Genevieve Valentine on the future shape of social media

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2011

Super-awesome science fiction webzine LightSpeed has a non-fiction piece from Futurismic veteran Genevieve Valentine (“Is This Your Day To Join The Revolution?”), who looks into the imminent future of even-more-ubiquitous social networking. I’m not sure I quite agree with her template for excellence, though:

But frankly, an ideal template for the future of software responsiveness is actually already here: Apple’s App Store. The Store itself is a social network of user-generated content that provides both marketing and moneymaking opportunities (a holy trinity of market appeal). Populated by techies for techies, the App Store contains single-click download options for other platforms (Twitter, Tumblr), market-friendly apps (entertainment-blog feeds, Yelp) and even reference guides (sky maps, bird-call encyclopedias).

[…]

In some ways, it’s a comfort to see the emergence of technology that supports a concept rather than a user; the App Store technology has spread to other smartphone platforms, and the idea of individual, crowd-sourced utilities is the sort of technology that, because of its immediacy and flexibility, could develop smoothly as the years go by, until the next thing you know it’s the future, and social networking is easier than ever before. Right?

I suspect my objection hinges on an aspect that Genevieve wasn’t considering, but even so: if Apple’s App Store is the shape of the future, then the future will be a walled garden full of things that Apple has deemed safe, suitable and sanitised for our consumption.

In the Apple future, you won’t be able to read material from Wikileaks, or stories with cuss-words, or graphic novels with gay themes (whether in an explicitly erotic context or otherwise). Apple’s App Store decides what’s best for you, and limits your choices accordingly; it’s the gated community of the post-geographical web. That’s comforting to many people, which is fair enough; personally, I think I’ll outsource my content curation over a wide range of unfettered independent channels. Maintaining your own filters is harder work, sure, but it means you know what’s coming through and what’s getting turned back at the borders.

And as for technologies that support concepts rather than users… well, give me the user support every time. 🙂

I suspect Genevieve’s praise is directed more at the basic concept of “the app store” (uncapitalized, non-proprietary): a marketplace where all manner of useful things can be found. On that basis, I agree: we already have the ability to search for content, and app store systems allow us to search for functionality in the same way.

But I expect it’ll surprise no one when I say I think the ideal social media of the future will be built spontaneously from multiple platforms and networks, created and reformed on an ad hoc basis according to the needs and interests of its users from moment to moment. It is to be hoped, then, that open alternatives to the corporate solutions will remain available; the best way to ensure that they do so is to find them, use them and support them.

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4 Responses to “Genevieve Valentine on the future shape of social media”

  1. Wintermute says:

    Hey, don’t worry about it. Pretty soon it’s going to be corporate-owned walled gardens all the way down. The Silicon Curtain is being drawn as we speak. Private Mobile Providers Networks have seized on the opportunity offered by this nodal transition point where traditional web usage is dropping below mobile network usage. They are bypassing the locked-in open HTML infrastructure installed by Tim Berners-Lee et. al. by creating the protocols of the future web, the true Web 2.0, which are not subject to the anonymizing de-centralized packet protocols of the original web.

    In truth, I think open alternatives to the corporate solution in social media etc. are not viable on any kind of scale because of a certain inversion of Murphy’s Law: anything that can make money WILL make money.

    Case in point: Goldman Sachs becomes Facebook’s banker. http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/01/goldman-facebook/

    How touching, at last Darth Zuckerberg has acquired an Emperor Palpatine to turn him fully to the Dark Side. I’m going to have to give myself a point for predicting that one, seeing how the “predict / grade last years predictions” is #trending big time nowadays.

    Expect the real scary shit to start going down real soon. With the heavy pressure from THE MONEY on Wall Street, it is virtually inevitable that Facebook is going to be forced to start “monetizing” all the $50 billion dollars its S&P 500 rating deems its worth, any way that it can. You think embedded Facebook profile-based ads and “be the first of your friends to ‘like’!” on your next Amazon purchase is creepy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

    The internet in its first couple decades was sheltered by its sheer obscurity: there were some rumblings about the great “Information Superhighway!” back in the Reagan years, but for the most part it was all fuschia and neon green construction-paper sites and very fringe BBS for intelligent dance music and Aspergers nerds. It was a sparse antisocial network, a sort of digitally-connected ring of parents’ basements. A marginal anti-social network. The corporations and Money People saw that there wasn’t much money to be made, and mostly ignored it. Running an open, sharing, egalitarian society is easy if it’s just you and a dozen friends chilling and composting in a commune on some patch of redwood forest in the Pacific Northwest.

    But now we’ve got everyone and their grandmother, literally (most people’s grandmother’s are on Facebook now, according to one statistic) like!ing Justin Beiber and living their ever more shallow, granularizaed, banal and gadget-like social lives out on the internet.

    NOW the corporations and money people are getting serious, knowing there is mucho dinero to be bankstered on the web. The sharks smell the blood in the water and are on the move. Expect the end of net neutrality, mass erosion of privacy, exploitation of proprietary networks, oppression of speech the Power doesn’t like (vis a vis Mastercard, Apple, etc. silencing Assange) and iced with a thick Ponzi-filled layer of Tech Bubble 2.0. As was once said, they who control the infrastructure upon which the world is built, essentially control the world: the corporations who run the social media and funds-transfer and hosting platforms through which we work, live, love, have the power to take it away, as they did to the founder of Wikileaks who they found, “undesirable”.

    Paradoxically, the old corrupt mess that is the government may be the only thing that can provide counter balance to this future of corporation-controlled and exploited social media. Perhaps access to the internet, and even to a global, non-proprietary, non-filtered app store might be deemed a public utility, a public good, like public highways, which facilitated commerce and gave birth to the rise of the United States as a superpower during the nineteen fifties. Then, it would take the master switch out of the hands of profit-driven corporations and could severely limit the ability to manipulate the “Web 2.0” that is the Cloud or network of mobile networks or whatever. Yes it would be a much more inefficient system, and there would be corruption just as there was corruption on the highway system, but it’s a tradeoff we make every day, and highways seem to be working out pretty well for us.

  2. Wintermute says:

    Of course I don’t have a lot of hope for that scenario, seeing as how Goldman Sachs still owns the government.

  3. Paulo says:

    You say that but people use Facebook because us practical and fun etc., but if a general feeling starts to spread about blatant (more) invasion of privacy people will just stop using it and/or other products will take over, twitter or other such like. I remember Microsoft “owning” the world not so long ago but they have slowly but steadily losing out to Google, Firefox, Apple and other products.
    It’s a relative. If you want to talk about stuff that is force feed to the population at large through a massive filter by the Power you only have to look at Television, its adverts, channel content and quality.
    Yet we live.

  4. Wintermute says:

    Microsoft still owns the PC desktop platform. New platforms have arisen, and thus new monopolies have arisen. It’s not really important who in particular is on top, it’s always a winner-take-all phenomenon monopoly with these large-scale digital technologies.

    “People will just stop using it.”

    Because of the nature of network lock-in (people use a social networking site because they can find anyone on it), they would have to do something on the order of selling your credit card information to Russian hackers in order to trigger a mass exodus. But if they slowly erode the concept of privacy, as they have been doing, pushing the boundaries then pulling back a bit… Think the frog in the pot.