We now know that just a few “Likes” gives advertisers enough data to very accurately target advertising. Now, alternatives to traditional social networks are popping up to serve the needs of a more discriminating crowd of social networkers.
Back in 2009, Facebook bought FriendFeed, which had created the first “Likes.” Just liking a few things creates a very accurate picture about how we might vote or spend money. But a “Like” doesn’t have to be trapped within one Web site. I follow a lot of friends’ blogs with my iPhone’s Feed Reader and some of my #indieweb inventor friends publish their Likes as stories in their feeds. Many kinds of social objects can be transmitted through feeds such as calendar events, tagged people, location check-ins.
We have advertising on Web sites and we can block some of them with our browser plug-ins. That’s not possible on traditional closed social networks where the audience is captive.
Tim Berners-Lee is working on an initiative to allow users to control which advertisers can see which data on a case-by-case basis. Self-hosted blogging tools allow people to participate in social media while monetizing their own content through ad networks and also storing metadata about visitor activity on their own computer. Web sites can form social networks that are really networks.
When we share information on traditional social media, we create an advertising opportunity for the platform where we have chosen to share – and we see advertisements on the platform around our friends social objects. Advertisers can learn exactly where we fall within the political spectrum and show us individually-targeted messages which are far more effective than traditional advertising.
Blogging itself is really the first social network, with feed readers offering a way to aggregate friends’ blogs and other web sites into a social feed. Twitter and Facebook created much easier experiences that broadened the appeal, and added Likes, Check-Ins, and great mobile apps. Diaspora, App.net and now Micro.blog crowdsourced energy and money around creating a successor to the big social networks. Mastodon and 1999io are also interesting. Diaspora was open source, decentralized, encrypted – but succumbed to its own complexity. App.net and Micro.blog have taken an approach more like Twitter and Facebook, by providing a centralized architecture which makes it easy for people to Follow each other. 1999 and Mastodon are open source and encourage self-hosting but don’t have the robust discovery features.
Traditional social networks
Social networks have become an important communications medium not unlike the telephone. The tools we have so far are hosted on a single Web site rather than taking advantage of the Web’s architecture, and that leaves users susceptible to spying, targeted advertising, or loss of their content. There are open source alternatives and crowd-funded alternatives emerging to help solve some of these problems.
Discriminating social networkers
When MySpace was too full of advertising, advanced users led the way to a “cleaner” platform – Facebook. Today we have thousands of fans using Mastodon.social and putting their own dollars behind Micro.blog – we’ve seen the rise and fall of Diaspora and App.net – will these newest efforts fall short? That remains to be seen, but the fans of social media will continue to generate new tools for sharing that work better and better for the users.