Minds.com CEO Bill Ottman believes in the true American spirit. The one that is at the root of all American Values: Free Speech.
It is not just a belief, though, it is his vision. He is taking that vision forward with the help of his abled team at Minds.com
He believes in open source so much so that he made Minds.com, the entire social platform, open source that anyone can replicate to create their own social media network.
You read that right, you can create a fully developed social network by just using a ready built Minds.com code.
Minds.com paving the way for open communication
Bill has been behind this project since 2011, and his relentless contributions to space are well known. He was recently recognized as one of the top influencers in the Crypto space.
Speaking about the move from a fiat model to a blockchain and crypto model, Bill said: “it just made sense for us to move to Blockchain and make our rewards crypto tokens.”
Bill is a big proponent of open source platforms. He believes people will take control back from the giants from misusing their data using open source platforms.
“We did not have these companies a few decades ago, we will not see the same control they exercise today in the next 10 years, the solution to taking control back will be found in open source platforms,” says Bill.
An open platform is the antidote to hate speech
Talking about the ineffectiveness of censorship against hate speech, Bill shared an incredible example. “Daryl Davis who joined KKK group and befriended them, and engaged them in conversation and he got them all to leave the KKK. That’s because more information gives the ability to change their minds, not less information,” Bill concluded.
Many times the hatred is based on the suffocation people feel when they cannot speak up and have their views heard.
If you create a platform where everyone’s views can be expressed, may be, none of these situations would have transformed into hatred.
When you share your contacts with social media, you are breaching their trust
Bill has been working behind Minds for close to 8 years now.
“One of the reasons we do not go viral is because we never ask people to share their contacts with us so we can send invites,” said Bill.
Most social platforms will ask you to ‘invite’ your friends when you join them. The way they do this is by asking you to send invites to contacts on your phone or email.
When you hit “allow”, you are breaching the trust of those that are on your contact list, because, they never gave you permission to share their contact information.
“Network effects love surveillance, because more data you can get to launch the network effect and go viral,” he opined talking about how it is extremely difficult to be ethical in respecting privacy and achieving virality, at the same time.
Blockchain and GDPR are not compatible
Talking about the “right to be forgotten” aspect of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Bill thinks that “Blockchain and GDPR are really not compatible.”
Referring to the implementation of Blockchain aspects on Minds.com, he stated that the platform allows for both on-chain and off-chain entries. When someone is posting information to on-chain, there is a checkbox that confirms their understanding of the information being posted to Blockchain.
“We believe in total transparency, users are making a conscious choice”, said Bill further clarifying “Users can choose their activity to on-chain or off-chain, so they have to voluntarily go on-chain and with wire peer-to-peer transaction, it’s just the transaction itself that is public, not user information.”
There may never be a good solution to this, in general.
Users of these platforms will have to make a conscious choice of whether they want to post information to on-chain or off-chain, ultimately, it comes down to personal freedom of choice.
Rewards are the best use case of Blockchain
Bill is a fan of decentralized systems. He is working on Ethereum based solution to integrate and coil Blockchain solutions into Minds.com platform.
Talking about Blockchain adoption, Bill talked about how usage determines adoption.
“More social platforms are going to be tokenizing their platforms. I think rewards are a very good use case for Blockchain to encourage people to take part. Bringing value to users using tokens is a good model.”
He hopes that by rewarding social engagement in a meaningful way, you bring more users.
One of the better ways to make Blockchain adoption a reality is to integrate the technology seamlessly onto existing platforms and then make the rewards meaningful so that people can use it to boost their social profiles or spend it however they deem fit.
CryptoTapas: You might not know this, but I was one of the 1500 funders you had during crowdfunding on WeFunder. I have your Minds.com coffee cup at my desk.
Bill: That’s amazing man, I am especially excited, so you are now a shareholder!
CryptoTapas: I got excited when you guys made the decision to move from fiat to Crypto. Then recently I saw you on the Top Crypto Influencer list, congratulations by the way, and that prompted me to ask you to do this interview, which you graciously agreed, so thank you.
