory is the block chain that runs our token, which cause anyone can make a token on the ethereum blockchain. Yeah,
taking on like a mainstream example. So let's say medium, which is like a blogging platform where you can create your own channels if you want to. It sort of fueled by claps, which is user based and then there's a sort of subscription model and behind that there's sort of an idea that you get paid, it's not implemented properly, but that you get paid based on how many views you get. It's not dissimilar, obviously you're not getting paid in money, you're getting paid in Copeland's. But is that a, not a dissimilar model but just not based on blockchain and,
yeah, I mean we actually used to support Fiat through stripe, but we took it out because we were just having some concerns about stripes architecture and we actually want to bring fee out back in and have multicurrency support so that users can send different types of tokens, peer to peer and you know additionally earn yet somehow as well. Because despite the fact that blockchain and Bitcoin are pretty rapidly gaining adoption, it's still going to be a pretty long time before it's fully mainstream. And you know, some people are just really not interested in making that leap yet and we still want them to have a way to earn. So we will likely be bringing in other types of currency support.
I don't need to pay or put, put any money up front to get tokens. I can come in with nothing and build them up through what I do.
Yes. And that's pretty much the more popular methods you can buy them. But most people are finding that, you know, especially small to medium sized content creators, there's a huge benefit to just participating, earning and in many cases we have 1.7 5 million users, which is you know, tiny fraction of the size of the big networks. But because we have this system where people can amplify their content, they're finding it easier actually to get engagement on mines. Then even on the largest social networks in the world, the sort of things that I would do to by myself token you mean urn or bottom? So you can, if you receive up votes, if you receive comments, shares, if you make referrals to the network, we do have a a sort of minimal reward just for checking in and being active. You also earn four on chain activity.
You have the option of using the token on chain and off chain, off chain, meaning it's just we're sort of keeping a parallel ledger that's in sync with the token on the blockchain. But that just makes it so that a user who's not interested in setting up Meta mask and a crypto wallet can still earn. And then we try to educate people about the reasons to engage on the blockchain and do transactions on the blockchain. One of the hurdles of that though is that you have to pay a gas fee for every transaction on etherium. That's a bit of a hurdle to entry. You know, people already have to have a theory IOM and so we're just trying to make it as frictionless as possible.
Do you have channels, different channels for different subjects and people create their own channels?
Yes. It's very similar to some sort of a hybrid between Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, um, you make a channel, we do support video. You can subscribe to other people in more of the follow system. On Twitter you can also follow different hashtags. You can subscribe to different categories and filter all the content on the site according to whatever hashtags you want. We have video chat in groups which is based on [inaudible], which is an open source encrypted video chat framework and we have an encrypted messenger. So we're really just one step at a time trying to unfortunately catch up to a lot of the functionality that a lot of the major networks have. I mean if you look at the functionality of Facebook, snapchat, Instagram, I mean it's all becoming the same thing. You Post, you can do stories, you can do statuses, you can do video and now it's just becoming, what our thesis is is that if there's a network that offers freedom, privacy rewards that is functionally competitive to the status quo networks, then there's plenty of reason for people to start switching as long as there is somewhat of a critical mass on that network and it's competitive feature wise, why would you choose surveillance?
Yeah, absolutely. So that brings me up to the next point, which is you talk about privacy and freedom of speech and how is that protected and is that a function of being on the block chain and everything being encrypted or is it a function of belief or is it a combination of the both really?
It's a little bit of a combination. Our policy is definitely way more open than other networks. I mean, as long as it's lawful in the u s we typically allow it and we're about to roll out a jury system so that our community can actually help us judge appeals on our decisions. So if we make a decision on a piece of reported content and you know, people disagree with it, then they can actually overturn us and we're going to try, you know, we're going to have to closely monitor that to make sure that it doesn't get manipulated. But well out of the outrage about the policies on Twitter and Facebook and whatnot is that they're sort of making inconsistent and subjective decisions on who gets banned and when. And that's a pretty dangerous power to have. In terms of the blockchain, we are actually investigating ways to allow users to published certain content directly to the blockchain's a little bit complicated. It's pretty heavy lifting and there would be a fee to do it. And we're also looking at other peer to peer systems where there's anticensorship or uncensored ability embedded into it. But our first step is to just have a more open content policy.
I'm in between freedom of speech and no censorship and privacy. You saying that you as a company as minds cannot see what people are putting on the platform?
No, we can. We can. We actually, I mean we cannot see people's private messages, but we can see people's public posts. We don't yet have an option to make your channel, quote unquote hidden or private. So we have a clear distinction between personal encrypted messages and then public posts.
I mean, I think that thing at the moment with the social media companies is the lack of sensitive surely the things that they're not taking down in the things that people are putting up and aren't being seen. Who said? Yeah,
why attitude is the reason why freedom of speech is so important is because it allows ideas to compete and then the stupid or the worst ideas in a Darwinian start will die out. But if you never expose them, they never get counted. And so you create these bubbles where people can't talk about things. And so my attitude was freedom of speech is much the other way, which is you should allow people to speak. And you should allow people to say what they want to say and then you should allow other people to comment and counter those arguments because that's the only way you get rid of them.
