The more I look at how things are developing with people using (or not using) social networks and communication services online the more obvious it is that these services are fundamentally broken, there weren’t always broken but times change.
Take Twitter for example. It’s a great service, but you can see that what’s being asked of it by users now (in their general use) far exceeds what it’s actually good for. It’s popularity has doomed it to be something it’s not, which is a fully blown social network. Twitter is good at what it’s meant to be for which is broadcasting a short and succinct msg to people. What it’s not good for is conversation that’s exactly what a lot of people use it for. It’s also become mostly a place where the “succinct msg” has become an advertisement, to the point now where Twitter is mostly a channel to use to advertise to people. Is that what we need from a Twitter? another advertising channel? businesses perhaps, but general internet users? I think not.
This form of advertising also still uses the “Push” style of advertising, where products and services are pushed onto you, which you might have no interested in at all (regardless of the algorithms saying otherwise).
But of course this is an issue with any service which grows to have millions of users, it needs a way to cover server costs and most services which start out free are never going to start charging so they try to recoup those costs via advertising, this however fundamentally changes the nature of the free service. Any social network that in theory allows users to reach thousands of other users will always devolve into primarily a place about advertising, either from the platform itself or from it’s users. And that in turn destroys the point of it being a “social” network.
Take Facebook as another example. Initially it’s viral channels and access to users amongst users meant huge and quick growth, this growth however meant many individuals and companies seizing these open viral channels to once again try to advertise and sell something to the masses of users (either via direct advertising or virtual currencies) which in turn turned people off the idea of using those very same channels. People want to talk to their friends, not sell them things.
Many of these websites were the vanguard of web 2.0, and as such rode the wave of the huge numbers of people that found a new and interesting way of using the internet. But these websites and services were in a way version 1.0 of this new use of the internet, they still were infused with legacy ideas from before the internet (push advertising being an example)
Apps such as Whisper and Secret, show that many users do not want to be known when they use a social network. In a way they are the very antithesis of Facebook or Twitter because it’s the content which is what matters not the individual, and I think with this we are perhaps looking into the future of social networks. Current social networks want to know as much as possible about their users for one simple reason, advertising. The more they know about an individual the better they can target advertising to them and/or sell that individuals data to companies who can also use it for advertising purposes. So it’s in the interest of those kinds of social networks to know the who and where of it’s users.
It’s also much easier to base targeted advertising on basic parameters of an individual such as age, gender etc than it is the content the individual produces whether that behavioral or expressed through language. The latter requires sophisticated A.I to understand the content.
I would argue that the success of any social service regardless of where it starts, puts demands on it which it probably wasn’t initially designed to handle, this also doesn’t even take into account the accumulated effect of users becoming accustomed to these services as a whole and expecting to use them in ways that perhaps the founders of these networks never even thought of. This the stage I think we have arrived at now.