23 votes

Does anyone here feel like talking about how social media sites are probably used for way too many different purposes at once right now?

In this thread, @viridian said this:

Twitter, in my limited usage, has a completely different problem. It actively encourages you, by rule of the 280 character limit, to strip away all nuance and conversational tone. You can avoid this of course, but the UI ensures that you then suffer the consequences of having to

split up your posts into multiple tweets, which is bad by design in every single way for the user. Replies become distributed to different tweets, and thus inaccessible without a series of 2*(# of tweets) clicks. Everything about the design is just begging you to

box in the entirety of your thoughts to 280 character blocks, which I think is the single largest issue the platform has when it comes to encouraging thoughtful engagement. Twitter actives fights nuance and explanation, and so the platforms users follow the bad behavior

patterns Twitter encourages.

Completely agree, it is a bit of a feedback loop. You do have to say though that even the fact it's no longer at the original 140 characters is a concession to the fact that the kind of discourse that now happens on there rather than what it was intended for. I imagine designing something to handle both types of usage well while maintaining the platform's identity can't be easy.

(Okay, this one was said by @culturedleftfoot.)

It's certainly not an easy problem to solve, it may even be impossible. That said though, maybe a 280 character mass social media platform is just destined to be a net negative for society.

And it reminded me of this comment I wrote a while ago:

To be fair it the term 'social media' is pretty useless when it comes to describing a site's purpose. In twitter, for example, you have celebrities rambling about random aspects of their lives, politicians delivering serious to obviously canned responses to serious or made-up problems, anime artists sharing their work, YouTubers sharing sneak peeks for future videos or shilling out, all in the same platform, which is disponible in 33 languages across every continent except Sub-Saharan Africa. (which was started specifically as a SMS & microblogging site, hence the word limit). Not many 'social media platforms' actually have their intended purpose be their sole purpose, which can backfire intensely. Social media platforms might have decided to recommend people with similar opinions to you as an unintended consequence in order to find people with similar hobbies to you, rather than to create an echo chamber of radicals and stifle communication between different political beliefs.

(Not that the fact that's a real possibility excuses them from not doing anything to combat it once they realized that was one of the side effects of their decision for most or all of my lifetime.)

One of the IMO most underrated problems with the state of social media today is that social media platforms are used in far too many ways for any one site to be designed around.

YouTube for example is used as a meme-consumption feed, source of education, video-game feed, ASMR feed, news feed, music feed, child cartoon feed and more.

And since YouTube was designed mostly for video sharing, things like the comment section were of secondary importance and areas like educational or political content are greatly harmed by that since the YouTube comment section is basically impervious to serious discussion. The algorithm also appears to be basically universal for all these vastly different types of content. This also hurts educational and political channels (unless they somehow accommodate to that, usually by lying ala PragerU) but also animation channels.

Another example would be Facebook which originally (supposedly?) started off as a platform for connecting with people, apparently limited to universities initially. Now it's used for sharing memes, news, personal life updates and more, things which are fundamentally quite different from one another and probably shouldn't be under the same site, since the things important when it comes to spreading a news article are wildly different from those when spreading a meme (format?). (Or management, obviously.)

IMO, decentralizing social media along these lines into say news sharing platforms, meme-sharing platforms, image-sharing platforms, educational platforms, social platforms (where you go to make friends, which is what social media billed itself as early on IIRC) is IMO one of the more interesting but underlooked options and in some senses is looked on into with places like Instagram and pinterest (although obviously if these sites aren't regulated to provide privacy it's all smoke and mirrors and given this requires government action I don't blame people for ignoring this all that much).

So does anyone else have any more thoughts?

21 comments

  1. [16]
    tindall
    Link
    The root problem isn't a technical one, or even a design problem, but rather that all of these sites are incentivized to optimize for engagement and data collection. Betraying your trust is their...

    The root problem isn't a technical one, or even a design problem, but rather that all of these sites are incentivized to optimize for engagement and data collection. Betraying your trust is their business model; your outrage is their lifeblood. There is simply no way to create a large, centralized social platform that has a positive net outcome under modern American capitalism - and because American capitalism is imperialist by nature, it is being slowly shoved off onto the rest of the world too.

