There have been other attempts at new social networks that have all failed.
How is Planetwork any different?
The founders of Planetwork have been studying and working on these issues since 1998, when they started organizing the first small invitational gathering in the San Francisco Presidio.
In May 2000 they convened the first international conference focused on using IT for global ecology. That seminal event in San Francisco spawned the LinkTank
, an invitational network made up of over 50 information technology and media professionals, who met for two years in San Francisco and NewYork, and in 2002 commissioned the Augmented Social Network (ASN
) whitepaper, presented at the Planetwork conference in 2003.
One of the key insight from the LinkTank Principles was that any truly global network must also be truly decentralized; like Einstein’s universe, its center must be everywhere and nowhere. The LinkTank statement of purpose remains unrealized and more needed than ever:We are dedicated to the creation and maintenance of a digital communications platform, operated as a public interest utility, that will strengthen civil society by enabling people to connect, communicate, make transactions, and self-organize in a manner that is consistent with the highest principles of democracy and reflects an enlightened understanding of the fragile beauty of our planet. We will bring together, develop, promote, and hold as a global public commons, software tools and infrastructure that facilitate the emergence, growth, and vitality of networks of individuals and organizations who share ecological and social justice values, as articulated in the Earth Charter
It was much easier to build centralized platforms, and the first ones to scale dominated and made it impossible for any others to challenge them.
When Planetwork originally pitched the ASN idea to the Soros Foundation in 2002, they had just embraced open source software, and could not even understand, much less imagine, the idea of an online social network for civil society.
Now, 15 years later, all of the implications that the members of the LinkTank foresaw have come to pass, everyone is familiar with social networks, and increasingly understand the failures of running them on large commercial platforms.
At the same time, the blockchain has come to represent the idea of decentralized systems for many, but the template established by Bitcoin based on tokenized assets has not actually proven to be effective for building community, perhaps in part because many efforts have been co-opted by the promise of get-rich-quick ICO’s that absorbed much of the sincere motivation in the boom, and now bust, cycle.
Through it all, founders of Planetwork have continued to focus on the core question. What are the real keys to building truly distributed systems for online exchange of information for society, as well as new models of commence?
In 2015, while building a collaborative communication platform called Spherical, two of them realized how to create simple elegant automated data exchange agreements that they called “link contracts” and filed a patent on JLINC.