What is Maven?

Maven is a new kind of social network–a serendipity network–that doesn’t work like the usual popularity-contest style of network you’re used to experiencing everywhere else.  We don’t have likes (and therefore don’t count them) and you don’t follow other people’s accounts.  Instead, you follow interests, and your feed is a reflection of the interests you follow.

Maven AI extracts the relevant interests from every post and shows them to you when you see content in your feed.  That way, because posts touch on multiple interests, you continually experience the opportunity to expand your horizons by following new interests, increasing your chance of serendipity through meeting people with complementary interests.

Because the users you encounter on Maven are through shared interests rather than likes or follows, you’ll meet people here you would not encounter anywhere else. Part of the idea behind Maven is that there is an enormous flux of ideas and interests out there on the internet that we never get to see or interact with because everything we experience is always based on popularity.  That changes with Maven.

So you can say goodbye to influencers, virality, mass broadcasting, engagement only for the most popular, and everything else that goes with popularity-contest networks. Ready to be heard?

Why do we need Maven?

It hardly needs repeating that there’s something wrong with social media today.  Sensationalism, superficiality, echo chambers, toxicity, endless branding, disinformation, narcissism, and on and on–the issues are familiar.

And there are other problems too that receive less attention, like the fact that only a tiny elite 0.1% of the population (with say 10K followers or more) can get any substantial amount of engagement while everyone else are just supporting cast members.  And then there’s the repetitiveness of seeing the same “celebrities” sharing their views over and over again, as if no one else who doesn’t spend all their time building a following could have anything interesting to say.

On top of all that, there’s the cultural convergence: because likes are a form of consensus, the fact that the most exposure goes to the most likes means we spend most of our time looking at the most generic artifacts of mass-appeal.  Have you noticed that the music on the radio sounds hardly different than 20 years ago?  That was not the case back in 1995!

So why is all this happening? Basically, it’s because we’ve turned everything in life into a giant popularity contest–everything you say, everything you experience, everything you see, and even everything you feel–is a product of a giant worldwide counter of likes and follows.  It’s a planet-wide exercise in objective convergence, a giant narcissism amplifier that cynically assumes that competing for mass approval, attention, and popularity is one and the same thing as being “social.”

There’s actually a name for a world where every human being is locked in a perpetual battle for increasing popularity: it’s called high school!So what’s happened is that we’ve locked the entire world in the high school cafeteria for our entire lives and thrown away the key.  And now everyone thinks that’s normal. And no one remembers when “socializing” actually had to do with talking to people who shared their interests without the need to perform for the approval of a crowd.

Clearly this pervasive worldwide calcification of culture is destined to yield negative results, which is exactly what we’re seeing.

So we created Maven because we feel there needs to be a genuine alternative to popularity-contest social media.  It’s not right that every alternative to the popularity contest on one site is just a popularity contest on another.  We deserve a place to go where you can connect to people simply because you share interests, where you can speak without 100% confidence because you aren’t “performing” in front of a bunch of judges, where you can simply hold a conversation because you’re curious about the subject matter, where everyone isn’t there to build a brand and become an influencer.  We deserve a place where the main incentive is to experience the serendipity of connecting with someone on something that matters to you, rather than impressing as many people as possible.  That alternative has been sorely lacking.

In short, there was a time when the internet wasn’t dominated by likes and follows, before all these popularity contest networks came into existence.  Back then, the internet was bubbling with potential–millions or even billions of people out there who effectively represent almost all the opportunities in the world!  Imagine who you might meet, what you might discover that could change your life!  What happened to that internet?  It overdosed on a powerful addictive drug called popularity.Maven is your social media detox.  Get your mind back.

Who is behind Maven?

Maven is a startup company founded by Ken Stanley, Jimmy Secretan, and Blas Moros.

CEO Ken Stanley is an expert on open-ended discovery in both AI and human systems and author of Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned (most recently leading the Open-Endedness Team at OpenAI).

CTO Jimmy Secretan is a tech industry leader in building scalable online systems (most recently VP of Ads and Premium Services at Brave).  A long time ago, Jimmy worked with Ken to lead the Picbreeder experiment that was described in Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned.

COO Blas Moros is a former founder with a broad background from investing at Notre Dame, running operations at Glenair (aerospace manufacturing), and building sizable online communities. Maven is a natural next step in his career of community building.

What is the AI research behind Maven?

Maven is inspired by, and borrows from, a research area within AI called open-endedness, which is where Ken Stanley focused in most of his research career.  Open-endedness concerns systems that continually innovate without bound.  They also diverge, which is different from most of the algorithms we see in AI and machine learning, which generally converge.  Diverging means that the longer it runs, the more variety it produces.

