Home Should Facebook be Worried About Unthink? I Think Not

Should Facebook be Worried About Unthink? I Think Not

Another day, another social network. This time it’s a oddly named outfit called Unthink that has set its sights squarely on Facebook and Google Plus. Unthink promises to “emancipate social media,” but do most users really feel enslaved in the first place? The new social network has good things to say, but the complexity and approach may not be the best way to unseat Facebook.

The company comes out swinging on its first day with a manifesto that directly calls out the competition. Unthink put up a “FU” video that features a young woman fed up with the privacy problems, advertisements and constant redesigns on Facebook. Everybody loves a David versus Goliath story, right?

Let’s take just a second to bask in the irony that Unthink is using YouTube to try to promote its “FU” to Google and Facebook. Done? Good. Now let’s look at what Unthink is promising, and whether it’s going to stand the proverbial snowball’s chance of unseating Facebook and/or Google Plus.

Just Another Blue Screen of Death

On the surface, it seems like freedom should be a compelling feature. In practice, pragmatism usually wins out over principle. In more than 10 years promoting the Linux desktop, I never found more than a small percentage of users who were willing to prioritize freedom over the practicality of using Windows. And it’s not like people love Windows — most folks I’ve talked to tolerate Windows, at best. They may love some of the applications, but for the most part they stuck with Windows simply because it was easier.

Facebook is the Microsoft Windows of social networks. Its interface is constantly changing, and never popular. Its terms of service anger users on a regular basis. Lots of people love to hate on Facebook, but yet… the majority of people keep using it. If you’re on Facebook and have any number of connections, watch your news feed for a day and count up the number of complaints – on Facebook – about Facebook.

Freedom is Not a Feature

The challenge for Linux was always applications, and it was a Catch 22. To get major applications ported to Linux, you had to show evidence of a solid user base. To have a solid user base, you had to have applications.

The selling point for Facebook? Users. More specifically, your friends. When all is said and done, most people stay on Facebook because their friends are on Facebook. For Unthink or any other challenger to succeed, they have to get a critical mass of users. That’s going to take more than a spunky YouTube video and some attitude. If a critical mass of users decides to migrate to Unthink, then it has a chance to succeed. But how to get the critical mass?

Unthink can’t just try to appeal to people’s righteous indignation. It needs to have more going for it than that. I applaud the attitude, but history demonstrates that isn’t quite enough.

Unthink at First Glance

I’m not really sure that the name of the service is going to resonate with people who are disgruntled with Facebook or Google Plus. Actually, I’m not sure the name “Unthink” is going to resonate with anybody.

If the “FU” video they’ve put on Facebook is any indication of their marketing strategy, Unthink might appeal to the high school crowd — but the adults in the audience are unlikely to be impressed. As one friend said when I asked for a second opinion on the video, “my 15-year-old self would love this. I gagged at 36.” Not exactly how I’d phrase it, but yeah – pretty much on target.

If you ignore the marketing materials, though, the design of the network – which splits a user’s interaction into different “suites” and “stages” for public, social, and so on looks well thought out. Complicated, though. Unthink has also mixed its metaphors pretty heavily, with suites, stages, and trees and leafs. It’s apparent no English majors were involved in the creation of this social network.

Likewise, putting aside the attitude, the privacy policy is much better than you’ll find on Facebook or Google Plus. The default for users is private/only visible to owner. The default for “stages” is public – which makes sense, right?

There’s also a lot of talk about Facebook’s redesigns, and promises that Unthink isn’t going to be moving people’s content around. This may be unwise – when Unthink starts seeing a larger user base, it’s probably going to need to improve its usability. Users might feel peeved when the inevitable changes happen, even if they are for the better.

Unthink and Business

Unthink also came out of the gate unprepared. The site has been all but unreachable today, so its initial buzz is being wasted. Does this mean there’s a ton of demand for Unthink, or just that the service was poorly designed, or both? We’ll have to wait for some numbers to come in before calling that one.

I’m unclear on whether the site is going to have apps or not. It doesn’t seem likely that Unthink will do well if users can’t get their game fixes, though.

The company is doing a full-court press for businesses to build brands on the new network. Once the network settles down a bit and we can actually get into the network, we’ll take a closer look at Unthink’s business plans and offerings.

I Want to Believe

Right now, I’m torn between optimism and experience. If Unthink is really as white hat as its marketing materials would have us believe, I’d like to see it succeed. Optimism doesn’t get you very far in this business, though. If Unthink can get its act together technically, and improves its marketing, it might have a shot. But it’s going to have an uphill climb, and it’s not entirely apparent that the site has the gear to get past the foothills.

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