Who are you? Can my organization join in your effort?

PublicSpaces is a coalition of organizations that feel that something has been lost during the development and growth of the internet. The coalition feels that we need to have a real ‘public domain’ back online, where public services can be delivered without any open or hidden agenda driven by commercial or particular political motives. PublicSpaces is open to any party that subscribes to the basic principles and values as set out in our manifesto.

Why are you doing this? Is it to make money?

No. PublicSpaces is a non-profit organization. We are doing this because we believe that the public interest is not best served by the majority of popular internet applications, such as the big social networks. We define the public interest as those interests that are so important to the functioning of society as a whole that their organization deserve some kind of collective care. Therefore, we believe we need to investigate, stimulate, and if necessary, provide an alternative to these applications that does serve the public interest. Our strength lies in the combined reach of our partners: they are all organizations with substantial audiences (‘networks’ that have a combined reach of about 5–7 million people) so we need to embrace their diversity and variety, and accommodate differing needs in their interactions with their audience.

What is your understanding of the word ‘platform’? And what does ‘network’ mean?

A platform is in effect a basic software infrastructure, on which several applications can be built. These applications use this infrastructure, which guarantees, through its design, that the basic principles as set out in the manifesto are adhered to. One of the more obvious applications is a social network. Our analysis of the current problems of the internet is heavily influenced by the current discussions of the social, political and psychological impact of the profit-driven popular social networks.

What is it that you are going to make, in the end? What am I going to see?

This is a continuing process, so for the the most up-to-date developments, we’d like to point you to our homepage — our blog will provide most topical information. On a more abstract level, it looks likely that PublicSpaces will start off as a component provider. We define components as sets of inter-related functionalities that can be used by third parties in their own end-user solutions. You can find a more detailed explanation here, but some obvious examples are authentication/authorization components (an alternative to Google/Facebook login), content rating, profiling, and data- and content management systems. The first ‘clients’ of these components would be our founding partners; but since the software should be open-source and free, it will be made available to the world. 
This, by the way, does not mean that PublicSpaces is going to build everything — third parties can build components that could subsequently be given a ‘PublicSpaces stamp’ if they are built according to our guidelines and value systems.

How can you pretend to be autonomous and independent?

In this world, nobody is fully autonomous and independent, and neither are we. We are bound by laws, social rules and etiquette. We are humans, so we have our prejudices. However, we try not to let them get in the way of our goal, which is to provide a service to anybody and everybody that operates within the law. That means for instance any commercial entity will have the same access and possibilities as any individual person, any ideological organization, or any political group, regardless of their views or ideas — as long as they adhere to the law. We might not agree with them, but it will not be up to us to block or even inhibit their use of the platform, nor will we explicitly support parties that might have views that are more in line with ours.

How are you going to pay for all this?

PublicSpaces started its operation with some basic funding from the founding partners and grants and subsidies from various funds and charities. In order to make the operation sustainable in the long term, we will need to create a business model that treats its users as subjects and responsible citizens. We are currently discussing several options, among which diverse subscription-models, models with premium content, freemium-models and non-targeted advertising. No decisions have been made yet.

What is your long term goal?

We know that for the platform to succeed, we need to have at least a European level presence. So we aim to be a popular platform in Europe at the very least. We realise that the values embodied in our initiative are very European and may not necessarily be shared widely by people in other continents. However, we will try very hard to get people worldwide to join in our effort.

Why do you think you’ll succeed, where so many others failed before?

Obviously, there are no guarantees of success. However, we know for sure that we will fail if we don’t try. We, the founding partners, feel it’s part of our mission to provide this public service. And we have something very important going for us: the fact that we have a combined reach of 5 to 7 million people, right at the outset. That’s an important step toward gaining a critical mass necessary for an effort like this to succeed. And this combined reach is also something that other initiatives have lacked so far. Another advantage is that a lot of the founding partners have very interesting content to share: they are media houses and cultural organisations. Finally, we will focus on usability at least as much as on the technical aspects.