November 2, 2022

Um, so what the hell is going on?

The advice I would give to young people looking to start a business for the past ten years is now probably wrong. This was it:

The world doesn’t really need another photo app or social network. But it does need better software for medical imaging, or regulatory compliance, or managing housing inspections.

Now, part of that is still true – we have lots and lots of terrible software and clunky systems out there. But just the past couple months have shown us that the first part might not hold up.

Facebook has been borderline unusable since the Obama administration.

Instagram is setting itself on fire in pursuit of TikTok.

TikTok is taking over the world – but it’s much more of a video app than a social one.

And Twitter. Twitter, which either through neglect or design has somehow stayed pretty true to its original promise, is now in the most turmoil out of all of them.

Elon Musk completed his takeover of the company last week, and it feels like there is a new, confusing development in that saga every hour. Executives were fired – and Musk doesn’t want to pay severance. The board is dissolved, and a motley crew of friends and advisors is running the show from a war room. Verification is going to cost $20/month, but oh wait, thanks to Stephen King complaining now it’s $8?

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">We need to pay the bills somehow! Twitter cannot rely entirely on advertisers. How about $8?</p>&mdash; Elon Musk (@elonmusk) <a href="">November 1, 2022</a></blockquote><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

As a Twitter user since 2007, I don’t feel great about all of this. But then again, Twitter rarely makes people feel great. It seems like Musk is poised to run this ship into the ground. But then again, people have lost a lot of money betting against him in the past.

It’s a moment of chaos on social media. Where do you go when you just want to share some text, photos, and maybe links with the people you know? It seems like all of the sudden, the great experiment of a connected digital world might be rapidly coming to an end.

Slightly under the radar, LinkedIn has been beginning to blossom as a social platform – though it’s still too self-promotional and buttoned-up for a lot of people. Tumblr has always been a bit of a weirdo in the social lineup, maybe we’ll see some movement there. A friend and I were spitballing that Clubhouse could raise itself from the dead by launching a Twitter clone. Lots of us have accounts and some of our social graph there, could that fuel the tech comeback of the decade?

A new generation of apps, like Gas and BeReal, are starting to make some waves. Though neither is really a social network in the same vein as what we’ve seen before, they could add a couple features to get there. A decade after the social landscape seemed locked in stone, the entrepreneurs behind these companies and more and proving otherwise. And the CEOs behind the existing titans are sure helping them.

Social networks aren’t that technically hard, but they are hard businesses to run. The value isn’t in some proprietary code. It’s in the users and how they use the platform. And as we’re about to see on Twitter, that user base can be a lot more delicate than it looks.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

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