On their first day of work at Twitter, Alphonzo “Phonz” Terrell and DeVaris Brown crossed paths. They had no idea that in a few short years they would be creating their own social media network.
“We were the only two Black people in there, and we were like, ‘Hey, we’ll be pals,'” recalled Terrell, who was the platform’s Global Head of Social & Editorial up until last month, when he was one of thousands of staff let go after Elon Musk’s acquisition. Brown resigned his position as Twitter’s lead product manager for machine learning in 2020 to create the Series A company Mexora, which aims to simplify the process of constructing data pipelines for businesses.
In a recent blog post, Terrell and Brown announced that they are accepting signups for a waitlist for their new app, Spill, which they describe as “a real time conversational platform that puts culture first.” It is anticipated that the platform will be live in the next several weeks.
Terrell and Brown, two Black creatives and engineers in the social media industry, have seen how Black women, the gay community, and other marginalised groups have been the driving force behind viral movements on sites like Twitter and TikTok, only to be ignored. Studies demonstrate that Black content producers are less likely to receive brand partnerships and have had their work stolen than their White counterparts.
“I think this is really a platform issue,” Terrell told.”Even before I left Twitter, over the last several months, I was just talking to Black female creators, talking to Black queer creators and I’m like, ‘How do you make your money? Is any platform supporting you? Does the idea of Spill interest you?’”
Because of this, the creators behind Spill made sure to provide a variety of ways for them to make money right away. Terrell avoids labelling Spill as a web3 firm, despite the fact that the company will employ blockchain technology to track the spread of viral content and pay their creators.
“It has nothing to do with web3. As Terrell put it, “I don’t want that. However, the blockchain will also be used to establish a mechanism by which we may automatically recompense authors for their work. A viral leak that we can profit from is a game changer. Spill has not yet determined how money will be split or how postings will be tracked to determine ad revenue, but Terrell assures artists that they will “definitely get actual pay” in the form of US dollars rather than cryptocurrencies. As part of the underlying infrastructure, blockchain technology will not be exposed to end users.
In place of Mastodon’s “toots,” users of Spill will be able to upload “spills” (a term similar to Twitter’s “tweets”). Their name comes from the expression “spill the tea,” and, as Terrell explained, they embrace the teacup concept. In fact, there’s a Kermit drinking tea meme on their website (which, by the way, was popularised on Black Twitter). Tea parties are a new feature in development for Spill, where users may organise virtual and real-world events to earn rewards that can be used in the app for things like post promotion. Users can still pay for promoted posts, but Terrell promises free bonuses to those that “have been generating and smashing it on Spill.”
Brown, Spill’s Chief Technology Officer, is building the company’s dedication to celebrating creative work into the core of the platform.
“This will probably be the first, from the ground up, large language content moderation model using AI that’s actually built by people from the culture,” Brown told.
Hate speech detection algorithms used by most social media sites have a documented history of racial biases; for example, one study found that tweets written in AAVE (African American vernacular English) were 2.2 times more likely to be flagged as offensive or hateful than tweets written by non-African Americans. In particular, if the developers of the AI are monolingual speakers who have made no effort to learn the languages of other cultures, the AI will not be able to recognise the cultural context in which particular speech is being employed. But perhaps Brown is the one who can alter that.
And again, this is our lived experience or what we’ve learned from experience, so we’re going to be more intentional and truthful about things that would be found offensive,” he added. To paraphrase, “it’ll be lot more accurate to capture those types of things that would detract from the platform that would not lead to building a safe place for our users and our artists.”
There are less than 10 individuals working on Spill, plus three advisors including former Twitter design chief Dantley Davis. Similar buzzy rivals to Twitter, such as Hive, have encountered security concerns when developing their own similar platforms without a solid foundation of developers. Nonetheless, the owners of Spill are certain that their company will avoid this snare.
It’s like having John McClane and MacGyver in the room, Brown said. With regards to content and social media, “Phonz has conducted some of the largest and most successful campaigns in the world.” Before joining Twitter, Terrell oversaw social media marketing for HBO, where his team was honoured with a Webby Award for Best Overall Social Presence. And then there’s me, who has managed massive web-scale applications since before cloud computing was even a thing. We’ve been down this road before.
You can now sign up for Spill’s waitlist if you want to reserve your handle and be informed as we approach the launch of the platform.
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