    39 votes
    1. [3]
      acdw
      Link Parent
      1000% true. The reason why all of these social media sites try to eat the whole space is because they need to keep growing their profits (or something, IDK how VC-tech-stuff works, it makes 0...

      all of these sites are incentivized to optimize for engagement and data collection

      1000% true. The reason why all of these social media sites try to eat the whole space is because they need to keep growing their profits (or something, IDK how VC-tech-stuff works, it makes 0 sense) to survive. So you end up with the problem you're describing, economically.

      I think it's also a social problem: people like one-stop-shopping. That's why Wal-Mart is so big -- because it's cheap, yes, but also because a lot of people like doing all their grocery shopping in one central place. These sites haven't forced anyone to post different "genres" -- memes, instructionals, etc. -- on them, people just do because they can and it's where they already are. So part of this is social.

      I also don't think the main issue is that there's all these different types of content in one place. Maybe with news and entertainment, yes, that's a good thing to separate. But the rest -- I'm not so sure. I think it's simple enough to tell what's a meme versus a thinkpiece, etc.

      I do agree with the early quotes about Twitter though -- one of the reasons I like Mastodon is the default post length limit of 500 characters, which is override-able by admins, even into unlimited. Of course, the interface is still Twitter-like, with the river of posts that encourage shorter-form content, but nuance is possible to achieve. Also, there's no market pressure to change anything with Mastodon -- which is also a plus with Tildes.

      12 votes
      1. [2]
        viridian
        Link Parent
        VCs will almost by definition, how very little to do with profit motive by the time a company can operate at social media scale, and VCs in fact usually introduce the opposite incentive of value...

        VCs will almost by definition, how very little to do with profit motive by the time a company can operate at social media scale, and VCs in fact usually introduce the opposite incentive of value motive: growth motive. VCs will encourage growth, usually at the cost of a tremendous amount of capital, since they have capital to expend, and the gamble market dominance is almost always worth a startup going under as a failure condition.

        Once the fiduciary backers go from VCs and private owners to a majority of public owners, a board representing the shareholders interests takes over, and the motive will almost inevitably shift from growth seeking to profit seeking. Social media is interesting in that, due to huge network effects, growth seeking and profit seeking are roughly the same goal. Get as many people as possible to stay on platform for as long as possible, with as high a retention as possible. Chasing endless growth (rather than chasing endless RoI) is far from a typical business model, and it's only been successful as social media companies have managed to continually increase time spent on site.

        8 votes
        1. acdw
          Link Parent
          Yep! Thanks for the explanation, I don't think I realized all of that, since most of the VCs I know of are social/tech companies, and also I don't super follow VC stuff. But yeah, that "increasing...

          Social media is interesting in that, due to huge network effects, growth seeking and profit seeking are roughly the same goal

          Yep! Thanks for the explanation, I don't think I realized all of that, since most of the VCs I know of are social/tech companies, and also I don't super follow VC stuff.

          But yeah, that "increasing time spent on site" thing - that's why they tend to encompass everything. I think it's maybe a chicken-egg deal?

          2 votes
    2. [9]
      NaraVara
      Link Parent
      Wikipedia and Wordpress are both very large companies that tick most of the boxes to technically count as social platforms. They're designed very differently from the ad supported ones and while...

      There is simply no way to create a large, centralized social platform that has a positive net outcome under modern American capitalism

      Wikipedia and Wordpress are both very large companies that tick most of the boxes to technically count as social platforms. They're designed very differently from the ad supported ones and while Wikipedia is a non-profit, Wordpress is not and they actually manage to earn respectable revenues. They're both examples of how better paths are possible and actually exist, people just need to pony up money to pay for them instead of expecting things for free and ceding control to ad tech in the process.

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        viridian
        Link Parent
        How is Wordpress a form of social media?

        How is Wordpress a form of social media?

        6 votes
        1. [2]
          NaraVara
          Link Parent
          Social media basically just took the most appealing and accessible things about blogging and packaging them in ways that take all the friction out of discovery and setup. Wordpress also tries to...

          Social media basically just took the most appealing and accessible things about blogging and packaging them in ways that take all the friction out of discovery and setup.

          Wordpress also tries to do that. They also own Tumblr now.

          4 votes
          1. viridian
            Link Parent
            Wordpress the tool is used for all sorts of things though, ecommerce and nonprofit backends among them. It needn't really be social/connected media at all, and I'd wager most wordpress deployments...

