We’re Witnessing the End of Social Media

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From The Atlantic:

It’s over. Facebook is in decline, Twitter in chaos. Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in value and laid off 11,000 people, with its ad business in peril and its metaverse fantasy in irons. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has caused advertisers to pull spending and power users to shun the platform (or at least to tweet a lot about doing so). It’s never felt more plausible that the age of social media might end—and soon.

Now that we’ve washed up on this unexpected shore, we can look back at the shipwreck that left us here with fresh eyes. Perhaps we can find some relief: Social media was never a natural way to work, play, and socialize, though it did become second nature. The practice evolved via a weird mutation, one so subtle that it was difficult to spot happening in the moment.

The shift began 20 years ago or so, when networked computers became sufficiently ubiquitous that people began using them to build and manage relationships. Social networking had its problems—collecting friends instead of, well, being friendly with them, for example—but they were modest compared with what followed. Slowly and without fanfare, around the end of the aughts, social media took its place. The change was almost invisible, but it had enormous consequences. Instead of facilitating the modest use of existing connections—largely for offline life (to organize a birthday party, say)—social software turned those connections into a latent broadcast channel. All at once, billions of people saw themselves as celebrities, pundits, and tastemakers.

A global broadcast network where anyone can say anything to anyone else as often as possible, and where such people have come to think they deserve such a capacity, or even that withholding it amounts to censorship or suppression—that’s just a terrible idea from the outset. And it’s a terrible idea that is entirely and completely bound up with the concept of social media itself: systems erected and used exclusively to deliver an endless stream of content.

But now, perhaps, it can also end. The possible downfall of Facebook and Twitter (and others) is an opportunity—not to shift to some equivalent platform, but to embrace their ruination, something previously unthinkable.

A long time ago, many social networks walked the Earth. Six Degrees launched in 1997, named after a Pulitzer-nominated play based on a psychological experiment. It shut down soon after the dot-com crash of 2000—the world wasn’t ready yet. Friendster arose from its ashes in 2002, followed by MySpace and LinkedIn the next year, then Hi5 and Facebook in 2004, the latter for students at select colleges and universities. That year also saw the arrival of Orkut, made and operated by Google. Bebo launched in 2005; eventually both AOL and Amazon would own it. Google Buzz and Google+ were born and then killed. You’ve probably never heard of some of these, but before Facebook was everywhere, many of these services were immensely popular.

Content-sharing sites also acted as de facto social networks, allowing people to see material posted mostly by people they knew or knew of, rather than from across the entire world. Flickr, the photo-sharing site, was one; YouTube—once seen as Flickr for video—was another. Blogs (and bloglike services, such as Tumblr) raced alongside them, hosting “musings” seen by few and engaged by fewer. In 2008, the Dutch media theorist Geert Lovink published a book about blogs and social networks whose title summarized their average reach: Zero Comments.

Today, people refer to all of these services and more as “social media,” a name so familiar that it has ceased to bear meaning. But two decades ago, that term didn’t exist. Many of these sites framed themselves as a part of a “web 2.0” revolution in “user-generated content,” offering easy-to-use, easily adopted tools on websites and then mobile apps. They were built for creating and sharing “content,” a term that had previously meant “satisfied” when pronounced differently. But at the time, and for years, these offerings were framed as social networks or, more often, social-network services. So many SNSes proliferated, a joke acronym arose: YASN, or “yet another social network.” These things were everywhere, like dandelions in springtime.

As the original name suggested, social networking involved connecting, not publishing. By connecting your personal network of trusted contacts (or “strong ties,” as sociologists call them) to others’ such networks (via “weak ties”), you could surface a larger network of the trusted contacts of trusted contacts. LinkedIn promised to make job searching and business networking possible by traversing the connections of your connections. Friendster did so for personal relationships, Facebook for college mates, and so on. The whole idea of social networks was networking: building or deepening relationships, mostly with people you knew. How and why that deepening happened was largely left to the users to decide.

That changed when social networking became social media around 2009, between the introduction of the smartphone and the launch of Instagram. Instead of connection—forging latent ties to people and organizations we would mostly ignore—social media offered platforms through which people could publish content as widely as possible, well beyond their networks of immediate contacts. Social media turned you, me, and everyone into broadcasters (if aspirational ones). The results have been disastrous but also highly pleasurable, not to mention massively profitable—a catastrophic combination.

The terms social network and social media are used interchangeably now, but they shouldn’t be. A social network is an idle, inactive system—a Rolodex of contacts, a notebook of sales targets, a yearbook of possible soul mates. But social media is active—hyperactive, really—spewing material across those networks instead of leaving them alone until needed.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic (via MSN)

PG expects social media to continue to evolve and develop, but doesn’t expect it to disappear anytime soon.

3 thoughts on “We’re Witnessing the End of Social Media”

  1. Social media is here to stay and while old media would like it gone, it won’t go.
    It serves a purpose.

    Thing is, the healtiest social networks aren’t the ones built around gossip or cheap PR. They are focused around specific functions and audiences. In most cases they aren’t even acknowledged as social networks by old media because they aren’t all about ads.
    Linkedin is about business networking. Which is why Microsoft bought them and why they’re flourishing under their umbrella; no need to abuse their users for the last penny.

    XBOX Network, Playstation Network, and STEAM are about gaming and real time interactions. So are the MASSIVE MULTIPLAYER ONLINE games. DISCORD is an up and comer, big in real time cross-playform game communications but it is expanding into other areas be suse it allows for private communities as well as public ones. Microsoft almost bought them but we rebuked after a mating dance. Discord has been eyeing an IPO but if the economy stays in the tank they may end up joining Microsoft as a complement to Linkedin and TEAMS.

    Amazon has Goodreads and any century now they’ll realise they’re underinvesting in it and leaving money on the table. It needs updsting and expansion into other recreational busineses like video, music, and games. If Amazon doesn’t do it soon, Discord will get there “firstest with the bestest”.

    The key in the evolution (and monetization) of social media is communities, much like the ancient (but still running) USENET. Both public and private but the real money is in the private communities.

  2. I’d say that article is an argument in favor of social media continuing on for a ling time. I don’t see any reason to think the potential demise of FB or Twitter would stop any new products from evolving.

  3. Facebook is no longer cool. They lost me when they controlled everything on my feed.

    Twitter is a cesspool of hatred. I cannot read any comments. So ugly and full of asshats.

    Linkedin offers a more pleasant experience. It’s not fun. It’s informative.

    Tiktok allows me to control my experience. Everything fed to me is silliness and stuff that makes me laugh.

    I used to spend so much time on Facebook, but now I spend a few minutes a day on Linkedin and will “watch” some Tiktok for 20 minutes or so once a week. I’m happier for it. Probably healthier.

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