June 1 2023 GM

From TCU Wiki
Glitter Meetups

Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IF Square on the TCU Mattermost, at 9am EDT / 1pm UTC. Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.

Let's explore alternative models to the destructive digital media attention economy through Sparkable

Today’s information environment is dominated by the advertisement business model and heavily concentrated on a few giant technology corporations for whom attention and profit maximization are more important than social cohesion and progress. This has led to hyper-personalized filter bubbles, extreme societal polarization, hate speech, the erosion of human rights and democratic norms, and countless other issues.

This glitter meetup will present the details of how I’m working on a fundamentally new not-for-profit business model for the internet, in which all incentives work towards a better information environment. One that brings out the best in us instead of the worst, by rewarding the creation of mutual understanding instead of attention-grabbing. I speak on information models that inspire unity instead of division.

Vardon Hamdiu worked in a communications job for half a decade where he had to read around 400 news articles every day. During the same time, Vardon lived in South Africa for half a year and worked with refugees. The gap between what he experienced and what he read in the news made him realize emotionally that we need to change the for-profit systems that govern our collective attention today. They fuel echo chambers, societal polarization, hate speech, and countless other dangerous trends. We need alternative, not-for-profit systems that bring out the best in us instead of the worst. That’s what Vardon is working on now, at a small organization called Sparkable.


Can you introduce Sparkable? What is the rationale behind the inception of the project?
  • Sparkable is the idea of a new not-for-profit platform business model. There are hundreds of new “alternative social media platforms” but all of them end up either with a subscription-based or donation-based model again, which have their own problems (unequal access, precarious states). Today, there’s advertisement, subscriptions, or donations.
  • We are trying to come up with something new that tries to combine the advantages of all those models without their disadvantages, in order to mitigate hate and fear speech, misinformation, as well as other harms at the root level of the business models. If the internet can bring out the worst in us by bad design, it could potentially bring out the best in us, if we consciously design it for that. It could create mutual understanding instead of division, and peace instead of hate. This idea deeply moves and fuels me.
As Sparkable aimes to "creating a better information environment", what is your methodology and the tech you're using to achieve such goal?

So, this is how our open model works:

  1. Everyone can submit links to content on the web that gave them lasting new insight and understanding (there are more detailed guidelines). The submissions can link to any content, e.g. videos, podcasts, or newsletters.
  2. Everyone can vote every two weeks (slow, anti-viral) on the pieces of content that were most insightful (there are more detailed guidelines). There are no instant features, no likes, no follows, and nothing like that, in order to keep things calm and focused.
  3. Everyone can either see all content for free or choose to contribute a little to the platform for seeing only the results of the voting.
  4. Those contributions are then split and redistributed to everyone who participated in any way.

This new incentive design should make the platform self-sustaining and free from the influence of third parties like advertisers or political actors. All incentives and features aim to create a better, more healthy information environment.

It aims to flip the paywall system on its head: instead of paying to get access to more, with Sparkable there is free access to everything, or if you want you can access less but better content. If you do that, you contribute something for that privilege, but your contributions are split and redistributed to everyone who helped. It's a circular system where every person and stakeholder is incentivized to create a better, more insightful environment.

Can you share more about the technology you used to build the platform? It is open-source?
  • Yes, our project is open-source. The code can be found here.
  • It is also open in the sense that it should be made by the people for the people, meaning everyone who's interested can help co-create this new system.
At what stage of the project development are you? What are your current project activities?
  • We are still at an early stage but we do have a beta version online (www.sparkable.cc). We’re currently telling folks about it and collecting their feedback, e.g. via user interviews or workshops. So, if anyone is interested in giving honest, constructive feedback on the platform, please get in touch with me!
Can you walk us through how can one become a Sparkable user?
  • Becoming a user is as easy as going to www.sparkable.cc and using the platform. To do things like sending in content or voting on the existing content, you'll need to set up a user account on the site.
  • And yes, you can either reach out to me via DM here, or via email at vardon.hamdiu@sparkable.cc.
  • Also, I'm going to do a session at the RightsCon satellite event on human rights-centered design. I'd be super happy if you'd like to join! it's a workshop where we'll together work on some of the questions and challenges we're facing with this new model. You'll be able to co-create it directly. You can participate in Costa Rica or online. The 1-hour workshop starts at 10am Costa Rica time, that's 6pm CEST.
What is the business model of Sparkable - donations, grants, mix of things?
  • Currently, we're funded by a grant, until there are enough paying users for the project to be self-sustaining.
  • Our business model is that the project itself also gets a split of the redistributed money of users. This way, the incentives of the project stay aligned with the interests of the people.
How does Sparkable respond to the needs of users connecting from countries where there is censorship or those who need to connect anonymously?
  • Yes, so we do not collect any unnecessary user data since our business model is not based on that. We don't operate in surveillance capitalism and try to consciously avoid that.
  • As far as I am informed, there should be no problem accessing Sparkable via Tor Protocol. If you encounter problems, please let me know!
How is the team strategizing its digital engagement with users?
  • That is indeed a challenge we're faced with, and also something we're looking to answer with the help of folks like you at the RightsCon workshop or asynchronously!
  • There is a tension between designing things to be calm and anti-viral, while all of us are used to the addictive features of today's platforms. We're currently navigating that by positioning Sparkable consciously against that, and hoping that users appreciate that over the long-term. Would be super curious to hear how you would tackle this problem!
  • We do have a Slack channel! There, you can get the most involved. There, we do co-creation sessions, etc.
What is your strategy to grow and sustain the Sparkable community?
  • That's difficult because we want to grow Sparkable so that the voting results become more representative. For that we need more people but very importantly with diverse and different backgrounds. So, if you know any folks who might be interested, feel free to share this project with them!
How many languages Sparkable has/will have available?
  • So, the interface of the platform is currently available only in English but we'd love to change that as soon as we can. The content however, can be in any language, already today. We're working to include a language filter, so that you can choose the languages in which you want to see the content.