Mark Zuckerberg as the Greatest Self-Help Guru of All Time?

It may be controversial, but I think that social media’s power to manipulate is something we should turn to our own advantage. But this is not going to happen until we become the customer rather than the product. Facebook’s current business model can’t deliver on this.

In an Opinion Piece I had published recently I argue that there should be a paid FacebookForMe service which is subscription-based. Once we get in the driver’s seat and have Facebook working for us, it could unleash what its algorithms know about human behavior from its detailed observation of its nearly two billion users.

When we signed up for such a service we would tell it the type of person we want to become and it would then gently ‘nudge’ us (in the behavioral economics sense) to become the type of people that we want to become.

If you have a moment, check out the Opinion Piece and let me know what you think. If you comment at the end of the article I will respond there. It’s called Could Mark Zuckerberg become the Greatest Self-Help Guru of All Time

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Great article, and you are spot on @paulwduignan! This is certainly a business model that would work.

Personally I think, like you, that the solutions should be found in these kinds of business models. I would go even further than that. IMHO the problems currently defined by the Center for Humane Technology do not address the root causes properly, as I’ve argued in other topics. We need entirely different, better economic models - better alternatives for modern capitalism, if you will! Business models that can arise alongside grassroots movements (like this community), because in the current business world the incentives are just not there. Its all about the money, making a profit.

I am thinking about a non-profit humane tech startup, where I try to give shape to these ideas, and that has concepts that are similar - though different - to your article.
The ideas involve themes like sustainability and happiness and leading a modest lifestyle, rather than striving to become rich and famous (though that is still possible if that is your ambition).

I have shared your article on LinkedIn. Thanks so much, you are on to something! :slight_smile:

I would like to add that this kind of business model (sort of) is getting popularity… but in a way that is dystopian, to say the least: Examples of what is coming to us in the near future

Hi, great that you are working in the area of developing ways of getting tech to serve users. It is so important that that happens and I think that there are tremendous opportunities for innovation in this area. It may well be that the big players can’t see where things are likely to evolve to. Thanks for commenting.

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Very interesting proposition.

I certainly think there is a move towards subscription models that offer you the value (or users become stake or shareholders in the value they create), rather than this faustian pact approach of free at point of access but your data is siphoned off for commercial use. I believe Berners-Lee made this point recently. There are approaches to cross-subsidise free usage for different audiences to reduce the risk of a two-tier internet/technology system. Regarding your particular suggestion, my question would be how do we ensure that these social networks and media don’t reinforce unhealthy (according to some) normative assumptions about who we should/could be, or cause a convergence in ideas about what will make us better or happier people? Are there any issues about too much quantification of self and the balance between idiographic and nomothetic interpretations?

I am certainly an advocate of paid for web services for the sake of privacy and security (email, data storage, VPNs, software) and the photo-sharing site I use recently became a collectively-funded operation with open community governance. The problem with existing behemoths like facebook and google is what level of subs would be necessary to replace their revenues from data mining and advertising? Would it cost too much in subs, even with it helping with self-actualisation, or would we need to think more creatively? Could extra value be generated by informing public infrastructure, policy and research (health, transport), with service level agreements with public sector predicated on prevention cost savings using the data provided with active consent (e.g. reduction in pollution from modal shift in travel)? i.e. instead of focussing on ourself as nodes, improving broader wellbeing to improve our own?

A vital step might be the effective use of digital ledgers to give people ownership of their data and sanction who can use if, and for what aim (and understand in the process what value it creates), and to track and combine data across platforms. I suspect most people on here know more about that than myself.

I beg to differ. We’ve already made a big mistake by giving Facebook the power to control our present. Giving it the power to control our future would be disastrous.

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Thanks Jon for your thoughtful comments. Regarding what I see as the ‘big’ issues about normative assumptions and who we should/could be, these are very important but very large. My suggestion for changing the incentive structures for social networks - aligning them with users actual interests - would help here but the issues are very big and deep discussion needs to be had on these. I just think that if we were paying for the service we would have more leverage about it operating in our interests, it would be a start but it would not solve all of these issues by itself.

