Following on from a spectacularly successful PR campaign the social network Ello was the hot new startup bouncing round the echo chamber. The thing that made them different was that they would not do any of that naughty data sales and manipulation stuff that sites like Facebook do. All very laudable but how would they make money? And more importantly why would the masses leave the social networks that do the rest of the stuff (bar privacy it seems) better than Ello do today?
I am a fan of any attempts by a business to be upfront with how it intends to make money. We have been here before with the likes of Diaspora and App.net and others and they all have ultimately failed to become anything like a mainstream success. Not a major issue of course but if these privacy aims are to be copied by the larger networks there needs to be financial success as well I suspect.
These sites need to solve a problem that has not already been solved or provide functionality far above that what is already available today along with privacy levels we all deserve. Easy.
What if we saw a different kind of transparency? We want to make money and this is how we are going to do it and anything we choose to do we will run by you before doing it. Yes we will sell your data, in this way and to these people and we will also make it available to you in the same form, We will invite the marketers to descend etc. Can transparency and more seemingly realistic business models be harmonious or would people hate all the evil marketing focused money making stuff that people would never agree to any of the changes? Smart value exchange for the business models used, micro stock holding based on value to the network etc. etc.
Also what about more radical modes of transparency. I am a big fan of the way Buffer App is open with everything from their burn rate to their salaries. What does a fully transparent social network/web company look like?
In the banking world we have seen a few transparent business models. Barclaycard Ring, a community based credit card with very transparent trading practices (such a shame that it is only live in the US at the moment. Triodos bank is very open and honest about it’s lending practices. In the past Caixa Bank in Spain famously told customers how much profit they made from them and allowed them to invest a portion of that in local charities and social enterprises.
There clearly needs to be a strong mixture of ethics and design to succeed. I don’t think it can be just enough to say we won’t do anything bad with your data or money these companies must obviously also be better in other ways than the companies they wish to disrupt or differentiate themselves from. I wish Ello luck but I think we all know how this story ends. I hope that people keep trying to be as transparent as possible in business, especially banking, but I also hope they can make better services and products that match their ethical aims.
*I was beaten to the punch with this title by the fantastic author Warren Ellis. I stuck with it because it fitted well with my reckons. Here is his article which is clearly much better written as he is an author etc.