Next phase of consumer social
It is the end of an era.
The rise of COVID-19 has led to a vast acceleration in societal progress on all fronts. In what seems like another world (realistically just a few weeks ago), individuals frequently focused on their college’s name, office’s location and appearance or the subtle flex of good seats in a sporting arena. COVID-19 is turning this all upside down. Offices are being replaced by remote work, accelerated by tools like Zoom and Slack that have been in the works for years. The debt most students incur makes college a useless prospect and without a physical presence, we see students understand the appeal of ISAs and MOOCs like Lambda School and many others had envisioned many years ago. Even leagues like the NFL and NBA are resorting to eSports in an attempt to save their dying empires, leveraging the infrastructure that Twitch and the nerds have been building for years. We are seeing inevitable large-scale transformations happen at an unexpected magnitude, accelerated by this virus.
One of the most fascinating shifts that hasn’t taken off yet is consumer social. There is no clear game-changer in this league (yet). Everyone has been using Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat for years. These platforms are the information transference protocol of our society and aren’t even efficient at succeeding at that. People are thirsty for others and the blue bubbles and Facetime rectangles aren’t enough. We don’t feel the presence of another individual; we just feel what they want us to feel. We’ve seen a series of failed attempts of new platforms in the past few years but the leaders in the space are largely unchanged, with the exception of TikTok which is essentially a modded-out Instagram with a few nifty features and a genius algorithm. Given the unphased state of consumer social, it begs the question: what will the next game-changer look like?
The first thing that we will see in this next is an online-first network.
Social networks to date have been focused on reflecting on the past, bootstrapping on the phenomena of physical interaction. During a time when physical interaction is an impossibility and will likely be forever changed, online-first allows consumers to create new memories instead of leech off of these currently impossible physical interactions (this leech is the reason for much of the toxicity in current social networks). Online-first means emphasizing real-time interactions between two people (who may have never even met), possibly by recreating physical interactions onto the digital.
The second trend we will see is the rise of a vertical and smaller communities.
With an emphasis on living in the moment through real-time interactions, this wave of social networks will ensure that the individuals are able to interact with their community on a more intimate scale than previously offered. In an ideal world, they can be their true selves. One of the ways this could be achieved is via an artificial limit to the number of people within a generalized community. 150 is the number of people with whom we can maintain a somewhat intimate relationship with; maybe using this number as a basis. Whether the 150 number is regarding an individual’s friendship list or the people permitted in a community, the benefits are immense but at the cost of a potentially dissatisfied user. This limited number also hypothetically ensures authenticity with physical world levels of civility while encouraging privacy and thus promoting meaning and connection.
The last trend is a ton of experimentation regarding potential incentive models.
Facebook, broken incentive model. Same with Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. They all foster unhealthy behavior no matter how much they tell the press that they are helping teens. The incentives are broken. No matter what they say, they want us to spend more time on their apps so we see more ads and make them more money. It makes sense, we are in a capitalist society, and they should be making money but not at the detriment of a user’s mental health. Not only is the platform to user incentive model completely broken but so is the user to user incentive model. While Instagram is experimenting with things like the removal of likes, users will lose their status (or clout) on profiles and pictures, one of the fundamentals of Instagram’s success. Users are slowly coming to understand the toxicity that comes with likes, views and reactions. A functional model is unexplored, likely due to the lack of experimentation here. Even TikTok, a social network that managed to grab the world by storm, just re-used the incentive models that seemed to benefit the capitalist nature of their predecessors.
There are a lot of unsolved questions
How do you attract users without a network in place?
How do you make the platform cool?
How do you make it habitual without messing up incentives?
How do you build a social graph that can’t be copied by Facebook?
The status quo isn’t here to stay.
Each day it is becoming more clear that Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram are not gods; they are vulnerable. They are no longer innovating and experimenting and are instead trying to band-aid the problems that were created with the inception of each of their platforms. Right now, it is the perfect time to build a consumer-facing social network that can uproot one of them by offering a safe yet entertaining way to connect with people emphasizing new memories instead of reflecting on previous ones.
Right now, Fortnite may be the closest thing to this that we can see. However, that analysis can be analyzed in further writing.