A Charleston startup launched Tuesday with a promise to free its users "from the subjugation of social media."
Narrative, a new social network, aims to place control over the platform into the hands of its users. The Charleston-based company has been testing its network, which is described as a mixture of content platforms Medium and Reddit, for about a year.
Narrative launches as scrutiny over the business practices of giants Facebook and Twitter grows. Still, convincing people to adopt a new social network is a high barrier to overcome.
Narrative was founded by husband-and-wife team Ted and Rosemary O'Neill. The two have been running Social Strata, another local company that sells social media tools for websites, for about 20 years. One of Narrative's key components will be content quality ratings from its users. This way, Rosemary O'Neill said, the best content rises to the top, while "inferior" posts are suppressed.
"The community's in charge completely," she said. "We're not going to be the police force."
Narrative employs 11 people in Charleston. The company also has staff in Seattle. It raised about $5 million last year in early funding.
Eventually, Narrative will make its money through advertisements. But instead of mining users' personal information to curate which ads they see, advertisers will buy spots on certain subject areas on the website called "niches" — not unlike a Facebook group, subreddit or hashtag. So, if a user visits the "fishing" niche, they might see an ad for fly fishing equipment, O'Neill explained.
Narrative is also selling control of these niches to its users, in an online auction that imposes a minimum price of $75. O'Neill said 830 of the niches have sold already. When the website went live on Tuesday, 2,200 more niches were up for sale.
But as part of their equitable model, Narrative will only keep 15% of its revenue, promising to redistribute the other 85% to its community.
The network's creators think their model can solve many of social media's biggest problems: Fake news, censorship and data privacy among them.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development charged Facebook with violating its Fair Housing Act by allowing advertisers to restrict who could view housing listings. Facebook and other social media behemoths have been criticized for their use of people's personal information, and for doing too little to police sharing of false content and posts generated by bots.
Adoption of new social media platforms does not come easily, even those founded by large tech companies. Google Plus, for instance, had to shut down in October after it discovered a security problem that exposed the private information of thousands of its users. Yik Yak, which gave people a way to message anonymously, was initially popular on high school and college campuses. But that startup called it quits in 2017 when the application lost many of its users, according to TechCrunch.
Narrative's founders hope to offer something fresh to people looking for a social network without the flaws of today's widely used platforms. By putting its users in charge, the O'Neills think the community can regulate itself. People using the platform can earn credibility by making their own posts and giving feedback on others'.
“In Narrative, your deeds determine your influence," Ted O'Neill said in a statement.