July 23, 2021
Rebuilding a Human Connection in Online Communication
CEO & Co-Founder
With LOVE, empathy, and authenticity.
I’m part of an in-between generation—old enough to remember a world without the internet, yet young enough to be among the first to use many of the internet’s communication platforms.
At different times in my life, I’ve waited for my best friends, middle school crushes, and pen pals to sign onto AIM. I’ve written ridiculous messages to my closest friends on Facebook, only to find out they’d later be made public. I’ve fallen in love with a partner halfway around the world via Skype and long-winded text messages. And when the pandemic raged in 2020, I attended workout classes, weddings, baby showers, and funerals via Zoom.
I’ve had the privilege to come of age on the threshold of two worlds. One in which I called my friends’ landlines and asked their parents to speak to them; the other in which I broadcast practically every important moment to a global online panopticon. In the first, I communicated freely and intimately (unless my friend’s little brother was upstairs listening in on the other line). In the other, every word, photo, and moment is scrutinized to avoid posting the wrong message that could lead to being “cancelled”—or worse, “ghosted” and ignored.
With a perspective that transcends our journey from Web 1.0 to Web 3.0, I can see where the first promises of the internet failed to come to fruition and where we need to improve.
Communication should have been enhanced by moving online.
In some ways, it has. But in other ways, it’s been immeasurably impoverished. Consider a few of the most common ways people communicate.
Written communication is one of the most prolific advances in human history, leading to the agrarian, industrial, and information ages. Inventions like the alphabet and printing press enabled text-based communication, but technology—you know, the kind that has given us all a texting thumb—has changed very little over the past century. The keyboard was invented in the 1800s, and we’re still using it.
Today, messaging apps centered around text-based communication have made SMS fast and nearly free. Yet they’ve done little to improve or emulate the type of human connection we get when speaking face-to-face with another person. Texting couldn't be further from how humans actually tell stories, connect, and communicate.
Since homosapiens began using spoken language to communicate around 200,000 years ago, humans have spread knowledge, myths, stories, and ideas around the proverbial campfire using oration and gestures. Even now, we’re still working to understand how the advent and advance of audio-based communication shaped the 20th century. Telephones allowed people to hear the voices of friends, family members, business partners, and yes, telemarketers, from thousands of miles away. Radio gave politicians like FDR a way to speak directly to the people, and its political power actually increased later in the 20th century as AM talk radio gained in popularity. Today, podcasting is a billion-dollar industry with room to grow.
While some people may think technology will outgrow audio-based communication, that simply isn’t the case. Audio-first platforms create “authentic and raw” experiences that take inspiration from podcasts, AM radio, and live events. But they still rely on an old paradigm—an ad-based or creator incentive model that can be monetized. Strategies to enable direct monetization for creators via entry fees, subscriptions, and tipping is simply a next iteration of a pay-to-play model. Unfortunately, as with any social network platform, that communication is often driven by a desire to accumulate a following and social clout. Serendipitous encounters happen, sure, but much less often than you’d think. The formula for gaining a following and spreading content has been established, and few people deviate from it. Which means there’s a gaping hole where the growth and maintenance of real relationships should be happening.
Image and video communication
As far back as 30,000 BCE, symbols like cave paintings and petroglyphs represented ideas that had previously only been spoken. Today, we’ve brought video and image into new mediums, but platforms based on image and video are far removed from the original experience.
Think about how we use the most popular of these platforms.
On one end of the spectrum, there are platforms that have facilitated an experience such that everything posted on the platform is carefully curated by each user. You don’t see the first take or even the fifth—you see the fortieth. “Reality” is constructed through the most flattering lens.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, are the platforms which encourage raw, quick, “authentic” moments. People send each other intentionally “ugly” selfies and random images from their day-to-day lives, all under the pretense of “authenticity.” This however, is still a curatorial performance of sorts.
