Thoughts on the future of social networks
First off, let me say that I'm not actually convinced that there is any future for social networks. I don't mean that they won't be successful, or popular, I mean that there seems to be a inevitable slide towards “evil” on any large social network.
I'm not sure that humans are capable of having large conversations on a large scale. We've evolved the ability (through technology) to broadcast our individual voices to a larger audience than ever before, and we are demonstrably not ready for it.
Is more technology the answer? It's the only potential path that I can see, this is a genie that very certainly cannot be put back in its bottle.
So let's put on our +1 glasses of optimism and look at what's out there.
I will admit to never being a fan of twitter. As someone who saw it from its inception as a 30-something, I never saw the appeal of telling my followers what I had for breakfast in 120 characters or less. As it grew into a mainstream platform for communication I found it difficult to reconcile the faintly ridiculous origins, the obnoxious celebrities and the technical limitations with it being a serious platform (for me). The numerous examples of the platform being a toxic place for almost any minority group and the misuse of it as a political weapon are simply additional nails for that particular coffin.
Mastodon fixes at least some of these concerns. It provides a safe space for minority groups. I've have learned so much about the daily struggles of a bunch of groups that I doubt I ever would have otherwise, and I certainly would not have encountered these people at all on twitter. It's been a large leap out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways, and that's a good thing.
What's wrong with Mastodon? The age-old problem of the “new platform” – getting users. Even though Mastodon take-up has been enormously successful compared to most other “new” platforms, you could still ask any nearly anybody about it and get the response “masta-what??”.
Relatedly, the “finding people” thing is still difficult. I run my own instance (because that's point of decentralisation, right?) but that does make it difficult to find new users and content.
While it's been around for a while, I only discovered Scuttlebutt fairly recently.
Technically, I like some of the concepts a lot. The LAN discovery concept is neat, and the way that your social network feed works and grows is interesting.
Unfortunately there are some significant downsides, the biggest one being that every device is basically a new entity. People want to be able to “be” the same person on their mobile device and their computer, and the inability of the platform to properly support that (at the moment) is a major issue.
Additionally, the defacto software is pretty clunky, and it suffers from the same confusion that I'm sure turns off many new users. Having to tell someone that “the network is called Scuttlebutt but the software you use is called Patchwork... though actually, the protocol it uses is called SSB which stands for Secure Scuttlebutt” is a pretty poor user experience.
Mastodon isn't particular different in this regard, but at least people need nothing more than a web browser to get started – a much lower barrier to entry.
I've only touched on “public” social networks here, and but briefly.
I've also looked extensively at more “private” messaging platforms, as a response to the increasingly invasive amounts of data collection among all of the popular messaging platforms.
But that's a topic for another post.