In their heydays both AOL and CompuServe were the dominant players. They controlled what showed up in search results and what was available to their users … and they had a lot of users. They had those users because they provided an easy to use environment for their customers. Yes, back then you paid for the privilege of using their services.
But even while that existed, individual web sites also existed. Brave souls were putting up static pages with whatever messages they wanted. But the dumb masses were mostly oblivious to them.
Times have of course changed. Now there are millions upon millions of web sites with all sorts of content. But you still have tech giants mostly in control of what shows up in searches and what is available to their users and even who can participate in social media discussions. We’ve all been exposed one way or another to the global gnashing of teeth over what social media destinations like Facebook and Twitter are doing to control the narrative on their platforms. It’s not much different from the late 1980s and early 1990s when AOL and CompuServe did the same.
The large social media platforms make a lot of money from advertising. As such they want lots of engaged users and in our currently fractured politically correct times that means drama and controversy. But it has to be the right kind of drama and controversy. It has to be the kind of controversy where the “accepted” view points are placed in a positive light and the “unacceptable” view points are ridiculed or completely suppressed.
None of the social media destinations exist to support or promote speech. They exist to support and promote the right speech to drive the collective discussion while raking in advertising dollars from individuals and companies who feel they must virtue signal at every opportunity to survive.
But just like the earlier behemoths of AOL and ComuServe, the current social media destinations will be displaced.
Gab.ai was one of the first major attempts at a new destination attempting to dislodge Twitter. I’m not interested in whether Gab’s user base is comprised of saints or sinners because I don’t care. Love them or hate them … Gab met with some success in attracting an abused subset of users from Twitter. But Gab started out as a consolidated platform just with different rules and acceptable standards than those of Twitter and no advertising. Their business model relies on donations and offering paid premium services and options.
Another newcomer trying to dislodge the social media behemoths is Parler.com. Parler claims to provide an unbiased platform for free speech with tools to put the user in control of moderating discussions around their posts. It has promise but faces many tests. Not the least of which is monetization. Currently, there isn’t any advertising on Parler but they have announced it is coming. It will be interesting to see how adamantly they adhere to their principle of free speech above all else when advertisers with large budgets are involved.
But in my opinion, the future of social media doesn’t lie with any destination site. It lies in the same federated model we see with email today. You can send and receive email with just about anyone with an email address. That is the future of social media where there is no single point of control, no single point determining who can and who cannot express their opinions and views.
That future is closer than you think.
There are two social media server federation standards gaining wide spread adoption today, OStatus and ActivityPub. These standards allow users to seamlessly follow each other and share updates just like Twitter but on differing servers without a single entity having control. Anyone can join a federated server allowing new registrations and get a social media address to interact with any other user on any other federated server anywhere on the planet. Most federated servers support both OStatus and ActivityPub so it doesn’t matter if you are on a Mastadon based server or a GNU Social based server or any of the various forks or any other server as long as it supports at least one of the two primary standards mentioned above.
This means companies, groups and individuals can setup their own instances of a compatible server and create their own social network address valid world wide. They can control who can join their instance as well as which servers they choose to interact with. In practice you setup a blacklist of servers you don’t want to exchange messages with and the default is everyone, everywhere. That means anyone on any other federated server anywhere in the world can follow you and see the updates you post to your own instance on the instance where their social network address is hosted.
This gives a company, group or an individual full and complete control over their own content. You administer your instance. You can’t be booted, banned, shadow-banned or have your posts edited or removed against your will.
Just like the early days of websites replacing AOL and CompuServe companies and groups with similar interests are starting to setup their own instances and attaching the network of federated servers. Some forward thinking individuals are doing the same.
No, this will not replace the consolidated sites like Facebook and Twitter over night. But just like AOL and CompuServe before them, they will be replaced with some form of federated system. It might not be based on OStatus or ActivityPub but at this time it’s a pretty good bet it will either be one, a combination or a derivative of them. The current standalone platforms like Twitter will either morph like AOL did or fade into the background like CompuServe.
The federated model is superior and some form of it will replace the current platforms. Don’t believe me? Gab recently announced they will be migrating to a fork of Mastodon and will join the ‘federation’ in the near future. Mastodon is one of the more popular variations of federated server software with a user interface similar to TweetDeck.
If you, your group of your company want more control over your social media presence and want to prepare for the future let me help you set up your own instance and secure your position in the brave new world of distributed social media.
The future of social media is federated.