Upstart "Upthink" Wants to Be the New Anti-Facebook

By: From Doug Gross, CNN, Posted by Ralph Hipp
By: From Doug Gross, CNN, Posted by Ralph Hipp

(CNN) -- Call it "Occupy Facebook." Or, perhaps, "UnOccupy Facebook."

Hoping to capitalize on frustrations with the social networking giant, not to mention some of the anti-corporate sentiment bubbling up on Wall Street and beyond, entrepreneurs have launched an upstart site called Unthink.

The Tampa, Florida-based startup wants to be everything that Facebook and rival Google+ are not -- and it has the manifesto and sassy YouTube video to prove it.

"I couldn't wait to tell my story. I couldn't believe that all this was free," says an actress in the video, strutting through Bohemian city streets in an off-the-shoulder T-shirt with the words "Wild and Free" scrawled on it. "But I never knew that I'd be part of some damn puppet show -- that you thought you could own me. Well, you can't own me!"

Later, she confronts a guy in a Google+ T-shirt and another hoodie-wearing character with a striking resemblance to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The video is part of a series of hype-building efforts, along with cryptic news releases promising a "secret project" and "social revolution," that preceded Tuesday's limited launch.

Opened for invite-only beta testing on Tuesday, Unthink says it will offer an alternative to the privacy concerns some people have about using Facebook or Google's new rival network.

Facebook and Google both collect information about users to tailor advertising to them. Privacy concerns have cropped up over various features Facebook has rolled out -- from mobile check-ins to integration with other websites that can make a user's online behavior more public if settings aren't tweaked.

Unthink promises that, under its terms of use, all content will remain the property of the user. After signing up, an app lets users transfer photos and other info from Facebook to the new site.

"We worked hard for more than three years to research people's needs and present them with a solution that will empower them," Unthink CEO and founder Natasha Dedis said on the company's website. "Our mission is to emancipate social media and unleash people's extraordinary potential. Our -- not so covert -- mission is to spark a social revolution. We believe in people."

Dedis said she had the idea for the site when her son wanted to join Facebook and she read what she called the site's oppressive terms of use. According to TechCrunch, the site is bankrolled with about $2.5 million in investments from venture capitalists. And its business model for fighting the corporate social-media giants? Corporate sponsorships.

The site will let users either pick a participating business (presumably one they like) to "sponsor" their page or pay a $2 annual fee for the service. Through much of Wednesday, after tech blogs began reporting on it, pulling up the Unthink site delivered an "over capacity" message.

Unthink isn't the first startup that has hoped to capitalize on anti-Facebook sentiment. Last spring, Diaspora raised $200,000 on crowd-funding site Kickstarter to develop a decentralized networking site. But more than a year and a half later, only an unfinished alpha version has been rolled out and, last month, developers sent out a plea for more money to people who have already signed up.

The question, of course, is whether there's any appetite for yet another social networking platform in a landscape dominated by Facebook, with its 800 million users, and to a lesser extent, Twitter.

Even Google has struggled to pull users away from Facebook where, despite complaints, users have appeared willing to deal with occasional privacy concerns in return for a convenient online hangout populated by all their friends.

But if even a small percentage of those users choose to abandon ship for the "revolution," it may be enough for Unthink to declare victory.


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