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Maven: The Revolutionary Social Network Aiming to Replace Stress with Serendipity



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Matthew Hutson

Maven Launches as a Fresh Social Platform Without the Pressure of Followers, Aiming to Reduce Anxiety

The negative impact of social media on mental wellbeing has been a concern among psychologists, government bodies, and users alike. The question arises: does it have to be this addictive, upsetting, and disheartening? Enter Maven, a novel social media platform, which draws inspiration from a scientist's research in artificial intelligence, proposing a more benevolent option.

The platform deliberately avoids using likes and follows, instead allowing randomness to significantly influence what shows up in users' feeds. Maven's primary investor is Ev Williams, co-founder and ex-CEO of Twitter, who also established Medium. Additional financial support comes from Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI.

Maven is centered on a principle known as open-endedness, a concept introduced by Kenneth Stanley, a computer scientist, AI expert, and one of the founders of the startup. Traditionally, in the realm of computing, developers either program code or design AI models with the intent of meeting specific goals, such as enabling a vehicle to drive autonomously without accidents or creating text that mimics human writing. However, Stanley's approach deviates from this norm by focusing on developing systems that continuously evolve, driven by the pursuit of innovation for its own sake. This method has led to the uncovering of new pathways and solutions that wouldn't have been identifiable through straightforward optimization methods. During his tenure at Uber’s AI laboratory, Stanley, along with his team, applied this innovative approach to neural networks, achieving superior performance in playing Atari video games and managing a virtual robot compared to older models.

In 2015, Stanley, alongside his co-author Joel Lehman, released a book titled "Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned," which extends their philosophical approach beyond the scientific community to inspire individuals to embrace chance encounters in their daily lives. The book quickly amassed a loyal readership, with many fans sharing with Stanley how a focus on achieving specific goals such as high grades, substantial incomes, or funding opportunities has hindered their willingness to explore and negatively impacted their lives.

Maven emerged from Stanley's realization that a social network could significantly increase people's chances of experiencing fortunate accidents. This idea took a solid turn when he serendipitously met Williams. In mid-2022, Stanley departed from OpenAI to embark on this new venture. He joined forces with Jimmy Secretan, a past graduate student who had explored the concept of open-endedness in Stanley's research group at the University of Central Florida, and Blas Moros, an entrepreneur who shared their vision. Together, they established Maven, appointing Stanley as the Chief Executive Officer, Secretan as the Chief Technology Officer, and Moros as the Chief Operating Officer. They officially introduced Maven to the public via a Twitter announcement in January. The platform is accessible on both Apple and Android devices, as well as on the web.

Stanley contends that the majority of social platforms are burdened by their own goals, due to their emphasis on accruing likes, followers, and visibility. This approach transforms individuals into commodities and fuels online disputes. However, on Maven, the absence of a follower system removes the pressure of pleasing an audience or seeking to increase follower count. For instance, if you're curious about washing machines, Stanley notes, you can simply ask your question on the platform without any hassle, and it will connect you with the right people.

On Maven, the content you see is tailored to your passions rather than based on whom you follow.

On Maven, individuals subscribe to topics they find appealing, like technology or mindfulness. Every topic maintains a unique presence on the platform. Whenever a user shares content, built-in algorithms examine the content's narrative and assign appropriate tags, ensuring it appears on specific topic pages. These pages also display fellow followers of the topic and suggest a collection of similar topics.

The primary display within the Maven application presents content related to the various topics an individual is interested in. Rather than just highlighting the top trending items, there's a specific threshold for user interaction that content must surpass to be considered for display—Stanley refers to this as a "minimal-criterion mechanism," which he believes parallels aspects of biological evolution and promotes variety. Furthermore, there's a feature described as a serendipity slider, which ranges from "Display only my chosen interests" to "Reveal all content."

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"Stanley described Maven to me as truly">king," he said, "We've eliminated the whole likes and follows system. It's pretty wild." Early users appear to embrace the concept. "I gave up all social media around three years back due to the negativity, misinformation, mental decline, and constant ads," shared Benjamin Scott, who studies philosophy. "In my view, a lot of these issues stemmed from the metrics of popularity that often amplified untrue, provocative, and startling information." He mentioned that his experience with Maven has been unexpectedly positive.

Martin Laskowski, a software developer, expresses his admiration for Maven's capability to assist users in identifying discussions that perfectly balance being closely related to topics they are passionate about, yet offer enough novelty to pique their interest and encourage exploration.

Secretan, the Chief Technology Officer at Maven, notes that while debates over polarizing issues may get heated, they generally lead to productive outcomes. He explains that simply delivering clever quips or outsmarting someone doesn't really have value on this platform. The absence of features for gaining followers or algorithms that prioritize engaging content means there's little motivation for such behavior. From my perspective, I've encountered respectful and substantial discussions on a variety of subjects. Maven showcases an eclectic mix of interests, from "guinea pigs" to "gravitational time dilation." However, a contributing factor to the nature of these interactions could be the demographic of the network, which, to a large extent, consists of individuals within a close network of the founders. This might also shed light on why there's a noticeable disparity between male and female participants.

Regarding content regulation, individuals have the option to flag posts or other community members, as well as silence discussions, topics, or users. Artificial intelligence also identifies content that may pose issues. "Our goal is to maintain an environment where varied and free expression is the norm," Stanley states, "thus, we aim to apply a light touch."

Maven's platform remains relatively limited in size. While Stanley opts not to share specific figures, he notes that he has witnessed unexpected exchanges within his own feed, though these interactions seem more uncommon than usual online conversations. For example, a scientist shared a recently published article called “Open-Endedness in Synthetic Biology,” mentioning it was influenced by Stanley, before revealing a personal pastime of creating novel tastes through the combination of amino acids and various components. Another participant expressed a similar interest in flavor innovation as a hobby. Stanley recommended that they collaborate.

The co-founders of Maven collaborate with several contractors but do not have any other permanent staff members. They mention that they are still determining their revenue strategy, which may include advertising tailored to users' explicit interests. They anticipate requiring additional financial support shortly.

Williams, who helped create Twitter, became involved in the project by chance, drawn by his admiration for Stanley's concepts. "Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned is the book I love most, and I've suggested it to about a hundred people," Williams mentioned. One of these recommendations resulted in a conversation with Stanley. The creation of Maven was a journey of unstructured discovery as they brainstormed ideas, according to the founders. Williams noted that while he could have provided insights on creating social networks, his role was primarily to assist them in navigating their path. The project also attracted attention from investors like Rana el Kaliouby, the CEO and co-founder of Affectiva, Alex Pall from the electronic music duo the Chainsmokers, and the venture capital firm Lux Capital.

Williams mentions that he rarely utilizes X, previously recognized as Twitter, because the conversations predominantly revolve around current events, lacking long-term relevance. Moros highlights a unique aspect of Maven, referring to it as forever threads. These discussions have the capability of extending over several months and continually reappear in users' feeds. He particularly enjoys a thread that gathers individuals' concise, yet profound life lessons, with Moros sharing a personal insight: "Follow your curiosity."

Reddit is known for its ongoing conversations centered around particular hobbies and topics, yet its subreddits tend to operate in isolation, according to Stanley. While Reddit has distinct forums for New York City and urban planning, a post about urban planning in NYC on Maven will automatically attract followers from both topics, thanks to the AI-generated tags. Stanley describes this as a forum that organizes itself.

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