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How to design the future of social media

A new digital forum will gather information about the ways in which people use social media through open debate.

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Imagine the last time you spent an entire day without checking your Instagram feed or Facebook page. Can’t remember? Maybe you use social media to keep in touch with friends and family, or you prefer to be part of a professional network for career opportunities. Companies use social media to find and engage with customers, drive sales, gauge consumer trends or offer customer services, while governments and politicians use it to reach out to constituents and voters. From photo sharing or blogging, to networks or business activities, to sharing ideas or political views, social media has become an indispensable part of people’s lives. Thanks to social media, communicating has taken on a whole new meaning and it continues evolving. But how can its dynamic nature be reflected in a platform? The EU-funded HELIOS project aims to achieve this by creating a decentralised peer-to-peer (p2p) social media platform. It will do it in three dimensions: contextual, spatial and temporal. HELIOS will provide p2p social media functionality for third-party developers through an extension for mobile operating systems in a modular manner. As explained on the project website, it will introduce new “concepts for social graph creation and management, which are grounded in trust and transparency. These concepts will be validated in project piloting together with novel social media features, such as innovative feedback technology and shared spaces.” The platform also involves content creation and sharing, as well as methods to control monetisation channels and means. With its democratised vision, HELIOS’ engaging open-source platform will enable meaningful interactions within an ever-evolving heterogeneous network architecture. Open debate As part of HELIOS, scientists from project partner Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the ADAPT Centre will discuss with the public all issues related to social media in one-on-one recorded conversations. The members of the public will also have the opportunity to join a live-streamed debate between a social media thought leader and researcher, or participate in live citizen “think-ins”, where they will express their opinions on a “revolving panel” in person or digitally when they wish. These will all be conducted via the recently launched digital forum called Heliosphere. A news release by TCD notes that the main objective of Heliosphere is to define people’s social media needs. “The idea, inspired by the EU project HELIOS, ultimately seeks to influence users, policymakers, designers and funding agencies to focus more on the future social media needs of the modern-day EU citizen.” Quoted in the same news release, lead researcher Dr Kevin Koidl of TCD’s School of Computer Science and Statistics, says: “The concept of the Heliosphere is inspired by the ethos of the ‘Peoples University’, which evolved around the beginning of modernity within the cafés of Europe. Our digital forum pays homage to this ethos by encouraging people from every corner of the globe and all walks of life to engage in the discourse and debate.” HELIOS (HELIOS: A Context-aware Distributed Social Networking Framework) project partners hope their model will reduce development cost and deployment complexity of any social media application built on top of it. For more information, please see: HELIOS project website



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