The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Bill Ottman. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Bill Ottman he’s CEO of a company called minds.com, also known as Minds, and they build themselves as the leading alternative social network and open source, community owned social network dedicated to privacy, free speech monetization and decentralization welcome Bill.
Bill: Hey, thanks for having me.
Jim: Yeah, this is good and very timely. It feels like the world wants to just choke free speech and honest discourse right now. And some of my listeners know I was a victim of a ban, myself and two admins for the game B group on Facebook. We got whacked on Friday when we stood up a major shitstorm over on Twitter, and I got, I don’t know, several million people raising hell and we pushed some buttons of people we knew in Facebook and got reinstated, but most people, 99.9% they get whacked by Facebook, they’re just screwed, ain’t damn thing they can do about it. And this is becoming more and more common. It’s amazing the number of stories we’ve heard. So, but before we get down into those tales, why don’t we start by you telling us what Minds is and how’s it different than other social network platforms?
Bill: Yeah, so we basically do everything the opposite the way that Big Tech platforms do. So they are based on surveillance in order to monetize, we don’t do any of that. We don’t have any proprietary spyware ads, we monetize in a complete different way where we actually share our revenue with the users and we have a membership model Minds Plus and we take that revenue and we proportionately share it with the users who help drive the most popular content and we’re fully transparent so the Big tech networks don’t share any of their code so you can’t see what the algorithms are doing.
Bill: We are fully open source. Anyone can inspect our code, anyone can take our code and start their own social network with our code and we encourage that because that creates more of a decentralized ecosystem. Additionally, we’re community owned. So we raised our first running funding round a $1000,000 from over 1,500 members of our community.
Bill: And so we’re just creating a much more people powered ethos and we are also trying to decentralize our infrastructure so that we can’t get taken down. Now that’s a progressive process, it’s not going to happen all at once but we’re making really important moves in that direction and yeah, we’re just seeing that deplatforming is hitting so many different demographics right now on the left, on the right people try to politicize this issue, but it’s really not political.
Jim: Yep. For instance, our game B group is explicitly neither team red nor team blue, we have people from both. And in fact, we don’t even allow discussion of what we call game A politics on our group so they whacked us for other reasons that had nothing to do with our polarization along the axis, which is even scarier in some sense.
Bill: It is. It seems that anyone who is anti-authoritarian gets whacked, if you use the wrong word, even if you’re being sarcastic you get whacked because their AI doesn’t care, either way, it can’t detect sarcasm. I mean, there was an instance on YouTube where any comments critical of the Chinese Communist Party got, got banned and then they said, “Oh, it was a mistake.”
Bill: But at the end of the day, because we can’t see the code, we can’t know what they’re really doing. And this isn’t to say that most people aren’t going to inspect the code, but the principle of it being open so that developers who want to inspect the code can, and then open up their audit for the world, that’s the type of environment that we really need. Otherwise, we have to take their word for it, and they’re just never going to be straight forward with us.
Jim: And truthfully things like, trained, deep learning neural nets, trained on vast amounts of data, are inherently opaque, right? All they are is pattern mattress. We know that you can train a deep learning neural net to distinguish cats from dogs 99% of the time, but then you can also cleverly design a pattern of static, but it will make the same neural net, think it’s a dog, I mean, these things are not semantic they’re statistical aggregators. So anything that’s based on a deep learning, trained network is really much more dependent on the data than it is on the code. And of course, the big platforms have all the data. That’s interesting you guys are open source, that is very cool.
Jim: Most people don’t know this, but Reddit was open source for a long time. In fact, a group of us took a fork of Reddit back in 2013 and built our own platform, edited a bunch of improvements to Reddit and tried to launch it, we made a bunch of mistakes didn’t go anywhere, but I still have a copy of it. Anybody wants some 2013 copy of Reddit? But it was very interesting to be able to go through the code and see how they did what they did. It made you understand that they, at least at that time, weren’t playing many tricks, their little ratings systems were astoundingly simple minded, but it was comforting to know that they were astoundingly simple minded. So I commend guys for doing open source. Where is it at? Is it up on GitHub or what have you?
Bill: Just go to developers.minds.com we use GitLab, which is actually, or gitlab.com/minds. So GitLab is like the open source alternative to GitHub. GitHub ironically, isn’t open source despite the fact that it hosts most of the open source software in the world and now they’re owned by Microsoft and it’s… Even they’re having censorship issues over there.
Bill: I think that they banned this open science library… I forget exactly, oh, no, it was an open source tool for downloading YouTube videos so that you could back up your full YouTube library, but, because some people were using that code for piracy, GitHub took down the repo, which is, I mean, it’s just not acceptable. I mean, just because a piece of code can be used in a certain way, that doesn’t mean that, I mean, you could use that argument for a number of different software projects. So it’s just a really dangerous path and GitLab seems to have their principles locked down more so than GitHub.
Bill: And just to close that with what you were saying about Reddit, I would credit much of their initial growth because they were open source and they were very pro free-speech early on, and they really got the gamer community, the hacker community concentrated. And since then, the sad thing that happens to companies as they grow which I’m a 100% committed to avoiding, is that they just abandoned the principles and to pull the rug out from underneath everyone who was working on the code at Reddit and building subreddit communities that may have had some edgy humor or whatever, it’s sad to see that happen and, I don’t know, the only way to really avoid that is for the companies to engineer the power out of their own hands, which is what we’re trying to do because corruption will inevitably leak in. So you need to really build tools that prevent that by their very nature.