Biological evolution–going from a single cell to the entire tree of life over more than a billion years–is an example of an open-ended system. Another example is civilization, which takes us from inventions like wheels and fire to space stations and computers (including all the development of the arts and social sciences as well). Ken (with co-authors) published an introductory article on open-endedness here: https://www.oreilly.com/radar/open-endedness-the-last-grand-challenge-youve-never-heard-of/

Open-ended algorithms in the field of AI aim to take lessons from our understanding of open-ended systems in the real world to allow computers to yield similar divergent, creative processes (which are clearly part of being human).

One of the insights behind Maven is that a social network should be an open-ended system.  It should be a place where new and interesting ideas proliferate divergently, and where you can discover new possibilities serendipitously. So all the lessons of open-endedness and open-ended algorithms should apply.

Interestingly, previous social networks were built without any knowledge of research into open-endedness or the insights it yielded. As a result, these systems are often inadvertently convergent.  After all, counting likes is a mechanism for consensus, and consensus leads to convergence.  It’s the same problem we confront when we sit in a room trying to brainstorm but end up mired in groupthink instead.

So Maven is really the first and only social network built on top of genuinely open-ended processes.  That way, it can be an actual participant in the open-ended unfolding of civilization rather than a convergent brake pedal.

What are minimal criteria and how do they relate to content quality?

So you’ve heard that Maven doesn’t have likes or follows, which sounds interesting.  You can see that without those, you’ll be exposed to a lot more diversity of thoughts and ideas.  But then maybe you think about it a little more and it occurs to you: how do they make sure there’s any quality around here?

Somewhere back in the history of social media someone had what must have seemed like a brilliant idea: we can let the users themselves help to figure out which content is the best!  And from there we got the ubiquitous likes and follows.

But like so many well-intentioned metrics, it’s turned out differently.  We’ve learned that a global worldwide popularity contest on every piece of content is more of a formula for convergence and genericism (compromise of all, preference of none) than for some idealistic expression of genuine quality.

And on top of that are a whole host of unintended consequences that flow from the underlying deceptiveness of what originally seemed to simple: echo chambers and filter bubbles, constant brand building, narcissism amplification, bullying, incessant advertising, homogeneous culture, youth insecurity, and on and on.  It’s getting harder to believe that likes and follows really amounts to “quality” in any idealistic sense.

So what then does quality really mean when you’re talking about rating all the content in the world?  What should we be looking for?  That’s where an understanding of open-ended systems comes into play.

The difficulty of judging subjective interestingness has long held the attention of the field of open-endedness (https://www.oreilly.com/radar/open-endedness-the-last-grand-challenge-youve-never-heard-of/ ). Many ideas have been proposed and one of the simplest of those is simply to stop trying to assess and optimize interestingness. Instead, the idea is to check every candidate against a threshold, called “the minimal criterion,” and then to treat those above the threshold differently from those below it.

Notice how this idea is radically different from maximization (e.g. maximizing likes or maximizing follows).  In a maximization paradigm, you are always incentivized to get more or climb higher, so nothing is ever enough. That’s one reason for all the pathologies we see on social networks. In contrast, with a threshold, we don’t even try to judge what’s better than what above a certain threshold, which actually makes a lot more sense.

After all,  once you cross a minimal level of quality, does it really matter how high a score something gets?  Because it’s subjective, a post with a thousand likes could be less interesting to you than one with five hundred!  At some point, the numbers just stop mattering for anything other than the most generic sense of appeal. 

By taking this point to heart, the minimal criterion is able to generate and expose far more diversity while still maintaining quality.  The vast majority of what you see is above threshold, but beyond there you get a much broader exposure to potential serendipity.

For these reasons, Maven maintains quality through minimal criteria, which are based on engagement statistics (not likes and follows), and above which all posts are treated equally.

Why did Ken Stanley decide to start Maven?

This response is written directly by Ken: My background is in AI research, not social media. I’d never had any ambitions about social media. I was doing research in an area called “open-endedness,” which is about algorithms that lead to continual divergent invention and discovery, which has always fascinated me. Some of our discoveries from that research led to insights about how exploration, creativity, and innovation work even *outside* AI, in society in general.

