[Gail McGowan Mellor is [email protected] on Minds. The banner illustratiom shows CTO Mark Harding, CEO Bill Ottman and COO Jack Ottman. Selfie credit, Bill. While this history is unauthorized, the men at the core of Minds have been generous in giving interviews. For Part I, if you missed it, go here.This is Part II....]
5. OLD KING ZUCK
Once upon a time in the Land of Facebook, King Zuckerberg sat on a thick cushion, watching his 25,000 paid and one billion unpaid workers. As they built his kingdom, he had mined and sold their essences, making hundreds of billions of bucks. King Zuck, feeling clever, stiffly rotated his head to the right, smiled, and batted his eyelashes. Then a bad thought intruded: Bill Ottman’s Minds.com had launched! Angry, Zuck arbitrarily banned 10,000 people. Reconsidering, Zuck consoled himself that Minds had only five developers; Facebook had hundreds.To celebrate his ineffable dominance, King Zuck enacted new restrictions on free speech. Busy forbidding anything inconvenient, however, His Royal Zuckiness did not notice as Mark Harding, Bill Ottman and Jack Ottman flew in over the drawbridge. Oddly, instead of attacking, they set up banners reading PRIVACY and FREEDOM, passed out oranges and apples, and put on a demonstration of how Minds works. As the first million people moved to Minds, King Zuck made sure that the rest would stay firmly under his thumb. He doubled surveillance and ordered suspected dissidents to solve ten Captchas before each post….
Which ends that tale -- because there’s no suspense....
Zuck just doesn’t get it....
He never will.
6. CONCENTRIC CIRCLES
Simply by existing, Minds challenges the congealed power of the tech giants. It's part of a planet-wide, spontaneous movement of young entrepreneurs who are applying technical solutions to the world’s problems in a way that decentralizes power, reveals the inner workings of the old power, strengthens rather than exploits, and delivers sustainable answers.
The Minds code is moreover open source: continuously available to anyone wishing to read it, showing what Minds is doing and whether it keeps its promises. Far from selling users’ data, Minds pays users for what they contribute. Conversations and graphics are richer. People can post almost anything. Minds gives each user tools to control what that individual sees and hears. There is no surveillance. Yada.
Above all, it's fun and there’s a sense of shared adventure, perhaps because each user has control and choices. Jack Ottman, Minds chief operating officer and Bill’s brother, says for example, “You can create your own anonymous profile, not giving Minds any personal information, and still opt into categories of products and services that you want to see advertisements about. That way, companies will reach the parties they desire and the people getting targeted will see the ads they need, but the people will not be identifiable.”
You can block some or all ads with a click within Minds itself. Minds moreover is on the leading edge of something huge and is not acting alone. Bill says: “The tech developers who are intent on distribution are themselves widely distributed. The projects are scattered worldwide, evolving on their own. Some will mature and get adoption, other things are going to die away. Developers of the best tech though find each other. We hook into each other....”
The concentric circles of innovation and competition and the big weaves of cooperation that include Minds are so different from Big Tech in their goals, operation and values that, although they are acting in plain sight, it sometimes does not see them coming.
Creating Minds as a self-supporting social networking site that is a strong supporter of free speech and privacy, and scalable enough to take on the giants, Bill has incorporated open source code and increasingly blockchain. Engaged in the world, networking, he is helping to fund a school in Afghanistan that teaches little girls to code. Minds is a realistic answer to Big Tech and the unconscionable misuse of Artificial Intelligence [see Part I] by corporations like Facebook and Google. Yet Minds until late 2018, Minds was still only nine men, counting Bill and Jack.They are activists, futurists, as well as coders and businessmen. The net community has therefore responded with support. That cultural seachange is happening in smaller ways too, making the enormity of this perhaps easier to grasp....