Jim: I agree. Or even the shitass like a Zuckerberg was probably a good guy at some point, but you have absolute power with nobody having any recourse you at all and God knows where you end up going in your head and where he’s gone not a very good place, unfortunately. And the story of Reddit and it’s lost opportunity is a warning for us all. Interesting. Let’s drill down to some of the other aspects that you enumerated about Minds, that it’s dedicated to privacy. Do you mean by that?
Bill: So we don’t require any personal information to make an account, certainly don’t have to identify yourself we firmly believe in the right to anonymity granted. Sure, there are some problems that arise with rampant anonymity and trolling can be an issue with that and people sort of feel like they have the shield, but at the same time, I mean, even the UN has come out firmly in support of the right to encryption and anonymity and these cybersecurity experts across the board typically agree that this is a fundamental right even if there are certain risks that come with it.
Bill: And so yeah, I mean, we don’t require the information in terms of our messenger, we don’t even have access to the content of the chats it’s encrypted and we have a huge upgrade coming with the messenger soon. And so yeah, it’s just the principle of wanting less information and any information given is fully with the consent of the user.
Jim: Now this battle goes back 40 years. I remember I was one of the two product managers for one of the earliest systems, it might have been called social media, something called [Participate 00:10:17] in 1982 running on the source, the world’s first consumer online service. And we had a version that had anonymity in it and it quickly turned into it shit-show unfortunately and so we killed it and we went back to requiring people to have a stable identity.
Jim: And I understand where you’re coming from on, I call it philosophically grounds, but on practical grounds, I’m not so sure. And in fact, what I’d like as a possible answer to that is the in-between state known as pseudo-anonymity, where you have an identity manager who’s a third party and a trusted fiduciary who makes sure that each pseudo identity only has a one-to-one correspondence to an actual person.
Jim: So you don’t know who the person is, but you know that it’s a person that’s been verified and know your customer level and hence you can hold them accountable at least against their other online utterances for the behavior of that pseudo-anonymity, you guys have looked at that road?
Bill: Absolutely. I mean, I think decentralized reputation is something we’ve been looking really closely at. And there’s a really cool project that we just spoke to called BrightID and they are totally open source and they create these identity verifications where people for each other, but there is no need for some trusted third party who is handling sensitive personal information. That’s where we are really trying to find a unique path through this problem because who that trusted third party is, is very important, you don’t want just some centralized party that is housing massive amounts of personal information because we don’t want to fuel that, that’s just creating another surveillance monster. So absolutely pseudonymity.
Bill: I mean, but even Twitter allows anonymous accounts, I think that there are risks, you need really good moderation tools, you need to make sure that people can’t get harassed and whatnot, but, I agree with you ultimately.
Jim: It’s an interesting and difficult problem because on one end it appears that real name IDs on average produces better quality discourse and total anonymity tends to produce considerably higher rates of bot attacks, sock puppets and just generally bad ecosystem behavior. And maybe pseudonymity properly adjusted with network reputation might be enough, certainly worth exploring.
Bill: Just to quickly finish that thought, most people on Minds I would say, identify themselves. So it’s not as if it’s this place where you have to be anonymous. I think that there’s a balance and some people are synonymous some people are anonymous, some people identify themselves. And yeah, I think that with rating systems, ways for bad actors to get punished who are actually being malicious, all of those things can work together.
Jim: I agree, that’s a great area for experimentation. Well, let’s now get down to the hot button of the moment, free speech. You guys put yourself out explicitly as a free speech platform. What does that mean to you and how do you deal with the inevitably fraught issues around moderation?
Bill: So we have a 1st amendment based content policy and with some edge case exceptions with malicious spam or harassment, obviously threats of violence are not allowed. So based on the research that we have compiled, censorship can actually cause more violence and radicalization than free speech which is counterintuitive, but this is what data actually shows because when people get banned, they get angry.
Bill: And so we partnered with Daryl Davis who famously deradicalized over 200 members of the KKK as a black man, essentially by befriending them and over a long period of time, engaging in civil discourse and that’s the raw data that shows transformation as possible in an open environment. And there’s no doubt that the mass censorship occurring on Big Tech is fueling the polarization and divide in society today. So the question is, how do we have a free speech environment that is under control and safe to a degree?
Bill: And so we have robust moderation tools, filtering tools and blur tools for more explicit content, we have a jury system that we’re rolling out that is currently in production for appeals, so if we make a mistake with our moderation, then the user has a chance to appeal and then the appeal goes to a randomized selection of 12 active users and they vote on whether or not the cases in lines with our terms, but we’re going to be moving the jury to a full public feed of content in users where we can leverage the power of the crowd to categorize content, potentially report it, but it will have to reach different levels of consensus in order for the tags to be applied to the content.
Bill: But ultimately we know that censorship causes violence. I mean, there’s even been studies out of nature, George Washington University they clearly show this. There’s almost no evidence that censorship works on a holistic level for the internet. What we know is that okay, in an isolated community, sure, you can try to ban certain users, but then what happens? Those users just go to another network. The internet is a community and people are going to find a way to say what they want to say so we really have to ask ourselves, what’s the best way to approach this. And what we’re hoping is that our program will get adopted by other networks and then all the different social networks aren’t necessarily working against each other.
Jim: It makes sense. Though, again, I’d also say that it’s important to think a hierarchy of the rules. Like for instance, I would support a quite open interpretation of free speech for the platform itself equivalent of Facebook or minds.com. On the other hand, I noticed that Minds, I did log on created a username with my actual name and view, has groups and has long struck me and this goes back again to the 80s, that groups really ought to be encouraged to have their own group norms. If you’re a group dedicated to antique Packard owners and a bunch of Cadillac owners show up and start talking smack, you ought to be able to boot them, right?
Bill: You can. Yeah, absolutely.
