Cultivating community in smaller social networks

Social first, technical second

Kawandeep Virdee
4 min readMar 6, 2021


What if instead of FB and Twitter there were series of smaller communities connected by open protocols? What if you wanted to create something new on it, you could? What if you had the flexibility to customize the the services to better serve your community?

I love the vision Darius Kazemi shares in this interview in Logic Mag, “Party at My House: Darius Kazemi on Human-Scaled Social Media.” Often when discussing platforms and network effects and growth, the people-y social and moderation side of it is lost. Usually the framing is around individual entities vying for attention, follows, likes, etc. When it comes to forming dense connections, that’s not so glamorous, unless it has to do with growing one’s own brand in some way.

Darius mentions not only the technical maintenance aspect of running his own instance of a social network, but also the social maintenance, i.e. being a good host:

I like to think about running a federated social media server instance as being like the host of a party. If someone shows up to my party who’s just moved to town, it’s my job to take them around and introduce them to people and say a few words about them, and maybe take specific time to introduce them to individuals who I think that they should meet. Usually what that means is I go on the local timeline and I scroll down, and for everybody who’s been actively posting for the last twenty-four hours, I describe in one sentence who every single person is, and go into more detail if I think there’s a potential connection there.

I deeply appreciate hosts who do this kind of thing. They see that spark, that connection, that potential conversation between two people, and they cultivate it. I used to throw soup nights years ago and this was one of my favorite feelings. See two people and mention a couple interests they have in common and watch that conversation flourish. It’s tougher to find that online, and here’s a way.

Kazemi wrote a guide to set up and run your own social network, highlighting some of the possibilities and benefits of doing this instead of using Facebook or Twitter. The guide also includes tips on building the community through social organizing side of things, and actually emphasizes the importance of this as an administrator: “It’s social first, and technical second.” Some of the actions highlighted are keeping a read of the timeline, and sparking conversations when necessary. Or spending time onboarding new folks who join. This is feasible when these communities are smaller. It’s a crucial feature often lost when these networks scale.

Often there’s a small group we may interact with most on a social network, and most everything else is more broadcast one-to-many oriented. Thinking of this group, instead the individual, may be more compelling for adoption:

People talk about how it’s hard to get people off Facebook and Twitter because of the network effect. People want to be where the people are, right? With the guide, my hope was — and it seems to be borne out, people are doing this — to bring whole communities over at a time rather than individuals. I think trying to recruit individuals away from a social network site is a fool’s game, because you invite them over and maybe they know you, but they don’t know anyone else. That’s it. Whereas if you can get an entire church group or an activist group to move over to decentralized social media together, then you don’t have that problem. Their community is already here. There’s already dozens of people that they know.

Last spring I threw virtual group meditations and virtual drawing parties, which were energizing. I’ll write more about them at some point. Meeting regularly, there was a core group of folks, some who would come every couple sessions, and others who would drop in once. The space was less about scale, and more about depth of interaction. Often with online media and platforms I find the tendency to push towards scale. There’s depth, but it’s more one-sided. That two-sided interactive depth doesn’t scale. What inspires me in Kazemi’s interview is the emphasis of technical flexibility and customization in order to serve a community more effectively. Social first, technical second.



Kawandeep Virdee

Building. Author of “Feeling Great About My Butt.” Previously: Creators @Medium, Product @embedly, Research @NECSI.