An Ethical Nonprofit Launches Lyra, an Ad-Free Platform for Online Conversation Which Doesn’t Exploit Your Personal Data

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London, UK: A small team is launching Lyra, an open platform for online conversations which challenges traditional social media. Lyra is nonprofit, ad-free, community-focussed, and offers powerful tools to enable rich conversations and prevent harassment.

Lyra is an open conversation service which values language and communication.

Lyra is an open conversation service which values language and communication.

“Open communication is vital to democracy, discourse and society,” says philosopher A.C. Grayling, an advisor to the Lyra team. “It’s very important to support discussion and debate better than current social networks do.”

An innovative team made up of artists, psychologists and philosophers is launching Lyra, a platform dedicated to supporting positive conversation and debate online.

Lyra (http://www.hellolyra.com) supports complex conversations and debates by using an innovative tree conversation format and providing powerful tools which allow users to control what they read and who sees what they write.

“People are natural communicators, natural debaters and chatters,” says project leader Fintan Nagle, a researcher in cognitive neuroscience at University College London. “We need online tools which support a full range of expression.”

Dr Nagle and a team of 4 colleagues started the Lyra project in 2017 due to a lack of a positive, open space to communicate online. “We needed a place to chat and debate with colleagues, but friends and colleagues were leaving other social networks due to conflict and harassment - so we wanted to do better.”

Data privacy is important to Dr Nagle, who also acts as an advisor for a privacy protection startup which has just won $1 million in funding from Microsoft. “We are now realising that traditional social media spends a lot of time manipulating us - deciding what we read, monitoring our data, and ensuring that we spend as much time logged in as possible.”

"There is increasing concern that extensive social media use can lead to people feeling 'addicted' or unable to stop checking their phones," says Dr Leila Jameel, a psychologist at King’s College London. There are also concerns that social media use can cause or exacerbate a range of problems, such as body image issues or sleep disturbance, which are risk factors for developing mental health disorders. On the other hand, social media use could be a protective factor, since we know that social networks and support are important in both the prevention and treatment of mental health problems. However, many of the current platforms may not lead to exclusively positive social interactions, with some users experiencing harassment and bullying online. This is a particular problem for children and teenagers, with a recent survey indicating that over 60% of adolescents have undergone serious harassment online.

Lyra focusses on positive communication rather than addiction; tools to prevent harassment are built into the platform. Each user can create groups of people visible only to themselves; they can then use these groups to manage whose messages they read and control the audiences of their own conversations. Unlike the “public arena” model used by most social networks, this approach is inherently resistant to spam, harassment and abuse.

“Open communication is vitally important to democracy, discourse and society,” says philosopher A.C. Grayling, an advisor to the Lyra team. “It’s very important to support discussion and debate better than current social networks do.”

Lyra is designed for a wide variety of devices and screen sizes. “This is all about being inclusive,” says designer Peter Burgess, “and making it easy for anyone - tech-savvy or not - to have a deep and rewarding conversation online. People have a lot to say and a lot to communicate. There’s no reason why messages should be limited to 280 characters or people should be restricted to small screens.”

As a nonprofit, Lyra will never make money from advertising or selling users’ data. How can it afford to operate? "A year’s subscription to Lyra costs £2.99 ($4.21), which is less than you'd spend on a cup of coffee", says Ru Raynor, our Head of Community. "And because we care about creating an intelligent community without a paywall boundary, users can access all of Lyra’s features without subscribing. Lyra is also officially free for anyone on a low income."

"Lyra feels like a friendly, comfortable space for conversation," says a user. "It's like letter-writing for the web."

Visit Lyra at http://www.hellolyra.com
And view an example conversation at http://www.hellolyra.com/hard_problem

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Fintan Nagle
@Lyra_Comms
since: 12/2016
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