Here’s What the Next Generation of Social Media Platforms will Look Like
“I think that we deserve better and I feel like there might be a more generous platform to come along if enough people followed in my footsteps.” -Michael Stipe, on leaving Instagram
I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to do what Michael Stipe would do in any given situation. I always thought that practice would ultimately be expressed in music…or in some more traditional medium. But the fact is, I’ve been most successful in building social media tools…I’ve made my living in social…so here we are. Here TF we are.
Building a more perfect, more human social media platform would be unbelievably easy. Seriously. That’s not a joke. A couple of competent professionals could do it in a weekend. What would be difficult is this: A human-first social network would represent a paradigm shift…an actual consciousness shift…it would require people to actually want to interact with the people they care about in a 1:1 or 1:many sense. And our industry hasn’t seen that consumer desire in a long time.
Anyway. Infrastructure=Easy. Human behavior=Hard. Here are my requirements for a better social network:
Let’s just get this out of the way now. I’ll explain why later, but yes: subscription. Social networks have to pay their bills…not just sweet, fat executive salaries, but also an incredible amount of development, service and maintenance costs. And social networks have to keep two cohorts happy: the investors (assuming there are investors…spoiler: there are always investors) and the customers. The problem here is that users are neither. They aren’t investors and they aren’t customers. Ad buyers are customers. And investors are investors. If you employ a subscription model, users (people) are customers. Gotta keep em happy.
Only real people
No brands, no bands, no public figures (no phone, no food, no pets). King of the road!
The real downfall of social media wasn’t fake news, or bot farms, or data scraping, or prostitution, or even larceny, it was corporate personhood. It’s a tale as old as bands on Friendster…as soon as you give businesses the same rights and status as humans, you begin to devalue humans and favor businesses.
So, on a perfect platform, even if you’re a public figure you have to be personally, individually authenticated, verified and reachable. You have to be real and responsible for everything you bring onto the platform. You have to be responsible regarding the people (PEOPLE!) with whom you interact and the manner in which you interact. This will actually require an impressive amount of work, but it is entirely possible. It is entirely possible to independently verify, authenticate and secure every single account on a social platform. This doesn’t mean people will be more honest or less curated, but hell, at least they’ll be real people.
Everyone who is connected has one level of authorization/permissions
So you, as a real person, paying a subscription, are a member. Everyone else on the platform is a member. If you are friends with someone, they have the exact same type of account you do. And you can message each other. And you can post things. And you can stream. And your posts have the same weight. Same same.
No hiding, no blocking. You’re connected or you’re not.
Hiding and muting users is some passive aggressive shit. If you need to disconnect from someone, disconnect. You can connect again later if you reconcile IRL. If you’re not connected to someone on the platform, they can’t see what you’re doing anyway…because there are no public figures. So there is no need for blocking.
Note: If you are afraid to unfriend someone because you are afraid of what they may do to you IRL, PLEASE CONTACT THE AUTHORITIES. This is a dangerous person, and you are in a bad situation. And contact me too. I’m serious. I did UGC moderation for years. I can probably help you find the resources you need. No one should live in fear.
No one-way follow
You want friends or you want fans? You want friends or you want followers? We want friends. If you want something else, take it on down the line, homey. Two-way follow means no gaming follower counts, no F to F ratios, no fake fans, no fake engagement, none of the weird ills of modern social (which, if you think about it, is incredibly antisocial).
I wrote in 2014 that when we first envisioned social media, we never expected that the same few voices would suck all of the oxygen out of the room. We never expected that Donald Trump and Kimye (seriously…these are the 2 examples i used in 2014) would buy all the voice and consolidate all the eyeballs even more-so than they had on traditional media.
These are the wages of (often fake) follower gaming. The bots have swung the herd in a nasty direction. (Update from The Atlantic)
No ads, no sponsored posts
Once a social platform becomes an ad platform, it ceases to be social. Most of the disinformation, privacy and general abuse (as opposed to personal abuse) issues related to social have arisen out of the fact that, in order to survive, platforms have to sell an unimaginable amount of unimaginably well targeted, well delivered and effective ads. Facebook may be the best ad platform in the history of mankind. I use it every day. It makes me a lot of money. But most people aren’t well equipped for that level of tailored advertising on a platform that they don’t realize is a commercial platform.
If users pay a subscription, they are paying the bills, ergo, they are the customers. On an ad platform, advertisers pay the bills. Advertisers are the customers, ergo advertisers are the priority.
