Future forum types: what best serve our needs?

As I note in the welcome message, our goal with this forum is purposeful interaction. This can involve many things—discussion that moves ideas forward, exchange of useful information, development of sub-communities, jobs and hiring, services transactions, new partnerships, connections that build long-term relationships, and more. We are especially focused on those that advance the crucial needs of our movement, including political organization/mobilization and the building of strategically important projects.

Informative profiles are an important part of this. But the medium of engagement will help shape the conversation, facilitate certain types of interaction and discourage others, and attract some people and not others.

We’ve started with a traditional internet forum, partially because the software—discourse.org—is open source and flexible, and because it can be conducive to thoughtful discussion. But we’re open to other styles; analogs could be Twitter, Reddit, Facebook groups, live chat, and more. The important thing is formats that allow useful and actionable information to be shared, and facilitate the building of the trust necessary for such purposeful interaction (in contrast w/ the consumption/entertainment of many platforms that requires little or no trust).

Whatever formats we choose, we will invest in strong groups features (including private groups)—something critical to the sort of organization we need. This will empower leaders/moderators to build sub-communities focused on particular projects or shared goals, and no matter the primary styles of social media, will allow types of engagement unlikely in an open general-purpose forum.

Please let me know any thoughts you have on this, and what formats you believe would be helpful for the type of interaction you hope to find here.

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I echo this 100%. Software should never be a serious limiting factor; it’s just code. And it shouldn’t shape culture and community per se, but rather facilitate its natural expression to the utmost, and yeah cultivate virtue. Of course, the Algorithm deployed in social software often serves to encourage and entrench our baser instincts: overconsumption, promiscuity, idle entertainment, and so on.

That happens to be why I prefer blogs and forums, things that are digital examples of “slow technology”, practically yeoman in culture. Its origins are in fact very independent and many of its earliest adopters and innovators were right and right-leaning. Deeper and lengthier formats – with a barrier to entry – literacy, some intelligence, and deliberateness are a few examples! – can lead to deeper engagement and relationship-building, perhaps more likely to manifest in real world activity.

But here’s the challenge and opportunity: We now have all the affordances and advancements made by social technologies after forum’s and blogging’s (first) golden era waned. We also have dirt cheap commodity infrastructure that is simply not readily censored.

One approach would be to effectively parasitize the big social platforms, using them as a mere delivery or distribution mechanism (which in itself isn’t so valuable in an era of bits). Strategically and in a very targeted fashion, you can draw select people away from them, and to a place like here. It’s not that you leave those venues completely; they’re just more like a waiting room and bulletin board pointing to where the action really happens.

Another approach is to leverage the low costs and ubiquity of hardware and fast reliable internet. These simply did not exist at this scale during the heyday of blogging and forums. Nowhere close. And even simple usability is vastly improved.

This second approach can be implemented in a few ways, but one is to sell a box for $200. You plug it into your home router. This box is a commodity single board computer running a Linux stack and a bunch of vetted/endorsed/custom-developed software. Could include things like media servers to stream files to your television, or filter out ads/trackers before they even reach your computer. But it also includes things like a self-hosted Mastodon/decentralized Twitter node.

The key to all this is usability. In many ways, all of the pieces exist. It’s all ready, if you have time and knowledge to piece it together. But it might as well not exist, probably 0.0001% of users host what amounts to a bunch of web apps from their house. Maybe 1% of developers even do this.

What’s needed is a giant abstraction layer on top of it all. Make it utterly trivial to set up a node, analogous to setting up a Twitter account, and that’s it. Self-hosters prioritize customization and advanced functionality, which can be leveraged by a team to preconfigure the experience for the end user. Get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t matter, add functionality that does.

Just plug the box in, visit a website (and one barely knows it, but it’s served from that box) and fill out a form. A few options, a sign up, and that’s it. Now you have your own effectively permanent Google Docs, Dropbox, Blog, Forum, and ________.

Very difficult to censor or deplatform en masse or individually; you’re talking about a consumer product that might be running on millions and millions of dynamic IPs. Add increased usage of VPNs and yeah. Very little of what’s involved in any of this is particularly sophisticated technology. It just took a while to be cheap and ubiquitous.

The closest anyone’s come to this is with modern NAS devices. But these are marketed for geeks, the UIs are generally terrible, they’re expensive, and our objective here isn’t really to store many and many files (as is their primary purpose). Self-hosted apps are an afterthought on them, and they’re subject to aforementioned security flaws and the assumption that folks are to become sysadmins.

