As I write this, CEOs from Twitter and Facebook are being grilled during a Congressional hearing, with censorship of content being a hot topic. It seems that user frustration with major social media sites like Twitter, Facebook an Instagram finally came to a head, for a variety of reasons, in 2020. The environment on these social sites has been increasingly toxic in 2020 as politics has become a dominant topic.
Interestingly, Twitter’s moderation efforts have led to the rise of Parler, which has emerged as the first viable competitor to Twitter in nearly decade. Top influencers who recently joined Parler have already seen their follower numbers surpassing their followers on Twitter.
I’ve been spending more time on Parler recently, but it’s clear that the toxic exchanges around politics that people are sick of on Twitter, are slowly migrating to Parler.
But I think (or rather hope) that the rise of Parler signals a potential shift in the future of social media. Parler is a social site where almost all of the conversation happening is around politics. But what if more sites similar to Parler arose, with each one focused on a particular topic. For instance, Twitter is a catch-all. You can find discussions about literally any topic you are interested in.
But what if there was a ‘Twitter’ just for people who are interested in your favorite hobby or topic? What if there was a platform just for discussing sports, or gardening, or cooking, or Sherlock Holmes, or Pokemon, etc?
I’ve been using the internet long enough to remember when AOL switched from 10 hours a month for $24,99, to unlimited access for the same price. When AOL went unlimited, the experience on AOL changed dramatically. When AOL went unlimited, obviously everyone had a lot more time they could afford to spend on the site. AOL had many forums and message boards, and when the service went unlimited, the activity levels went up, but so did the amount of arguing. The reality is, when you only have 20 or so hours a month you can use on internet access, you probably aren’t going to waste that time arguing. You are going to search for and share only the most important information. Which means the value of the content in those forums increases. But when you open the floodgates and let everyone in, you also let in a lot of people that have less interest and knowledge of said topic. Which led to more arguing and less informed viewpoints.
By the way, this is why Twitter chats work so well. Because you bring together people that are knowledgeable and passionate about a particular topic. As a result, the conversations that happen in these chats are so much more valuable than what we see on Twitter as a whole. I’ve had so many people tell me that chats are the only reason why they are still on Twitter.
So I’m interested in the success of Parler simply because I’m intrigued by the idea of having social platforms that aren’t a ‘catch-all’ like we have now with Twitter and Facebook, but which are focused on just one topic or area. I think such an approach would lead to much healthier conversations, and the quality of those conversations would increase dramatically, as well.
Here’s to new social media sites that offer us better and more valuable conversation and content in 2021.