A rule against non-ads (ie paid/sponsored posts) is just as important, because influencer marketing is even more effective, and in some cases, more deceptive than advertising. A fake peer-to-peer referral from a fake peer is a powerful and (arguably nefarious) thing. By putting anti-friend-spamming and anti-influencer checks in place, we can curb the flow of bad information.
Another side effect of curbing the influencer economy and follower count culture would be reduction/regulation of sex work on social. If you’re over 25, you might be shocked to find out how many kids have been pulled into sex work while attempting to become influencers on your favorite platforms. You might be shocked to discover how reliant sex work and human trafficking has become on social media platforms. You might also be shocked to find out how many of your favorite influencers earn their actual income and perks as escorts. And this is not to shame influencer/escorts or any sex workers…get your money, ladies and gentlemen…but we have reached a point where every minor in the world (I mean that quite literally) is trying to emulate influencers, pursue that career and live that life. We also need doctors and engineers and astronauts and philosophers (as well as hookers) to keep society chugging along. This is a whole other post, but IJS.
Everything is chronological
The timeline algorithm is the most transparent lie ever told to social media users. The timeline algorithm exists for two reasons. One: the ad rev model is pay-to-play. The more you pay, the more likely you are to be seen…early and often, with prominent placement…during a user’s session. Two: big soulless corporations are filled with big soulless people who didn’t use to be soulless. There are a lot of creative ad people at the platforms. They all want to create their own influencers, their own shows, their own content, their own culture, and their own trends. They are proud curators. And they believe that if they incessantly show you the potentially profitable stuff they made, they can make you care about that stuff more than you care about the people in your life. More often than not, they’re right. “Stuff you might like” is really “Stuff you might be coerced into buying that also makes me look rlly good”. So in a perfect network, there is no timeline algorithm. If you miss it, you miss it.
No third party auth in either direction.
You can’t log in to the network with your other sketchy credentials and you can’t use the network to log into any other sketchy shit.
In fact, No API at all.
No casual games, no quiz apps, no funny filter builders, no third party app reporting, no leaderboards…AND THEREFORE…no bots, no automation tools, no scrapers. The API is great for business applications, but it serves no purpose for humans. If the network doesn’t have to share impressive data with advertisers, third party developers and investors, then no one will care how much time users spend on-site, what other time-wasters users engage with while on-site, how much media they consume, how much engagement they get, the CTR on ads or how well they convert to purchase, so there is no need for an API.
Every piece of media you bring into the system links back to you. YOU…a real, responsible, ostensibly culpable, individual human.
This one is self explanatory. You bring the good ass beer to a party, you get daps. You bring nothing to the party and smear poop on the bathroom wall, we’re gonna know it’s your poop.
A social network should be moderated like a social club. If users pay monthly dues, they deserve excellent service and the best security available. And, like any private club, they should be held to a code of conduct.
I’ve dealt with suicidal users in the past. With people (real live people) who have been bullied and tortured to the point that they don’t see any value in continuing to exist. And I know that intervention by the right parties at the right moment can change their minds. I know that removing bad actors from any system improves the health of the system…and once in a while it saves a life. I would never want to be part of a club that wouldn’t expel abusive members.
And…from a business standpoint: we are living in a post-growth model world. If a social network doesn’t need to show user growth every month to stay alive, they don’t need to worry about the downside of expelling fake or abusive users.
In a perfect world…decentralized. In a messy world where people lose passwords and sometimes need help resolving conflicts…maybe not yet. I like the pitch, but I don’t know if we’re ready.
The bright sides of blockchain auth for securing your posts and messages are blinding. DB access wouldn’t mean access to your private data, your keys would be much more secure than a password, your payment info would be more secure than your actual payment source, and you could be authenticated with something as granular as your SS#. To be honest, though, there are a few question marks and I need to learn more. Luckily, there is a lot of research in this space right now. Check out this quote from IBM…and then replace the word “bank” with the word “social account”:
“Interacting with the world around us using identity instruments is part of our daily lives, but today’s digital representations of our identity are far from secure. However, the world of self-sovereign identity now presents us with the ability to have a simpler, safer and more intuitive digital existence.
Today, you may log into a bank website to access their online services. These services would be protected by a userID and password for authorization. The bank is not going to let you sign in using a third-party credentials from your Google or Facebook accounts.
Imagine a tomorrow where you can log into the bank’s website by presenting a verifiable credential issued by the bank. You would have received this credential by proving to the bank that you have met the necessary policy criteria (for example government and employment credentials) to obtain a financial account.”
Thanks for reading!