- Tech companies dominate the social media landscape, but many users want more from their experiences.
- New platforms that offer authenticity and new tech like augmented reality could be a welcome addition for some users.
- Experts say the future of social media lies in the technology available in the coming years.
Social media in 2021 is dominated by only a few companies. However, adding more platforms into the mix could provide users the experiences they feel are missing.
Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and TikTok take some of the top spots as the go-to social networks. They may have billions of users, but they’re not without their issues. Between data breaches, privacy being compromised and sold, algorithms that control what we do and don’t see, and targeted ads that can sometimes be downright creepy, people are understandably looking for other options.
Experts say that, while there’s a ton of new platforms out there to discover, it’s all about standing out from the crowd to get our collective attention.
“It’s a bit hit-or-miss of what platforms are going to make it. It’s got to be something that users can’t get somewhere else,” Andrew Selepak, a social media professor at the University of Florida, told Lifewire over the phone.
Familiarity Breeds More Use
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have garnered millions of users over the course of many years, and Selepak said these companies won’t give up their popularity that easily.
“They’re not going to relinquish their spots without a fight,” he said. “Whether that is them looking at the competition and either buying it, or they’re looking at the competition and trying to make a better one.”
This makes it harder for new, smaller social networks to have any impact. It may seem like we’ve been in a period of the same social media cycle without any new players entering the industry, but Selepak said that we’re actually seeing an influx of alternatives.
“We had an explosion [of new social media networks], and that kind of explosion was impossible to maintain because there have been plenty of platforms that have arisen and disappeared in an exceedingly short period,” he said.
Some of these short-lived platforms include Vine, Periscope, Google Plus, Yik Yak, and others that never got quite as popular as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Selepak said that the habits we have formed with the bigger platforms are hard to break, and that, ultimately, we continue giving them most of our time.
“We are creatures of habit, so we’re [going to] continue to use the things that we’ve been using,” he said. “We might venture out every once in a while to try something new, but unless that new thing that we try, everybody else is on it as well, we’re probably [going to] go back to the familiar.”
A More Authentic Social Network?
But there seems to be a new wave of social platforms popping up that are trying to stand out from what we associate with social media. One of these platforms is Junto, a nonprofit, open-source app currently in beta that focuses on the authenticity current social media seems to have lost.
“I thought that by transforming social media, we could start to move towards a deeper understanding of each other as human beings,” Eric Yang, the creator of Junto, told Lifewire in a video call. “We are trying to better the culture that we find ourselves in online.”
Yang said that Junto gets rid of all the noise, like the algorithms that perpetuate echo chambers, targeted advertisements, and addictive patterns that he says “contribute to a superficial, egocentric type of culture.” Junto does this through a decentralized platform that uses a blockchain alternative called Holochain, letting users have complete agency over how they share information, what they share, and where it’s being stored.
Junto is focused on establishing what Yang calls human-centered design patterns, working with community volunteers to gain critical feedback about the beta platform.
“What we’ll be doing is deploying some surveys with our initial community that are completely optional where people can help us validate if these things are truly better for people’s mental health,” he said. “Things like, does it decrease addiction to technology? Is this better for your sense of community authenticity and connection?”
In its final form, Junto will have all the same things you are used to on social media, like a profile page (known as your den), the ability to post photos and videos (which Junto refers to as expressions), a personalized news feed (known as perspectives), and direct messaging and group chats.
Yang knows that Junto won’t replace Facebook, but might provide a different option for people looking for that authenticity social media seems to be missing these days.
“We’re not trying to be like the one social media platform people use,” he said. “Anyone that’s trying to build things in an ethical way can also benefit from the work that we’re doing.”
Augmenting Social Media in the Real World
Other platforms base their functionality around an entirely new technological concept. SpotSelfie, for example, is an app in beta that uses augmented reality to let users take their social media out into the real world.
Ray Shingler, co-founder and director of product development for SpotSelfie, envisions AR as a new way to socialize beyond sitting in front of our smartphone screens.
“Instead of dropping an image or video in a traditional social feed, and then we just sit there and scroll through it all, you’re dropping it where it actually takes place,” he told Lifewire in a video call.
“if you’re out to dinner with some friends, you’re having a great time you take a photo, or you take a video, you put a tagline on it, and you drop it at that geolocation now, so now it’s sitting there, in augmented reality, just floating above you.”
Shingler said SpotSelfie is an entirely different social world, where your profile photo floats above your head as you’re walking down the street, and the content you post lives within the community, itself.
“I love the idea of geotagging content to get you out and meeting new people,” he said. “It allows users to grow as a community in the real world since we’ve kind of lost that sense [of community].”
Like Junto, SpotSelfie does no data mining, no movement tracking, and no advertising in the app. Instead, Shingler envisions a subscription-based service with a small monthly fee, as well as getting small businesses in the community to geo-tag promotions as a way for the company to derive revenue.
Shingler said the first thing he did when coming up with SpotSelfie was filing for three patents that cover the app’s AR social network, so that bigger competitors wouldn’t get any ideas of copying.
“I don’t want to be compared to a Facebook or [thought of as an] Instagram knockoff. I just think what we’re doing is so different,” he said. “We’re trying to get social networking back to where it was before.”
The Future of Social Media
It may feel like Facebook and Twitter are still our only options these days, but experts say another social media explosion is on the horizon.
“I think we are heading into a moment where [an explosion] is going to occur again because of technology advancements,” Selepak said. “I think we’re going to see some pretty significant changes in terms of how all these platforms look, operate, and work. As the technology evolves and increases or does new things, we’ll see new things in social media, too.”
“I think [social media] is going to move away from a winner-takes-all economy to an interoperable ecosystem.”
Selepak said that one of the most significant things that could shake up social media as we know it would be any kind of government regulation. There are talks about changing or removing Section 230 (the law that protects online platforms from being liable for what their users post), which Selepak said would have a huge impact.
“I think it might not be where we have some new startup that changes the face of social media, but it could be that there’s some regulation that’s passed, and the unintended consequence is that it really shakes up social media,” he said
Yang agrees that he sees us eventually moving away from the monopolized social media we are used to into something that isn’t a “one size fits all.”
“I think [social media] is going to move away from a winner-takes-all economy to an interoperable ecosystem,” said Yang.
[Photo: bruce mars/Unsplash]