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Social Media Manifesto

What I really want is for somebody to start the social media site that plays the analogous role that credit unions do for banks.

It would be nonprofit and member-owned -- by its corporate charter, responsible to its users, not "shareholders"; by statute, unable to be bought out by any other for-profit entity who might change its priorities. It's not tasked with returning value to shareholders or making profit, so there's no incentive to betray users' trust or expectations about how their data will be used. Its bylaws can strictly enforce user privacy.

The only feature it needs is for people to be able to post their text, links, images, movies, and profile info, making it easy to designate each piece of data as being visible to various groups of other people (or public), and manage those groups a la Google's "circles."

No apps. No games. No "platform." No API that lets 3rd party apps post to your site automatically. If you want to let everybody know you arrived at your favorite cafe, that's fine, but you have to bloody type it in yourself.

No sharing or selling user's data to anyone, ever (not even anonymized or aggregate data). No 3rd party advertising to users on ordinary users' pages. No "what's hot" or other nonsense visible that isn't coming straight from the people you have asked to follow (in fact, that's not even possible because the company isn't allowed to data mine posts). Any changes to privacy policies must be "opt in".

Users are customers and owners, not product! It makes money by charging members for the actual storage of their posted data and the bandwidth used by people accessing it. This would cost the typical user only pennies per year (Amazon EBS charges $0.10 per GB per month). Add a reasonable percentage to cover overhead and staff salaries.

It could be free for individual, non-commercial, non-member users, though with storage and bandwidth limits. Paying members would have unlimited bandwidth and storage, that they pay for as I said above, and would also be able to vote in corporate elections and such.

Charge a premium to commercial/corporate (versus individual) users, who are then allowed to advertise their wares on their page as well as allow 3rd party ads via Google AdWords or the like, but those ads would not be able to track visitors or access any of the private information of visitors.

Who's with me?
Dave Wilton's profile photoLarry Gritz's profile photoLawrence Kesteloot's profile photoJames Williams's profile photo
I was with you until the last paragraph. As soon as you have ads, then you're selling your users to your advertisers and your priorities change. Even if you mean that Coca Cola can have its own page with its own ads, if they're paying you a big chunk of your revenue then you'll be tempted to modify your site to get users to visit that page. If your allegiance is to your users then your revenue must come from your users.
+Lawrence Kesteloot There are still no shareholders, no dividends, no exorbitant salaries, so I think the conflict of interest is minimized. And the most important thing is that the service itself would never insert ads anywhere (i.e. the company makes $0 revenue directly from ads). I could go along with "no 3rd party ads" if user revenue alone could support the service. I don't think we can ban a page from advertising its own products, though, mostly because I don't want to go anywhere near having to have people responsible for determining "what is an ad."
The power of FB is that "everyone" is on it. The failing of Google+ is that "not everyone" is on it. To succeed potential users need to know that a critical mass of people they want to communicate with already use the system. (And not just have accounts on the system, like Google+, but actually use it.) The trick is to tie into an already existing community, like FB originally did with Ivy League schools. Simply pushing a system that has good privacy won't work because the mass of people with privacy concerns aren't a "community." I want my friends on the social media site I use, not strangers who care about privacy.

To succeed you need to identify the right community to target. One that actually wants to engage with each other via social media, doesn't consist of individuals worried about their professional image (or you get large, but sterile media sites like LinkedIn or, is small enough that you can grab a high market share of them right off the bat, but that has potential for expansion and ties to other, wider communities.
I'm with you, Larry.

You pretty much covered every counter-argument I could come up with. The major one is that it must cost nothing for most people. Users must pay only when there is a compelling reason. One reason might well be to vote on new features & direction.

I'd think it would likely be a long slog to gain any marketshare, though. Over time, as each of the majors makes mistakes that irritate people, this will be there as an alternative. The company should look for taking advantage of those events.

An option & competition is always good. You'll have to focus on end-user features that the majors are choosing not to provide, like encouraging private groups. Apparently, Posterous may be leaving that area since Twitter bought them. Go into those niches where the big ones don't want to go.
The trouble with social media is there is no middle ground where you can grow over time. You must achieve 80% market share very quickly or you have to be hyper-specialized. You can't survive anywhere in between. (Witness the tumbleweeds rolling through Google+.)
Well, first of all, I was commenting more on what I want as a user, not on how such a company could come about. I want to be a customer, not a product. And that goes for all the tools and services I use. The meme that everything should be free, but in exchange you will be subtly exploited in unexpected ways and that you have no real stake because you didn't pay for anything, is one of the two most corrosive ideas of the Internet age. (The other is that every monetary exchange should be an auction.)

I wonder how much of the "network effect problem" could be mitigated if the new service allowed you to designate a post to be "echoed" to FB/G+ or to grab your FB/G+ stream and present them in the new site? Then your out-of-network friends could see your posts and vice versa, but you would never have to log into their sites (and thus could not be tracked or advertised to and would be only minimally affected by future changes to their interface).
+Dave Wilton I wouldn't call G+ tumbleweeds, at least not among my tribes. My relatives and technically-unsophisticated friends are all FB only, where they post mostly about their kids and cats (which I do want to read, especially after moving out of the country). But my technically savvy friends and coworkers have almost completely moved to G+, where they post a very interesting mix of personal and professional/technical material. For simplicity I'd rather there be only one site to visit, but currently it's more that it's disjoint users and largely disjoint subject matter, not that one service is used and the other is empty.
I think Diaspora has a feature where it'll echo your posts to FB or vice-versa. It was their attempt to avoid the network effect problem, as you say Larry.
I would like such a service very much. I'm increasingly annoyed at being deemed a product and I fear it will get worse before it gets better.