Social media is splintering into much smaller networks. Twitter is imploding. Facebook has been losing people for years and may have entered a death spiral where fewer people spend time there, so fewer people visit, and so on.
Artist Social Communities Go Small?
There’s a lot of enthusiasm for smaller, more open communities. Part of this is culturally driven by people who would like to see a return to a more open Internet that is less centrally controlled by large corporations. Facebook (Meta), Twitter, and Google have dominated for 10+ years. In many ways they are victims of their own success. Google choosing to weight their algorithm in favor of established brands was the end of easily discovering cool new bloggers. Have you ever tried to get advice on a niche topic on Google without adding +Reddit to the search? It’s an exercise in frustration. The big social networks have created at least a perception of bias, if not engaged in outright bias against certain groups of people. Of course, this is all due to the hellish nature of large scale content moderation.
Part of the move to a more open web is explicit laws in places like the European Union, where new laws just went into effect requiring large social sites and marketplaces to create ways for small companies to interact with their users in a more open and transparent way. This creates regulatory burden on marketplaces, slowing them down. It remains to be seen whether these hastily passed laws will enable the openness that many people crave.
TAA’s Facebook group for course alumni has been slowing down for a while and we recently decided to experiment with moving the whole thing to Discord, a group chat app that allows for a lot of fine-tuned granularity. We’ve been slowly testing inviting new users and currently have about 20 members. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for a smaller, more engaged community that doesn’t depend on Facebook. Feel free to join our group. https://discord.gg/QgnrUsYA
I recently joined Mastodon. I have met a number of tech-savvy artists who are operating at the forefront of what’s possible on the web. If you don’t know what Mastodon is, imagine a large group of smaller Twitters, each focused around certain topics like art or cyber security. You can start at any of them, but you can also follow people from other Mastodon topics. Admins for each topic group can choose to block other groups as a way of keeping a community safe (see the recent dustup over .art blocking users from a white nationalist instance). I’m currently following people focused on art, journalism, physics, and the LDS religion. It’s a fun, eclectic group and it feels a lot like the early days of Twitter right now. eel free to follow me there @ mastodon.art/@coryhuff
EDIT: several readers wrote in to tell me about FASO’s Musero. We’ll be keeping our eye on that as well.
What Happens to the Big Social Networks?
In addition to Discord and Mastodon, Tumblr apparently still exists and has a niche following. They brilliantly trolled Twitter’s paid checkmark feature and have enjoyed a resurgence in users. I logged into my account for the first time since 2017 this week and realized that there’s still some cool art being posted there. If you’re still on Tumblr, let’s connect there. https://www.tumblr.com/coryhuff
TikTok is already under the gun for cybersecurity issues and revenue sharing with the music industry. It’s the cool, still growing social network, but based on history, TikTok will mature, slow down, and eventually collapse under its own weight.
I don’t know what the future of the social web will be, but it does seem pretty clear that the days of endlessly scrolling an infinite feed might be numbered. Most artists I know have a love/hate relationship with Instagram because of the way the algorithm works and yet a great deal of the art industry centers there online. Business is still strong there for many, but I think the days are numbered.
What about you? Where are you hanging out? What have I skipped over or missed?