Our Discourse is Stuck in Amber

Society is stuck moving at the pace of the slowest PMs in social media

Originally posted as a tweetstorm on 7/21/2017

The problem w/ natural monopolies in tech is if there's a structural problem in a product (like Twitter or Facebook), there's no oxygen left to build competitor.[1] Twitter is a deeply flawed product that is not incentivized anymore to reduce internet mob behavior. Yet there's little room in market for alternative. Facebook has demonstrated more capacity to reinvent itself but as Ben Thompson points out, continues to kill emergent social network competition through acquisition.

This leads us to a place where our discourse at a critical time in history is effectively at the mercy of a few companies who set the ground rules, and the ground rules are extremely unsophisticated and self serving, favoring addiction to emotional rise over quality discourse.

While I think it's a great ideal for the world to be connected, reducing that friction to nil seems to amplify our worst behaviors.

There's already been a ton written about Facebook and Twitter's effect on discourse, but the discussion about the lack of competition in social networking products hasn't gotten enough play. I hope w/ machine learning advances & next gen social network designs we can construct a better means of human discourse, but I'm not sure it'll get a chance in the market.

What I see right now on Twitter is a sick community - succumbing to mob and tribal behavior, long given up on assuming the best intentions. Its pretty much impossible to change culture / norms of a community this size; the only remedy is new strata to emerge atop this older medium. Yet we've settled into this mature social network market, and new entrants are nowhere to be seen. Our discourse is stuck in amber.[2]

  1. Oxygen in this context is both the capital and user's share of free attention necessary to overcome the very powerful network effects of pre-existing social networks, who largely have a natural monopoly in their respective categories.

    Two non-social network examples of this effect are:

    a. Craigslist's effective monopoly on local classifieds, which caused the market to stagnate for years because the product never improved, and

    b. Google Reader's existence prevented other RSS products from emerging, only to leave the market in ruin after Google shut it down. ↩︎

  2. It'd be great if there were a solution to this structural problem. Federated social networks, portable identity, healthy competition. Alas. ↩︎