Social Networking — Past, Present and Future

Welcome to the first Cybercultural of 2022. This week, I look at the past, present and future of social networks — featuring Instagram (before and after), how FarmVille may give us a glimpse of our metaverse future, and what the CES shows of 2002 and 2022 tell us about our tech culture.

Notes from the Present 📱

My 2022 Predictions

ICYMI, this was published at the end of December.

Instagram Founder on Future Social Networks

Kevin Systrom, the co-founder and former CEO of Instagram, was interviewed on the Lex Fridman podcast recently. Lots of nuggets, but I particularly liked Systrom’s thoughts on the future of social networks. He thinks future algorithms will focus less on content from popular users and more on the value of the content itself.

This resonated with me, as a long-time proponent of topic feeds. Kind of ironic coming from an Instagram founder though, since Instagram is (in)famous for its “influencers.” But I’ll be interested to see what type of startup Systrom founds next, and whether he makes an ‘Instagram for topics’ type app. Anyway, here’s his quote:

“[…] TikTok I think has done a wonderful job here, which is like you can literally be anyone and if you produce something fascinating it’ll go viral. You don’t have to be someone that anyone knows, you don’t have to have built up a giant following, you don’t have to have paid for followers, you don’t have to try to maintain those followers — you literally just have to produce something interesting. That is I think the future of social networking — that’s the direction things will head and I think what you’ll find is it’s far less about people manipulating distribution and far more about […] is this content good.”

(Potential) Cultural Impact of the Metaverse

In a piece for The New Yorker, Anna Wiener compared the (as yet unbuilt) metaverse to the popular Facebook game of the late 2000s, FarmVille. She noted that FarmVille was of its time, before smartphones were ubiquitous and when there was a clear division between our online lives and our offline lives. FarmVille was mostly played on desktop computers, but the metaverse — if it does succeed — will be popularized by “digital natives” who will spend considerable time invirt (yes, I’m still trying to make that term a thing!).

“The metaverse, if it takes off, will reflect its cultural and technological moment, too. Taking cues from today’s tech ecosystem, it will probably be privatized, centralized, and financialized, with rampant artificial scarcity. Players of FarmVille were not digital natives; players of games like Fortnite and Minecraft almost certainly are, and, in the metaverse, will be the target audience for companies selling digital skins, virtual trinkets, and cloud-based space.”

From the ‘Ridiculous CES Screens’ Department

The CES (Consumer Electronics Show) convention, held in Las Vegas every January, is infamous for touting highly impractical TV sets. That trend is now impacting computer monitors (via Tim Schofield).

An Otherwise Quiet CES

Not a lot of foot traffic in Vegas this year, understandably…

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Notes from the Past ☎️

Remember How Annoying FarmVille Was…

When the original FarmVille shut down at the end of 2020, the NY Times reminded us how the game “gamified attention and encouraged interaction loops” — practices common now in social media.

“If you didn’t check in every day, your crops would wither and die; some players would set alarms so they wouldn’t forget. If you needed help, you could spend real money or send requests to your Facebook friends — a source of annoyance for nonplayers who were besieged with notifications and updates in their news feeds.”

2010: What Came Before Instagram

Before it turned into a photo sharing app for iOS in late 2010, Instagram’s founders had created an HTML5 mobile website called Burbn. It was a location-based social network, a popular Web 2.0 category at the time. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger presented Burbn at a conference that my company, ReadWriteWeb, put on in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, in May 2010. In my keynote address for that event, I referenced Burbn as an exemplar of the emerging (I thought at the time) mobile web.

After Burbn pivoted to Instagram, it became one of the first major online products designed to be used exclusively on your smartphone as a native app, rather than on desktop computers. It was the beginning of the smartphone app era.

CES 2002: RipGO!

Twenty years ago, the CES event attracted 100,000 attendees and one of the highlights was the RipGO! portable music player. Those were the days of “rip, mix and burn” and with this product you could “burn” music onto mini CD-Rs. Interestingly, Apple had just released its first iPod a couple of months before. The iPod could hold 1,000 songs, or 5GB, whereas the RipGO! only held 185MB on each mini CD-R disc. It’s a bit of a headmash to think about transferring MP3 files from your computer to a CD (I remember doing a lot of the inverse at the time, copying from CD to computer!). Certainly, the iPod seems much cooler in retrospect.

“Imation displayed the recently released Imation RipGO! mini CD-R burner and digital audio player. The smallest device available today for both recording compressed music on CDs and high-performance playback of digital music in MP3 and Microsoft® Windows Media (WMA) formats.”

Scott’s Movie Comments

Back in the day, we used to create websites when we had something to say. Via @wayback_exe.

One More Thing 📞

Silicon Valley billionaire Marc Andreessen is well known on Twitter for blocking people who upset him. After getting called out for this, he began posting dozens of memes about blocking. This was my favourite (screenshotted in case I get blocked too):

See you next week! Do reach out by email (just hit reply) or on Twitter (@ricmac) if you have any content suggestions, or just want to touch base.