That is our opinion and it's not just an opinion. It's actually completely grounded in decades of research where we've compiled dozens of studies that essentially prove censorship can increase radicalization. It causes people to become more inflammatory, more extreme. Did you cause them to go into a little digital ghettos where the ideas fester and get worse as opposed to, like you were saying, get exposure. Now that being said, I'm sort of sensitive to what the other perspective, which is that there's a need to be able to control the content, especially for like kids, teenagers, family friendly stuff. You also don't want social media to be overrun with insanely offensive content, even if it is legal. So we put for the last quarter specifically a ton of energy into really advanced filtering systems so that you're not seeing anything that you don't want to be seeing. That's
a difficult thing in itself because that say I have an eating disorder. I do want to see other people that are looking really thin, but I shouldn't. And so that's a really difficult area. He shouldn't be seeing what you don't want to see. And I think where I was going was the how on earth do you deal with, yes, that young adult market that is looking at things that they shouldn't be looking at now that isn't to ship, that is someone saying, no, we shouldn't have that content on that. So that's going the opposite direction from what you two are saying. What was it you were saying last week, Dan, about apathy, rural getting wrapped in little custom world of our own thoughts and desires and it was unrest.
There's two sides of it, which is if you're not a legal entity, so in the UK, if you're under 16 you're not legally able to make those sorts of decisions. And therefore that's fair enough to say that you know, your parents or some legal entity can actually create a structure that protects you from the worst of adults society. But as an adult, that should be your freedom of choice to choose what you do or don't want to know. Obviously I'm not talking about illegal things and that's where we get into a gray area because what is the law and who decides the law. But I mean, you know, I think there are some really clear areas where you do not want to go violence against person and that and that sort of.
So I guess the question is what is it about my, why should we migrate to mines?
Well, if you care about the health of the Internet, I understand what you're saying, but, but you have to realize that when a major global network with potentially billions of people on it is making these essentially biased determinations about what is and what is not. Okay. They are increasing the polarization in this world and they're making the Internet a less safe place under the guise of making it a safe place because it's like a short term fix. You see something that bothers you and you just ban it. Okay. From a publisher's perspective, they have the right to do that. But a platform. The Internet is an ecosystem that is inextricably linked. Everything is connected. So when major networks due to they are fueling the rise of these radical movements and we know that open discourse, civil discourse, face to face communication and debate is what can successfully de radicalize.
I mean there's dozens of former radical extremist who have started organizations that do this and have evidence of deradicalizing people through open discourse. So I think the reason to move to minds is if you care about your freedom, if you care about your privacy, if you want to be respected and not exploited beyond the censorship, which I think it's a sensitive issue and a lot of people, like even in this conversation, we've seen sort of a Mike, this is a micro, it literally is a microcosm of the global conversation about it and that's healthy. But there's so many other abuses that are going on on all the big networks. There's no transparency into the algorithms. So when you post you don't know who is seeing it. You don't know why you're not seeing your friends post. They're putting a filter in the communication structure, which is really damaging as well. We had first hand experience, we built up millions of followers on Facebook, which was a horrible decision because now you're only reaching about 5% of your own followers organically on Facebook. And you know, most people don't really realize what that means. But the core function of social media is you post and your subscribers see it. That is it. That's what it's for.
Yeah. Are we all imagined me doing?
That's what we imagine what we're doing, but it's not what's happening. Basically Facebook is showing you a newsfeed based on variables and so is Twitter starting to do this? Youtube and Google are doing this. Snapchat, they all have algorithms at play. I'm not saying algorithms are bad, but there's no transparency into or control in regards to what they're actually doing in Waco. Guest that when they're actually doing is monetizing. Oh absolutely. They're feeding you what they think you are most likely to engage with. They're listening, they're tracking your location, they're feeding you advertisements based on things that are completely out of your control. So you know, the whole paradigm is backwards and trolling the conversation so that you only get in the messaging that they want you to see you. So they're actually reducing your exposure to the things that you want to be exposed to. Yeah, exactly. Forget about seeing stuff that you don't want to see. They're not even letting you see stuff that you do
want to see. So That's interesting. Are you saying by creating your own tokens and being able to boost your own posts, not by paying the platform to do it for you, therefore it is much more transparent and if you can see who you are paying to boost to or you're doing yourself not paying the platform to do it before you, is that how some of the transparency and freedom is coming into it?