The question of how much it would cost and how much people would be willing to pay given that they have had the service for free in the past is the central issue as you identify. As I think I mentioned in the article, if by being nudged to buy less, users spent less and saved more than their subscription that would be interesting. But whether it would be enough to motivate them to actually sign up for a paid service we would have to see.

With you I can see lots of opportunities for other ways of funding social media to move it away from just being advertising-based. In countries which have health, education and social services funded by the government there is no reason why they might not come to regard social media as a similar sort of basic service which needs to be paid for or subsidized. Your particular suggestions are wonderfully interesting.

The idea of people being able to own their own data and port it across platforms would really open up the possibilities for disruption in this area. From a strategic point of view presumably Facebook and Google will be currently wondering if pressure for such ownership and porting is inevitable unless they change their paradigm fast. Perhaps this could motivate them to look at a suggestion such as the FacebookForMe paid service I’ve suggested.

Jaski, thanks for your comment. This is a major issue - when you have potentially very powerful institutions which people don’t trust with that power. The first question seems to we whether access to social media is a basic human right. I suspect that soon it will become regarded as so. This means that the idea of opting out will not be particularly viable for most people. If this is correct then the next question is whether you can run such institutions in a decentralized way and whether you can get around the problem of control in that way.

What do you think of these two ideas? Is social media something that everyone should/needs to have access to? And secondly, can it be delivered in a way that does not give enormous power to the delivery agents?

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Hi Paul, very good points. I previously started 2 threads on these 2 topics…

See: Should we officially amend the human rights charter to account for tech?

The right of access to social network is a difficult issue, though. Such as how would you account for trolls when they have that right? Interesting article to demonstrate the problem here: Reddit and the Struggle to Detoxify the Internet

See: Towards the Vision of The Decentralized Web

Okay, this is not about the institutions being decentralized, but the tech itself, giving control of personal data back to the individuals, among others.

Hi, so interesting I was just thinking more about social media being a human right a few minutes ago. Yes about giving data back to individuals very interesting thanks.

As I see it, access to human products can’t be a basic human right… only access to natural resources. When Mark Zuckerberg talks about making internet accessible to all (, he’s basically masking his plans to take over the world. Nature is different. It doesn’t bite back. Its algorithms don’t screw up. It doesn’t give us mental illness.

We all know that social media is nothing but Facebook, Twitter, and maybe a couple more apps. They’re basically centralized. It’s impossible to decentralize them except by way of local legislation. China has its own Facebook and Twitter, and that’s good for them in the sense that atleast the perpetrators of mental illness are local… if a couple of Chinese apps that control 1.4 billion souls can be called “local” at all…

So I’m afraid I don’t think there can be one self-help guru for the whole of the world… even the Buddha can’t fit the bill.

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FB, Twitter et al are current winners in the western world. Doesn’t mean that has to stay that way, though they are arguably very dominant currently :slight_smile:
With regards to (de)centralization you have decentralized platforms that are quite popular already, like for example:

Hi Jaski, thanks for your comments. Interesting your point about them being centralized and impossible to decentralize. They may end up being viewed as like the power grid or water reticulation system in which case the economics of utilities would come into play.

You are dead right about the ‘self-help guru for the whole world’ it was just a catchy title. But I do think that the way social media functions can have a profound impact on mental health for better or for worse.

Hi Paul,

Excellent article, The idea of a social network that improves users rather than harming them by selling them junk is brilliant.

I can offer my advice as I’ve run websites that rely on ads for 10 years and also am a tech entrepreneurship “expert”.

The subscription idea isn’t feasible since people expect to get this for free. Free is better since you’ll have more users. You could also fully fund the operations though charities and other donors.

However the for-profit model works because the prospect of making money for early investors is needed to grow the company. There are alternate forms of investment such as crowdfunding if you want normal people to own shares or donate, but in some countries crowdfunding is illegal.

