Another week, another discussion on the state of social networks on TWiT network. This time it took place on the latest episode of This week in Google . The discussion went on and on about how Google Plus was great. And how other social networks have ruined what made them the best in the first place — the posts from the real people and the social aspect around them — in their quest to monetize by jacking up the “engagement”.
Such discussions happen very often these days. Eventually, they turn towards the alternatives that exists, but always take a long trodden path.
“Facebook is hated by everyone but is ubiquitous, too big. Twitter is loved by no one but stays relevant in discourse. IndieWeb is dull, abstruce. Federated services are great, but no one can get them working. Instagram’s the lone messiah, but Mark’s working hard to ruin it.”
Finally, the original point on the available alternatives is all but left untouched. I am left frustrated every time by this sheer defeatism, this complete lack of attempt to try earnestly to understand and comment on the alternatives. What all alternatives have you tried? Were there none that were good? If so, why? What is missing? How can they be made better? What is it that you are looking for in a social network?
Mike Elgan had this comment on the recent episode of TWiG.
I would love a social network that had basically two rules. One is no algorithmic sorting or filtering, when I follow somebody I want everything they post. Second thing is I don’t want to get any content that isn’t the actual words or photos taken my the person I follow. No sharing, no retweeting.
I thought great, I know of one that meets these two rules. May be they will recommend it. Or comment on why it is lacking. Nah. Nothing. The topic ended there. I am perplexed at why Micro.blog isn’t referenced more often during these discussions on social networks. Sure, it may not be perfect. So go ahead, criticize it. Tell the makers of the service why they can’t use it. But do talk.
And micro.blog isn’t the only one. There’s Mastodon. And then there are the independent blogging solutions and RSS. Generate some buzz for them. You are not helping the situation by cribbing incessantly about the unending missteps of the existing services. Put these same old rants to rest now and crib about the new services. At least, the normal users would know there exist other alternatives and the developers would know what they need to work on.
Irrespective of what the popular belief is, the need for social networks is not going away — more so amongst those who are not technology oriented. Sure, some particular services that exist today may die down. But the medium won’t.
Just look at the history of the social media structures on the Internet. There has always existed a network of some form where every person that was connected could hang out. The initial users that adopted the digital life were techies, so their solutions were comparatively tech-savvy. I remember I have spent hours discussing and debating with my friends on IRC channels and on email groups and on XMPP-based IM clients.
I believe even in the world where not everybody and everything was connected, there existed mediums to communicate, to interact, to share. They might have been analog, or of forms that needed one to be in the presence of others. But they existed nonetheless.
In today’s age of smartphones, it’s become a lot simpler to get online and be “connected” with others. As a result, there are more people, more common non-techies, who are always on the look out for simpler ways to share their thoughts once they get online and stay in touch with others. They will sign-up with any service that promises them that. And they did.
Sure, the proponents of the open internet, myself included, dislike the current social networking behemoths – Facebook, and Twitter. But I think it is important to not let the disdain for these specific platforms turn into a complete rejection of the medium itself. There will always exist some structure that can facilitate communication in the form of text, images and other share-worthy stuff. The state became dire when we let a set of private entities wall this structure in their silos.
No doubt, Facebook and Twitter are in decline today. But the terrible scenario can recur if the common, but rising set of connected users is not provided with more open, more interoperable alternatives that are equally engaging and simple to use. And do so before other silos take over the medium again.
I know of the services that already meet the “open and interoperable” characteristic. But the majority contenders reek of “by-the-techies-for-the-techies” fervour. So there’s still a long way to go to meet the “engaging and simple” part — the one closest is Micro.blog. I believe there exists a group of brilliant minds that understands the importance of addressing this. It is incumbent upon this group to work towards that.
There is a lot of chatter recently around the features on Twitter/Facebook that should be incorporated in the new1 social media platforms. Or even the lack of the Twitter/Facebook like features that make the platforms better. Just look at the timelines at any of these platforms and you are bound to see some meta discussion on these lines. You will see it on Micro.blog. You will see it on Mastodon.
Let’s just take a couple of examples. Here’s how Mastodon’s boost is presented as better.
Boosts are essentially like retweets, with one key difference: there’s no option to add your own commentary. You simply can’t post something awful with a message saying how awful it is—all you can do is boost something awful without commentary.
Well, I can’t be the only one to remember the early Twitter days when retweets were just that, without commentary. It was all the third party clients that had an option to “quote” tweet. Remember those days of appending “RT:”, etc? We were using the feature and Twitter was forced to officially support it.
Same was the case with hashtags, another feature that made experience on Twitter a nightmare – but was brought in because users were “enjoying” it. We kept boasting we brought the hashtags to Twitter and now we want nothing to do with it.
Don’t get me wrong here. I do not want to sound like a Twitter apologist. The platform is in a dire state and their current and previous owners are rightly to be blamed here. As I recently wrote, I have no sympathy for these folks. Examples mentioned above are not the primary reasons why Twitter, and Facebook, are struggling.
But it is worth considering the fact that many of the features being touted as responsible for Twitter’s fall are ones introduced by its users.
So a plea to all the decision makers behind these “new” platforms – don’t let us, your users, drive the roadmap for you. We cannot foresee what’s right. You on the other hand can decide where you want to take your platform. That may mean some people won’t ride along and get left behind. But, at times, it is better to follow what’s right in the long run than chase the immediate growth.
I know people behind both Micro.blog and Mastodon are making these design decisions very carefully2, and are not heeding to the pressure.
So just stick to your beliefs, Manton, Eugen and others. Take your time and decide what’s right for us.
New, not in terms of the time that they have existed. But rather new in terms of the time that they started getting noticed.↩
Just read the timeline of Manton Reece, the man behind Micro.bog – he is constant pushing back on feature requests which do not fit his vision behind the platform. Eugen Rochko’s doing the same for Mastodon, just read his post where he details his decision decisions.↩
I am reading a lot of views these days from people I respect deciding to leave Twitter. And this is after a similar exodus from Facebook pretty recently.
But this time it looks to be different; for one they are putting too much effort with their Twitter profiles. They are deleting their tweets, resetting their profile information to convey that they are not “here” and resolving to not posting on Twitter again. Well, some are even ready to pay some shady1 services to get the tweets deleted.
I, on the other hand, was just reading through the articles and sitting there wondering what’s different this time. I was looking for that one argument to not simply delete the account. Quit Twitter completely. Best I could get was from Matt.
I’ll continue to read twitter occasionally, and I might keep on liking tweets, but I’m not going to send another tweet until the service changes or the management changes in very drastic ways.
Well, if you are still not exiting Twitter, how’s it helping? I am afraid the place will only become messier with all the respectable voices leaving the platform.
It’s like being part of a coffee club that used to meet often in a coffee house of the group’s choice. Each one of the group would talk and discuss on varied topics. It was a fun place where you could learn so much. And get to know of so many new things and news all around the world.
But slowly the coffee house became louder, with some hateful voices propagating their distasteful views. You look to the owner of the place and hope that he doesn’t be a jack and acts; you hope he asks these people to leave. And block them from coming to this place ever and ruining the experience of many such clubs as yours. But when you realise that the owner isn’t going to do so, you decide you need to act. So you decide to take your group and discussion to a better, saner place.
The question to ponder at then is would you still visit the old coffee house daily and see what’s being discussed and voiced and promulgated?
Why shady? Well you need to give them tweets and access to your profile. And some apparently post to your profile saying you use their service. Sigh!↩