Seconds after my laptop screen comes to life, I am uncerimoniously swept into my Facebook news feed once again.
The promoted Expedia post featuring the top search result for Las Vegas on iStockPhoto remains front and center, despite me telling Facebook that it couldn’t be less tailored to my travel interests. I wonder how much that guy made off that photo. I’m sure I don’t want to know.
Emily, the quiet brunette from my freshman film theory class, has just completed level 48 of Candy Crush with the love and support of her closest internet friends. I sit in silence and hope that level 49 will be just as kind to her.
Someone I don’t recall ever meeting has polled the community in an attempt to find another who can give him advice on a portable air conditioning unit for his apartment. The comment thread below is quiet but for a tired mini refrigerator joke from his younger brother.
We “first generation” users are grandfathered into Facebook.We go because it’s expected; we go because it’s comfortable; we go because it’s habitual. Though the day may be far away, I do believe it will (and must) come; a new generation will reject Facebook for everything that it is and everything it is not, and it will fade into nostalgic obscurity.
But what will its replacement look like?
As the debate regarding the future of social media rages, a lone platform continues to disrupt the space; to grow ever louder. I’ve been a Redditor for almost two years now. It’s where I spend most of my time online, and where I go whenever I need my fix of, well, anything at all. It is the only digital platform that I believe has gotten better and more personal over time.
The site appeals to me for countless reasons, but there is one in particular that I believe can (and should) lay the foundation for the next great social network.
The quality and relevance of content is more important than the individual who posted it.
Pun threads and a handful of major subreddits notwithstanding, content quality on Reddit is infinitely more important than your relationship with the person who submitted it. In fact, chances are high you’ll never find out who it was. And that’s okay.
In just a few short seconds, I can discover and engage with matcha experts on /r/tea, and be confident that the most “upvoted” of them know what they’re talking about. If I head over to /r/coffee to discuss Philippine Civet coffee, I’ll find an entirely different group of authorities. Despite his influence elsewhere, the user from /r/tea who can’t even spell “civet” doesn’t have a chance to be heard in this particular conversation. In fact, I may never see him again outside of the subreddit where I first found him. And that’s okay.
The vast majority of us are not fortunate enough to have an incredibly diverse and interesting network of friends, family, and colleagues. Reddit works because the measure of a user is the content he shares, not the company he keeps. Moreover, visibility on Reddit is directly proportional to one’s utility in a given conversation.
As a result, we are exposed to more interesting people, ideas, and perspectives. I believe the next great social network must put access to these “experts” at its core. More importantly, it must not inherently amplify the voice of individuals who have managed to build a formidable reputation or community for reasons that are extraneous to the conversation at hand.
That’s not to say personal relationships aren’t important. I’ve tagged all my known friends on Reddit so I don’t miss the commentary they add. There are users I regularly interact with on my favorite subreddits. There are conversations I take offline to dive deeper into the topics I’m most passionate about. I have even flirted with the idea of creating niche subreddits for my social circles.
The next generation of social platforms will always provide a place for friends and family to meet and interact beyond the confines of space and time. It must. But I believe it will be just one of many curated content streams we enjoy, accessible only when we want it and (more importantly) when we need it. It will be a convenient supplement, not a constricting foundation.
I imagine a web that provides us meaningful connections to people who can offer relevant and personalized advice, information, and support in real time, regardless of social boundaries.
Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have all attempted to crack the “content” code by implementing ways to explore your interests, sometimes years after launch. But the solution isn’t a band-aid placed on an aging wound. If the content problem is going to be solved, the very infrastructure of these platforms needs to be rebuilt.
Unfortunately, the big guys aren’t going to do that. So, who will it be?