            Wordpress the tool is used for all sorts of things though, ecommerce and nonprofit backends among them. It needn't really be social/connected media at all, and I'd wager most wordpress deployments aren't really aimed at social aspects anymore based on the most popular plugins. Tumblr is a consolidated platform with the express intent of connecting people to each other via feeds, reblogs, likes, etc, which seems much more straightforward social media.

            6 votes
      2. [5]
        tindall
        Link Parent
        I guess so, but I would say that creating a durable record is very different from the kind of social media I was referring to.

        Wikipedia and Wordpress are both very large companies that tick most of the boxes to technically count as social platforms.

        I guess so, but I would say that creating a durable record is very different from the kind of social media I was referring to.

        2 votes
        1. [4]
          NaraVara
          Link Parent
          The kind of social media you're referred to revolves around serving you ads. If you want a viable non-ad obsessed one there is no reason to constrain your thinking to the ones that currently...

          The kind of social media you're referred to revolves around serving you ads. If you want a viable non-ad obsessed one there is no reason to constrain your thinking to the ones that currently exist. The point and value proposition of social media is to connect people and form of a sort of digital commons to socialize in. Blogs do that just as well.

          1. [3]
            tindall
            Link Parent
            I'm not sure what position you think I hold here, but I'm certainly not saying "Twitter and Facebook are bad and therefore all social media is doomed to fail". I just think we should consider...

            I'm not sure what position you think I hold here, but I'm certainly not saying "Twitter and Facebook are bad and therefore all social media is doomed to fail". I just think we should consider models outside of "post content on website" as well as alternative models of funding - SSB, for instance, gives a model of non-web-based, totally decentralized social media. It certainly has flaws, but those are technical issues that can be solved technically, unlike the problems of centralized social media which can only be solved through collective political willpower.

            2 votes
            1. [2]
              NaraVara
              Link Parent
              And I named two examples of how that works. But your initial statement was a very generic "stuff I don't like is 'capitalism'" statement which is kind of undercut by the fact that these two...

              I just think we should consider models outside of "post content on website" as well as alternative models of funding

              And I named two examples of how that works.

              But your initial statement was a very generic "stuff I don't like is 'capitalism'" statement which is kind of undercut by the fact that these two alternatives I mentioned continue to exist within a capitalist system.

              1 vote
              1. tindall
                Link Parent
                I really don't think this is fair. I'm identifying, here, a very specific set of perverse incentives that leads social media companies to grow, collect data, and use it in ways that most users...

                your initial statement was a very generic "stuff I don't like is 'capitalism'" statement

                I really don't think this is fair. I'm identifying, here, a very specific set of perverse incentives that leads social media companies to grow, collect data, and use it in ways that most users won't be okay with. This is a cycle that only exists due to the profit motive, and would not exist if, say, social media were a public utility (and thus exempt from the incentives of capitalism) or were heavily regulated (and thus had other incentives, like huge fines or the threat of nationalization overriding the incentives of capitalism).

                2 votes
    3. skybrian
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I think there are root causes beyond business models. Bringing people together who previously didn’t talk is fundamentally what the Internet does. Many current problems could be seen in less...

      I think there are root causes beyond business models. Bringing people together who previously didn’t talk is fundamentally what the Internet does. Many current problems could be seen in less severe form on early BBS’s and Usenet and regular email, without direct Internet connectivity at all.

      Suppose we take the “viral” metaphor seriously and talk about what makes memes spread? We can think of each user as a node in a graph and talk about fanout (how many people get each message), how contagious the message it is (do you want to reshare it) and velocity in terms of how fast messages arrive and when people see them.

      When messages arrive instantly, we see them quickly (via phone notifications or checking your inbox often) and resharing is just a button press, exponential spread of a meme can happen very rapidly. One reason why things seem to be getting worse might just be a lot more smart phone users who check them more often? It was different when people checked their email maybe once a day.

      Fancy algorithms are on top of that. Yes, they make things worse, but meme-sharing is a more fundamental behavior that would happen without them.

      A simple example of pathological behavior happens on company email when someone accidentally uses cc instead of bcc for sending an announcement to many people. People start replying with “take me off this email list” which makes things worse, and it can spread around the world as people in different time zones log in and wonder what all this crap is in their inbox.

