Alexis Ohanian and Serj Tankian team up to help build a social network for Armenia

Alexis Ohanian and Serj Tankian team up to help build a social network for Armenia
Credit: WCIT 2019

I spent last week in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, which played host to this year’s World Congress On Information Technology (WCIT). The prestigious event brings together government agencies, IT companies, lobbying groups, investors, and startups as they discuss the latest developments in information and communications tech. And this year, it also saw the announcement of a new social network — HyeConnect.

Derived from Hayastan, the Armenian name for the country, HyeConnect was described at a press conference as a platform to connect all Armenians around the globe, as they seek to build partnerships, launch new businesses, and collaborate on projects to benefit the country and its people. That includes the country’s population of three million, as well as its global diaspora of a whopping seven million people.

AVB and HyeConnect

🇦🇲Ազդարարվեց "Hye Connect" և "Armenian Virtual Bridge" Ծրագրերի մեկնարկը։—Kick-start of the "Hye Connect" and the "Armenian Virtual Bridge" Programs.

Posted by Hakob Arshakyan on Saturday, October 12, 2019

HyeConnect is currently still a work in progress, which is why I don’t have any screenshots to show you. However, I can tell you what some of its chief proponents — Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, musician and activist Serj Tankian (who you might know from legendary rock band System of a Down), and Armenia’s minister of high-tech industry, Hakob Arshakyan — have in mind for the network while it’s being built.

Musician and Activist Serj Tankian speaks at the Technology, Society & Democracy panel at WCIT 2019
Credit: WCIT 2019
Musician and Activist Serj Tankian speaks at the Technology, Society & Democracy panel at WCIT 2019

Why does a country need its own social network? Speaking to TNW, Serj Tankian explained that the idea makes a lot of sense now that the Armenian diaspora is keen to connect with its homeland, following the country’s own Velvet Revolution in 2018:

The idea of having some type of digital platform to connect Armenians came up years ago. When it came up during the rule of the previous regime, it was a way of connecting the diaspora to each other, so it can better deal with the ongoing reality in Armenia.

But after the revolution, the concept evolved from being a diaspora connection thing to a pan-Armenian connection thing, which I think is more inclusive and more powerful. This is something we as Armenians desperately need. We’ve got such diverse Armenian communities around the world doing amazing things.

For example, I’m really dialed into the Armenian reality, but I have no idea what’s going with the community in Marseilles. I know just a couple of people there. Now if I’m developing a music project there, and I need a French-Armenian rapper, there’s no way I can find someone like that easily on, say, Facebook. You’d need an entire team for that search.

Minister of High Tech Industry of Armenia Hakob Arshakyan at WCIT 2019
Credit: WCIT 2019
Minister of High Tech Industry of Armenia Hakob Arshakyan at WCIT 2019

Hakob Arshakyan, the country’s minister for high-tech industry, is only 34 and has been in this new ministry and position for just a year, but is already playing a major role in building out the country’s tech and startup scene. In an interview with TNW, he explained that the timing couldn’t be better:

The idea for HyeConnect, as it’s being developed now, came up right after the revolution last year. Following the revolution and the ushering in of a progressive new government, every Armenian within our borders and around the world is feeling connected to the country and to their fellow countrymen.

Arshakyan noted that this kind of a platform is practically a startup idea, and needs to develop and evolve over time:

We’ll make sure to keep an open mind about how this can evolve. As we use it and see what works and what doesn’t, we’ll make the necessary changes to adapt the platform to suit its users.

The sentiment was echoed by Alexis Ohanian, who co-founded Reddit way back in 2005 and knows a thing or two about building social networks. I asked him about how the team behind HyeConnect planned to avoid the problems of excessive noise and unsolicited messages that plague other platforms.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian at WCIT 2019
Credit: WCIT 2019
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian at WCIT 2019

Ohanian noted that while it’s still in the early stages, HyeConnect will draw from learnings gathered from other networks to promote meaningful connections and conversations. Plus, it’ll be a non-profit venture. Hopefully, that means it won’t be gamed by publishers and advertisers striving to attract users’ attention.

Unlike many other countries, the people of Armenia have plenty of good reasons to feel united right now: a young new government, a revitalized population, and a nationwide interest in advancing Armenia’s interests and capabilities.

“The goal is to connect everyone, using their interests, to form incubative platforms, focus groups, symposiums,” said Tankian. “The amount of positive things that come out of this will be amazing.”

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