Thinking About the Next Big Social Network

The next great social platform can’t be yet another centralized system. It has to be more distributed and more open even than App.net. It has to focus on writing and bloggers and embrace what is good about the web. Ello doesn’t do any of these things.
– via Manton Reece

I love Manton, but I think that you’re going to be wildly disappointed if you think that the next big social network is going to be decentralized. There simply isn’t any other mainstream service category that is getting more open as time goes on. Despite its critics, Twitter is probably already as open a social network as we’re going to get.

If you look at other social networks that have succeeded in the post-Twitter world, you see services like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat, all services that are pretty solidly locked down. At least you can make a custom Twitter app if you want. Or how about downloading all of your content to archive elsewhere? Twitter lets you download all your tweets, but Instagram doesn’t let you easily download all your photos.

A big reason these services are locked down is that 99% of people just don’t care. People may take issue with how certain things work in Snapchat, but they don’t care that all your data is stuck in the app. People don’t care that your WhatsApp conversations aren’t exportable to iMessage or Google Hangouts. “Openness” is a nerdy concern, and it’s only us nerds who care that much about it.

And being a closed system means that it’s easier to make thing better quickly. If we wanted to make a change to how email or RSS worked, even with 100% support from the world, it would take forever to get the standard set up and people to update their clients/apps to conform to the new standard. If Twitter wants to roll out a new feature that makes their service objectively better, they make sure it works in their app and roll it out in a couple weeks. That’s better for consumers, and more importantly it’s better in a way they actually care about.

The next big social network is a complete mystery to me (if I knew what it would be, I’d be a billionaire), but I am very confident that one of its selling points won’t be how open it is.