When it comes to launching a new social network, proving a real need is tough these days. The “all my friends are on Facebook” refrain has proven largely insurmountable to Ello, Tsu, Diaspora, and some would even say Google. So why pay attention to a new social network like Synereo, especially when it hasn’t even been built yet?

I volunteer some of my time with Synereo and will be matching that investment with money through the recently launched crowdsale. The question is: why?

Humanity’s Great Big Brain in the Cloud

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called it the noosphere. Andy Clark and David Chalmers describe it as an extended mind. Whatever you call it, we are entering a new phase in human intelligence, where more and more of our cognitive capacity is embedded in machines – a great big, collective brain in the cloud.

Google and Wikipedia provide easy, instant access to vast stores of knowledge, with search as our primary method for that information recall. The streams of information flowing through news outlets and social media services could similarly be said to constitute a kind of collective stream of consciousness. The filtering algorithms of Facebook and other social networks then serve as mechanisms for focusing our attention within that stream.

 

Paying Attention – to Shareholders

I am deeply appreciative of social network services like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and reddit. As a society, we benefit tremendously from the investments these companies have made. They bring us closer together as a species, and perhaps more selfishly, I rely on these systems to help me focus my attention on the most relevant information that is flowing through my networks of relationships.

We should never forget, however, that with the exception of reddit, these are all publicly-traded corporations that are ultimately loyal to shareholders. When shareholders pressure management for greater returns on their stock, the needs of end users often take a back seat to those of actual revenue-generating customers, which in this case, are the advertisers. Facebook aggressively stepped up advertising and end user data harvesting as it went public in 2012, as did Twitter when it went public a year and a half later.

When it comes to managing humanity’s attention and collective stream of consciousness, the question that emerges is whether we really want to bet exclusively on the hope that Facebook and others will serve their shareholders in ways that continue to serve end users. With our shared knowledge repositories, we have hedged that bet with through shared investments in Wikipedia, a kind of information commons built on a very different ownership structure.

Similarly, Synereo works to align the interests of end users and owners by putting its ownership in the hands of its end users.

Betting on Synereo

When you read the Synereo white paper, you find some very deep thinking around the challenges of engineering attention management systems in ways that serve the goals of end users rather than just those of the corporation running the network.

I see social networks as the streams of our collective consciousness. I am investing in Synereo because it matters tremendously how these systems work, and because I believe it is worth betting on this team of mission-driven developers working to solve the thorny problems of how we, as a species, focus our attention.

Gideon Rosenblatt writes about the relationship between humans and technology at the Vital Edge, and is a member of the Synereo Advisor Board.

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