I know advertising well, and without targeted ads revenue might be a fraction of what’s possible with targeting. You could however have your company survive with targeted ads, but just those which sell the things you consider to be ok.

Another option is to be ad-free, but to sell user’s data to advertisers. As a user, I would personally prefer this option. I would rather you sell information about me to advertisers so that when I see ads on other sites or apps they are better targeted. And then you could make your service both ad-free and fee-free.

Why not “push” ideas of what is healthy and good onto the users? As we can all see people do not know what is good for themselves! For example, almost all scientific evidence says any amount of alcohol is bad. Another example is meat is deadly and causes 10-20 percent of all deaths! Really I’m not making this stuff up, just facts. There are a lot of other things people could be taught in your social network, besides all aspects of health!

The second big area that works is consuming less! You can’t really do this well on a service with ads. But the push to consume less is so badly needed. Or to put it more accurately, “healthy consumption” since it actually means consuming (buying) less of what is bad, but more of what is good. It’s what’s good for you and not good for the advertisers!

The key is presenting things as “positives” … live longer, be healthier, feel better!

Hi, thanks for that response. You lay out all of the issues and all of your suggestions about what I could be called well-being promotion are fantastic.

A really important point is the one you raise about people not wanting to pay because it is currently free and also the reduction in your user base that would come from charging and the subsequent reduction in the network scale effect.

Regarding your less consumption comments. Do you think that if FacebookForMe or whoever provided the service proved that the user saved many times their subscription fee that people would be motivated to join up?

Is there a possibility that if you had laws regarding data porting - that you could have people all communicating within one basic environment to get the network scale needed, but that if some of them paid they would have a different experience which would be more a FacebookForMe type thing as was mentioned earlier I think in this thread with apps that sort of sat on the edge of basic Facebook.

I think a great way to find out is to ask people what they would want. Are you familiar with lean startup theory? It is a way to find out if an business model works through a process called iteration. You try to test each “iteration” as quickly and inexpensively as possible, always iterating until you hopefully find something that works. With these kinds of ideas they literally fail over 99% of the time so it’s important to keep trying new variants without investing too much time in each one so you can get to that rare one which works. And then once you have the right model, the key to success is actually not just about having the right idea, it’s about also having the right execution, the right team, the right timing all combined with a bit of luck.

So my personal feedback on this iteration, and I am just one potential user, is that no I would not pay. Also in general I know from entrepreneurship studies that people looking to save money or even get discounts etc are not paying customers or will only pay very little.

In the beginning the business model doesn’t even matter because you won’t make any money anyway, and you’ll be focussed just on gaining users and getting funding from either donors or investors. I would recommend you have no fixed business model and you stay open to many potential sources of future income such as freemium, ethical and consensual selling of user data and ethical ads or sponsorships. If you’re then manage to attract massive numbers users, I think you’d have no trouble sustaining the network financially.

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Thx @anon76657042. I am familiar with LEAN. Given your statement on consuming less, you might like this link a lot:


Thank you for the link. I would agree that its about both doing good and doing something of worth.

Sadly, almost all of society doesn’t see the same, most people are too focussed on making the sale or getting the grade. And I would say that focusing on those things has no real worth. We’re trained to value the worthless, to value things like grades and our resume and on “performance” numbers that don’t measure performance but rather measure money. Often increasing “performance” equates to increasing harm. Its soulless, we are too often oblivious to real worth.

I think that if people volunteer, something better can be created than having investors. Its shown in studies that actually people who volunteer do better work that people who are paid. If the project gains traction, maybe it could attracts grants and donations, and then the volunteers could get paid normally as they would of course deserve.

I would suggest a mutual ownership model. This is where all users are the only owners. All profits would be returned to users, either by being used to create a new helpful services or even returned as tiny dividends.

I feel it would become important to have an income flow, used to support growth, mutual ownership, volunteers and ethical working conditions for employees.

Who would still want to use Facebook if we had this as an alternative?

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