Once upon a time there was the social network: that place where people started putting their data and some photos, in 2003, and then ended up dancing like a chimpanzee in the zoo, in 2022. The last nail in the coffin? The redesign of Facebook in the style of TikTok.
The social network has turned the internet upside down, it's not a gamble to say it. Its rise (and subsequent spread to smartphones around the world) has shaped user experiences (and behaviors) over the past 15 years.
Today from a place where the central element are contacts and friends, the social network wants to become a place where experiences are "served on the plate" by an algorithm that shows the user what he likes from all over the sea of content from users, friends or strangers. More strangers, actually.
Will Facebook make more Tiks or more Toks?
After the advent of the Chinese platform, even the dominant actor in social media (Meta) is transforming itself into a sort of digital mass media, in which the reactions of hordes of anonymous users, processed by machine learning, guide the selection of our contents. Our experience. Our purchasing choices. Virtually everything.
Facebook and rivals they have coined a term that makes the passage well understood. If Google is a search engine, the next social network proposes itself as a "discovery engine". In fact, he spits, sorry: scientifically recommends content from anyone who could catch our attention.
The model, preferred by the very young and by young people (therefore by the adult users of tomorrow) is that of a sort of old mutant 80s TV. An appliance with an infinite number of context-free channels, among which you can zap at high speed.
Social network at sunset by will and by necessity
It is not just the desire to lead users to more complete and multimedia experiences. It is also a need to keep profits high in a world where regulators are breaking down current advertising models.
Bad end for a "gimmick" that from 2006 promised free expression and democratic emancipation. Thought and word, "regulated" for profit, have transformed human relationships into a money-making machine. The stay for hours on Facebook (between a fight and another) allowed the platform to target users with precise ads that have made the fortune of many small companies (and of Zuckerberg). Facebook has gradually overtaken the old MySpace, absorbed Instagram and defended the fort from aborted attacks (Google+).
Then the serious problems began
The huge flow of data (among which only those who grabbed attention were 'rewarded') prompted users to 'raise' their voices to get noticed. Result? Facebook has become an engine of extremism, disinformation, hate speech and so on and so forth.
Even TikTok shares some of these problems: the contents are even more disconnected from social ties, and the flow already forces you to 'raise your voice'. Users compete to do more and more stupid or sensational things, or to sexualize all kinds of content by exploiting their attractiveness (when there is).
The "discovery engine" model will kill social networks
The era when social networks served as the primary internet experience for most users is moving behind us. This applies to everyone, including Twitter (especially in light of the long legal battle that prospects with Musk).
The main players (read: Meta) will keep the current platforms standing for one purpose: to get the money to finance what comes next, that metaverse which perhaps will resurrect the social network in its new form.
Meanwhile, the messengers will continue to grow: Whatsapp e Facebook Messenger above all. They are the ones who will collect the legacy of the old social network, while the platforms are transformed into phantasmagoric TVs full of foolishness (I don't want to be the old barn owl, there are also very funny things).
In other words, a bipolar world, in which users will be "entertainers" on the platform, and will maintain relationships via messenger. There is also room for other players, in this game that is played at the sunset of social networks: I will make my friend Toni happy to tell you that Discord has a lot of room for growth.
Nothing better to focus again on the sense of community, while the world amuses itself with the somersaults of a random stranger.