Jim: And so it’s up to my mind, those are two very different things, which is a platform which should be thought of as more or less a common carrier and then affinity groups which should be able to have any norms they want reasonable or otherwise.
Bill: Completely agree. We believe in user control and community control to the max. So if you have people who are trolling your posts that you created, you can kick them out, you can kick them out of your groups, that is totally reasonable.
Jim: Yeah. That’s interesting. I was on somebody else’s podcast yesterday, they had a Q&A format and there was one person that was going, “Oh, but you kick people out of your group.” And I go, “Yeah, we do. We have a very explicit, those short list of norms. You violate our norms, we’ll boot you, but we’re not holding ourselves out as a platform, we’re holding ourselves out as an affinity group.” And those are two fundamentally different animals.
Bill: Sure. And even if there was a platform that wanted to be the cat lover social network, I think that, that’s why section 230 exists is to give platforms the ability to moderate, there’s a misperception about 230 and that it means that a platform necessarily has to be neutral. Now, ultimately, if we want the internet to calm down, I do think that more free speech policies across the board are healthy, but, in forcing platforms to allow people that are completely irrelevant from what they’re trying to accomplish is, I don’t think that, that necessarily makes sense.
Bill: But with Twitter, Facebook, Big Tech, they really did market themselves as open commons and they fueled their growth with all of these users. And they were fine with all of this content for over a decade and now suddenly they’re acting like they have moral ground when really it’s a farce. I mean, they don’t actually care about these issues, they’re just bowing to political and social pressure when they know most likely that the data shows they are fueling the radicalization in the world, not the alternative platforms who are dealing with their dirty laundry.
Jim: Exactly. Especially Facebook, it has these relentless optimizing algorithms to try to point you to the content that stirs you up the most, right? And again, it’s a no brain, deep learning neural net that has knows nothing about semantics. All it knows is, other people react to this and no wonder people are agitated and again, it’s secret, they won’t tell you what it is, they won’t let you turn it off, it is the center of the shit-show. I have no doubt about it in my mind.
Bill: We’re working on a positive intervention chat widget which hopefully can help people who want to burst their echo chambers with a path to talk to someone on the other side of the spectrum and it can also work for people who have mental health issues or people who are contemplating suicide. And it is so obvious that the big networks are not making an honest effort to help from a psychological perspective the community.
Bill: It would be so easy to have a widget for someone who is feeling depressed or feeling just angry, there are people who want to talk and this is what we’re really doing with Daryl in our de-radicalization initiative is helping pair people to… Say, you’re a Republican and you want to talk to a rational Democrat, reframing the experience of social media so that maybe the point of it is to find somebody who you can respectfully disagree with and have a conversation, not just reinforce your own deeply embedded ideology.
Bill: I think that if people join knowing that there’s humanity on the other side of the computer monitor, it can really help rather than this rage bait metastasization of division in society.
Jim: No doubt about it. One little platform I like, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it’s called letter.wiki and it encourages people of different points of view to have a sober and slow exchange of public letters about whatever they want. And I’ve seen some of them, I’ve participated in some. Some amazing conversations of people that you would imagine would have a hard time interacting civilly on a Facebook or Twitter at letter.wiki because of the framing of the site, it’s entirely different. It’s a wonderful site which I encourage people to check out.
Bill: Oh, this is great. Yeah, I see Noam Chomsky, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Oh, there’s some great thinkers over here, Coleman Hughes, oh, wow, I’m going to check this out. I’m excited.
Jim: Yeah, it’s a really wonderful site. And so, to recap your current moderation model, how does something that’s violates one of the corner cases that you’ve explicitly rolled out, maybe doxing, I don’t know if you have a rule against doxing, it’s one I probably would have on my network if I owned one.
Bill: We do have a rule against doxing. But there’s a spectrum within doxing, but yes, that would be one of the edge cases that we are not okay with. The first amendment acts is a guiding light, but, when someone is maliciously attacking the network or putting someone at risk, we’re not going to get a court order for that. But there are these sets of principles that have been outlined by digital rights groups, for instance, the Manila Principles and the Santa Clara Principles, which were drafted by the electronic frontier foundation and many other digital rights groups.
Bill: The Manila Principles, for instance, states that digital intermediaries shouldn’t censor content or users without a court order. So that it is more of a pure strategy which is not necessarily scalable for something like a social network where there are all of these edge cases. And then the Santa Clara Principles go into all standards around transparency in your moderation policy, transparency in the coach and reporting requirements for all of your takedowns and whatnot.
Bill: So, I think that we really look at things on a case by case basis and this is what’s being lost on Big Tech. They just have these blanket policies that don’t look into the nuance involved in every specific situation. But context is everything when it comes to speech so what I would say for our moderation process holistically is that we’re much more patient and specific about each report.
Jim: Take me through the process. Let’s say, Joe Blow publishes a post that’s clearly unambiguously first degree doxing, is there a reporting button on each post or some mechanism for use self surveillance for bad actors or how would that come to the attention of the moderation team?
Bill: Yep. There’s a report button on every post and on every page.
Jim: So then it goes someplace and then what-
Jim: … a human looks at it and says, “No-
Jim: … not a violation,” or, “Yes, let’s think about this further?”
Bill: Correct. So currently we have a moderation team that is going through those. And then if the moderation team makes a decision that the user then thinks is wrong, then it goes to the appeal jury. We ultimately want to bring the first layer in the initial report to some a jury, but we’re still gathering data because there are certain risks that come with that if you open up that process to the crowd, and we just need to be very sensitive about how we move forward with that, because some of it is pretty edgy content and you don’t necessarily want to be spreading that further, particularly in cases where it’s potentially unlawful content.
