Magic is dead. Long live the magic.
I’ve been on online social networks since there have been online social networks. I remember — not without a little tenderness — the times of IRC (the first chatter) and Messenger and how it all evolved into forums, blogs and finally to the sites we all know today.
We were few, pioneers exploring the unknown. According to Internet World Stats’ data, the internet had 70 million users in December 1997, more or less the date I got my first email account. In the summer of 2007 (when I opened my Facebook account) we were a little more than 1.2 billion internet users, fewer than Facebook alone has right now. In June of last year, 42% of the world’s population were online. That is a lot of people.
The internet offerings have diversified a lot from those pioneer times. Today it’s an every-man-for-himself! sort of thing and infoxication (information overload) is killing, as it were, some of the magic of the beginning.
What kind of magic was that? It all was about people and about our interests. Things moved slower and we had the time to digest a thing before shifting to the next. Some will say “Hey, it’s still about people, look at all those sites connecting people together,” and they are right, but now all this personal stuff is mixed with news (even more so, with news about things you don’t even care about), with info about books, movies, bands, hobbies… and absurd kittens.
Taking my own Facebook profile as an example, I began with some acquaintances as ‘friends’ because they were the only ones on the platform. After Facebook’s boom, around 2010 when they reached 500 million users, the social network seemed to be the ideal place to stay and live, to have everyone who mattered to you (family, friends and colleagues) in the same place, and it stayed like this for a while.
Soon enough, as user numbers kept growing, Facebook changed its algorithm and what you could see on your wall was not what you cared about anymore. It had more to do with the number of interactions you had previously had with a person or a page and the engagement of that person with the page. This, in other words, meant the absolute loss of control of the information you wanted to receive, thus less engagement for some of the pages and friends posts, like a dog chasing its tail.
More than that, we’ve seen corporations of all kinds talking to people as if they were their friends. Do we want the CIA to make jokes? If we consider the number of favs and retweets, I’d say yes. But how about the CIA making jokes all the time while treating people as if we all were children? I have seen enough organizations playing dumb online only to draw in the gullible, and I am too aware of the dangers of this game. Again, there is a risk of infoxication and disconnection. Corporations, or rather the people inside them, should care more about real interests and less about getting instant hits that serve for nothing. At the end of the day, you can’t unfollow your cousin when she starts invading your wall with Candy Crush invitations (the most you can do here is block Candy Crush) but we can surely unfollow any silly company when they start losing control of their purposes.
We are under no obligation to follow everyone around and even if we need to (for whatever reason), there are tools to mute anything we don’t want to see. It is in our hands to get back to the magic and the peer-to-peer, back to the roots of social networking: the people.
Originally published at www.linkedin.com on March 30, 2015.
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