Bill: Glad to be here.
CryptoTapas: To get things rolling, please tell us about yourself, how you started Minds and what got you started in the Crypto space?
Bill: I came into Tech in sort of an unexpected way. I did not study computer science, I went to University to major in English but I started in the event space and my original incarnation was bringing people together in the physical world, we would do these events. Then I started realizing that bringing people together is not a scalable business.
I was skeptical about Facebook and social media in general. Then I started learning about free open source tools, centralized vs. decentralized applications, and then there was important work to be done on the virtual world.
The internet is a beautiful thing, it is like a central nervous system of humanity and the fact that there is more transparent technology vs. secretive, I understood there is much good work to be done using the internet.
I got very interested in free and open source software and that’s how it happened. If you see the history of the internet, you see this battle raging between open and closed platforms, some open platforms are winning. Look at Bitcoin, Wikipedia, WordPress, look at all open source enterprise tools from docker to different databases, language frameworks, so open source obviously works, so we know that this is going to inevitably going to happen to social media, so we wanted to be part of that movement, that’s how we got started.
CryptoTapas: You have been in the space since 2011, so tell us how you translated Minds from a traditional blog format to a crypto model?
Bill: When we launched our first mobile apps in 2015, we had a digital currency on them that was just a point system that was internal, it was not blockchain.
It was very popular. Users would earn the points for various activities on the app, like engaging interaction. They could then use those points to boost their post or send them to other users as a tip. This rapidly became very popular as it gave people the ability to get exposure to their content that was lacking on other platforms.
Then we started running into some problems with the point system because it was getting gamed and it lacked transparency.
We saw so many benefits of moving from a point system to a token system and realized if we used Ethereum ERC20 tokens we can be totally transparent and users can store their tokens on their own wallets instead on our platform. The reasons were just too many to move to Blockchain.
Way back in 2013, we actually had Bitcoin wallets but it was not really a good implementation so we took it out, so, I have always been interested in Blockchain as a cultural phenomenon, and we ultimately want to support the cryptocurrency and Blockchain movement.
The main reason we switched to a crypto-based model is to create more transparency and give users more control.
CryptoTapas: Every time I listen you talk on media, I feel like you are a guy who is all about free speech. There were even few memes circulating on Whatsapp and other social media asking people who support free speech to switch from centralized Facebook to decentralized Minds.com; with that in mind, what is your vision for Minds.com as it relates to enabling free speech.
Bill: We have much more liberal policies than major social networks. As long as it is lawful in the US, and they are not abusing the platform spamming or creating targeted harassment campaigns that are overly malicious, it can be on the platform. We have good filtering tools for explicit content. It allows the conversation to occur.
We don’t want to be making subjective decisions about content and its ability to be heard.
In terms of centralization vs. decentralization aspect you brought up, we are not fully decentralized, yet. We use certain decentralized services and we are now working on a project called NoMad which will interface with Minds and is fully decentralized. It uses Ethereum wallets and DAT protocol which a peer-to-peer torrent based network which is not in our servers.
We want both of these networks to co-exist and coil together, that is where ultimately we want to go. We do not want to be in the middle of someone’s ability to communicate with the world, its sort of an awkward position to be in. We have an open content policy which is one step in the right direction.
CryptoTapas: In terms of traction since you started 2011, can you tell us a little bit about statistics?
Bill: We are now at 1.5 million registered users with a quarter million active monthly user activity. We do not spend money on marketing or shady practices that plague some major networks. People are looking for places that respect their privacy. We are growing very organically.
We sometimes make it difficult for ourselves to grow. Way some of the major networks grow is by tricking you to give your contact information to them who they go out and ask to join the network.
Unfortunately, when you share your contact information, you are in breach of privacy. Your contacts never gave you permission to share their contact information.
We are struggling to create network effects without compromising privacy. It is not easy to do both at the same time. Network effects love surveillance because more data you can get to launch the network effect and go viral.
