Johan Staël von Holstein doesn’t seem to like Mark Zuckerberg.
“I have 5,000 friends on Facebook,” says the Swedish-born entrepreneur, who lives in Singapore, but was about to board a flight from Barcelona to Germany, and then to Dubai, when we spoke by phone. “I could have had 10,000, but Mark Zuckerberg only lets me have five. I could have sent out an article to all of them, but I can’t, because Mark Zuckerberg only lets me send to 20 people. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t let me do mass communication.”
Staël von Holstein is launching a Facebook competitor out of Singapore called MyCube; it’s currently in private beta. To hear Staël von Holstein tell it, MyCube will be the liberation forces poised to overthrow Zuckerberg’s autocracy. MyCube, for all its grandiose ambitions, actually has an intriguing set of principles at its core. It is private in ways that Facebook is not; users have complete control over their data, and MyCube will never mine that data to sell to advertisers or anyone else. And, in fact, MyCube believes that people should view their own data as valuable–offering a means for members of the site to monetize the information they share.
I just signed up on the site, and as a result was given 5,000 free “Cubes,” a virtual currency on the site worth a total of 50 Singapore dollars, or about $40 American. Staël von Holstein has a system of “nanopayments” planned for the site–payments even smaller than micropayments. On MyCube, you can charge for access to the content you create–pictures, articles, videos, and so on–and you can charge “down to the cost of a cent,” says Staël von Holstein. “This is essential, because a lot of information on the Internet is worth cents, not dollars. Once you can start charging cents for articles, photos, and videos, and then have a lot of people reading,” you can start charging for that content. You can also choose to feature advertising instead of charging your MyCube followers/ friends/ customers.
The difficulty of finding the right word for the way people stand in relation to one another underscores the difficulty MyCube faces. On the one hand, I’m wary of Mark Zuckerberg making money off of my data, even though he provides me with a free and useful service. On the other hand, I’m also wary of viewing all my digital social connections through a prism of commerce; I wouldn’t want to charge my friends to see my vacation photos.
Staël von Holstein points out that you can choose to give away any content for free, if you wish. For some people, MyCube would be more like a social network; for others, it would be more like a publishing tool. Staël von Holstein calls it “a digital life management tool” and “the first social exchange”; fundamentally, “it will look and feel like Facebook,” he says.
For any financial transactions on the site, 70% goes to the content generator, 30% goes to MyCube. “We have the same deal as Facebook has with Zynga,” says Staël von Holstein, “but we have it with everybody, with everyone who creates value.”
Like many Internet entrepreneurs, Staël von Holstein gets philosophical about what he’s up to. “Obviously I’m an entrepreneur and capitalist, and I want to make a lot of money, but I’m also seriously, seriously concerned about the future of my kids,” he says. MyCube, then, is part business, but also, in a way, a movement. To that end he has set up what he is calling a “thinktank for young people.” He is gathering up smart 16- to 25-year-olds, flying them out to Singapore to muse on the big themes of privacy, ownership, and monetization, showing them a good time for six weeks, and then sending them back into the world, where he hopes they’ll serve as ambassadors for his new social network and its guiding principles.
MyCube just selected its first member of its “Digital Life Academy,” as the thinktank-cum-summer camp-slash-internship is called. Michael Moore-Jones, of New Zealand, runs a blog on technology and business and is the founder and CEO of the website “They Don’t Teach You This in School” (tagline: “The stuff you really should be learning to become successful.”) He is 16.