7. THE WEAVE
For example in 2017, Ramona Radnor, known to her friends as "Xena" was in Peru. She heard that the impoverished village of Belen was covered in plastic litter. The river rises 20’ at flood stage each season, sweeping it clean. Meanwhile however the villagers, denied trash pick-up, live in a dump. That river-borne mess, multiplied by all the villages on the Amazon tributaries, was endangering the mighty Amazon itself, a lung of the planet. So Xena got tall, transparent, biodegradable plastic bags, took them to the village, and inspired thousands of area people to pitch in. In 11 hours of teamwork, they got 5000 bags of plastic trash.The question now was, What to do with the trash?
A friend of Xena's and one of the early Minds team, Ian Crossland (above) found a lowcost on-site way to fuse the plastic trash into rock hard, lightweight poles and bricks. That would give the village people insulated, rot-free boats and homes, save trees, create paid work and keep plastic trash out of the Amazon River Basin -- on a sustainable basis.
Ian went to Peru to help build. This approach to change constantly cross-fertilizes, so as another gift to the village, Ian brought with him a $5 invention by a small tech company in England, the Gravity Light. which by slowly dropping a weight, powers a light or a radio for 20 minutes or recharges a battery. It need only to be picked up again to restart -- a game-changer in places without electricity. Meanwhile, a Dutch teenager, Boyan Slat, had invented the first machine to feasibly attack the huge garbage gyre in the Pacific, which is twice the size of France and contains almost two trillion pieces of plastic. Materializing in tens of thousands of projects, the Gen-X/Millennial decentralized culture of change is not only attacking the challenge of waterborne garbage, but the problem of clotted technical and political power worldwide.
8. LIGHTBULB IN THE BASEMENT
Minds has from the start been undermining Big Tech, moreover, with the help of a veteran of it. Back in 2011, as Bill founded Minds, he developed a comprehensive plan, even adopted the emoji for inspiration, a lightbulb, as its logo. Then he explained his fully-formed vision of the site to his dad, John B. Ottman, Jr. John these days sometimes says, “Hi. I’m John Ottman, otherwise known as Bill’s Father” or pretends that he’s technically naive, “trained only on selfies.” John in fact in his 30-year tech career has been at the top of global corporations -- president of two IBM subsidiaries, an executive in IBM, Oracle and Wang -- and of small, lean companies started in living rooms.
Focused on computer infrastructure, database construction, security and cloud storage, he is definitely no empty suit. In 2011, the year that Bill founded Minds, John had just written the intro to the paperbook release of his hardcover book on cyber security, Save the Database, Save the World!.
In it, he sounded a warning that global retailers, by opening their databases to customers for shopping, had made databases both more valuable and more vulnerable without properly securing them. Nation states were cyber-attacking not only each other but those global corporations, as when China hacked Google. The US was unprepared. In 2008-09 alone there had been over 438,000 breaches. Global corporations like Facebook and Google moreover, by hiding their structural computer code, were preventing others from building on their advances, kneecapping technical progress.
John adds, "The list of major social networks which were fully open source was a very short list...like ZERO!”
He knew that Bill’s plan was paradigm-shifting and that Big Tech would try to destroy it. Most probably, taking advantage of a start-up’s need for cash, it would try to buy or fund it and then squash it. Investing start-up funds, signing on as a Minds co-founder and chairman of the board, John began contributing to Minds his 30 years of expertise in designing and securing large-scale computer systems….
Bill found Mark Harding (@mark, above), the third co-founder, "later that same year, in 2011. We have real synergy, bounce off each other.” Mark, a French horn player and orchestral musician was a student in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Also founder and CEO of Kramnorth, Mark had already created a pioneering work in open source that caught Bill's attention. Covered more extensively in Parts III and IV, Mark is chief technical officer and developer of Minds' worldwide open-source community, which he coded into existence.
John says, “Mark is an elite software developer -- one of the best I’ve known."