Yeah, for sure. So there's two methods of boosting. One method is actually somewhat similar to the way the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram do it, where a user can pay us a token and we will distribute it to people's news feeds in essentially just chronological order. We're bringing in more like opt in targeting based on categories that people opt into. We're not spying on people to target, but there is another form of boost called an offer where I could actually send you an offer of a hundred tokens in exchange for a share to your followers. So you would get a notification say, Hey, is bills offering you these tokens? You want to accept it or reject it. So that is actually direct peer to peer advertising. I mean imagine if you could send an offer to whatever major technology publication on Twitter and they liked your content. They could share your content to their followers. That is a form of direct peer to peer advertising without a middleman,
which is great because small businesses don't really have access to influences. So the fact that you can approach them and they might say no, but they might not, is actually a really interesting way to be able to speak to people. I like them.
Um, when you talk about the transparency, is it to be obvious to my followers that they're seeing this in their lead because someone has asked me to boost their thing for that amount of tokens. It says that it's been boosted on posts. Okay, perfect. So what should people do? Go to mind? Sign up, get involved. I think, and you know, this isn't just me pitching minds. This is bigger than mines. This is about supporting alternative infrastructures and transparent tools. So there's many other alternatives out there. There's other alternative social networks. There's open source everything. I'm going around trying to encourage people to use open source software, free and opensource software. Everything from browsers. I mean use Firefox, use tor, use brave browser instead of chrome and safari and edge. There's no reason to give your energy to those browsers. It's making the internet worst place because when you use things and empowers them, the same applies to your operating system. The same applies to the apps that you use. The things that we use are what become powerful. So using mine's helps move power to a free and open source platform. That's a good thing and I encourage people to investigate other alternatives. It's similar to the value of using bitcoin and using other blockchains. This is moving the world towards a more open and transparent infrastructure. Yeah, less controlled
as minds grow and you perhaps have more investment in and shareholders and you're, you're being pressurized to make money. Is that not where the algorithms came in and how will you always keep that transparent and let people know that they are in control of where their information is going? Which I think is what we're saying here is that the big social media companies don't let you know anything and then using it in a way that you may not like. How do you keep that openness, the freedom for people and they can be sure that if they moved and that's going to be ad infinitum.
Absolutely. I think that's a really important question. So we've made a full commitment. I mean you can go to [inaudible] dot com slash minds right now and look at, take all of our code. You can make your own application with it. You can inspect our algorithms and the philosophy is why we exist. And additionally we've made a commitment to always have our news feed be a hundred percent chronological. If algorithms are ever used, they'll be on an opt in basis by the user. They won't be us. The imparting our decisions upon people's,
I mean that's a very strong element there. And the fact that I could go and see them all as well I think is really interesting.
Our philosophy and our commitment to our principles is the only reason that we've grown to where we are now. So I suppose anything is possible and that's why I would encourage people to leverage the code that we've built and build your own and help us build. It would be suicide for us to stray from our principals. Our community would never support that. There would be a mutiny. So it's not in our, and actually the investors that we do have, originally we did an equity crowd funding round with 1500 members of our community, so 1500 members of our community, our shareholders of mines. And then we did a series a with med achieve ventures, which is a blockchain focused VC. They uphold these values as well, so we're only interested in partnering with people who share these values. It would be really a stain on our mark if we draft and then you just become Facebook. So what's the point? Yeah, what's the point? Yeah, we just wasted our time if we did that. Yep.
Who are your audience? Are they a particular type? I imagine that we'll diversify, but at the moment is that people that are very aware of the security is that people that are quite tech savvy, who have bought into mind and what it stands for and what they're using it for.
If you look at our waves of growth, our first wave was in 2015 which is when we launched our first mobile apps and that was a direct response to a lot of the NSA surveillance that was happening where Edward Snowden came out. So we got like a quarter million users really quickly. And so I have to assume that those are, yes, at all privacy conscious people. But then we've seen other waves. Like we got a 150,000 users from Vietnam, indirect response to a censorship and surveillance law that was going into effect where some major journalists and influencers from Vietnam signed up and brought all of their followers. So we have very significant artists and musician communities. We have journalists, we have activists, we have small businesses. I would certainly say creators were very creator centric. People who whatever it is they create. They're sharing a lot of media.
So interesting content is what we're hearing and exactly what I mean, I'm there. So I assume that for our listeners, they could go to the APP store or play store as android or iPhone or they could go buy the website, is that right? Yes. And set up an account. Yeah. Debbie need any special bitcoin logins or or registration or anything like that? They can just get going just by going to mind.
Yes. And you don't even have to give over any personal information or anything. You are allowed to be anonymous. If you want to. Okay. Okay. Excellent. Thank you very much. Thank you, Bill. Thanks for having me. That was really stimulating here. It's a pleasure. So we're talking a lot at the moment about privacy and how we get controlled by currency and being at the messaging that we receive and that sort of thing. So it's a really good fit to what we're talking about at the moment. Keep the conversation going on.
Okay, well thank you very much. We're going to have to wrap up. It's been fantastic having you here. It's all good and see what it's like for fine. Thanks. Bye. Thank you very much.
Dan & Abi work, talk & dream in tech. If you would like to discuss any speaking opportunity contact us.