If you haven’t been under a rock, we’ve all heard about Reddit’s API changes resulting in blackouts. We’ve also heard Elon Musk taking over Twitter and in the usual private equity fashion, wreck it.
If you’ve been on the internet for a while, we’ve all seen social media platforms die: MySpace, Digg, Tumblr, Google+ had a shelf life of a couple of years, and then all either died, or didn’t but faded from mainstream consciousness.
Sure, some of today’s platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit have lasted longer, but none are free from making bad decisions that kill their platforms.
I have a theory: all social media platforms will die, and get replaced by something better, and that new platforms will also die and get replaced, and the cycle repeats. Look at Digg: their Digg v4 wrecked Digg, and resulted in people going to Reddit. Then Reddit alienated users and people may move to some shinier newer platform later on.
This usually happens when sites get greedy and want to extract revenue. In Twitter’s case, it was the classical private equity problem of massive debt and needing to pay it back. In Reddit’s case, it’s a hope of an IPO and a “profitable” company. Regardless of what happens, both could ultimately kill their sites.
Yes, TikTok may be popular today, but I feel even they aren’t above a demise. Assuming TikTok doesn’t get banned, they could make terrible business decisions that wreck the site, alienate users, and die.
TikTok may also be slightly different in the sense that TikTok is more of an entertainment app, not unlike YouTube, Netflix, or even cable TV. YouTube has been resillent for many years, seeing MySpace and Tumblr decline but not them. But then YouTube is not really a social platform, it just has some “social” features.
But even if YouTube and TikTok fall under the “entertainment” umbrella, we can’t say the same for Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit. Sure, you can spend time on Facebook or Reddit if you’re bored, but social communication is largely the focus of those apps, versus being just a “feature” of YouTube or TikTok when the focus is video.
I have a TikTok account but don’t interact with anyone; I just consume content. This is like YouTube where I just consume content too. Whereas on Twitter, Reddit, Discord, and Mastodon, I do interact with people, comment and reply, et al.
Going back, the shiny new platforms today are the ActivityPub-based platforms, like Mastodon and Lemmy. The internet has been screwed over by corporate platforms. Maybe ActivityPub isn’t ready for mainstream use, but maybe they also will become mainstream. Or worst case scenario they’re the Desktop Linux of social media: a platform for tech savvy geeks and nerds but not your mom. Or we may just rebuild centralized platforms on top of ActivityPub 😭.
I don’t know how ActivityPub-based platforms will fare, maybe they’ll become another Usenet (which is now mostly piracy). Or maybe they will become another Email, which stayed resilient, but we’ve also seen email centralize around Google and Microsoft.