Ryan Singel, a blogger for Wired, threw down the gauntlet on Friday calling for an open alternative to Facebook. Two days earlier Thomas Baekdal, of, wrote a passionate analysis of why the now overly-complicated Facebook is doomed

As Facebook's service gets more complicated and their privacy transgressions more bold, more people are beginning to wonder if they'd be better off with something different.

The growing anger should be no surprise as Facebook's business model is fundamentally at odds with its social function.

Here's why. Facebook hosts the world's largest social network. And the word host is key here. Good hosts create a warm, welcoming, and safe space for guests. Hosts must be trusted for guests to visit. 

Likewise, Facebook can't last if its business model is based on exploiting guests' personal information and treasured relationships.

So what kind of network can be trusted?

Simple – one owned, managed, and governed by citizens for the benefit of citizens. In fact, I believe this is the only kind of social network that can be trusted. Let's call these civic networks. I believe the term "social networks" is forever tainted by Facebook's abuses. Below is an idea of what we need now. 

Next generation civic networks:

1.  Should be engaged in a perpetual campaign to improve the quality of life on the ground. Must be rooted in local communities unified by a common vision that everyone can work toward. They must create a narrative that is open for users to dialog with that guides action and gives purpose. 

"This organization is founded for the purpose of uniting all of the organizations with the community…in order to promote the welfare of all residents…regardless of race, color, or creed, so that they may all have the opportunity to find health, happiness and security through the democratic way of life."

          -Saul Alinsky on the formation of the Back of the Yards Council

2.  Must help individuals self-assess, self-author their lives, fully express their passions in the community, and become leaders in the field of their choice, however obscure. The network should give users the opportunity to:

  • Know their strengths and passions
  • Help others according to strengths and passions
  • Develop projects aligned with their beliefs, strenghts and passions
  • Invite others to help them with their projects
  • Become leaders by doing the above

3.  Must cultivate moderators at each level of the network (inter-household, neighborhood, community) willing to promote, moderate, grow and manage the community. 

4.  Must offer a wide variety of services that enable citizens to self-organize to meet their needs. To get a critical mass of participation at the local level, civic networks will have to offer a wide range of services.  Like Facebook, the civic network will be a platform for applications. The only difference is that civic applications are focused on increasing quality of life rather wasting users time. 

5.  Must create a culture of cooperation through such things as:

  • Personal profiles that inventory an individuals skills, talents, experience, knowledge, goals, and projects and invite collaboration
  • Create norms for cooperation, trust, and social connections through soft (culture-based) and hard (software-based) methods

6.  Cooperation must follow a developmental path from simple, easy, low trust collaborations like exchanging information to more complex, more difficult, higher trust activities like cooperative childcare, artistic collaborations, and asset sharing.

7.  Must make visible human and physical assets of the network. An asset map better allows users and the community to mobilize resources to achieve goals.

8.  Must connect individuals and organizations in the network in a system of explicit interdependence and mutual benefit. This means that every entity knows not only what they will get but how the community will benefit as a whole by participating. Ideally, each entity gets something they desperately need.

9.  Must show immediate benefit to individuals and institutions while working toward larger long-term benefits.

10.  Must make it a meaningful infinite game. The network must measure and reward individual and network progress toward vision with intrinsic rewards making everyone feel a part of a larger story of ongoing success with no limit on the rewards.

11.  Must make it a fun finite game.  The network must create constructive competitions rewarding those who contribute the most to the network with time limits, scorekeeping, and extrinsic rewards (that hopefully feedback into the community, no ipod contests!).

12.  Must give back any profits to the community in a systematic, predictable, and transparent manner. The recipients of donations must be democratically determined by a disinterested third party ( foundation or community development corporation) or by members.

13.  Must give every member a chance to become a leader, steward or evangelists for the network and systematically cultivate leadership so there is a stable pipeline of talent. Then connect the leaders.

14.  The progress of the network must be reported on regularly to create a positive feedback loop. News flow must emphasize success stories, report on progress toward vision, profile network role models, how tos, report on network assets, and demonstrate the power of cooperation.

15.  The service must shape a socially constructive identity for users to dialog with. Users must be given a role to play out in a story told by the interplay between system and user. The system must activate the heroic archetype in users.

16.  The brand of the network must be a user-supported call to action. The brand must be inclusive, co-created, and experiential. The brand must have a civic architecture.

17. Must have a charter detailing the norms of the network, norms which help ensure fidelity to the purpose of the network.

18.  Real, open, and owned identity. The network must incorporate trust systems that verify identity. Must support open ID (portable profiles). Users' personal and usage data must be controlled by users. Only users can determine the privacy policy.

19.  Users rule, literally. The network must be user owned, managed, and governed by users for the benefit of users in a completely transparent manner.

20.  Quality over quantity. The goal of the network is to cultivate leadership in members, not just get members at any cost. While consumer culture creates consumers, this system creates citizens. The way to create citizens is to create quality leadership development experiences, experiences that are life-changing. For instance, the opportunity to co-manage a babysitting coop organized online could be a life-transforming leadership development experience. 

What would you add to this list? Any takers?

Teaser image courtesy of luc legay.

Neal Gorenflo


Neal Gorenflo | |

Neal Gorenflo is the co-founder and board president of Shareable, an award-winning nonprofit news, action network, and consultancy for the sharing transformation. An epiphany in 2004 inspired Neal to

Things I share: Time with friends and family, stories, laughs, books, tools, ideas, nature, resources, passions, my network.