Then of course we have the array of beautification filters, avatars, anon accounts, screen names, and other ways we can hide behind our digital masks under the guises of self-expression.
Online communication platforms don’t contribute to a healthy self-image or level of self-esteem.
Worse yet, they have actually changed the way we communicate and what we see as valuable in those communications.
Who’s to blame? Mostly a business model
Some of our online communication habits are a result of human nature. We can’t help that attraction bias is hardwired into our brains. But many online habits are driven by the business model of the internet: advertising.
The ad model is a result of media landscapes established long before the internet. Decades ago, after the advent of the printing revolution, companies advertised in newspapers because that’s where the eyeballs were. Times changed, and so did ad strategies. Companies advertised on radio and television because those mediums held people’s attention.
Our focus today is squarely on our phones and laptops, and the battle for our attention has become more intense than ever. Unfortunately, the competition comes with consequences. Advertisers and app developers routinely use our psychology against us to maximize the number of times we look at our phones or open an app. And not only have traditional, trusted media outlets been eviscerated, but the advertising industry (and those who thrive on it) harvest unimaginable amounts of data from internet users to create targeted ads.
As Tim Wu writes in his book, “The Attention Merchants”, “Once a commons that fostered the amateur eccentric in every area of interest, the web, by 2015, was thoroughly overrun by commercial junk.” I think we can agree that by 2021, it’s worse than commercial junk.
From a business perspective, the pursuit of consumer attention has created a centralized economy within big tech that benefits a few large players who collect and use data on billions of people. These data silos, and the monopolies that control them, create a hostile environment for any would-be competitors. The race to siphon as much data from people as possible has also hurt consumers through the destruction of privacy rights.
The behavior resulting from the internet's advertising-based business model has led to disturbing communication consequences for both society at large and our individual psyches.
The fight for our attention, and more data for ad dollars, has created mass unhappiness and anger. Echo chambers grow because people enjoy hearing their beliefs parroted back to them. People choose to consume polarizing media, which gives unscrupulous sites precious advertising revenue to continue feeding us whatever content they like. “Influencers” dominate social media, where people broadcast their message to thousands, rather than seeking more personal one-to-one communication. The rise of cancel culture shuts down discussion and dissent on mainstream platforms without actually extinguishing it. Yet banishing everyone to their own echo chamber only exacerbates the situation.
On the other hand, ghosting has become commonplace, a symptom of a much larger systemic issue. Perhaps this social phenomenon is due to a combination of fatigue from years of being inundated with messages from many sources (including Spam and harassment), difficulty in following communication threads on a multitude of platforms, apathy, conflict avoidance, or downright neglect for basic decency. I’ve experienced ghosting firsthand, as I’m sure most of us have, even in the course of building this company and product.
It’s clear to see why my generation and the one coming of age right now, Gen Z, struggle with mental health in unprecedented ways. By connecting everyone, we’ve increased the number of people we can communicate with but decreased the meaning of our words. We can find anyone online, but we’ve lost touch with each other in the ways that matter.
“I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process.”
- Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget
We need a healthier, more vibrant, more human way of communicating when we’re not face-to-face.
Enter LOVE, a new way to communicate face-to-face with those closest to you.
At its core, LOVE is a new take on video and audio messaging, video calling, and more.
We are reinventing personal communications by facilitating human experiences with innovative technologies, video-first communication, and a first-of-its kind ad-free business model. We believe in protecting privacy, enacting the right to forget, and most importantly, democratizing user ownership of the platform. We’re not only challenging the status quo, but rather transcending it.
We are creating a place where you can be unapologetically yourself with the people you care about.
On the platform, you’re not an anonymous avatar broadcasting yourself to an unforgiving world of strangers. You don’t have to be afraid of being “cancelled” or reprimanded by a crowd of competing anonymous accounts. It’s about communicating freely and being yourself with the people closest to you. It’s about personal connection.
