I am fully convinced that the total breakdown of centralized social networking websites at every level is going to push us back to an online social architecture similar to the one which existed in the late 90’s / early to mid 2000’s. The failure of Twitter, Reddit, (looking further back) Facebook, and probably within the next few years, Discord, will all accelerate movement off centralized networking platforms into smaller more intimate ones. Reddit’s complete and total failure to monetize its users in a meaningful way turned into a complete disaster when its CEO had a temper tantrum online for the world to see because other developers made a product worth paying for off his platform. This in turn has made thousands of subreddits lock themselves as private, ensuring they can’t be discovered by anyone outside their community. I would be shocked if this sort of major user revolt didn’t happen to another major platform before end of year.
My theory: Web 2 was seen as the birthplace of the centralized network, and the beginning of the internet as a place synonymous with modern life. People moved from myspace to facebook, from forums to subreddits, from blogs to twitter. I think that what is going to happen is that we’re going to see movement backwards. Forums become smaller somewhat interconnected spaces, Meta takes over what Twitter used to have, Reddit as a whole either undoes their recent changes or gets destroyed by the most anal people on the internet who they’ve rightfully managed to piss off. This anger is going to cause many communities to move back to a sort of middle ground between Web 1 and Web 2, where there’s large networks and small platforms.
My take: This is bad. At least for quite a while. Instead of Twitter and 8chan, you now have dozens of unregulated smaller spaces without fact checking, misinformation reporting, centralized moderation or CSAM scanning. This is going to make the internet worse for the vast majority of people who do not want to put in the work to deal with these things. The view that this migration off centralized platforms to decentralized ones is a net benefit for all is rooted in a crypto libertarianism that stems from free market capitalism. This isn’t how it works, any community strong enough to sustain itself (and with new protocols to seed content across platforms this can be any community) has the ability to self regulate and exist with a small congregation in perpetuity. This will lead to a much larger conspiracy / misinformation problem than we ever had on Web 2 media, especially with the automated ML powered discovery engines which spread those conspiracies in the first place still existing on these smaller networks. Makeshift agreements such as Mastodon’s covenant are great until these smaller networks which were forsaken for ignoring it continue to federate amongst themselves unchecked and spread whatever the hell they want.
Reddit has made me realize that what happened to Twitter will happen to your favorite website / platform, not because of some shadowy billionaire who wants to get back with his wife, but because the pressures of modern capitalism are finally demanding it to happen. The SVB closure has prompted companies dependent on fundraising in the past to button up the hatches and try to find the quarters buried in their couch. It’s going to happen to the place you love next, and whatever replacement you attempt to scramble to just will not be as nice. Get ready.
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