You Do You — 2016 in Social Media
Fake news is not the main story. The main story starts a few years ago with a batch of social media applications, each with it’s own simple premise that, after a glut of early adoption, start to attract the wrong sort of attention…
Attention that requires large amounts of data storage and eventually the floating of a series of public companies, with all the entrapments that entails — i.e. the hire of hoards of people with little interest in the original idea, some of whom may or may not have qualifications in marketing; the elevation of user data to the status of an amorphic blob of supposedly valuable collateral; the slow-slow-fast shoe-horning in of tired, old, traditional models of advertising (such as TVCs)… the latter being key to this thread. The discussion of which was more eloquently presented midway through this year by Guardian News & Media editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, in a Guardian Long Read entitled‘How Technology disrupted the Truth’:“In the last few years, many news organisations have steered themselves away from public-interest journalism and toward junk-food news, chasing page views in the vain hope of attracting clicks and advertising (or investment)”.
Personalised search results, customised newsfeeds, non-sequential user content are all things initiated by executives (many of whom have been shown to seldom publicly use their own products, preferring to remain shadowy figures in the background) to appease advertisers. Advertisers that have refused to improve their own offers, relying on these new social media executives to push old fashioned advertising models such as the aforementioned TVCs (i.e. commercials made for television, something the creaky old advertising industry still churns out in bulk) and classified style advertising often disguised by variations on the term ‘Sponsored Posts‘ (i.e. advertising made available to a vast majority of users at bargain prices, so even your Mum can promote her new ‘D.I.Y. Marketing’ print-on-demand publication to all and sundry) into newfangled technology.
This old school type of quick-fix advertising relies on interrupting viewers / readers / visitors which is exactly what many of the founders of social technology such as Twitter was originally trying to circumvent, rendering most of these services suddenly redundant to all but the most staunchly immune users. Which turned out, in Facebook’s case, to be mostly baby boomers who were largely afraid of strangers responding to their posts (and therefore comfortable ignoring anyone outside their limited network) and happiest talking to themselves anyway.
Early adopters feeling locked out of the now established social media outlets their content and commitment originally helped build, started resorting to more personal means of communication in 2016. This year saw the subtle reinvention of email subscription lists or subs as a way to keep up with a strictly limited number of people by sharing all manner of information such as lo-fi mixtapes (with links to YouTube or SoundCloud etc.), carefully curated links by guest editors such as those supplied in the ‘In Wild Air’ email list and even Kickstarter rewards such as Offscreen’s Rebranding Diary.
Stack became a complicated way of holding onto the idea of twitter without using twitter — downside being you ended up in a very specific silo of not-always like minded individuals with only a tiny aperture to the outside world, filtered through the lens of often voracious opinion. Sure, it meant you could keep up with your friends (both personal but mostly professional) as long as you were okay with their random associates loudly butting in as well.
On the subject of semi-closed networks, let’s be real about Snapchat for a sec. It’s really only used for the filters isn’t it. Everything it has had to do to grow it’s audience without infringing any Insta-patents has so far been convoluted and overly complex. The Snapchat spectacles (their much wackier version of Google Glass) made a bit of a splash but it’s still not for everyone (which may actually be a good thing for dedicated users). There were the hopeful glimmers of developers finding chinks in the patents of the current social media giants. Imzy was this year’s Ello (which, in turn, became several years ago’s DeviantArt/Etsy mash-up) although their heavy handed use of the term ‘community’ turned out to be a massive turn off.
So the underlying struggle for social media outlets to stay relevant whilst continuing to bend over… I mean appease advertisers and executives hasn’t let up yet, but people are still using online outlets to circumvent the silos advertisers are inadvertently creating, which is something the internet is still happily very useful for.
Links & Resources
How technology disrupted the truth, The Guardian
by Katharine Viner, July 2016
Baby Boomers and Seniors Are Flocking to Facebook, Mashable
by Jennifer Van Grove, January 2010
In Wild Air
Offscreen’s Rebranding Diary