My first contact with something approaching the social networks was in the early 1990s, first with BBSs, then with the Usenet and CompuServe forums, as well as trying out anything that emerged on the internet. I have had profiles on Friendster, Myspace, Orkut and just about any other network that might be considered social, including unsuspected regional networks to which students of the most varied nationalities have invited me over the years. From there to the current crop of usual suspects, which I only really use these days to share my work with the world.
I’ve been experimenting with social networks for a quarter of a century at all levels, and I’m still convinced that, whatever the usage trends say, they’re here to stay: they meet a basic need to communicate for people in our interconnected age, and we will continue to use them to share our likes, dislikes and anything else that occurs to us.
That said, I am increasingly unhappy with the influence of Facebook, which has become a model for how not to run a platform, and my progressive skepticism with the Zuckerberg empire leads me to conclude that exploiting the information and privacy of users is unsustainable and can only produce more problems.
In the meantime, where are social networks headed? What will they look like in the future? Are we waiting for a new player to appear that will change the rules ? Does TikTok, the new social phenomenon from China, another irresponsible and manipulative network that Zuckerberg does not seem to understand, represent anything new? Will young people escape Zuckerberg’s control and simply be used by Beijing? Maybe I’m just too old for TikTok, but I can’t see it somehow.
My impression is that social networks will evolve differently, in a direction we still can’t discern, but that has already been around for a long time. I think that in the future, we will all have our own web page, built with a range of tools, and that we will use our pages to express ourselves, a place to share the personal or professional, our photos, news, a place to do what we like, a reflection of our identity and whose content we will be solely responsible for. What’s more, these pages will not be on any platform, and will be accessed through the internet, linked by common content areas with different levels of access, some open to anyone, others only for friends, another for family… in the same way as the real world works: our relationships work on different levels: we choose to share some things with everyone, and some things with others, meaning that we would allow access to deeper layers of our web page to some, depending on the depth of the relationship. This could be done without any central authority or supervision and of course nobody would be monetizing our information.
I believe that we’ve been trying to make sense of a concept that only makes sense when it becomes personal, when we manage it ourselves, without relying on a third party other than one that provides us with neutral tools or a certain level of service. The move from personal blogs to concepts like Tumblr are interesting precedents — and the acquisition of the latter by Automattic is even more interesting, in the absence of knowing anything about its business model will evolve how much its users will be left to decide how they use it.
Could social networks become a tool for expressing ourselves, allowing us to control who we connect with, and not based on a business model that spies on us or imposes hypersegmented advertising. Disconnect the social from the advertising, deconstruct it, and give us total control over what we decide to show or not show on the web, without the pressure of a business model. People connected through the internet, without any central authority, without any supervision other than respect for the law, and without any monetization other than that we decide on.
Could this be the future of social networks?
(En español, aquí)