LOVE is a video and audio-centric platform that doesn’t require a keyboard and, most importantly, allows you to communicate in whatever way you’re most comfortable. You can call your bestie or group of friends and speak face-to-face in real time or send video messages back and forth asynchronously. Have a friend you met while traveling? Even if neither of you speaks the other’s language fluently, that’s okay—messages transcribed in real time can be automatically translated into more than 50 languages. And whether your friends and family are in one spot or scattered across the globe, you can keep in touch with everyone, in whatever way works best for you all at any given time. Read the transcription of a video message. Convert text to audio while you’re cooking. Dictate a message while you’re in the shower.
LOVE doesn’t discriminate between mediums; it unites them.
Leading with LOVE.
As the CEO of NYOUM, the technology company developing LOVE, my vision for LOVE is a place where people can communicate freely with those closest to them in a revolutionary new way. A place where we can all interact authentically and unapologetically. A place without marketing gimmicks or bullshit. A place without worry about how your data is being used or how your thoughts and feelings are being manipulated. A place where we all--whether that be a team member, investor, or LOVE community member, take part in shaping its future.
We aim to build technology that’s for the people and doesn’t take from the people. We believe in using technologies to empower people through new systems, models, and paradigms, rather than entrench existing and potentially flawed systems.
I can trace that line of thought from my background in cultural anthropology, theater, and the arts all the way through the three consumer and emerging tech companies I’ve founded. Each seemed to converge in the same space: a balance of harnessing the positive powers of emerging technologies with socially paradigm-shifting ideas.
For instance, I exited from my third company after it took a turn that didn’t align with my values. What followed was a long period of reflection. I wrote a book and traveled the world to educate companies, investors, and governments on the socio-cultural, geo-political, and technological shifts taking place with regards to decentralization.
While contemplating these ideas during my travels, I met Christopher Schlaeffer, our Founder and Executive Chairman. Christopher had been thinking about the same issues for over a decade after launching Android together with Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Andy Rubin and Peter Chou in 2008. As a fellow serial entrepreneur, he had launched a number of businesses and also shaped the pathway of Deutsche Telekom as CSO and CPO during a storied career in telecoms. We instantly connected over our desire to build a better internet.
He had been collaborating with Jim Reeves, our CTO, and Timm Kekeritz, our Chief Design Officer, on a new concept that would revolutionize communications. Jim, a truly gifted and rare technical genius, once contributed over 14% of the codebase of a publicly traded telecoms operator while serving as head of mobile development. Timm, the creator of LOVE’s product magic, has designed products for leading brands such as Porsche, AT&T, and BMW, worked at the leading consultancy IDEO, and teaches interaction design in Copenhagen and Berlin. His work has been featured in Wired, Fast Company, Gizmodo, and more.
The glue that brings us together is our shared mission to build a better internet and a core set of beliefs: (1) we will respect privacy and enact the right to forget; (2) our business model will not be based on advertising; and (3) ultimately, our users should own the platform.
Bringing LOVE and empathy back to communication.
At LOVE, we believe that companies have a huge amount of responsibility to their billions of users and the societies they live in. It’s bizarre that up until now, a handful of people have made decisions for so many around the world—decisions that are based on what’s good for a relatively small number of shareholders instead of what’s good for the people using the platform.
That’s why our team at LOVE has made a first-of-its-kind commitment: If LOVE has at least 100 million Daily Active Users—two-thirds of whom opt-in—five years after launch, ownership of the Company will be transferred to its users to fully democratize the platform, company, and its operations.
We want to involve the people on the platform in its successes and returns. We want the community to have the ability to make decisions on its governance. We want our shareholders to be the people on the platform.
It’s a decentralized, democratic concept that has never been attempted before at this scale. But with a mindset based on abundance and love, global buy-in, a little luck, and a lot of understanding, we believe it’s possible.
I’m honored to be on this journey with you all.
See you on LOVE.
- Sam Rad