Friday, July 7, 2023

Hanging by Threads- How the Public Shape Social Media Platforms

All are on Threads. Didn't you hear about the latest addition to the (anti?) social media bandwagon? I had a peek into it last night. I didn't find it any more interesting than a new stationary shop opening in the neighbourhood. I can see many items lined up systematically and beautifully on its brand new racks, and the newness gives it a novel aesthetic look. But I can buy exactly the same items in other shops too, and I have already built a personal bond with that shopkeeper. I feel like Threads right now is Twitter during a Holi celebration. It is important to see how it transforms and finds a niche for itself in the coming days.

Actually, how does a social media platform find its own niche? It should be interesting to look into the dynamics. The developers of the platforms have certain ideas and aspirations about what kind of Frankenstein's monster they want to create and who its victims will be. They put certain pathways in the app for its users to interact within themselves.

For example, Twitter started as an SMS-like microblogging platform with a 140-character limit for the messages that could be shared through it. Though people used it and still use it for personal messages and updating their lives, Twitter predominantly became a news sharing platform. It is used by news portals to share breaking news and by organisations, governments, corporations, and celebrities to announce their messages. If the President of a nation shares a message simultaneously on Twitter and Facebook, the tweet will automatically have news value. The developers of Twitter, when they found out about this evolution, facilitated this trend in their updates.

Similarly, we can observe that every social media platform evolves and finds a niche organically. Take the case of Telegram, which started out as a poor man's WhatsApp. It went on to become a poor man's go-to place for illegal downloads. It is like the mall that the builders thought would cater to the affluent elites but ended up being a sleazy market thronged by pimps and peddlers.

Facebook evolved to become an intimate cyberspace for all to unburden themselves. It projects the vibe of a person getting home tired after a hard day and, over a beverage shot, emptying every accumulated frustration on society. On the contrary, happiness and celebration are the hallmarks of Instagram. You won't find a sad face over there. All you ever find is a hunky-dory, made-up world. I sometimes think of Facebook and Instagram as the yin and yang of the internet. I was ecstatic when I heard that Facebook had bought Instagram. Eventually, in a curious turn of poetic justice, yin and yang converge to complete the puzzle of existence!

It is evident that any social media platform undergoes an organic transformation and reaches its destiny by way of its users' preferences. There is no observable rationale for this phenomenon, which depends entirely on the whims of the public. That is the reason why Reddit became a youngster's forum and Quora ended up being a retiree paradise. That is the reason LinkedIn ended up as a glorified Naukri alternative. That is why  certain kinds of creatures ended up usurping and dominating TikTok.

That is precisely the reason why Google+ is no longer talked about. Google, in their eagerness to upstage the Facebook behemoth, created a mini version of Facebook and insisted that every Gmail user automatically get a free account. It resisted every effort from the public to reconstruct Google+ into something that they actually wished for. The end result was the grand failure of the entire project.

Coming back to Threads, only time will decide if it will end up being the jewel of the Meta throne or a Cinderella after midnight.


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