What Have Big Social Media Done to Independent Bloggers?
In my "About" page, I make a passing reference to independent web sites and how blogging was the norm until "the people who own and operate social media sites came along and did very mean things to people."
This prompted an attentive and inquisitive new reader of Amplify the Signal to ask, "What have big social media done to independent bloggers?" Good question! When I wrote the original statement about mean things I was imagining effects broader than just an attack on blogging. But for the sake of brevity I'll try to confine this answer to blogging and save the bigger topic for a possible future post. This is going to be a rough outline for now. Here goes!
1. Making blogging "weird"
Before "social" media, one way people expressed their thoughts online was by writing and posting articles, photos, essays and short bursts of text to their own web sites. There were even places that made setting up a simple personal website for blogging easy (e.g. Geocities, and later Wordpress). With a web site under their control, a person could write whatever they wanted and make the site their own and an expression of their unique personality. The collection of blogs on the web (i.e. the blogosphere) was a rich and diverse place.
Then, years later, along came "social" media. All of a sudden everyone (who was new to writing online) got shoe-horned into the same generic handful of sites and into the constraints imposed by the platform owners (rules, format, etc). The result was that anything that didn't conform to the new "standard" began to look quaint, strange, and possibly even scary.
The second punch occurred when the "social" media platforms began warning people that the site they were about to visit (i.e. the independent blog) could be malicious.
The final punch occurred when the platforms stopped (or severely restricted) the appearance of links that were outside of their own site.
Do you know anyone who is an independent blogger? A person that manages their own domain and web site? Do they also use social media? Are they weird?
2. Sucking all the oxygen out of the blogosphere
The "social" media phenomenon created an attention bomb. (A bomb that once detonated burned up all the attention in the area.) Fueled by advertising, the platforms made attention-seeking their top (and only) priority. They made their sites addictive and shape-shifting to ensure that eyeballs remained on their sites for as long as possible, and longer. Not content with having just an addictive platform, they placed links, trackers, ads and other tricks on adjacent web properties to drive eyeballs back to their own. Almost overnight, people were being sucked in. "Social" media was like a black hole, no attention escaped it. The blogosphere withered.
3. Feeding and incentivizing lazyness
Word got around that one could quickly sign up for a "social" media account and begin posting almost instantly, and potentially to millions of captives. This tricked people who should have known better, and who had the know-how to actually bypass the platforms and set up their own compelling sites, with just a little extra work. Why not take the easy way? I hesitate to use the word lazy. Maybe is was just a response to being busy. The net effect was destructive. Once on the platform, the person who could have been a blogger was bound by the rules, norms, and conditions imposed by the owners, and was sucked just as deeply into the swamp as the readers they were trying to reach.
There you have it. I'm sure I missed a bunch of other effects, but this should serve as a primer.
So, what has "social" media done to you?
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