Bill: So, but bringing in legal teams and getting a diverse group of thinkers on the moderation team and different levels of users certainly more established, trusted users to be members of the jury, these are all things that we’re looking at.
Jim: I got a little idea I’m going to throw it for you, give it to the world, give it to you on the reporting button which as from a game theoretical perspective can be used abusively, right? Ah, go have your mob of 300 people all go report all the people on that mob, right? And so I came up with the following fix, which is, have a price to report. Let it start out to be something reasonable, like a dollar.
Jim: Anytime you make a report and it’s turned down, your price for your next report doubles. Every time you have a report and it is upheld your price falls in half. So if you’re a person that’s making false reports very quickly, it’s going to start costing you at 20 bucks, 50 bucks, a 100 bucks to make a report and you’re going to stop. On the other hand, if it turns out you’re actually a high fidelity person and you’re almost always right, then your price might get down to a penny in which case, you will have no friction at all because you operate in good faith and what you report is validated by the backend process. So there’s an automatic algorithm that might be a good way to defend the report button from the obvious game theoretic forms of abuse that exist.
Bill: Absolutely. I think that there’s a lot of value there. So I wouldn’t necessarily put a cost in for the first report, but I really do like the idea of adding a price for people who repeatedly are wrong, in civil resistance, your adding a financial disincentive is, yes, from a game theoretic perspective, super effective. This is, how Bitcoin works in a way people are dis-incentivized financially to be wrong in the minding process.
Bill: I would take it a step further though, with the jury system, for people who are repeatedly correct, we reward with tokens. We currently do that now. So I think that you can also apply incentives for being right to leverage more crowd power.
Jim: Even better, because that way you’re going beyond just minimizing the cost, you’re providing an actual positive feedback for good behavior, that’s lovely. I love that. Which gets us to our next topic. You guys you have some monetization built into your system, truthfully, I didn’t have enough time to dig into it, to see how it works, tell us how that works. Do you have your own token or… Talk about monetization on the platform.
Bill: So this is really to me the most exciting and evolutionary thing that we’re doing with regards to typical social networks and I think that for a social network to really break through and hit critical mass, yeah, it has to have the ethical stuff really locked down, but it also just has to dig right into human nature and have financial incentive.
Bill: The social networks of the future, whether it’s us or not are going to be paying the users aggressively, it’s going to be a requirement. So we have a few different options both with dollars or whatever your local currency is and cryptocurrency. So first to talk about the dollar stuff. Minds Plus, which is five or seven bucks a month depending on if you pay upfront, is a membership where you get access to all the exclusive content on the site and you also get the ability to submit content to it. And if your content that you submit is popular, you get paid out each month.
Bill: So we’re taking 25% of the revenue that we’re getting from Minds Plus and proportionally sharing it with the users who are producing popular content within Minds Plus. So when you go to make a post on Minds, there’s an option on it that says monetize. So if you click that button and post it into Minds Plus then you have a chance to earn revenue from that. The analogy would be, imagine if Netflix allowed you to upload a video that you made to Netflix and if it performed well on Netflix you got paid out at the end of the month.
Jim: And of course, YouTube has that.
Bill: They have that with ads. So the way that they are fueling that monetization, which is effective is with surveillance based ads.
Bill: So yes, they are sharing their revenue, but it’s not based on… The revenue source is from the ads, it’s not from the membership revenue.
Jim: And that’s a big distinction. I go, as I mentioned, way back in the online world, long before advertising was economically feasible because networks and computers were too damn expensive, right? You needed a higher density of revenue and everything was subscription-based or even hourly based in the early days. And truthfully, the ecosystems were much healthier in those days because people paid for a product and they got a service.
Jim: Today, you are the product, right? When you use something like YouTube or Google or Facebook, they’re attempting to monetize you through advertising and I believe that is close to the root of the essentially the generator function on why especially things like Facebook and Twitter are just so rotten because they have adopted this advertising only model. And I’ve long encouraged people to build a Facebook competitor that charged $5 a month and no ads. It sounds like that’s what you-
Bill: That’s why we’re doing. That is exactly what we’re doing. Now, we do have ads, but you can turn them off, but and they’re also not surveillance based ads. So, but I mean, absolutely what where Silicon Valley has gone wrong is this whole idea that everything needs to be free and we just spy on people with ads in order to monetize. People will often happily pay five bucks a month for a product that brings value to their life and they would much preferred not to be spied on or censored.
Bill: So yeah, that is the fiat currency end of things. We also allow users to get tips in cash from their supporters and fans and you can even set up your own membership tiers so that people can support you on a monthly basis. And otherwise, we have the token system which is built on top of the Ethereum blockchain and so we have the Minds token and based on your engagement every day that you receive, up votes, comments, shares, subscribers, all that kind of stuff.
Bill: You have a reward for each of those actions that you receive and so every day you get an allotment of tokens which you can go to your wallet and see each day there’s a transaction for your reward. And you can use your tokens to boost your content, tip other people, potentially go out into the decentralized exchanges and play around and bring them onto your own wallet, but we have pegged for now, and this will probably be fluctuating over time, but one token will give you a thousand views.
Bill: So if you have 10 tokens, you click the boost button on your post, throwing a couple tokens and we’ll boost that post for a couple thousand views around the network. And so we really want to reward the creators who are driving value on the network in stark contrast to Facebook and others. And to me, quite frankly, this is the most offensive thing about the Big Tech social networks is that when you post only like 2% of your followers are even seeing your post, they have completely changed the algorithm so that even if you have a million subscribers, you may only get five likes on your posts because their newsfeed algorithm based on thousands of secret variables is determining what it thinks you want to see and what your fans want to see, not the other way around.
