A lot of the efforts to reshape social media, or to walk away from it in favor of RSS feeds or something else, are really attempts to recapture those utopian elements that were active in the zeitgeist ten, fifteen, and twenty years ago. They still exercise a powerful hold over our collective imagination about what the internet is, and could be, even when they take the form of dashed hopes and stifled dreams.Tim Carmody – “How to Fix Social Media by Injecting A Chunk of the Blogosphere”
It’s more a call to arms for bloggers than a recipe for fixing Social Media on the whole, but Tim Carmody’s entire piece over at Kottke is still worth a read. But I latched on to the same closing question as Kari did:
Was it just a place to write and be read by somebody, anybody?
I think, in the beginning, for most people, yes. Blogging was an outlet for those who had thoughts and opinions on things to just get them out. Or for others to just share a public journal or diary of sorts. And I think that created the perception to this day of bloggers as this unprofessional basement dwelling class that, while it could help stir up some news and nonsense once in a while, was generally disregarded as amateur and ultimately illegitimate compared to other, more professional outlets.
There’s a folly in that view, though, because social media has sucked in most of those who’d fall into the “unwashed masses” category. Tim touches on this briefly when he talks about different categories of people that don’t fit a one-size-fits-all solution to social media:
Many more still have little capital to trade on to begin with, and are just looking for some kind of meaningful interaction to give us a reason why we logged in in the first place. The fact that this is the largest group, for whom the tools are the least well-suited, and who were promised the most by social media’s ascendancy, is the great tragedy of the form.
For those that used blogging merely as a platform to stay in touch with friends and family, share silly links once in a while, or generally fart around the web, Facebook and Twitter fits the bill.
But there was a group of people who always used it for a little bit more. Maybe it was professional, maybe it was personal, but they added more than just a nodding head to a conversation. They weren’t just thought leaders, they were thought creators. For them, blogging was the means of breaking out and getting a platform typically locked away in an academic journal or on the editorial pages of a news publication.
The problem for the blogosphere is the best and brightest were sometimes acknowledged as such and were able to utilize the tool to move on to bigger and better things. In some ways that’s great, especially for those individuals, because it showed the power of a democratic web allowing cream to rise.
In other ways, though, it caused the platform to suffer because as a brain drain occurred the medium was left with either blogs run by those who did it as a labor of love (and so sometimes had to prioritize other things over producing quality content) or the committed few who represented the loudest, aggravated voices who wanted a place from where they could shout into the darkness — only, because it’s the Internet, the darkness shouted back and they found friends.
Woah, got heavy there for a second.
Social Media isn’t going anywhere – but it’s showing its growing pains and the limitations of its ability to truly inform and educate a public, not that that was every its intent or purpose. For those who do want more out of it, especially those who found it back in the early 2000s via blogging, the solution may be going back to the old way of doing things or some sort of hybrid. That solution is up to us to figure out, because as Tim concluded:
I don’t think we can treat the blogosphere as a settled thing, when it was in fact never settled at all. Just as social media remains unsettled. Its fate has not been written yet. We’re the ones who’ll have to write it.
SOMEWHAT RELATED NOTE: Another piece worth reading is “So, What Really Happened to The Cauldron?” where its founder, Jamie O’Grady talks about the rise and fall of the sports news site. It’s a lot more on the business end than where I focus, but it shows how quality content comes up against a lot of weird valuations and metrics these days, ultimately leading to the demise of a site that had quite a few reasons to be considered a success.