The Initiative for Digital Public Infrastructure is a new research center based at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, connecting the School for Public Policy, the Department of Communication, and the College of Information and Computer Sciences. The Initiative studies the civic and social role of internet platforms, and advocates for approaches to digital infrastructures that treat platforms and supporting technologies as public spaces and public goods, not purely as profit-making ventures.

iDPI looks to move beyond “fixing” existing internet infrastructures like Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and asks what we might build if we constructed digital spaces for the public good instead. We believe that social media and other essential digital tools can have much more positive social and civic effects if designed with those goals in mind, much as public television and radio have complemented commercial broadcasting and helped reach civic and educational goals the commercial market has failed to achieve.

The ideas that animate iDPI have been outlined in a set of academic papers and articles in the popular press:

Building a More Honest Internet

The Case for Digital Public Infrastructure

What is Digital Public Infrastructure?

Led by Ethan Zuckerman, the Initiative will be building a team of researchers, programmers, policy experts and advocates over the next months and years. Our core projects include expanding gobo.social to serve as a general purpose social media client, working with builders of distributed social networks and with existing communities to design novel online communities, and making the case — legally and conceptually —- for digital public infrastructures as a public good.

Tune in to our interview series “Reimagining the Internet” on YouTube or your favorite podcast app, where we’re talking to some of the most exciting scholars, activists, journalists, and entrepreneurs in our field about what’s wrong with social media and how to fix it.