Bill: So we have a raw newsfeed purely reverse chronological, what you see is what you get, and we want to reward you with more views and give the community more real estate in the newsfeed. So yeah, it’s been really successful. People love the token rewards and Ethereum is an incredible project like Bitcoin, that is really changing the game.
Jim: Oh, goddammit Ethereum, the transaction costs have gotten ridiculous. Last I saw-
Bill: They have.
Jim: [crosstalk 00:38:02] like 90 cents worth of gas.
Bill: So we do have an off chain system to deal with that, so you can tip on chain and use your MetaMask wallet and move all your tokens into your own sovereignty, but we have an off chain system so that you can tip and boost with no fees.
Jim: Oh, that’s good because unfortunately Ethereum’s become useless for any micropayments. I warned them for a long time, I think they did not have enough throughput and did not have enough computational capacity, should it be successful? They were going to themselves and they have.
Bill: Well, there’s a lot of really exciting stuff happening with scalability in Ethereum and with Ethereum too and all of the other layer 2 solutions, it’s going to work out. I think that it’s proven a critical point about decentralized infrastructure and if they could have done it better from the beginning, I completely agree with you that, that would have been excellent, but we are where we are and I still think it’s a very valuable contribution to the new decentralized architecture of the internet.
Jim: Oh, no doubt about it. The idea of contracts as code linked to a transaction system was quite brilliant, but the way they implemented it, it was obvious at the time, there was a loser if it was successful. I would suggest looking at things like Cardano and Hollow Chain and Ethereum and Bitcoin are like the Christopher Columbus and Magellan of the blockchain world. There’s lots of other interesting stuff out there that’s frankly a lot better at this point.
Bill: There is. It’s interesting you bring up Cardano. I just spoke to their team and we’re having conversations about leveraging their blockchain but the reality is that in terms of developer tools, APIs, nothing comes close to Ethereum. With Uniswap, everything that’s happening in decentralized finance, I mean, Cardano they’re taking a very patient long-term approach and building something that’s scalable proof of stake and whatnot, but there it is, you can hardly build on it. There’s, there’s almost no way to integrate with a decentralized app.
Bill: So, all of these [escalers 00:40:39] are okay, great. I wish them all success, but at the end of the day it’s, “Can we build an app on your product right now?” And almost 99% of the time the answer’s no.
Jim: It’s interesting. When I was a corporate CTO, I always counseled my business unit CTOs that frankly, the ecosystem mattered more usually than the underlying technology and that’s why we would use Oracle those days as horrible as it was as a corporation to do business with because they had the ecosystem, right? And the smaller players, I don’t even remember who the hell their names are these days, but back in the 90s they were definite competitors for Oracle that in the technical sense were better, but they didn’t have the ecosystem around them. I understand.
Jim: All right, let’s go on and we get a little techie here. Let’s go on to the next level. In our pre-show discussion, you talked about the fact that, your backend is decentralized as well. Before I came on, I looked you guys up on W3Techs and found out you used the AWS for your hosting. As we know, that can be a dangerous choice. Talk a little bit about how you’ve taken care of decentralization on the backend.
Bill: Sure. So yeah, seeing AWS come after Parler, certainly a scary thing. Now I have heard some things that they were ignoring the requests of Amazon for like months leading up to what ultimately happened, which I don’t have a 100% confirmation on that, but at the end of the day, you don’t want to be reliant on any specific cloud for a number of reasons.
Bill: You don’t want vendor lock-in, that’s not a safe thing for any company regardless of censorship concerns. There are fiscal concerns with being locked in as well. So our backend database is Cassandra, which is, if you go to apache.cassandra.org, you can check it out, it’s a no SQL database and it is decentralized. So it’s not decentralized in the sense of like Bitcoin where all of our community is running a node, but the nodes and clusters are decentralized in nature.
Bill: And so what we built is a multicloud Kubernetes Cassandra clustering system with a framework called Terraform, so our database is currently live in multiple clouds, not just AWS. And so we are cloud agnostic and if any of them did take us out, it wouldn’t matter. Same with Elasticsearch, which is our another quasi database, but it’s the search backend we’re using. And it also has multi-cloud capabilities so it’s not fully peer to peer in the sense of…
Bill: And we actually do want to get there. We want to get to the point where a user can download an app on their machine and help support the network quasi BitTorrent type system and we also have leverage a blockchain called Arweave, which is an amazing project backed by like Andreessen Horowitz, surprisingly, which is a decentralized content storage system.
Bill: And so right now for text and images, there’s an option when you’re making a post to post it to Arweave or AKA the Permaweb. And they have this decentralized node structure that is hosting content and they’ve completely backed up Wikipedia and archive.org and are trying to build uncensorable library of Alexandria and they’re fully open source and really exciting stuff.]
Bill: So we have them working in the backend as well and we’re just trying to leverage the projects with good ecosystems and developer tools because there’s so many projects that try to claim that they’re the solution, they’re the killer blockchain that’s going to take over the internet, but at the end of the day, if our dev team can’t build into it quickly, it’s smoke and mirrors. But I think that the cloud agnostic multicloud situation we have now is exciting and it definitely differentiates us from a lot of centralized social networks who just have typical centralized databases that they cannot co-exist in multiple clouds.
Jim: Interesting. I’m glad you guys did that work that gives you at least one level of safety. It’s interesting that you guys chose Cassandra because I mentioned the Reddit open-source version, Cassandra also does most of the heavy lifting in Reddit as well which is interesting though they were not using it. It’s not quite true, they were using it in the fan out replication server mode, just to build horizontal capacity essentially.