What the three founders require of the others working in Minds is skill and teamwork. Beyond that, the team is free range.There's a big, magnificent, forested, ocean-and-stream-filled, needing world out there. If the three Minds founders had all the world's gold, they would neither horde it nor spend it on some concrete and glass monuments to themselves. As I was writing this section, web coder Emiliano Balbuena (@edgebal) was not only from Argentina but working in Argentina, computer-commuting to the others in the cloud. Bill's brother Jack had worked for Minds during his summer breaks while getting a business degree in colege, taken a three-year stint at IBM, and came back to Minds, seasoned. Ian had shot off to help Xena in Peru. An engineer, Nicolas Andres Ronchi Cesarini (@nicoronchi) had just completed an arduous three-week kayaking trek through 1300 kilometers of waters in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Most Minds coders and admins are moreover musicians, so as they work, music is either in the air or in earbuds….
9. MOVING INTO BETA
"Beta" is an invaluable but hair-raising stage of tech construction when users are invited to flood into an only partially-built site. It is necessary. The larger a work of code gets, the easier it is to pull some minuscule well-intentioned character string and have a major portion unravel, or to fix something only to discover later that it works on laptop but not on an Android. In Beta, if Mark made a code change and something went wrong or had been overlooked, though, he instantly heard from people on laptops and handhelds, Linux, Windows and Apple, Android and iPhone, in every imaginable part of the site, what the effect was.
In 2015, as Minds entered Beta there were still only four on staff: Bill, John, Mark and Ian. Only one, of those Mark, was a developer.
Yet visible on Github, the open source code of Minds was already the guts of a social networking platform, like Facebook's, painstakingly reverse-engineered. Adding great value, Minds had made it open source, with free speech, user privacy, muscular security and a placeholder for an in-house crypto market.
The men building Minds were part of Anonymous. Playing on the surface of the web or diving into its depths, many members of Anonymous were watching. Rumors though embellished greatly. An article in Wired UK was entitled "Anonymous backs encrypted social network 'Minds'". Online chatter led to videos and posts saying that Anonymous was "founding its own social networking site, Minds". Predictably, some Anons took great offense at the suggestion. A worldwide hacktivist network with countless (because anonymous) members and no ruler, Anonymous has no way to reach consensus, and cannot “back” or “endorse”. The certainty however was that countless members of Anonymous were intrigued by Minds....
Meanwhile tiny Minds had challenged Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo etc. to a global debate on privacy. (That was three years ago. Still no takers....) Therefore Minds entered Beta in June, 2015 to approving laughter, applause and best wishes in tech publications. For a one-person developer team especially, Beta was a force multiplier, putting eyes everywhere. Anyone opting into the Beta version of a site however knows, or ought to know, that the site is still under major construction, there is a lot of experimentation and fine-tuning going on. As major upgrades are integrated, the whole site burps.
Non-tech users moreover may find that the darned thing has no dashboard, no windshield and no seats yet. The front-end, the part visible to non-tech people, was primitive -- though the fidelity of graphics reproduction was already stunning. Bill explains, "Users want us to focus on the frontend, all the fancy bells and whistles on the video player. x, y and z all over the place. Those are important but we have to balance that with building out the backend -- the database, the architecture for handling the newsfeed, the scalability. We could work on the backend for a month and, you know, no-one would notice. We can do any of those things, but not all of things at once.”
The team moreover was taking turns staffing Help and Support, identifying themselves simply as @john or @ian. Calm and courteous in the face of repeated questions and user rants, graphing data, they kept their fingers on the community's pulse. Bill says that Minds "moved in sine waves of energy and new users, picking up momentum, and that kept us motivated…." Still, so much odd stuff happened in the over two years of Beta that some users suspected that Facebook had a hand in it. Under that pressure, deeply-buried, pinpoint contradictions in Bill Ottman’s original plan would surface as cracks. The solutions would either end Minds or take Minds to a much higher level. Here, I therefore need to explain the three cultures that were duking it out in the background, because some of the wilder punches were -- and are -- hitting Minds….
