Minds is the anti-Facebook that pays you for your time


Elena Lacey

During Mark Zuckerberg’s over 10 hours of Congressional testimony last week, lawmakers repeatedly asked how Facebook makes money. The simple answer, which Zuckerberg dodged, is the contributions and online activities of its over two billion users, which allow marketers to target ads with razor precision. In which case, asked representative Paul Tonko (D – New York), “why doesn’t Facebook pay its users for their incredibly valuable data?”

It’s a good question, one that alternative social networks like Minds have attempted to answer. The idea isn’t entirely new—Minds launched in 2015—but the site and others like it feel especially relevant as people begin to reexamine the bargain Facebook has made with them.

Meeting of the Minds

Minds is tiny compared to Facebook—it only has around one million users, 110,000 or so of whom are active each month—but it’s a prominent example of what it looks like when a platform inverts the traditional ad-supported model. It doesn’t feel entirely different from Facebook, at least not at first. The site’s home page is a news feed, with tabs for browsing images, videos, blogs, and groups at the top of the page. If you don’t follow anyone in particular, it quickly fills with the equivalent of ads, which Minds calls “Boosts.” (You can also banish all the boosted posts from your feed with a $5 Minds Plus monthly subscription.)

In a refreshing change from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the rest of the major platforms, Minds has also retained a strictly reverse-chronological timeline. The core of the Minds experience, though, is that users receive “tokens” when others interact with their posts, or simply by spending time on the platform.

“Helping people make money online is such an important focus of ours,” says 32-year-old Minds founder Bill Ottman.

It doesn’t feel entirely different from Facebook, at least not at first

The tokens users receive for contributing to Minds don’t yet translate to real money, but they can be used within the platform to buy two kinds of Boosts. News Feed Boosts largely work in the same way as traditional digital ads, injecting a post into other people’s feeds. Peer-to-Peer Boosts, meanwhile, formalize a part of the digital economy that has always existed, letting you pay another Minds user to share your post to their followers. It’s the Minds equivalent of a brand paying an Instagram blogger to wear their shoes, or a musician paying a popular Twitter account to tweet out their SoundCloud mixtape. The difference is that the financial relationship is disclosed in the open. “If you use the Boost well, you could have no audience and easily gain like five to ten-thousand followers,” says Ottman.

Minds doesn’t let you use a Boost to target specific users on the platform; your post instead gets shared to 1,000 random people for each token you spend. Ottman says that if Minds ever did build out a targeting capability, the entire system would require users to explicitly opt-in. If you haven’t earned enough tokens from contributing to or using Minds, you can also choose to pay for either type of Boost using a credit card: 1,000 views costs $1.

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