Pinterest, Facebook, and the Future of Social Media
The world wide web promised to allow anyone and everyone to distribute content to the world. In previous generations newspapers, magazines, radio, and television were the mediums of content distribution. This meant that the content we consumed was funneled through centralized authorities. The news, art, opinions, and stories that we read, heard, and watched had to come from one of these outlets.
The promise of the web was to break down this centralization and control by giving everyone access to distribute content. The centralized authorities that dominated content distribution of previous generations would come to an end and people would be free to connect and share with one another directly. Enter social media; the height of this promise of personal connection.
Users of social media platforms do not see themselves as content creators, but that is indeed what they are. They produce serialized stories and opinions, provide inspiration, and in many other ways produce content that others want to consume. Social media promised to deliver this freedom of the world wide web to everyone. However it was actually the downfall of the very thing it promised to deliver.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, name a dozen others; content distribution is more centralized now than ever. While we legally own the content that we upload to these sites, they are the ones with the power over who see's that content, how they see it, and what is allowed to be posted. The cultural and physiological affects of this content distribution is only recently being understood even as authority over content is once again in the hands of a few. We can share and interact with people all over the world like never before. However, those interactions are constantly manipulated by the platforms on which they occur. Worse still, the content that we produce is tied to the specific platform. You post to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Legally you own the content, however it is inextricably tied to the platform.
Many have picked up on this growing back peddling of the promise of the web. Open source social media platforms allow algorithms to be inspected, new versions of the site to be spun up, and usually provide other sources of security that the primary social media options do not provide. These include Minds, Mastodon, Diaspora, and the like. Some of these have grown into millions of users and by being open source those users have visibility and insight into what that social media platform is doing. This also provides an easy way to replace that platform if necessary. However this content is still tied to the platform, and so I do not think this model is the full solution.
Back to the popular; Pinterest is not primarily a place where individuals upload content. Pinterest does have control of how that content is distributed, however it does not have direct control over the content itself. Rather, it links to content from other sources. The content itself can be hosted on any publicly accessible platform and then redistributed on Pinterest. This is the next piece of the solution: content should be individually hosted and then redistributed on any and every platform.
Individual content hosting means that we publish content to our own domain. Instead of our latest post, tweet, or video getting uploaded to one of the big social media companies, it is uploaded to one of a wide array of content services and then published to an individuals website. This gives individuals full control over publishing their own content without handing it over to the aforementioned centralized content authorities.
Once we have replaced centralized content publication with individual content publication we still need a way to connect and share. However now there could be many platforms that enable you to discover and share this individually published content. Preferably these would be open source platforms that can be inspected and monitored by the public and can be easily replaced if necessary. We could even use different content discovery platforms and still access one another's content because that content was individually published instead of being published to a specific social media platform.
With the tie between individual content and social media platforms being broken, the growing psychological affect that these platforms have on us as a culture can be mitigated, our content can be future focused as any new discovery platform can have access to all the same content, and ultimately it makes these technological powerhouses easily replaceable. Currently, to leave the major social media platforms means that you become disconnected from the content that people publish to that platform. Under this new model you could leave a content discovery platform if you deem it to be malicious or harmful and yet still remain connected to all the same people and content under a new platform.
However there are challenges. How do you convince a billion people that they are in fact content creators? How do convince them to publish their content differently? How do we make individual content publication as easy as centralized publication? How do we create new content discovery platforms that can reach individually published content all over the web in a way that can replace the existing social media platforms? This is a wide array of challenges and will require solutions from a wide array of domains such as social psychology, social outreach, and technology. However the cultural shift to social media took a decade, and we should expect any attempt to shift to a new and healthier model to take just as long.