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I'm calling it: Social networking is over

Mike Elgan | May 3, 2016
And just like that, social networking is no more. The sites formerly known as social networks are pivoting to something else.

But Facebook is also trying to remain sticky through the cultivation of publishers and content creators -- initiatives like Facebook's Instant Articles. You'll note that even as personal posts decline on Facebook, posts by professional content creators are way, way up.

Talking about one's own life in a status update is "social networking." Posting or sharing an article or professionally created video is not social networking.

Facebook's powerful publishing initiatives add up to a pivot for the company, transforming it from a site that's primarily about social networking to one that's mostly about social media sharing.

From a business perspective, Facebook shouldn't care. Facebook's goal isn't social networking, but to promote engagement of any kind to keep the eyeballs and deliver advertising.

As Facebook drives all these non-social-networking initiatives, it actively encourages the decline of social networking simply by gobbling up a lot more of its users' online time with other diversions, leaving the public with less time to engage in social networking.

What's eating social networking?

Everything is changing all the time. But what hasn't changed is that we're still living in an attention economy. Attention is still the most valuable resource. Companies of all kinds are in a bloody, all-out war to figure out how to get more of your attention. As a result, online sites of all kinds are working tirelessly to figure out how to become more attention-grabbing.

Companies can throw massive development resources at making bots and games and other computerized content more attention-grabbing.

Content creators can and do evolve to make articles, videos, photos and podcasts more distracting and attention-grabbing.

But your family and friends on Facebook aren't getting any better at making their status updates more attention-grabbing. And so social networking is being outrun by a universe of professional attention-grabbers. The attention economy is a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest contest, and your Aunt Mildred with her cat photos and Uncle Fester with his political rants just can't keep up.

Social networking still exists, but companies out to monetize social networking are reaching the limits of news feed algorithm tweaks that can make social networking attention-grabbing.

Now the websites formerly known as "social networks" are developing and exploring and evolving attention-grabbing activities that are not social networking. This process will continue until hardly anyone is doing social networking anymore.

So here's one last status update for social networking itself: Social networking is over.


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