Are Social Networks Committing Suicide?
Lots of people are finding that the popular social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) are becoming more annoying, more expensive, and less useful. Here's how I see the problem, and my take on what the future of true social networking should look like.
Will Social Networks Collapse?
Recently, I wrote about LinkedIn’s underhanded attempts to pry money out of job seekers, employers, and even people it invites to congratulate their colleagues on promotions or new jobs. In my RankinFile.com article Is LinkedIn Trustworthy? I mentioned that other social networks are also guilty of deviously milking members.
This article goes into more detail on that subject and why I believe the social networking bubble is going to collapse under the weight of its own avarice.
All of today’s major social networks – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – were founded on the same business strategy. Give away services for free to gather lots of members as fast as possible, in an effort to corner the market on eyeballs. “Whoever gets biggest first, wins” is the simplest explanation of the network effect.
Facebook has over a billion members now; it will be very difficult for any challenger to overtake and surpass Facebook’s lead and attract significant numbers of members. Even people who loathe Facebook stick with it because “that’s where everyone is.”
Once you are too big to leave, you can stop depending on ad revenues alone and start charging members to use what was once free.
LinkedIn invited me to congratulate a colleague who’d landed a new job, but when I tried to do so I learned the price was giving LinkedIn the password to all of my email contacts. I’ve also been hit up for $30 a month just to say “hello” to someone who appeared interesting. No, thank you, to both.
Facebook gave every member two inboxes for private messages. The main inbox alerts you when new mail lands in it. The “other” inbox is more like a spam folder; messages that land in there often lie unnoticed for months. When you attempt to send a message to someone you are not “friends” with, Facebook flat-out tells you that it probably won’t be seen – unless you pay Facebook to put your message in the recipient’s main inbox. Usually, the fee is only a dollar, but on a few occasions I’ve been asked for five; the person I was trying to message wasn’t anyone special, as far as I could tell.
More Pay to Play
Businesses and organizations that maintain Pages on Facebook are getting socked hard these days. The owners of these Pages worked hard to build fan bases, creating and posting engaging content that was liked and shared widely, bringing in new fans.
But now, Facebook is deliberately limiting the exposure that a Page’s post gets to 1 or 2 per cent of the Page’s total fan base. So if you have 1,000 fans, perhaps only 10-20 of them will see what you post in their Newsfeeds. That’s down from 16 per cent two years ago, before Facebook began the slow, subtle throttling of this free marketing channel.
The solution that Facebook offers is to pay for greater exposure. Some huge brands, like Nike, may be willing and able to do so. But many small businesses and nonprofit organizations are watching their interactions with fans dwindle by 80 per cent or more. A lot of hard work is being wasted.
Twitter recently introduced “sponsored tweets” that sponsors pay to have inserted into your timeline even though you are not following the sponsors. They’re not re-tweets from someone you follow, but unsolicited and unrecommended advertisements… spam, by any other name.
You know who else gives away free samples and then, when people are hooked, charges through the nose for the same product? Heroin dealers. It’s a very effective business strategy – and a widely despised one.
Video Killed the Radio Star
In olden days, like the 1980s, social networks were called “online services.” CompuServe, Prodigy, America Online (now just AOL), and some of the largest dial-up Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) were the Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter of today.
They were more honest in their business strategy, telling everyone up front, “We’ll give you a month’s free trial, but after that it’s going to cost you to stay here.” You might not like the price, but at least you had fair notice of what you were getting into. Not so with heroin dealers, who pretend to be your generous buddy until you’re dependent upon them, then nickel and dime you to death.
The Internet killed the old-school online services by enabling people to connect with whomever they wished, and do whatever they liked with their connections. The intermediary’s role became superfluous, so the intermediaries could not charge enough to survive.
The Decentralization of Social Media
I believe the same thing will begin happening to today’s social networks as they attempt to get more money from members, by charging for more and more popular features that once were free.
People will simply go build their own Web sites, with forums and private message systems and e-commerce stores and whatever else they want. It's already happening with the surging popularity of services like Blogger, WordPress, and Tumblr. If folks don't trust or prefer not to use an established service provider, even the cheapest web hosting accounts have drop-in components for those who want to roll their own blogs, forums, photo sharing or even online stores. Isn't that the beauty of the Internet... leveling the playing field, and putting the power to publish in the hands of Everyman, instead of the Elite Few?
They’ll spread the word about their sites by email, instant messaging, Skype, and maybe newsgroups will make a comeback. They may entice some of their friends on current social platforms to escape those walled gardens. But they won’t need Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter badly enough to pay for access or “privileges.” It the process, they'll take back ownership of their data and their privacy.
And something interesting will happen, I think... The Web will look more like a (social) network of inter-connected individuals, rather than a few large herds of cattle. You think I'm wrong? You may be right, I may be crazy. But wouldn't it be a nice change?
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 8 Apr 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are Social Networks Committing Suicide? (Posted: 8 Apr 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved