Not too long ago, the only way to have access to all TV content was not only to have a cable subscription but also to purchase every additional “package” of channels (and many overlapped to further drive home the wasted money). Netflix changed that when they pivoted to streaming in 2007, claiming that the days of cable subscriptions and packages were over, and that now you could subscribe to Netflix for one low monthly fee and see everything (or something like that). That was nice for a while.
Fast forward to today, and not only are there multiple streaming networks, but many are now packaging other streaming networks: Paramount+ with Showtime, Disney+ with Hulu, etc. Streaming saved us from cable subscriptions and packages, only to later rebrand cable subscriptions and packages.
Sorry for the long preamble, but after the whiplash of memories from this Tumblr post, I feel like we’re going through the same cycle with social media.
Not too long ago, the only way to have access to all of your friends online was to join a ridiculous number of social networks, which were all free money-wise but each carried their own cost in time spent scrolling. Eventually, that thinned out to the major social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and Tumblr. You only had to join at most 5 to follow all of your friends, but most of them supported cross-posting to something (usually Twitter), so if you were lucky, maybe you only had to join 1 social network.
Fast forward to today, and not only has the near collapse of Twitter and Reddit spawned multitudes of new social networks all vying for their users, but Twitter has effectively shut down all cross-posting. If your desire is to have access to all of your friends online, you must once again join a ridiculous number of social networks. Social media is fractured again.
I guess I’m fascinated by this system that creates too many options, narrows down the choices, and repeats. Is it our own battle between freedom of choice and fatigue over too many choices? I don’t know.
Allegedly there’s hope in ActivityPub, which is bringing the philosophy of email to social media (you don’t need a Gmail account to email Gmail users and an Outlook account to email Outlook users), but the barrier for entry is steep right now. Mastodon is at the forefront of ActivityPub work, but which server do you join (they all have different policies, practices, and core communities), and how do you find people to follow on other servers? I think it’s awesome that you can bring your followers and follows with you when you move to a different server, and that you don’t need to share a server with someone to follow them, but if the barrier for entry is already steep, how many people will even experience that?
Of course, there’s always my solution to the problem. I’m just not going to join everything this time. Tumblr satisfies my need for mass-connection, MLTSHP satisfies my need for a small almost “where everyone knows your name” community, RSS (with particularly NetNewsWire) satisfies my need for following sites, and the rest are text messages and email.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know where this is going. But the cycle is fascinating, or at least fascinating enough for me to put a lot of words down.