Because these insights seemed socially relevant, I and one of my former Ph.D. students (Joel Lehman) who had worked on that research decided to write a book about it.  The book, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned, came out in 2015: https://www.amazon.com/Why-Greatness-Cannot-Planned-Objective/dp/3319155237 

The release of the book led me to speaking to people from all walks of life and many different professions about the lack of serendipity in the way the world works. I became a kind of focal point for people to vent their frustrations about how everything in the world is so based on objective maximization of some metric. Notice here that social media’s endless popularity contest for attention is no different–it’s clearly part of this problem.

For me all this talk bubbled over in 2022 - I just hit a point where I felt I should try to do something about it. After all, I spent my life studying how open-ended systems work. I imagined a “serendipity network” that takes out all these convergent and consensus-driven incentives that we now know have led to so many negative unintended consequences.

That’s what led to starting Maven in earnest just before 2023 began. It was a dramatic decision for me - and highly risky. Nevertheless, I felt and still feel that we need something like Maven to shake up the pervading assumption about how everything has to work through a giant popularity contest.

Is Maven part of a larger company?

No, Maven is an independent startup. It’s a new company that was founded at the very end of 2022.  We first announced Maven publicly in January 2024.

Here are a few of our investors, who also commented on their reasons for supporting Maven:

  • Ev Williams, co-founder of Twitter: “Maven lets you follow your deepest curiosities instead of the trends of the day.”
  • Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI: ”In Maven, there is a chance for AI to play a role in fixing much that is broken in our online discourse.”
  • Rana El Kaliouby, co-founder of Affectiva: “It is time for a new approach to social media. Maven connects people who have shared interests and enables them to have meaningful, thoughtful conversations. I particularly LOVE that Maven is a network without borders. Conversations aren't siloed and there's even a serendipity feature in the app!”

How do I start using Maven?

When you first onboard, you have not yet told Maven any of your interests, so the initial feed you see is arbitrary (though not empty).  From there, it will help to add new interests.  Maven remembers any interests you add and customizes your feed accordingly. 

Notice how this process is different from other social media: rather than an “algorithm” trying to figure out what you like, you get to tell Maven explicitly.  If you change your mind, you can always just remove the interest.  You are in complete control with full transparency.

You can follow new interests either by going into the interest-management interface, or by clicking on any red interest tag you see throughout the site.  When you click on an interest tag, you are sent to its profile, from which you can choose to follow it.

Maven is not only about consuming content, but also getting involved in discussions.  Conversations on Maven are more similar to speaking to people in real life, where you are not continually being judged and ranked for everything you say.  Because of that, you can pursue your curiosity and learn new things or find new opportunities without always worrying whether it’s helping your “brand” or “reputation.”

You can start a new conversation by pressing the “+” button, or you can click into a specific thread you find interesting and add a reply to the conversation.  Conversation on Maven is similar to dinner conversation–you can feel free to come in and out of the conversation as you please, and you don’t need to read the whole conversation all the way back to the beginning to be able to contribute.

In fact, Maven threads are designed to be timeless, so it’s entirely worthwhile to reply into old threads if you find them interesting, which can revive discussion.

What makes a successful Maven user?

One thing that’s different about Maven compared to popularity contest networks is that it’s for conversation rather than promotion.  Users who pursue their curiosity, ask interesting questions , or delve deeply into interesting topics will find rich engagement and meet people with similar interests.

In contrast, if your aim is to promote yourself or a particular cause, you will probably not find it as effective because it is explicitly designed not to provide viral mechanisms.  There are already plenty of popularity-contest networks for promotion or self-promotion. What you get on Maven is the opportunity to have a real conversation about topics you want to explore.  

In short, unlike everywhere else, here the explorer will do better than the promoter.

What do users say?

“The high degree of pluralistic perspectives on any given topic truly enriches the discourse and that’s something I value because, like so many, I’m more interested in the things I don’t know. Also, without the incentive of accumulating ‘likes’ or ‘followers’, there is no judgment and no incentive to pretend. Consequently the conversation is naturally more honest and remains focused on the quality and merit of any contributed idea”. - Marvin Hansen

“Maven... I love how it DOESNT make me feel ANXIOUSWith all other social media platforms i feel that urge to check msgs, notifs, posts, follows and what not. But I feel good here, no follows no likes, I'm at peace. For the first time in my life I don't feel nauseous using social media.”-Haruka 

“I have found Maven really amazing, pretty much that ‘place’ I had mentioned I was lacking for entertaining and discussing all ideas and thoughts from very different areas, short of it being in person, which realistically I might not have the time and space for it were in person.”-Adelein R.

“Maven is moving us from an attention economy to an interest economy.””
-Johnny Kelly

“Opening the app feels like your brain is about to get fed, not drained or triggered. ”
-Mo S 

“🚀 Just had a mind-blowing moment on this platform! 🤯 No "like button" to hit, and it hit me - how other social media habits are wired in us!”

“Just because things are popular doesn’t mean they’re going to be good. And just because they’re good doesn’t mean they’re going to be popular. Sometimes the best things are hidden.”
-Dan Murphy

“I think curiosity and genuinely enjoying conversation are two things a lot of people have in common on Maven, one of the main points of the platform is sharing knowledge and opinions through conversation without the junk, advertising, and reactionism that makes other social media draining.”

What is the thinking behind the (sometimes long) thread format in Maven?

You may notice that threads on Maven don’t look like most other social media.  Though you can reply to individual entries and the entry to which you reply will be made clear, we don’t structure overall conversations here as branching trees.  Instead, they just proceed linearly, one entry at a time as people chime in.  Furthermore, while other networks often throttle or close threads after a short while, our conversations are allowed to keep going indefinitely. 

So you may wonder, why the differences?

The answer is that we want it to be more like a natural dinner conversation than some kind of computer-generated tech-world monstrosity.  When you’re sitting at dinner with some friends talking about something interesting, there isn’t someone hanging over the whole thing trying to graph the entire conversation into a complicated branching tree.

And in dinner conversation you can weave in and out of the conversation naturally. You don’t have to “read the whole thing” to be able to catch on to what it’s about and put in your two cents. You can arrive late and still jump in–no problem. You can get up and use the bathroom and re-enter and even if you missed a little it’s okay.

Maven conversations are more like that–natural conversations  That makes sense for us because we aren’t about creating a bizarre vote on the worthiness of every single thing everyone said and then re-sorting all those broken pieces of conversation into a gigantic ranking of all of the dinner guests  The popularity-contest networks can do that.  In contrast, we’re just here to talk, to engage, and to go as deep as we want.

Does reacting to a post impact its rank within the feed?

No, reacting to a post is an entirely private gesture that will only show up in the notification box of the user who created the post.  There are no counters recording reactions and the feed algorithm is completely unaffected. (We’re loyal to the “no likes, no follows” ideal.)

Does “liking” a profile impact what I see in my feed?

No, it simply helps you remember users you liked.  It has no impact on your feed because it is not the same as a follow, and we do not entertain the idea of “following” on Maven.

Are there any other practical usage tips?

Sure, here are a few:

Replying to individual users within a thread:

Hit the “reply” button. On mobile, it simply says “reply.” In the web app, it looks like

Changing the color scheme of the app:

On mobile, go to your profile, then go to the settings dial, and then “Change Theme.”

Adding interests manually:

The interest settings, which look like on both mobile and the web, allow you to enter new interests entirely manually.

Unfollowing an interest:

You can remove interests both by going into an existing interest and clicking “Unfollow” in the upper right, or by going into interest settings and deleting interests there.

How do I get started adding interests?

When you first enter Maven directly after onboarding, you are not initially following any interests. Your feed at this point reflects the lack of focus, which means it will display an arbitrary stream of content. Recall that in Maven the key following mechanism is through interests (rather than through people), so choosing interests to follow will explicitly customize your feed.

When you first start out with no interests, you will see an option at the top of the screen (in the banner above the feed) to click in to start adding new interests.  

Clicking there will give you a quick interface for adding new interests. There, you can add some standard interests from a provided list, or you can type in custom interests to add to your list.

Once you have at least one interest, you will begin to see your interests in a banner above the main feed.  Clicking on any one of these (which you already follow) will bring you to its profile, where you can browse through posts directly related to that specific interest.

There’s another, more organic way to pick up new interests: you can see interest tags below every piece of content in the feed. These tags are generated by Maven’s AI, which means that they are not part of a fixed, pre-selected set of interests. In this way, the number of interests in the system can grow as people talk about new things.  Note that interests you don’t currently follow are highlighted in red, while those you already follow are shown in gray.

If you click on one of these interest tags, you will be brought to the interest’s profile, where there is a button you can press to follow the interest. Interest profiles are similar to user profiles on other systems, except that on Maven people follow the interests instead of following other people. Interest profiles also show you other users who follow that interest.

You can also always remove an interest by either holding your finger down on the interest in mobile, or by going into the interest interface and deleting interests there. Adding new interests and exploring within interests (whose profiles also show other suggested interests) can be fun and help you to expand your horizons, and is part of the mechanism for encountering serendipity in Maven

Does Maven have a public issue tracker?

Yes! Feel free to browse or submit issues here: https://github.com/jsecretan/maven-public/issues