10. A REAL LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
Small business -- always the main job creator -- blooms naturally along any communications, transportation or energy infrastructure. There have been three very different approaches to that fact in the US, where Minds is based. All three systems, although the main one is in tatters, are operating right now. For those who can't tell them apart, it’s hard to understand what Minds is reacting to. The first system, public opportunity creation, thrived for 200 years, building the wealthiest country with the most equitably distributed income in world history. The second approach, the "trickle down" economy controlled by global corporations, has lasted forty years, 1978-2018, with Facebook a big part of it, and has destroyed most of those gains. Global corporations moreover deliberately masquerade as the old opportunity economy. The third system, power distribution and transparency, is the rising future.
Public Opportunity Creation
Beginning 1789 when the Constitution was signed, the US people, through the federal, state and local governments that they were creating, heavily invested public money in creating opportunity. The usual way was building and maintaining -- or at least funding -- key forms of public infrastructure. The US Post Office backed by Benjamin Franklin had been written into the U.S. Constitution. It provided mail service, previously reserved for the rich, to ordinary people even in the most far-flung forested areas. Villages formed around the rural post offices. In a time when rivers were the main highways, the US Corps of Engineers for example kept the rivers dredged ahead of the pioneers, Alexander Hamilton's idea.
Over the centuries, much changed, but opportunity creation was a constant. Federal land grants and homestead acts from the first gave land (seized from Native Americans) to any white male citizens -- or newly-arrived white male immigrants -- willing to care for it. By the 1860s, homestead land was given out to women and black men as well. In the 1950s, black ribbons of interstate highway spread across the entire green nation, instantly getting new workers to new jobs and new products to new markets, fueling tourist booms in mountains and on beaches. Then with decades of tax-funded government and university work, the US created the most astounding public infrastructure of all time: the Internet.
Global Corporate Takeover and Trickle Down
Not surprisingly, little US start-ups --- getting free cutting-edge public infrastructures, free US Navy protection in the shipping lanes, and a publicly-educated, highly productive workforce, while eventually feeding into the richest consumer market on the planet --- had often turned into giant corporations like Ford, General Electric, General Motors, Exxon, Apple and Microsoft. Providing well-paid jobs and paying taxes, US corporations were seen as paying dividends back to their major investor, the US taxpayer. That set-up, plus union pressure, created the largest, most increasingly diverse middle class in history. Hard to believe in the early 21st century but most politicians actually worked for those who elected them!
In the 1980s, however, just as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Ottman were born, everything suddenly changed. Global corporations took over.
Zuckerberg and Ottman grew up watching their generation's inheritance of Main Street prosperity, freedom of the press and representative democracy destroyed by globals that looked like the big US corporations, the mainstream media and the US government but weren't. Like spaceships which had been hidden among us for a century, major corporations led by General Motors [GM] and General Electric [GE], beginning in Detroit and Louisville in 1978, broke their contracts with workers and small business suppliers. They then lifted off from the United States, Canada, Europe and other industrial centers.
Each incorporating in all countries at once, they became the multinationals, transnationals or “globals.” People were fatally slow to react, because the names were so trusted and familiar. [“Good old General Motors? Why, my family’s worked there for three generations!”.... ”General Electric? What’s the harm in a company that makes washers and dryers?”]
Each richer than a small country,, globals meanwhile bought all of the existent US print and broadcast media -- rendering a pre-Internet population blind and deaf. GE, a major weapons manufacture, for example bought NBC, MS-NBC, etc. US “news” has been for the last 40 years largely global corporate propaganda, banging the drums for lucrative war. The new globals also bought US politicians wholesale, severing the voters' hold. A Princeton study shows that the opinion of 90% of us has had "near zero" impact on Congress for decades. Global CEOs took over the regulatory bodies meant to protest citizens from excesses in their industries, and the captive regulatory bodies began -- not to protect citizens from globals but to protect globals from citizens.
Greatly thanks to the Federal Reserve, the Main Street economy, the people's economy, went into a nosedive from which it has never recovered.
