Social media—if you can believe it—has only been in existence a little while longer than LeBron James has been in his 20s, but envisioning its future has already begun. 1971 saw the first email, and 2004 brought us Facebook. With time and technology compressing at an accelerating rate, what will the rest of the 21st century bring us?
From Facebook to Twitter to the demise and resurrection of Myspace, how we all use, misuse and don’t use social media is of interest to economists, venture capitalists, tweens, governments and everybody in between, and it’s no wonder. Look at these social media stats:
- Tumblr has 170 million users.
- Instagram has 100 million users and stores fourbillion photos.
- LinkedIn has 225 million users.
- Pinterest has almost 50 million users.
- Reddit has 4.8 billion monthly page views.
- Facebook users are hovering around 1.11 billion.
No matter how youuse social media, most of us have a stake in its future.
The Visual Social MediaScape
The rise of visual social media has already greatly changed how people engage with each other across the Web’s many offerings. While they all borrow from the originators of social media culture (i.e. with likes, comments, etc.), they provide a truly different experience for the user. Here are a few of the most popular:
- Snapchat. The most obvious appeal of Snapchat is that the “snaps” sent through it disappear anywhere from 3 to 10 seconds after the chat has been viewed, which makes it more like an actual conversation than messaging. Its transience is a marked departure from the over-documentation that photos, blogs and more traditional social media sites provide. It’s almost counter-cultural (except that it’s social media) in its rejection of lasting exchanges. Most social media sites assume that people want to preserve their social media lives, insights, likes, photos, comments, etc. forever. Snapchat assumes the opposite, allowing interaction to feel like it used to, i.e., before social media.
- Vine. Vine is an app that lets users create and loop short videos, and then share them with their friends and followers. It’s a quick way for users to be creative while documenting reality (or constructed reality). Vine can turn anyone into an artist, which is uncommon in the land of social media.
- Instagram. Another app that lets users feel like artists is Instagram. Outfitted with filters that—perhaps ironically—make digital photos look older (or at least decidedly un-digital), Instagram has tapped into a nostalgia that isn’t available for users of non-visual social media. Like looking through old family photo albums, Instagram preserves people’s memories for users and followers but does so with an aesthetic that feels un-Silicon Valley-like.
Big Data’s Predictions
As more Internet users’ buying and browsing habits are logged, recorded and analyzed by big data, social media’s attempts to identify how to advertise to us, monetize its vast knowledge of our habits and increase our loyalty is going to expand. While in some cases this may make for more satisfying user experiences where what you want is predicted and acted upon by big data through your social media comments in such a streamlined way that it simply arrives at your doorstep, it also may contribute to lackluster innovation going forward. Nothing kills new ideas like trying to satisfy a focus group, and big data’s reach has the potential to function like the largest each-person-specific focus group that has ever existed.
Privacy vs. Connectedness
From government spying scandals to future employers trawling through social media feeds to learn aboutyou, privacy concerns regarding how much we share and what we share is a real concern. Being connected to others via the Internet means that everything we post is logged and recorded, and if social media wants a future where people feel free to interact and be themselves, issues like privacy have to be addressed in a way that satisfies users’ needs and experience. At this point, it remains unclear how social media will solve this dilemma, but it is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
While it may seem as though we are living in the future, the present is continuing to unfold in unexpected ways. From visual exchanges to detailed scrutiny about what we like and what we buy, the future of social media is changing, and how we relate is likely to change with it.
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About the Author: Margaret Duncan is a social media manager and writer.