But that special sauce that I elided, whatever connective tissue will serve as the end user’s UI, the hardware setup, and ultimately link these boxes in some fashion conducive to network effects – that’s where the work is to be done.

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I like this concept, particularly building sub-communities, and also the concept of self-hosted apps.

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Awesome Grey! It looks like you have a design background. I wonder how you’d envision this from a user perspective; where to draw the line between some customizability and ease of use (or even just maintaining user focus toward what matters). Lots of interesting facets to the problem.

Now you have your own effectively permanent Google Docs, Dropbox, Blog, Forum, and ________.

Custom hardware angle sounds similar in ambition to Helm, which Balaji recently mentioned:

Admittedly no forum/blog support yet, but since they appear to be intent on replacing Google’s office suite (email, cal, files) perhaps those are on their roadmap too.

Also, it’s not cancel-proof - mainly mentioning it here for anyone looking to degoogle their personal communications asap:

Very difficult to censor or deplatform en masse or individually…

Urbit, which runs on any personal computer, looks more promising to that end. It’s design to-date has been downright hostile to onboarding normies ($$$, tech acumen) but they’re working to remove those obstacles and make it broadly accessible. “Userspace” apps are the focus of Urbit’s annual conf next month in Austin - I’ll be attending, hope other forum members will be too:

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Urbit is interesting, but that hostility seems to me fatal unless you’re targeting a very specific subset (very possible). I think any technical argument for its supposed invulnerability is pretty flawed: it’s essentially a blackbox, a rewrite of an entire stack. Okay, that’s one approach.

Another is to leverage code and OSs that’ve been vetted for upwards of 60 years, where appropriate, and isolated containers of apps on top. Then you have end to end encryption.

You can encrypt data before it leaves the box, randomize it’s first hop, put the whole thing under a reverse proxy… your ISP sees nothing unusual, it’s undecipherable generic data, and is more worried about your Netflix usage that’s comprising 98% of your data usage anyway.

I think we have to be mindful of the distance between Google and Big Tech overlords deplatforming, and the clear fact that there are some absolutely wild and insane websites self-hosted or simply on the internet in some way that face virtually no serious threat of deplatforming altogether. The internet was designed to be uncensored and decentralized; we simply want to overthrow the elements that build a forcibly centralizing funnel atop freedom.

The distance there may not be eternal, but even in China, it is trivial to bypass their firewall. In fact, Firefox and Opera offer a single button that when clicked, lets you do just that.

This looks promising and very interesting. I wonder what the dev platform will look like, thank you!

I think it may be something more like a good NAS, which is valuable in itself. But if it’s nice and open, you could package all what I’ve mentioned in an app or external wizard.

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@NateFischer, first you have to get your current onboarding up to snuff.

Found you via Instapundit. Instapundit » Blog Archive » TWO AMERICAS: Startup Will Provide Conservative Alternatives to Woke Corporations….

There were three of us very interested in your mission and none of us could get on board. Your processes don’t follow the expected processes.

  1. The link in the major publication that Instpundit linked to goes to a page that is not found.
  2. Found the subscription box on the front page (not located in the menu) signed up, and expected a confirmation email, one that I would have to click to confirm. You don’t give one. Just sign people up.
  3. Tried to reply to that subscription notice, and the email gets rejected by Office 365. I don’t know if it is your server setup, but I’ve never had another email rejected like the one I got from trying to reply from you. ((My email address, an Office365 email address) is not authorized to relay messages through the server that reported this error.)
  4. Tried to join the forum, got a weird error message, captcha, finally got through and it said it would send a confirmation email. Didn’t get one. Thought signup was a no go. On a whim I came back and just tried the user name and password and I got in and I am able to post.

Anyhow, just thought you should know.

Your mission is too important to have people drop off!

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Chris, I like where you are going with this.

Rather than running your own server at home, I’d suggest using a VPS to run your custom set of apps for a few dollars a month. Nothing to buy, trivial deployment, and professional infrastructure. Widespread availability of commodity VPS hosting across many countries makes it difficult to disrupt or deplatform.

Hosting anything interesting using residential broadband can be problematic.

Thanks! Yes, that article caught us in the middle of some rolling updates—will have to stage better for future rounds.

You might consider forums based on locations. This gives people considering moving to red states a chance to learn more about a given area and to meet people of that given area ahead of time. It also gives people in the same area with similar values a place to connect.

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That’s the goal with this one, but I’d like to move to something even stronger for local organization.

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