We are very happy with our organic growth while sticking to our core values.
CryptoTapas: What are you doing to bring more awareness to the Minds.com platform?
Bill: Lots of interviews, lots of podcasts, and a lot of work just making the Minds platform better every day. We are also working with the influencers to bring them on to the platform, ultimately, the influencers really are the most powerful when it comes to social media and more of them we can get, the better it is for the platform.
CryptoTapas: Since you promote free speech, have you come across any locations where Minds.com was viewed as something that they wouldn’t allow?
Bill: Yes, in Vietnam we got banned by one ISP but interestingly we got 150,000 users from Vietnam about 6 months ago, within just about a week because there is a lot of censorship and surveillance, so some big journalist from there came to Minds and wrote about us. So, yes, we have had issues in some jurisdictions and also problems with Google, Facebook, and Apple.
CryptoTapas: When Minds.com moves to use more Blockchain feature, how are you planning on addressing the GDPR policy aspects, especially ‘right to forget’?
Bill: We do not force any users to post any information to Blockchain. Users can choose their activity to on-chain or off-chain, so they have to voluntarily go on-chain and with wire peer-to-peer transaction, its just the transaction itself that is public, not user information.
When you boost, there are some checkboxes to confirm posting to on-chain. Blockchain and GDPR, in general, are not really compatible and that is a real issue.
CryptoTapas: Do you have disclaimers about that aspect?
Bill: There is a disclaimer, however, we will have to make it more clear to expand it to GDPR
CryptoTapas: What have you learned being in this space for so long, what would you have done differently if you were to start again today?
Bill: I would focus much more on the development and finding full stack developers, right away, and more of them, to build the product better from the get-go.
We were focusing on the content at the beginning but it is as important for the startups to focus on the product itself as much as virality itself. Bringing a full team of full-stack developers who are committed, communicate well and vested in the project would be my priority. It’s very hard to find great developers who are really invested. Developers are your most powerful asset.
CryptoTapas: Do you think we will ever get back the control of our own data and privacy from giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook?
Bill: YES, I do.
It will probably take more time, like 10 years, but we will see some major open source alternative to Facebook or Google. I think it is inevitable. There is a natural human instinct to achieve control of our own data.
Remember, this is all new, a few decades ago, we did not have these companies, so in 10 years, we will find a way to take it back.
CryptoTapas: Do you have a personal agenda behind your free speech vision (or rhetoric), what drives it?
Bill: No. Only in the sense that humanity will understand itself well only when you have full access to the full spectrum of data.
If you don’t have free speech then you are denying the community information about itself which is needed in order for us to be able to evolve. I consider it as a basis for knowledge.
Data supports this, empirical studies have shown that censorship doesn’t even work. Even if you want to eliminate hate speech, censorship is the wrong way to go about it. If you want to eliminate hate speech you should create a communication platform that allows the debate to occur in a clear way, otherwise, you are just forcing the ideas and conversations to happen somewhere else, where it is likely to become more radicalized.
We see evidence of this, there was a man named Daryl Davis who joined KKK group and befriended them and engaged them in conversation and he got them all to leave the KKK. That’s because more information gives the ability to change their minds, not less information.
That is the rub here.
We do not have an agenda to have billions of users in our control. We want to enable billions of users to be able to be in control of their own data and information they share. That’s the internet that we need to create.
CryptoTapas: Since you started using Ethereum Network and bringing in more blockchain to Blockchain, what in your opinion is the biggest hurdle for Blockchain to become mainstream and touch lives of the general public?
Bill: More social platforms are going to be tokenizing their platforms. I think rewards are a very good use case for Blockchain to encourage people to take part.
Bringing value to users using tokens is a good model.
The more useful blockchains are and the more useful tokens are, more and more people will come into the space. That’s why we are focusing on giving tokens to the users so that they can advertise their own content using the tokens, creating an immediate value for the tokens they earn.