Jim: And we did too in our little system, we had three AWS servers and have three Cassandra’s running coherently so, that’s a good choice for that particular application. So now, we talk about choke points, unfortunately there’s choke points all the way up, all the way down, right? You guys got into the news, I don’t know, few days back with Google threatening you with a 24 hour warning to do something about your app or they’ll take you out of the app store goddammit, tell us about that.
Bill: Yeah, we’ve had issues with Google over the years. Basically we got around it, we had to limit a bunch of a bunch of functionality on the app. Unfortunately, we had to basically remove search from that version of the Android app. Now you can go to minds.com/mobile and download the Android app directly from Minds, which is the full version but this is just the sad reality of the centralized app stores.
Bill: Apple does similar things. We’ve had issues with them for some of our blockchain tech that they wanted us to remove. And we had another issue with Google, which we were resolved as well, where they took us down from the store for like six months a couple of years ago, because of some quasi explicit image. And then I eventually emailed them in appeal, I said, “Don’t you guys realize that Reddit allows full-out…” I mean, sorry, “Twitter allows full-out pornography?” Which is a true thing that most people don’t realize. I’m not necessarily recommending it, but if you go dig through Twitter, you will find all out pornography and that is okay in their terms.
Bill: And so I emailed Google and I said, “How are you not banning Twitter? If you’re basically suspending us for this rather tame image?” And they reinstated us like a day later.
Jim: Ah, but what was their goddamn in business what your business model is? That just me off, right? Why should two companies owned by peculiar oligarchs, have the ability to define how business is done on the nets. This is just repugnant at every level. And as much as a net libertarian as I used to be, reluctantly coming around to the view that these people that have these excessive choke points on the nets, need to be collared in some fashion so they can’t just arbitrarily decide what constitutes a reasonable business model. Wait, who the hell made them God, right?
Bill: Absolutely. But I don’t think traditional antitrust is going to do the trick.
Jim: I agree. It’s common carrier plus regulation. If you have a sufficient market share in what could be constituted the public square, then you should be deemed a common carrier. The phone company has a common carrier. They can not tell you, you can’t talk about, cats, smoking cigarettes, for instance, right? However, they can bounce you if you do harassing calls or things of that sort. And they say they have some objective rules for corner cases, but they’re very limited.
Jim: Otherwise, they’re a common carrier and they got to take everybody shows up. I see no reason in logic that things like the app store and the Google equivalent things like Facebook and Twitter, any online system with more than, let’s say 5,000,000 unique visitors a month, couldn’t be defined to be a common carrier-
Jim: … and being regulated by the democratic process but which our constitutional rights would apply, where in the regulation of IRA, God, I’d write in, transparency for things like, suspensions and disciplinary actions, including the, what was it? The Santa Clara Principles. So they like that where you had to document it that provides statistics, make the code clear, et cetera. It’s just not reasonable to give this much power to a handful of very peculiar oligarchs.
Bill: I completely agree. I think that that is honing in on what would be a reasonable solution. And, the funny part of it is that they’re limiting their own revenue with all of this censorship. So from a financial perspective, and they get a lot of heat about this from the mainstream media, but the mainstream media will attack all Big Tech networks for saying, “Oh, you’re enabling, this really harmful speech and so, you’re going to take down,” but again, this comes back to the data science argument about censorship.
Bill: And the mainstream media is simply not looking at the holistic data set around the issue. They’re just looking at this shallow view on censorship that if you hide something, yes, it makes that isolated environment safe temporarily, but you’re actually making the internet a much more toxic space overall. And so, the media is very much at fault for this in alongside Big Tech, because they are applying this nonempirical pressure on the networks to behave this way.
Jim: Though it is up to them. They could just tell the press to go themselves and they should, right?
Bill: They should, yeah.
Jim: What’s the press going to do to Apple? Apple could buy the whole press industry for the trash they have in the bank, literally, right?
Jim: Facebook isn’t far behind. They just go, “Go yourself. We don’t want to give a shit what you think, kiss my ass.”
Bill: Yeah. They don’t have a spine. None of them have a spine, which I am shocked by because it would only… I keep telling saying all this publicly, because if any one of the Big Tech sites just said, “You know what? We’re going to switch course. We’re going to open up all our code, we’re going to have a reasonable speech policy, we’re going to help the community, we’re going to be much more of a transparent or corporation,” they would win over the internet.
Jim: But, absolutely they would.
Bill: They would.
Jim: And of all the people Zack is the one that could do it, right? He’s never needed any cash, which piss me off when he went public, I got you stupid? Fuck, right? Your business is generating bazillions of dollars a year, more than you will ever need to grow your infrastructure.
Jim: And you put yourself out into the public markets where you’re at the hast of all these morons and idiots and speculators and every other goddamn thing, why wouldn’t you just keep the thing, private, run it the way you want. But, “No, we somehow got seduced into doing it,” and the rest as they say is history. But he still has absolute control of Facebook, so he could do whatever-
Bill: He does.
Jim: … the hell he wants, he’s rich enough that he doesn’t give a shit even if his net worth full fell by 90%, he’d still be one of the richest human beings on the face of the earth and he would know that he had done something great and righteous, but he doesn’t-
Jim: … and fucking pathetic.
Bill: It is. It is wild because I think of him as somebody who does desire social validation, I don’t know how true the social network movie was, some people say it’s accurate, the Winklevoss twins say it’s accurate, who are killing it Bitcoin, by the way. But the point is that, I mean, unfortunately Facebook was never fully about the people or free speech. The policy was always weak, there was always unnecessary censorship happening.
Bill: It was better back in the day and they were never open source. They were never really abiding by true principles, but I would agree with you that because of the power that he still has, they are in the best position to do it, but I really do not think it will happen. The other puzzling thing about Facebook is that, they’ve got like Andreessen Horowitz and Peter Thiel on their board, these guys are essentially libertarians.
