Warren Ellis, English author and social commentator, wrote a wonderful post shortly before Christmas in which he discussed the end of the first wave of social media.
Twitter alters its terms of access to its information, thereby harming the services that built themselves on that information. Which was stupid, because Twitter gets fewer and fewer material benefits from allowing people to use its water. And why would you build a service that relies on a private company’s assets anyway? Facebook changes its terms of access regularly. It’s broken its own Pages system and steadily grows more invasive and desperate. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, just went through its first major change in terms of service. Which went as badly as anyone who’s interacted with Facebook would expect. As Twitter disconnected itself from sharing services like IFTTT, so Instagram disconnected itself from Twitter. Flickr’s experiencing what will probably be a brief renaissance due to having finally built a decent iOS app, but its owners, Yahoo!, are expert in stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Tumblr seems to me to be spiking in popularity, which coincides neatly with their hiring an advertising sales director away from Groupon, a company described by Techcrunch last year as basically loansharking by any other name.
This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media, with Big Media problems like cable-style carriage disputes. Frame the Twitter-Instagram spat in terms of Virginmedia not being able to carry Sky Atlantic in the UK, say (I know there are many more US examples).
This first wave, or cycle as he calls it, can best be described as one of ecstatic enthusiasm bordering on insanity.
His closing statement wonders if anyone regrets giving up their own websites in favour of just using social platforms yet. I bet the answer is yes, and I’ve been warning people against that for a long time. More on that another day though.
To focus on the core message of the piece—yes, he’s right. People have been so far up social media’s behind that they forgot to try to turn the lights on to check where they were.
And just where are they? At the mercy of a bunch or other companies who have very right (although very little market-mandate) to change their terms of service and take what you thought was yours.
Issues of content ownership and the like aside though, I’ve been waiting for this bubble to burst for a long while—because it’s time to simply accept social media, rather than jumping up and down on the sofa about it.
Is social media exciting? Of course. New technology, ways to reach your audience and methods of interaction always are. But they aren’t the be-all and end-all. Television still has exciting content. Radio programs can still blow my mind.
Once all the hype settles down, content becomes the clarifying point, sorting the overly excited from the thoughtful.
When approaching social media for any business purpose, look at it in the context of all your online work, sites, portfolios, information, etc. If you just think outside the box a little bit, you can have a very large and well rounded arsenal of online communications at your disposal. Which can all work together to improve your bottom line.
I’ve been waiting for a long time for people to realise that as exciting and useful as social media is, it’s one tool you have at your disposal, and you have many. Make them all work together, for you.
Think of it like this, there will always be new waves. And just watching them from the beach is no good, you need to ride them. But stay on top of them where you can see what’s happening around you, rather than falling in and finding you’ve crashed up on a beach with no David Hasselhoff in sight.