How many times have I heard, “I have a love hate relationship with Facebook”? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube… let’s just call them Social Media Platforms or SMPs. The ability to keep in touch with friends and family, share with a large group of people quickly, share and manage photos, find details about that friend from way back; all of that is great. Lately the list of bad is growing long and the great seems less so. The problem is the bad is worse than most people think. Suicides. Political manipulation. Extremely effective and manipulative advertising. Spying. Social engineering. The libertarian in me thinks they should be free to do that and I should be as free to not use it. Yet I feel more and more that SMPs are becoming a utility that everyone needs in the way everyone needs a phone and credit card. Technically you don’t need it, but it is pretty hard to be in this society without it. A friend the other day cryptically hinted that he may be developing some SMP of his own. Great! But he is certainly not the first I have heard speak of such a thing. SInce the now defunct Friendster launched in 2002 and Facebook IPO’d for hundreds of billions, people have been trying to break into the SMP market. Arguably only 3 have made it. Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google or FAANG are just 5 companies with a combined value of $6 trillion dollars. They have been insanely good at protecting that club and barring any new members. Those that have come close have been gobbled up acquisition style. Or destroyed. This is a problem I have thought a lot about and I think I have devised a way to disrupt the disruptors.
Microblogging and the Content Shift
What is micro-blogging? Microblogging is a term getting thrown around a bit and Twitter adopted it as their own. The idea of microblogging seemed stupid to me at first. Why limitations when my blog has no limits? And why put my content on someone elses site when I have my own? At first with many SMPs, content creators were using them just to tease their content to attract content to their own site. This worked great. In fact, many SMPs had APIs and allowed for 3rd party applications that would automatically post links to blog articles on SMPs as soon as you published a blog article. Facebook disallowed this to some degree and made this difficult to do. Which lead to two interesting developments: content started being posted on SMPs and Facebook started controlling what content their users saw.
Protect The Feed At All Costs
I can remember watch Apple keynotes to see new features being released, back when new features improved the user experience. With SMPs, most new features are frustrating and unwanted by users and exist only to aid SMPs. The first example was Facebook changing the default sort from chronological to using a blackbox algorithm. It sounded great. Many complained they were no longer seeing content from people like they would want. At first you could change the sort back to chronological, then you could change it but the change would not persist between visits, then you couldn’t change the sort if you wanted to. You have no control over the way content in your feed is ranked. Facebook’s strategy: protect the feed at all cost. You can’t even see the magic algorithm that controls the content you see. Politicians have claimed they are being censored. It is worse than that. People can say whatever they want, but there is no guarantee anyone will see it. Even if they want to see it. Protect the feed at all cost. Once they had that control, why would they give it up? This is clearly demonstrable by looking at traffic from articles posted on Facebook. Where they may have gotten tens of thousands at one time, now they are lucky to get ten. SMPs have a few high priority goals: 1. Content should be on our site, not the content creators’ sites. 2. We want people on our site, not here just to find content that leads them away. 3. We want to control the public dialog and if we don’t like what is being said, we can set the algorithm to bury it in obscurity.
Really Simple Syndication
Really Simple Syndication or RSS was a technology cut short by SMPs. There were a few apps like Flipboard that used RSS feeds. Basically RSS let you subscribe to a blog. Maybe you wanted to follow a large number of blog sites, but going to each of those looking for new content was a bit daunting. Enter feed readers or feed aggregators. Feed readers like Flipboard let you subscribe to blogs and then it would curate articles right there in your feed reader. It was great! You could set up categories. Maybe you followed a few movie bloggers so you’d set up a feed of movie blogs. Another for political blogs. When you opened the app it would go out and grab content and create this page like the Wall Street Journal. Little teasers of content. If you wanted to read more, you could click a link to go to the blog page.
Bitcoin ushered in a really interesting idea. Digital currency? No. Decentralization. When the military first developed the internet, the primary goal was decentralized information. It protected the military from the unlikely event that the Pentagon or some other location would be bombed. We haven’t really seen many other applications use this idea other than digital currency.
A Blueprint for A Social Media Killer
I think to kill social media in its current state, one must disrupt that technology with a compelling alternative. I would suggest a site that uses RSS or a similar technology to gather information from blogs and aggregate them on a site. Not to steal the entire blog post, mind you, just the title and main image: just a teaser. The flaw of RSS readers is they were not a site and you had to go through the laborious task of finding blogs. Instead the site should just aggregate all blog content and let users sift through to find things that are interesting and like them similar to Reddit, just without the need for someone to post the content. The content would in effect be decentralized as it would not exist on the social media platform but on the content creators site, the aggregator would just be a discovery gateway.