CryptoTapas: How much exposure does one Minds Token give its users? Where can one get tokens?
Bill: One token will give you 1000 impressions. We sell tokens to fuel our services. We did not have ICO and we use token to organically grow the token usage. We do not sell more than 30,000 in a 6 month period.
CryptoTapas: How big of the team is behind Minds at the moment?
Bill: We are about 13 of us.
One thing important to mention here is that anyone can take our code base and start their own social network. We also help people to launch their own social platform, you can use tokens to avail those services.
We can set them up or you can do it yourself, its all open source and free.
We can integrate token economies of different economies and allow users to federate between networks, etc., although all of this is at its infancy, we are working on it daily.
CryptoTapas: How long does it take for someone to launch their own social network using your open source code?
Bill: If you are using our developers it depends on the customization that customer wants. But if it is a standard launch including apps, it can be done within a day.
CryptoTapas: How have Minds impacted you both personally and professionally?
Bill: It made me understand how difficult it is to run a successful company. Starting a software company in the social world is incredibly challenging. We have had some successes, but it has challenged me to understand how to better work better together as a team, it has taught me how to deal with failures.
It has also given me real inspiration around what people want from the internet. Everyone wants this to happen, they want alternatives, they want to be respected, but most people do not know how.
Freedom is not convenient, freedom is hard.
Every day, I am simultaneously discouraged by the challenges but also inspired by how many people do want this. It also has taught me the value of patience.
It takes time to change the world, patience is probably the number one quality you need if you are looking to change.
You need discipline and urgency but patience is at the core.
We want to compete against Google and Facebook, which as you can imagine, is the hardest thing in the world to do, because they control the majority of social presence.
It is funny that it is impossible yet inevitable that change will happen, whether it is us or somebody else. The resilience of open source and decentralized projects is far greater than proprietary centralized interests. Just from the information access perspective, its open, so more people will have the ability to work on it.
CryptoTapas: How do you achieve work-life balance in life?
Bill: No phones in bed. That’s an important one, the bedroom is a sacred space. Read more books. Exercise more.
I want to integrate ‘less usage’ of the app so that users can find incentives to actually living life outside of the smart devices.
On weekends, I do my best to stay away from screens except when watching a movie with the family. It takes a lot of discipline and I create barriers between work and family life.
One of the challenges working on the social app is sometimes you are not working but you are using Minds, because I like it and I am using it for personal use. It is difficult to convince my family that I am not working.
It’s a constant challenge when you love your job so much that you enjoy it in leisure time, but its difficult to convince your family that you are disconnected.
CryptoTapas: What is your elevator pitch for Minds.com?
Bill: It is a social platform that respects your freedom, rewards you for our contribution and protects your privacy.
CryptoTapas: What excites you to work on this project and take the vision forward?
Bill: I like this idea, as a company, constantly migrating our operations to open tools. For example, we left Github and moved to Gitlab.
What excites me is purifying my use of apps, on a personal level and on a corporate level. Building things that we as a team want to use for ourselves.
We also cannot we cannot solve all the problems but for the problems we can solve we want to be able to use them ourselves. This constant process of making your personal and corporate stack pure, that really excites me because making progress and when a company uses all these tools, it’s a good sign for the market in general.
Thank you for reading this article.
Everything in this article is an opinion, not an advice of any kind. This material has been prepared for general informational purposes only and it is not intended to be relied upon as accounting, tax, investment, legal or other professional advice. Please consult with a professional for specific advice.
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About the author
RK Reddy holds two Masters degrees, one in Accounting and another in Business Administration with over 15 years of experience in the financial services industry.
RK Reddy is an ardent fan of Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies. You can see the excitement about this new technology in every article on Cryptotapas.com. Sometimes this excitement leads to an overly optimistic view. Guilty as charged. RK Reddy says “what may seem like an ‘overly optimistic expectation’ today may become an everyday norm in 5-10 years; look at the history of cars or airplanes, Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies belong to a similar frame of reference.” Of course, that is just his opinion.