Jim: And I know Mark pretty well, right? And I’ve met Peter a couple of times, but, yeah. And I will say that, things like, the Zuckerberg’s speech to Georgetown on free speech was actually not bad.
Bill: I almost threw up in my mouth. I threw up in my mouth when I heard that speech. Now, you’re right that it was not a bad speech because he was saying the words, but it made me sick because they’re just words. He’s just using the words that people want to hear to satisfy whatever particular demographic he’s trying to satisfy, but he’s not walking the walk at all and he knows the problems.
Bill: So, the internet would love Facebook to reverse course, but they just keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And so at this, it may be beyond repair. I think that when you lose the public’s trust to such a deep degree, not just with the speech stuff, with the privacy stuff and everything else, even if you did reverse course, yes, that would be better, I still recommend it, but the trust is lost, I don’t know if it can be regained.
Jim: Our game B movement has had enough, we’re moving off Facebook. We were building out a private network right now.
Jim: And if you guys had a private version of your platform, we might look at that, who knows? But yeah, I think it’s time to say, “Fuck Facebook,” frankly. The guy who’s a bit better is Twitter, but, Jack backbone he’s melted over the last five years also and that’s a goddamn shame because he doesn’t have the control that Zack has, but he has a certain amount of moral authority within Twitter and he’s been on a gradual and slower fold than the rest of them, but a folding, nonetheless though, I do find it encouraging that he’s put together a team to explore, distributed, open protocol versions of Twitter in the future, which could be interesting.
Bill: Agreed. Project Blue Sky is definitely interesting. We’re using a number of the tools mentioned in some of that research, but it makes me equally disturbed when Jack goes on these tirades acting like he cares and maybe he does care and just doesn’t have enough power, but the reality is that he’s the CEO of Twitter. And if he objects so much to what they’re doing, then he should leave, he should resign and have some principles, but he doesn’t, he just tries to appease both sides and meanwhile, the pervasive censorship expands.
Bill: And, the interview to watch is when Tim Pool debated Dorsey and his head of content moderation on the Joe Rogan Podcast and just got absolutely destroyed by Tim and his arguments and had nothing to say and talked about, “Oh yeah, we want to offer a path to redemption for users and want to do better.” And that’s just all he says, every time is, “We want to do better,” but there’s no substantive change that’s happening. And, if a decentralized Twitter emerges like, “Cool, let’s see it.” I mean, and until it’s here, it’s just a lot of words.
Jim: And we already got mast it on, which is a decentralized Twitter, high granular decentralized, but that’s out there. But anyway, I think you guys have got a very… I love everything you’ve said, the fact that you got a wide ownership with nobody presumably having access of control, community ownership, open source, including the algorithms, right? Every part of it, right? There’s no hold back. Is that right? Is that correct?
Bill: That’s correct.
Jim: I think we might squabble a little bit about where to be on real names, pseudo-anonymity versus full anonymity, but I think you guys are exploring that correctly. I actually had the jury idea years ago, so I’m glad somebody is actually doing it, I think it’s brilliant that you’re generating coins to reward high signal. In reality a social network should be up-regulating signal and down-regulating noise. That’s really its only job.
Jim: And, you at least up-regulating signal with the coins now figure out how to regulate noise and you’ll have the perfect social network. I love the fact that you’ve invested and you and I both know it ain’t cheap to do this, to be able to build your system so it can run on multiple servers rather than just one, it’s a lot easier not to think about that, but you guys have done that. So shit, I like everything I hear here people, so go check out Minds, right?
Bill: Yeah. And, on the Mastodon note, so they use a protocol called ActivityPub, which is this Federation protocol which we have a project in progress now to implement ActivityPub which is what enables Mastodon nodes to talk to each other, and so that’s in progress. So we’re going to eventually be joining what’s called the Fediverse, which is Mastodon Plus, Pleroma Plus, a handful of other frameworks which support ActivityPub. And so, I love it, it’s not the ultimate answer because the nodes are still subject to admins.
Bill: Ultimately, we need to move towards a much more user controlled approach where you truly control your identity and your data. And I think that, that’s where Web Three is really coming in. That is what I am loving about the Ethereum ecosystem, if you’ve been playing around with, with MetaMask and these wallets, which are the beginning of decentralized identity where your Ethereum address or which is the same address where you can accept Minds tokens or many other types of tokens, like the Brave tokens and you control that, that’s a browser extension that’s connected to your Minds account and you can do various things with that identity, engage in different platforms and the scalability has to happen, but it does seem to me the first spark of something that feels truly decentralized.
Jim: I agree. I’ve had, MetaMask of mine on one of my machines and only one of my machines for since when? December, 2017. So yeah, I’m a believer, a believer, but a skeptical believer, that I been doing this long enough to know what’s real and what’s hype and where the bind points are so we proceed, but with our eyes open realizing we can only take one step at a time.
Bill: Absolutely, yeah. We’re not trying to get a Google-y eyed over any specific little exciting project or integration and we’re taking a balanced approach and trying to diversify because there’s going to be multiple projects that coalesced to bring us to a more liberated future. Putting all your eggs in one basket is not a solution, it’s refreshing to talk to you, Jim, because you’re one of the rare hosts who I’ve talked to, who seems to have really done his research.
Jim: And truthfully, I had the [inaudible 01:03:10] I’ve just lived it, right? I’ve been building stuff on the nets long before the internet existed and right on through the internet and how I was the theoretically the most powerful chicken choker of them all when I was CEO of Network Solutions, when we had a monopoly on the domain name system, but in those days we were real cast iron sons of bitches.
