Can Unthink topple Facebook? Unthinkable

New privacy-centric social network Unthink has officially launched. Now we will see if it can achieve the unthinkable.

Can a tiny social media startup from Tampa take on Facebook and win? That is the question we’re asking on this thrilling episode of Thank You for Not Sharing.

Today is the official beta debut of Unthink, which is billing itself as -- stop me if you’ve heard this one -- the “anti-Facebook.” It’s also hoping to take on Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the rest, become a one-stop shopping solution for all your social media and branding needs. So if nothing else, you’ve got to give them points for chutzpah.

Unthink aims to give you total control over the information you share, and vows to never alter that arrangement in the future. When you join you must agree to a 6200-word “Deed” and “Emancipation Convenants” that detail what they will and won’t do with your data. Are you signing up for a social network or joining a religious cult? Maybe a little of both.

An extremely goofy/creepy animated video featuring a talking tree explains how it all works.

Personally, this is a bit too much like a nightmare I once had after watching too many episodes of Gumby and Pokey (don’t ask). But you might find it endearing.

Unthink separates your online life into four streams: Public, Social, Lifestyle and Professional. Whatever updates, photos, videos, etc you post to one stream won’t show up in any of the others.

The idea is that you are one person to the world at large, another to your friends, a third to your coworkers, and so on. That’s hardly an original concept anymore (see Google Circles, Diaspora Aspects, Facebook Lists), but Unthink creates a more clear separation between these worlds than most. You can choose different privacy settings for each, though they’re binary – public or private. You can search for other Unthink users inside your Web mail address books and even import photos and videos from Facebook via an “emancipation suitcase.” That’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway.

You can also keep your information safe from marketing weasels and advertising worms. Unthink gives you the choice of selecting a brand to “sponsor” your account or foregoing a sponsor and paying $2 a year.

But today’s debut was not the most auspicious. The site was unreachable at various parts of the day – you can probably thank a splashy story by TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez for that. (Unthink PR Rep Glenn Selig tells me they had to bring several additional servers online to handle all the traffic.) The Facebook “emancipation suitcase” didn’t work at all for me, nor did importing contacts from Gmail. And then the site just crashed.

Also: Unthink appears to have been designed by somebody who thought CompuServe was da bomb. Your aesthetic mileage may vary.

It would take weeks – and a lot more members -- to get a real feel for how the site operates, but those are are the highlights. Unthink has a pretty slick marketing campaign and enough early money to at least make a decent run at the big boys. And it doesn’t have to persuade all 800 million Facebookers to make the switch to be a success – it only needs a few million people who are fed up with Facebook’s cavalier attitude toward your personal information. Exactly how many million? I guess that’s what we’re about to find out.

Interested in trying it out? You have to be invited to join Unthink; ping me on Twitter and I’ll send you an invite.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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