In that media blackout, with our government no longer responding to us, globals sent previously well-paid US jobs to countries which provided near-slave labor, and destroyed economies like that of Mexico, forcing workers north into the US, further undercutting US wages. Globals were still selling into the US market – polluting US air, water and land, destroying neighborhoods with Big Box stores and hammering our infrastructures – making trillions in the process; but no longer paying sufficient taxes even to cover the damage. Simultaneously, globals ordered pet politicians to shift the globals' part of US local, state and federal taxes and damage repair onto the suddenly disappearing middle class.
Politicians redirected any tax money that was left into the globals' pockets. The Internal Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that today the fossil fuel globals alone receive $10 million a minute in subsidies. Meanwhile $22 trillion sits hidden in tax havens from Delaware to the Grand Caymans. As whistleblower Edward Snowden showed, US government agents loyal to the people were replaced with global corporate contractors privy not only to the nation's secrets but to yours and mine. Safety nets shredded, and infrastructures that had been the wonder of the world were sold off. Others, like the bridges, began to fall into dangerous disrepair.
Globals acquired armies. Whether we call it "the New World Order" as the Right does or "The One Percent" as the Left terms it, most folks realize that there’s a global-corporate world-government, based in the US....
Mark Zuckerberg, born in 1984, created Facebook when he was a kid in college, growing up to be the best-known face of corporate globalism, "Big Brother". Facebook is the least trusted of all the media sites.
Power Distribution and Transparency
Signs of change though were by 2015 everywhere. Moving to blockchain, decentralizing technology, young entrepreneurs were fighting Big Tech by pulling the rug out from under it. Bill Ottman, born only a year later than Zuckerberg, is on the steadily advancing edge of the technical part of that nonviolent, creative revolution.
Freedom starts with funding. Gallup reports that by 2020, over 50% of US voters will be registered Independent. Already in 2018 61% of Us citizens, 71% of Millennial citizens, believe we need an entirely new party or two. Meanwhile, they're refusing to vote for "representatives" who take global corporate money. The so-called “Bernie Sanders Movement” in the Democratic Party was actually the Gen-X/Millennials (people under age 50) rising to overthrow the Washington Establishment, fighting Hillary Clinton's huge global warchest with contributions that averaged $27 apiece..
In its first seven years, Minds received no money from globals, financiers or venture capitalists [VC's]. John Ottman provided all start-up money for two years. A crowdsourced funding in 2013 brought $250,000. Another in SEC regulation crowdfunding in 2017 brought $1.03 million from 1,541 investors in 19 days, a US record. Minds gets additional income through $5 a month subscriptions and selling ad space and other products (like software troubleshooting) to its users .
It would not be until late 2018 that Minds, by then solid in its identity, would accept any venture capital, even then selling only 20%, retaining full control and choosing a venture capitalist [see Part IV] fully in tune with their goals.
One giant-lightbulb realization is that globals are controlling us by controlling our ledgers and access points. The worldwide transparency and decentralization movement is therefore creating its own infrastructure, the "blockchain", a system of widely-distributed, permanent digital records that could clean up elections, end our reliance on bankers, even put us back on a digital version of the gold standard.
All of that clash of possible future civilizations was coming to a head during the slightly over two years that Minds spent in Beta, which ended in March, 2018. Those years raised thorny policy questions for the Ottmans and Mark Harding to answer. Can anonymity and security co-exist? Are hate speech, spam or child porn a form of protected free speech? It began to change some minds in Minds. Big Tech's timing in suddenly expelling the Alt-Right from almost everywhere just as a still young Minds got going in Beta for example put Bill in particular to the test....
To read Part I, if you missed it: click "Bill Ottman's Minds, Leading the Charge Against The Globals". Part III-A is "Artificial Intelligence, Cambridge Analytica's AI Psyops Campaign, The Banned Alts and Minds.com". Part III-B is "The Nuts and Bolts of Freedom of Speech." Part IV is Minds Enters the Cryptocosm in the Summer and Fall of WTF??? Part V Minds Confronts The Shadow Tyranny and Declares Independence