      So I don’t think it’s enough to be neutral or to go non-commercial. To keep viral messages from spreading you need to think like an epidemiologist and figure out how to get R0 < 1, while at the same time there are plenty of bad actors creating memes that are as contagious as possible, whether it’s “for the lulz”, to get more influence, or for profit. Money is only one motivation for creating contagious memes and most people who hit the reshare button aren’t doing it for money.

      There are plenty of people shitposting on Mastodon and if these networks scale up then we will see lots of pathological behavior there too.

      3 votes
    4. [2]
      Kuromantis
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I don't disagree with anything you have said, business/revenue models are simply put, how a company makes money and if the money comes from people watching advertising it's no surprise data mining...

      I don't disagree with anything you have said, business/revenue models are simply put, how a company makes money and if the money comes from people watching advertising it's no surprise data mining is the way for social media today and destroying that is certainly more important than what I have written in this post if you think I disagree.

      I just wonder if it would be beneficial if different forms of content and uses (discussion, memes, blogging, image sharing, news sharing, educational content, etc) were led by different platforms focusing primarily on those things instead of one or a few platforms that run it all simultaneously, and this could also have a antitrust quality to it IMO.

      1. tindall
        Link Parent
        Absolutely - this is part of what I mean by "centralized". I think breaking up media and breaking up communities are both necessary for social media to be sustainable and a positive force in the...

        Absolutely - this is part of what I mean by "centralized". I think breaking up media and breaking up communities are both necessary for social media to be sustainable and a positive force in the world.

        2 votes
  2. [2]
    Akir
    Link
    Honestly, I think the biggest problem we have with these social media sites and the companies who run them is that we use very vague terms that obfuscate what they really are. "Social Media" is...

    Honestly, I think the biggest problem we have with these social media sites and the companies who run them is that we use very vague terms that obfuscate what they really are. "Social Media" is far too broad a term, and it feels like it should be able to cover just about anything involving people - TV shows, news, concerts, etc. I personally prefer the Japanese term, SNS - Social Networking Service - because it's talking about it as an organization and more accurately describes the service they are providing.


    Somewhat tangential, I think it's also a tragedy that we consider the companies who run them "tech companies". If you consider what's actually making them money, you should call them advertising companies. If you consider everything that they do they are mostly service providers, but they provide so many different services that they are perhaps more accurately described as conglomerates. The only major tech company I think actually deserves that title today is probably Apple and Microsoft, and even then they are involved in a lot of different services.


    I agree that there is a problem with delineation on social media platforms, but I'm not sure who to actually blame. Perhaps the biggest problem is that one can post something and have it explode and give them lots of "likes" or whatever analogue the platform uses, and then one can use that to think that they are objectively correct because everyone in the world agrees with them. If there was a single concept that describes the problem with public discourse today, it would be the category error. The most common example is how often generalizations are applied to the larger whole, i.e. "Republicans are all fascists" or "Democrats are all rooting for antifa".

    9 votes
    1. mxuribe
      Link Parent
      You've so succinctly stated what was only nebulously swirling about in my brain! Plus i've learned a new, Japanese term!

      we use very vague terms that obfuscate what they really are. "Social Media" is far too broad a term...I personally prefer the Japanese term, SNS - Social Networking Service

      You've so succinctly stated what was only nebulously swirling about in my brain! Plus i've learned a new, Japanese term!

      1 vote
  3. [3]
    hifumi
    Link
    I don't really have anything to add to what's already been written in this thread but I found this blog post that calls this phenomenon "content collapse" http://www.roughtype.com/?p=8724

    I don't really have anything to add to what's already been written in this thread but I found this blog post that calls this phenomenon "content collapse" http://www.roughtype.com/?p=8724

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      Amarok
      Link Parent
      Damn, that's such a good and directly relevant read that it should be in the Tildes docs. Hey @Deimos, I know you love these things, get this one on your reading list.

      Damn, that's such a good and directly relevant read that it should be in the Tildes docs. Hey @Deimos, I know you love these things, get this one on your reading list.

      3 votes
      1. Deimos
        Link Parent
        Yeah, that's a great post. I'm subscribed to Nicholas Carr's blog and read it when he published it in January. I've read a couple of his books too, definitely recommended.

        Yeah, that's a great post. I'm subscribed to Nicholas Carr's blog and read it when he published it in January. I've read a couple of his books too, definitely recommended.

        3 votes