WhatsApp and Instagram is owned by Facebook, the three companies together is “Big social” or “WIF”. Facebook is so big that if it were to abuse it’s position, it could do commercial or political manipulation on a large scale. It would likely go undetected if they slightly suppress or promote certain posts or discriminate in the pricing algorithm between ad buyers. It has become a problem on it’s own, but in combination with other companies it is even worse.
Facebook together with a few other companies totally dominate social media. From a European point of view all of these companies are foreign. To make this point clear we call it a “foreign monopoly” instead of just an oligopoly on social apps. If these companies one day would decide to covertly work together, on some political topic, they would have dangerous influence over the European population. Luckily USA is a friendly country and it will probably stay like that, so any attempts on social manipulation are unlikely to happen. The potential damage to Europe would be large though, so even if the risk is small we should work towards breaking up that foreign monopoly.
We have a situation where about 100% of social app market are held by American companies. The best way to solve this problem is to dilute their market share. We do this by creating European companies to take back a part of the market. A healthy mix of 50-50 % between American and European companies would be an ideal situation. By the first look of it this seems impossible to achieve as the companies are already mature and very big.
Starting small and growing steady and organically is the sensible way to do it. The first goal is to take back 1% of the market simply by being different and slightly better. You might laugh and say it’s impossible to create something better than the big ones, but is it really impossible? First we look at the technical aspects of it all.
Big social can copy any technical feature in a very short time. We have seen how Snap inc. invented stories. Compared to us, Snap is a big company backed by venture capital, but that was no mach for Facebook. Stories became very popular and Facebook simply implemented the same functionality in their apps. Instagram stories then quickly became more popular than Snapchat stories. It’s the network effect combined with unlimited marketing money that makes this possible. They don’t even need money to market it, as the whole company is the marketing machine.
Facebook can just flip a switch and boom, everyone on Instagram not only knows about it, but also has the feature installed on the phone. If we want to reach a billion people through marketing, that would be impossible given our zero size budget. The Snapchat episode with stories show us that being technically better on some features and having millions in marketing budget is not enough. Snapchat ended up doing pretty well, but they had enormous VC backing and a good product. For us that is not the case, and also not something we aim for. Some other strategy is needed, something big social would really struggle with.
When we look at the non technical parts of an app company there is a good chance of creating something they cannot copy. We have a problem “the foreign monopoly”, which is an imbalance towards huge American companies. A small European company is the better choice from our European point of view.
Facebook is a big American company, they can never become a small European company. It’s impossible for them to copy it.
When I say Facebook I usually mean Instagram and WhatsApp. Somehow it’s a struggle to make the point that we’re not primarily aiming to make a Facebook alternative in the sense of the app, more like an Instagram alternative. But from a business point of view it’s the Facebook alternative as they own everything. If you say alternative to Facebook people think that you’re trying to build a slightly clunky old school app.
Anyway, as it is now our product is rough and unpolished. To our users it’s worth suffering through this challenging period, because we’re that small European company working towards a healthier balance. Given that we can Kickstart the company the apps can be improved. When we reach a point where our apps are equally good with big social, we can perhaps invent something and take the lead for a moment. Very quickly they will just copy the features and give it for free to a billion people. We can not reach a billion people just by pushing a button. However we’re still that small European company that is on your side. Now with an equally good app.
A monopoly is bad enough as it, but a foreign monopoly is worse. Taxes and advertising money that previously was in Europe is now being drained out of the union. Jobs are created over there, not here. Our newspapers are struggling. Anonymized big data can be used for research, by them on us. But it cannot be done by us on ourselves without asking them first.
With technology improving faster than ever, especially machine learning and robot technology, almost anything can happen in the future. The creative person can easily imagine a technological dystopia. The best way to prevent that, is to make sure not to fall behind the big countries. When there is technological balance between USA, China and EU there is a good chance of both peace and stability. The dystopia will not happen in that case and instead our lives improve tremendously. We just need to reverse climate change, which is a tall order, but still possible.
The existing technological imbalance between USA and EU is growing bigger. With this in mind, we should actively choose local apps.
The network effect is strong of course, but it’s easy nowadays to install several apps. You and me easily switch between apps on the phone and nothing stops us from using both the American and European app in parallel. There is no reason to delete the American apps, unless you want more privacy. Keeping them comes with an advantage.
Say for example that you use WhatsApp and you want to start using our messenger “Albin.chat”. Instead of convincing all your friends to switch, which is very hard to do, you can just use our app with some of your friends. Let most of your friends take their time to decide if they want to switch or not, not everyone is an early adopter. Some switch early, some later and some only when literally everyone else have already switched. By being on WhatsApp in paralell, you make it easy for them to be friends with you, while also supporting the European cause. You can even have our messenger dormant to start with, say you’re first to install it, no one else. Well, I suggest you keep it, and eventually one of your friends also hear about it and downloads it. Maybe it’s the same day, maybe it takes months, but they find you there. Do the same with our alternative to Instagram “Albin.cc” and our alternative to Twitter/Facebook “Albin.social”.
The strategy would be to slowly, but steadily build something like a “spare” system that is usable and improving steadily. Our alternative. A little bit like Galileo, the European positioning satellites. Someone long time ago thought it would be good to have our own satellites. I’m thankful for this, no individual country in EU could have done it alone, but the size of EU together could make such a system. Now we have Galileo and it’s even technically better than GPS and almost as good as the Chinese one. If the American president wakes up one day and says something like “You know what guys – we should play a prank with the Europeans. Let’s turn of the GPS over Europe and enjoy the chaos that unfolds.” It’s a silly example, but stranger things have happened through out history. If anything like that happens, we can just switch over to Galileo and enjoy our day like any other day. You never know how things change in the future. EU did a truly good thing for our independence that day, when they started with Galileo. For every technology, from apps, autonomous cars, drones and rockets, we should have a European alternative.
In this article I’m talking about crowd funding a company with two employees, so the budget is obviously very much different than putting satellites in space. But the principle is the same, they have technology X, we should have technology X. Balance is good. They have all social apps, we should have at least have a small alternative.
Ideally we have a balance on the social app market of 50-50, but that is not immediately possible. It is better to have 99.9-0.1 and be ready to grow if more people want to switch at some point. I’m at that point. I want European social apps and I’m ready to pay 1.99€/month for a WhatsApp- Instagram-Facebook alternative package to get it off the ground. Ironically I’m not much of a public poster, more a user of messengers. But a photo feed, a general feed and a messenger is a good package and is fun to work on. Not everyone need to post everything public.
Europe have a chance now to do social apps better, with more sensible rules on advertising. (No ads of course for paying members.) It seems like some countries are playing divide and conquer on themselves just by buying ads on big social. That’s not a development we need in Europe.
If you look at big social and think that something should be done. Consider joining our pre-Kickstarter group (for free). To succeed with a Kickstarter campaign, a large group of people must be ready to spread the message at given times during the active month. Also the message must be refined before the launch and other preparations be made. A lot of people must know about a Kickstarter campaign before it happens.