Shaping the future of social media
Social media. It’s come a long way since the early 2000s. Networks like MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and Tumblr — all have slowly grown, been in and out of vogue, and made tidy profits along the way.
But where’s it all heading? What can we take from the past, and particularly the present, to predict the future? What will people expect from it, how will greater choice and expectation help shape future offerings?
Interesting questions — particularly at a time when the underlying demographics of social media use are changing. Mature users (in terms of their usage as much as their age) are increasingly becoming tired of the established players. The scant innovation these platforms make available is simply not keeping up with the level of change seen in other areas of technology.
Then there are the teenagers and millennials: the ‘newbies’ to social media who arrive looking for something new, and different. This is the “Facebook is for old people” generation that will soon be creating their own social networking platforms if change isn’t quick enough.
But what does the world want from its social media? Certainly the big issue remains personal data, and giving users the ability to manage what happens to their digital footprint. There’s also the demand for having a greater say as to how the experience itself is shaped. Of giving people more choice in what they can or cannot do.
Equally however, is the philosophical dimension: what does social media mean to people? The originating promise was to ‘connect’ people, to friends old and new. But instead what it’s turned into is (predominantly) a mechanism for personal brand maintenance — a broadcast tool for individuals and businesses alike.
Great for making big announcements and updates.
Not so great for more supporting intimate and meaningful interactions.
Which means that if these platforms are to migrate beyond such concerns, and drive real engagement, they need to convey a fresh sense of purpose and vision.
Until recently however, the industry has not known how to respond. Commentators (for once) have been slow in offering a vision for the future of social networking. That’s not to say they’ve collectively been quiet. Get ten ‘experts’ in a room and they’ll have plenty to say. The trouble is most of it will relate to marketing and advertising. Words such as integrated narratives, chatbots, ephemeral content, and other such nonsense will be the latest entrants into buzzword bingo.
Which alone offers the neutral a peek behind the curtain to catch a glimpse of reality: social media today is simply a super-charged advertising billboard, with an unhealthy mix of social engineering thrown in for good measure.
But let’s stay on topic — the future.
What can we expect from a social platform if it’s going to stay relevant?
Well, first and foremost it’s going to have to be a lot more transparent in what it does with your personal data. But transparency alone will not be anywhere near enough. Not if it doesn’t come with choice, and the ability to let users decide for themselves what happens to their data: who gets to exploit it, and what benefits they get in return.
But that’s just the start — your basic entry ticket into the game.
What users will start demanding more and more of will be ‘new’: new features and functions that make for a unique, ever-changing environment — alongside new audio and visual posting options that attract both creator and viewer alike. New tools like Augmented and Virtual Reality, social gaming, and more interactive video.
Changing the narrative
Then there’s the issue of trust, and giving people the confidence to share anything more than a meme — or forwarding on the latest headline articles. Today’s reality is that we’re all feeling a growing unease at displaying an opinion, knowing that to take a position is to leave ourselves open to judgement by consensus. That’s why it’s important that any future social media platform enables both public and private conversations. And by private that means really private, where the user sets the rules for who gets to see what, and who’s invited in.
Not that the platforms should stop there. In the future there will also be a greater emphasis on the platforms to care for the wellbeing of their users. There has been a growing awareness of the highly addictive nature of social media for some time now. Social networks will therefore need to recognize this problem and address it beyond simple lip service, and do what they can to minimize the more addictive qualities of their offering.
That means placing the emphasis on capabilities that encourage the communal quality of social media instead of delivering the next serotonin hit. Think user and community-driven moderation of their environments, where an individual’s say is directly influenced by their participation and contribution.
Which in a roundabout way brings us to context.
The social media experience of the future, like all digital experiences, will need to be contextual. It will need to fit into the ‘flow’ of each user’s day-to-day, instead of being an independent activity. Order a pizza, book a taxi, listen to music, arrange a date, pay a bill — this is life’s flow, and platform providers are tasked with integrating all these separate activities into one convenient stream of action and consciousness.
Which is why tomorrow’s social network will need to include a mechanism that facilitates the sharing of value: a form of cryptocurrency that supports everything from international payments, to the tipping of individual services and the buying of products.
Finally, social media will need to address the ‘fake news’ narrative — but to do so in a way that inspires the flow of information rather than limiting it. Users will increasingly abandon any platform seen to censor the information available to them. In the Age of Influence, people are more aware than ever as to the value and importance of their attention — and the quality of data points available to them.
The future is closer than you think
Look at the established players, and the above could seem a million miles away.
But look to the blockchain, and you see that the roadmaps are already in place to deliver these capabilities and more.
Transparency, control, choice. This is the promise of the blockchain, and of the new social platform Howdoo that’s set to deliver it.
Why wait for tomorrow when it’s already here?