Social networks have been around for decades. Some hugely successful and many we've never heard of. A social network is a place where you can communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images and videos. Its a network of social interactions and personal relationships.
Social networks differ in different parts of the world. How social networks operate in China is very different to how social platforms operate in the US. Recently, social networks have become washed down. Are they really about connecting people ? Are they really about finding people with similar interests ?
Or are these social platforms just big data factories that make us addicted to their platforms by using complex algorithms and harvest our data to sell it to advertisers ?
The question is - Who owns your data ? You or the platform your using ? It is your personal information, like what your interested in, who your friends are, where you live - but you are using their platform and they are providing this service for free. At the end of the day, everything thats free comes with a cost in one way or the other.
Virtually, every social network is driven by network effects. The more users that join / posts that are uploaded / comments / views that are generated exponentially increase the value of the network. This is a critical success factor for social platforms. Imagine if none of your friends used Facebook or Instagram - would you still join those platforms ? These platforms have such a strong network effect and are imbedded so much into our daily lifes that you virtually have no choice but to join. Everyone you know is on the network and if you're not on it, your the odd one out - " Social Peer Pressure "
Centralized vs decentralized
In the web3 space we hear this terminology all the time: "We're building a decentralized network " . Let's define centralized networks vs decentralized networks.
- Centralized networks are networks built on a single server that handles all the major processing
- Decentralized networks are networks that distribute workloads among several machines, instead of relying on a single central server.
The popularity of crypto and blockchain technology has spawned the idea of decentralized social networks. A network that is not controlled by a single person. An open source platform where the algorithms are available to view online. Is this the way forward ? Do the people who use these platforms get to decided how their data is used or what features are built ? I think its a step in the right direction.
Open vs closed platforms / networks
Most social platforms are open i.e. anyone can join. However some platforms are built around specific niches and some networks have a target audience. E.g. LinkedIn is a network for professionals. So are these platforms really open ? Sure, anyone can join - but the incentives for people in different target audiences change.
- If your looking to expand your professional network and find like-minded individuals - LinkedIn is the network for you
- If your looking to see what the latest politicians / joournalists are saying about policies join twitter.
- If your looking to see content from your favorite influencer join Tik Tok.
Peoples motivations dictate which platform they will use. And these motivates are hugely impacted by what's popular and current trends.
A new way of life
Of course, there are huge advantages to social networks. They have given people a new way of life. Many people make a living from social media. This is a recent phenomenon. These platforms have morphed into something that is so much bigger than just a social network. If you count the amount of people who make a living of these platforms, you could arguably say that they are one of the largest employers in the world, and they get to control what you see. They feed you content that are aligned to their interests.
The cons are obvious. People will do almost anything to get clicks, mis-information can be spread so quickly and this social peer pressure creates a competitive environment where everyone is competing for followers and likes. This creates a very unauthentic experience.
So what is the way forward ? Do we keep using the same social platforms for the rest of our lifes ? Personally, I believe that if this is the case and some new platform doesn't come along and replace these titans, then we have failed as a society. This cycle is nothing new. Every few decades, new technology comes along that is either better, faster or cheaper and replaces the old. This applies to all different areas of technology, not just social platforms.
So hopefully, in a few years time we will see huge platform shifts and people using new platforms.