Jim: We wouldn’t do a thing without a court order. And I got calls from the White House, told them to go pound sand, right? And I wish more of the CEOs today, had that background bone, have their policies and somebody calls you up from the white house or from New York Times, I’m, go themselves, but it’s not that hard, right?
Bill: Well, I didn’t realize that. That’s great to hear. So you were abiding by the Manila Principles in a hardcore sense. And I think for a domain perspective, it’s a little bit more cut and dry than in the social networking sphere where you’ve got all this content and sensitive personal information, but could you expand on that a little bit? I’m curious if there’s any stories you can tell about them trying to come after for a certain domain?
Jim: Oh yeah. I have it all the time. And we just had it standing constantly, right? Both commercial entities that were claiming that this was selling counterfeit goods or whatever, say, “You got to prove it in court. No problem, we will recognize, any court of reasonable jurisdiction within the United States. Thank you very much, have a nice day.” And that was just our stock answer period. And, nobody ever challenged us on it and that was just the way it was.
Jim: And I can tell you one other story, a little out of school here. Well, how can I disguise it so it isn’t too obvious? Anyway, during one of our random wars of choice, somebody in the national security council came and asked us to take country domain out of the root. Can you believe that? You know what the root is, that’s the dot US, dot-
Jim: … UK, all that stuff. Anyway, this country, which we were involved in a war of choice with, somebody literally asked us to take it out of the route so their internet would go away, at least at the domain level. And again, we said, “You got to be kidding, man. Ain’t no way. One, we have the technical power to do so, but we do not have the contractual authority to do so. We manage the route as a fiduciary for the US department of commerce and you’re the US department of Commerce goddammit. So, you get them to issue us in writing, which by the way, we’ll hand over to the New York times, the request to do that and then we’ll do it.” Guess what? We never heard from them again.
Bill: Stand your ground.
Jim: Goddamn right.
Bill: There’s very few companies who are willing to do that anymore and it feels like a phase, it feels like an emotional phase that the country is going through both individually and corporations, but, ultimately, we had major surges of growth from Thailand and Vietnam with authoritarian regimes and some of these users will message me and people in other countries are honestly quite shocked at the sentiment around censorship that’s happening in the US in the calls for it because we take these freedoms for granted over here, but in countries like Thailand, where they’ll actually go to jail for criticizing the government, I mean, they look at people in the US calling for censorship over relatively tame stuff or even if it’s not tame, they look at us like we’re crazy. Like, “What are you guys doing?”
Jim: I had that conversation the other day with somebody in a non Western countries go, “goddammit, the one good thing you can say about America is it’s free speech, what the fuck are you doing?”
Bill: Well, the corporations are the ones censoring in the US and the people are calling for it. Luckily the government’s not doing much censorship over here. And so yeah, I don’t think most people who are making these calls have much experience researching what’s going on around the rest of the world.
Jim: I think so. And I think as we talked about before, frankly, it’s within the power of the peculiar tech oligarchs to just say, “No,” and they should just do it. I mean, literally, they just go buy the whole press and shut it down, right? If they continue to hound them now that would be… Now, it’d be wrong, that would be wrong, but they could do it, they don’t need to worry about, what some thumb sucker and writer at the New York Times op ed page has to say about them, tell them to go themselves, that’s the right you have as an American. I like to see some of these guys going to grow old, a backbone and stand up tall and stand up for free speech.
Bill: Well, have you seen what’s going on with all this GameStop trade in Mayhem-
Jim: Oh, yeah. That’s crazy.
Bill: … today? I mean, because now it’s hitting financial markets and it’s all just the push towards de-centralization, but I mean, the WallStreetBets group getting banned by discord and-
Jim: It’s wrong. I mean, the shit will reach its equilibrium. Now I had fun crushing a short seller on Network Solutions stock costs that motherfucker $160 million, ha ha, ha. But it could’ve gone the other way, right?
Jim: And eventually the markets will figure out who’s right and who’s wrong. No, I was not bullshitting guys, we actually did have the numbers, ha, ha, ha, but sooner or later the markets will reach equilibrium, there’s no need for anybody to be manipulating and people bid up the stock of GameStop, they’ll eventually lose their asses, right? Or not, but most likely they will, but nobody’s business to be intervening for that stuff.
Bill: Right. It’s beautiful to watch the mainstream tech people or just mainstream consumer waking up to what’s going on with short selling and how there’s these leeches in the market profiting off of the downfall of brick and mortar businesses, and just really unleashing the power of the crowd onto financial markets.
Bill: And, obviously there’s a lot of risks with that, and unfortunately there’s probably harmless investors who, “Oh, got excited about GameStop and now they’re losing all their money and that’s sad.” But I don’t think that Wall Street ever realized until now what the cloud can really accomplish. And now it’s just out there and they’re forcing Robinhood and Cash App to delist these stocks and it’s all just bubbling to the surface and getting exposed. And so it’s exciting and I think that it’s very validating to the new world of open source and decentralized tech.
Jim: Indeed. And of course we have decentralized finance coming, is actually coming it’s here as the new level of obstruction sitting on top of the blockchain stuff so that’s a wild, crazy time we’re in here, I’ll tell you that.
Bill: Got to got a beast through it and just keep building, don’t wait for anything. You got to back up your community, if you’re a content creator, start building your own ecosystem, control your list, don’t rely on these networks that there’s really no reason to trust. Use them a little bit for what they’re worth, but you have to control your own destiny.
Jim: Indeed. And you guys sound like you’re doing a really good job. I commend you for your whole approach, everything I’ve heard here sounds great. So, listeners if you’re interested in looking at the leading alternative social network, go check out minds.com. This has been Jim Rutt and Bill Ottman. Thanks for a great conversation.
Bill: Thanks Jim.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.