Here are some thoughts that, somehow, all fit together in my head.

Throwing Rocks At The Google Bus
I read a book called Throwing Rocks At The Google Bus and it was very good. One of my takeaways from the book was how the constant need for growth within companies ruins everything,[1] including having products that work well for consumers. If the problem is a bell curve, so-called social media is in the bell part of that curve.

Throwing Rocks At The Google Bus is a great book and most of you should go to your local bookstore or local library and get a copy. It can be a great compass in these weird times.

On "So-Called"
In as much as the software does form virtual societies, the societies that so-called social media creates are generally more noise than signal, extremely dysfunctional, extremely misinformed, and harmful to our actual society. Can something that's bad for society fairly be called "social"? At the very least, it should have a qualifier like "socially problematic media" or "socially dysfunctional media".

In any event, I don't think of the software as particularly "social", so I use the phrase "so-called social media".

Solution Space
One of the ways people keep their real world communities more-signal-than-noise, informed, and healthy is simply by knowing who people are and, subsequently, deciding how much to trust what they're saying. The anonymous nature of the internet completely short circuits the system of personal credibility and trustworthiness that helps people filter through views in the real-world[2].

A quick +1 / 0 / -1 credibility rating any user could attach to any other connected user, and some quick calculations, could do a lot of good. See a stranger online? If your credible friends think that person is credible, that person has a high credibility score for you. If your credible friends think that person is bad news, that person has a low credibility score for you. Two quick benefits:

  • Right away you know if you should just ignore what this person is saying.[3]
  • Anonymous, burner accounts become less effective means of trolling, because they have no credibility rating.

The never-ending online migration

I anticipate, at some point, Instagram will no longer be a tool I use to connect with people. Eventually the user base will decide the data snooping is too much, or the community will become too toxic, or the cool kids will get chased away which sinks the ship, or they'll tweak the interface into something unusable, or I'll simply decide Facebook-by-way-of-Instagram is so problematic as a company I can no longer be a party to it (see: Amazon[4]), etc.

I'm not certain what Instagram's undoing will be. Their parent company doesn't appear to treat users as their first and foremost concern, which generally means the end users will eventually find somewhere else to go.

At the moment I'm checking out Ello and they both seem fine, and "fine" is actually okay: I don't think a single, very popular so-called social network is a very tenable structure. The artists, the cover bands, the college kids, the grandparents, etc. all have very different needs and I'm guessing some of them are mutually exclusive. I also think any sustainable software has to have a paid, ad-free, full-privacy option that's a strong revenue stream for the company publishing the software; so long as a company's money comes from ads or selling data, the needs of the advertisers and data buyers will always supersede the concerns of the end user.[5]

Building A Portfolio Of Your Life
Most so-called social media websites are truly portfolio building websites. Users slowly create a collection of content that others can peruse and examine at their leisure.

This is a great format if you're an artist, or a brand, or otherwise trying to promote your work (@CKDSN, look me up!). If you're a normal person, a portfolio site probably isn't exactly what you need. On any given day, most of us don't create content that we'd like to have archived and viewable, forever.

The one piece of software that's not a portfolio site is Snapchat, and Instagram was very smart to steal Snapchat's main functionality. While there are definitely pitfalls and short comings, the ephemeral nature of Snapchat's content makes it a more suitable stand in for real-life communication and connection:

  • You do or say something that is funny or goofy or straight up dumb,
  • The person on the other end laughs, or they don't,
  • And the moment is gone... just like real life.

In closing...
What people really want are:

  • Better ways to connect with each other,
  • Better ways to keep in touch with friends and family who are spread across the world.

One of so-called social media's biggest problems is that it's only a stand-in for in-person connection, and it's not even a particularly good stand-in. Meanwhile, it's ruthlessly efficient at spreading misinformation and misunderstanding, and making us all feel bad about our non-portfolio lives. If we're going to do it, we should probably do it in a healthier way. But really, we could probably just stop doing it.

  1. Eventually, it ruins the company itself. ↩︎

  2. Consider how much of so-called social media is the equivalent of a person shouting out random thoughts in the middle of the sidewalk, or on your train. When have you ever heard a person yelling on a bus and thought to yourself, "That's a really good point; I'm going to remember that and tell all my friends"? ↩︎

  3. Is the person yelling on a bus surrounded by your friends, nodding in agreement? (And does that mean you trust the person more, or your friends less?) ↩︎

  4. My short-term Amazon goals include canceling Prime and reducing my spending to $0. ↩︎

  5. It's also worth noting that good communication often feels private and intimate and special. Inserting advertising into that experience is jarring and diminishes the experience. ↩︎