The New Period of Social Media Isn’t About Feeds | by Will Oremus | Feb, 2021
Products like Clubhouse and Twitter’s “Super Follows” offer a new kind of engagement
A slide about Twitter’s “Super Follows” comes from a recent presentation to investors
Open Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter or Pinterest and look at your index finger. If you’re like me, you’ll find that it’s already hovering over the screen and ready to scroll. Our algorithmic feeds made us expect little from a particular post. We peeked through each post just long enough to decide if it was worth a second look before we forego it forever and move on to the next one.
These are feed-based platformse driven by scaling and automation. They encourage users to befriend, follow, and generously build sprawling networks with the promise that aggressive ranking algorithms will filter out the chaff and bring up the most compelling content. They encourage users to post freely for the same reason: because the algorithm chooses which segment of a user’s friends or followers to view a particular post, users are encouraged to post repeatedly without worrying about spamming a trapped one To have to target audience.
Algorithmic feeds are very efficient at amplifying posts that stand out from the feed enough to pause the user’s fingers. Any social app can choose – and optimize – what types of engagement it wants to optimize for, but they all optimize for engagement because they can measure it. The result is a feed full of attention-grabbing content regardless of the platform.
Feeds full of attention grabbing content are great for getting us hooked, keeping us scrolling, and preventing us from coming back. They also turn out to be good places for targeted advertising. Advertisers are experts in tampering, after all, and old professionals competing for our attention whether or not we want to give it to them. The scaling and behavior data are used to their advantage, as is the fact that users are trained to look at the content first and then the source.
While addicting, these feeds are also stressful and numbing. When each post in your feed has been selected from a huge pool of possible posts for its attention-grabbing properties, you can end up feeling yelled at, manipulated, angry, and overwhelmed. Over time, you might realize that the feed’s worth to your life is less than the sum of its contributions. Not to mention the social value of bombarding everyone with attention bait from all sides is mixed at best.
I think that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing a new set of platforms operating on a different logic – a logic of loyalty, intentionality, and deliberate payment (whether it’s attention or money).
New digital media products tend to focus on low-volume, high-attention relationships rather than high-volume, low-attention feeds.
Twitter has one this week Roadmap for future products and features It hopes it will double its revenue by 2023. This included communities, which it refers to as groups formed around common interests, and the security mode, which is designed to filter abusive tweets when a user receives negative attention. Both agree with the direction Twitter took in preparing for life after Donald Trump with the launch of Fleets and Spaces: with the aim of making its platform more intimate, talkative and human.
But The new feature that got the most attention was Super Follows, which allows users to bill for premium tweets or content, maybe including newsletters. This is in line with Twitter’s recent acquisition of Revue, a newsletter platform that competes with Substack. While Twitter didn’t mention this, I could also envision Super Follows complimenting Twitter Spaces, its new clubhouse-style audio chat product. If you’re already charging your most loyal followers for reading your work, you can invite them for a live chat using exclusive Spaces for Super Followers.
Users were quick to ridicule the idea of paying for each other’s tweets, and I have my doubts whether Super Follows will be more than a niche product. Casey Newton from Platformer is optimistic about it. I’m skeptical that there are enough journalists with the Twitter stature to curb the newsrooms he’s planned, although I could see that super follow pays off for celebrities or comedians, or perhaps cryptocurrency grippers, for example. (Whether Twitter allows adult performers to use it a la OnlyFans is an open question.)
Whether it takes off or not Super Follows means a change in Twitter’s strategy – and indicates a wider shift in digital media. It shows that Twitter sees a future in other business models than targeted advertising and in formats other than the algorithmic feed. In particular, it shows Twitter how it tries to facilitate direct, deliberate relationships between the creators and their most loyal fans.
This shift towards intentionality underlies much of the innovations we’ve seen in digital and social media in recent years. Podcasts, Newsletters, Patreon, OnlyFans, and Super Follows – all based on the premise that users are consciously making ongoing connections with their favorite creators rather than simply trusting an algorithm that enables them to access free content from a vast, impersonal reservoir. That almost certainly means that each creator will reach a smaller audience. But those who reach it are the ones willing to pay, whether in cash or in the form of sustained, focused attention.
The clubhouse shares a focus on intentionality, context, and sustained attention with this new crop. As with the others, what you choose when you decide on a clubhouse room isn’t fragmented, attention-grabbing content, but a group of people and a topic that you want to spend a little time on. So it makes sense that Clubhouse co-founder Paul Davison said earlier this month that he was looking for a Patreon-like revenue model that listeners could use to pay creators through subscriptions, tips, or ticket events.
Newton observed this earlier this week Social networking suddenly feels like a competitive space again after years of relative stagnation in which Facebook dominated. He suggested that this could be in part a function of antitrust scrutiny that is limiting Facebook’s ability to copy or acquire Upstarts. That seems plausible; I have argued in the past that antitrust control alone can influence the behavior of platforms as long as the threat of enforcement is credible. But as Newton acknowledges, TikTok is the only one of the new platforms that is currently a real threat to Facebook. The story is also complicated by the staying power of Snapchat, which remains particularly attractive to younger users who have been turned off by Facebook’s approach.
I would suggest a different point of view. When it comes to algorithmic feeds and targeted advertising, Facebook’s size, data and network effects remain unmatched. Usage continues to rise, and a staggering 3.3 billion people use one of their apps at least once a month. Anyone trying to be the “next Facebook” is as depressed today as it was four years ago, and that’s why we still need antitrust action. Dear, It’s the rise of a radically different model – one powered by loyalty, exclusivity, premium content, and niche audiences – that made the launch possible. And most of them are perhaps better seen as media platforms than social networks.
That is not to say that Facebook will not ultimately destroy them if it gets the chance. It’s just that Facebook has yet to adjust to a climate where its main advantages are precisely that more and more people are trying to get away from it. In this regard, Twitter could for once be a step ahead.
Under the radar trends, stories, and random anecdotes that are worth your time.
- Speaking of Facebook’s business model: Facebook launches an advertising campaign to defend personalized advertising against Apple’s new privacy measuresCNBC’s Megan Graham reported on Thursday. Starting this spring, Apple plans to directly ask iOS users if they should be tracked by any app for promotional purposes. Facebook and other data hungry mobile apps fear that most people will say “no”. Hence the campaign titled “Good Ideas Deserve To Be Found,” which touts targeted ads as a boon for small businesses. (Here’s a sample ad that I found amusing, if not in the way Facebook intended.)
- A social camera app called Dispo will be hyped up by some Instagram next: deceptively simple, steeped in nostalgia, and adored by a growing roster of mostly young beta test users. Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times has a legible glimpse into the mechanics and appeal of the app. Jane Seidel from the protocol makes instructive comparisons with Instagram and especially VSCO. Dispo raised $ 20 million this week at a value of $ 200 million.
Chart of the week
Did Amazon ruin the name Alexa?
– Felix Richter, Statista
Headlines of the Week
Amazon’s Twitch Bans Amazon’s Union Busting Ads
– Matthew Gault, motherboard
How Chess.com built a streaming empire
– Hirsh Chitkara, minutes
Thank you for reading Pattern Matching. Reach out to me for tips and feedback by replying to this post on the Internet, by Twitter direct message at @WillOremus, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.