How Facebook's IPO was the beginning of the rot in social media
Right on the money. Facebook's IPO doomed us to a squalid and useless content feed. And moreover, its ripple effects ruined a lot of the "open web" technology that was making headway inside the tech industry. https://www.vox.com/2019/4/29/18511534/facebook-mobile-phone-f8
Right around their IPO, Zuckerberg announced at the F8 dev conference that they would be moving from Web tech into "native" apps on iPhones and Androids: closed-source apps available only through app stores, with no way to monitor what data they were collecting. Zuck said it was because HTML5/JS produced unacceptably slow, bad experiences. The truth was that Facebook was just bad at it: that year, I went to a conference where someone showed off a lightning-fast mobile web Facebook app. A couple years later, Facebook closed its APIs that made such an app possible.
The real reason they ditched the Web is outlined in the "risk factors" section of their S1 which they filed for their IPO:
"Our efforts to expand the Facebook Platform may result in users increasingly engaging with our Platform developers’ Facebook-integrated websites instead of engaging on Facebook, which may negatively affect our advertising revenue and harm our business." ( https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1326801/000119312512034517/d287954ds1.htm )
We were excited to make the web into a universal application platform, with no vendor lock-in or walled gardens, and no initial cost for regular people to create something with global reach. I loved my work at the time; it felt democratizing. Then Big Zuck, who had a lot of cachet at the time, hit the Web with a folding chair. The whole industry chased after native like dumb squirrels after that. It's no coincidence that kids call websites like Twitter "apps" now. A better world was possible.
its funny how 4chan might be the last one standing in terms of actually functioning how it was a decade ago. i used to think reddit too but the 3rd party app business has soured me on the future of reddit as a platform
Thank you for this fantastic - and depressing - summary! It’s the first time I’ve felt that I could grasp what’s been happening with social networks, and why they’ve become so unsocial.
I LOVED my early days of the internet in the mid 90s in college. CompSci student in the computer lab on the UNIX computer firing up Netscape browsing the world wide web. IRC, Usenet, forums it was awesome. And people were hundreds of times more social then than they are today.
This story could almost be said of many other companies who have gone public. If you don't want to go public don't take anymore money from the venture capitalists, if you can. The older I get the more I find nothing good lasts, nothing. And that is truly sad.
Yeah but where else can I get Ray-Ban discounts from friends’ hacked accounts?
I’m saddened that Reddit seems to be going the same way. Their downvote button really helped curate content with each sub-Reddit’s own culture. You don’t get that effect on Twitter or Facebook. The day that Reddit removes downvoting is the day it becomes just as bad as its competitors.
That said, it’s hard to see how a company becomes a social network without the deleterious effects that paid advertising has on the user interaction. Substack is making a go of it, but it doesn’t seem to me like it will be capable of challenging either Twitter or Facebook. Maybe Reddit, though, if Substack introduced downvoting. I hope it never allows users to upload photos or video, though.
You can publish all the accounts you want of how evil and manipulative FB, Twitter, et al. are but the bottom line is that the only way this mass insanity will stop is if people STOP SUPPORTING IT. Which is not about to happen, to the contrary. Nobody needs these platforms, people have been willingly seduced into accepting them as a replacement for actual human interaction, which is what we all really need. Even intelligent people like Jordan Peterson and Kathleen Stock have been sucked into this. It's like heroin addiction, everyone starts by thinking 'I can handle it, man'. That human beings are willing to sacrifice their critical thinking and free will to something as transitory and absolutely meaningless as the momentary dopamine hit they receive from their next 'like' doesn't exactly bode well for the future. And AI Chatbot is just beginning to manifest its malign presence.
I joined Twitter back in 2007. when it was a microblog platform. Ah those were the days. Text only, it flew along. It's so ridiculously bloated now I wonder if a Twitter 1.0 clone would be popular for its simplicity. No embedded anything, just text.
I miss forums. I loathe Zuckerberg and will never use his products.
I think this post beautifully confirmed everything I knew about Threads but so wanted to not believe. My feed is memelords and influencers despite me trying so hard to curate it to people I’m interested in hearing from. This is even BEFORE the brand advertisers are unleashed. I knew better, I really did.
I've deleted all of my social network accounts and destroyed all the data on them as best I can except for job related sites where I try to avoid posting. Honestly, I'd get rid of my Google account if I could, but I've not found a good alternative to it.
Discord is what I use now, and it's because it's exactly what you described of the old internet. Before the pandemic I used to use Meetup.com for similar reasons, but that site doesn't have the utility or usefulness it used to have. If I had the time and money for VR I'd be using VR Chat for the same reason.
I think this is the direction many internet users are going to go, a siloed interest and personally known friends/family networks unless these social network sites become useful again for finding friends and staying in touch with existing family and friends.
Corey Booker has a word for this process whereby network monetization ultimately leads to worse and worse experiences first for its users and then its customers — “enshittification.”
This felt like reading a reflection of my own thoughts on Threads and modern social media. Thank you, Ed, for consistently publishing such incredible analysis. I've been re-reading so many of your old and new posts while gathering thoughts for my own writing and when I saw this notification in my inbox, immediately saved the piece to read as soon as I finished work.
great article but what is the difference between being a private company and what facebook is now? Zuckerberg has complete control over the company with having majority voting rights.
This is the bullseye. Though I will debate if FB was ever "good" - but it was entertaining for a while, in a new car smell kind of way, until we started to figure out what it was doing to people, and the, you know, the genocide. "Progress" isn't linear, of course, and I have suspected that the idea of social media reinforced the notion of "nothing is free" and also, was something like the modern equivalent of the Neanderthal: perfectly well suited to the world but still driven to extinction by external forces made worse by internal instincts.
Since you mention mIRC a little nitpick: mIRC is the client, the protocol is called IRC. There are other clients too which allows the users to curate their experience, a lot of them support pretty advanced scripting. The networks are often financed by donations, there really isn't a good way to advertise on IRC. This works because the service is rather inexpensive to provide and enough people still care about it to keep it going. I still use IRC regular to participate in discussions around certain Tech - however some of this has now moved to Slack which in my opinion is a worse user experience (it tries to do too many things at once). Having stuff be a bit more complicated also filters out the absolutely stupid. I still remember the lamentations about AOL users being let loose on the internet.