Social Media is Like the Railways?
There’s a piece in the Guardian entitled “Why social media is like the railways – and must be saved. I’m not sure about the title, but it’s a good piece, by Paul Mason (in fact, looking at the URL I suspect that wasn’t the original title).
He starts by talking about SoundCloud, which is, for me at least, one of those sites that you would never think of going to; you just follow a link to something on it. Mind you, increasingly many sites are like that, and have been since perhaps the early days of blogging. Anyway, Mason says:
The Berlin-based music service started as a super-cool platform for people who made music and wanted to share it. Last week, its owners admitted it was losing a million dollars a week, and could run out of cash before the end of the year.
The whole future of the little orange cloud now rests on whether it can get people to subscribe – for money.
Which is interesting, and it’s one of those things that the net is a better place for it existing, and I’d be sad to see go away — but I can’t imagine ever subscribing to it.
In the same week, another achingly cool online publisher, this time of blogs, Medium, also hit trouble.
“Achingly cool”? Medium? I’m not convinced (disclaimer: for what it’s worth, my posts are automatically crossposted to Medium, among other places).
He goes on to talk about how none of the social media sites is profitable, except of course for Facebook. He refers to
the ailing internet platforms – not just Soundcloud and Medium but Ello, a wannabe rival to Facebook, and Tumblr
Tumblr is ailing? that seems surprising, considering how popular it is. But who knows (it’s also one of the other places I mentioned above). He goes on to exhort us to return to these sites, dust off our old user IDs and so on, and enjoy them again:
It will feel a bit like time travel – back to the period around 2010-12, when social media was associated with postmodernity, self-produced music and revolt, not fake news, white supremacy and rule by old men. But usage alone will not save the collaborative tools. We need new, cooperative ownership models. If basic word processors are effectively now shipped free with every device, so too could be a nonprofit music-sharing service, a free blogging platform and a place to keep in contact with our friends, without intrusive data-farming and a deluge of ads.
As to that, a free blogging platform — while not “shipped”, is easily available: Wordpress. And there are others, of course. But it links back to what I was saying the other day: you’ve got to own your own content if you want it to be safe from services disappearing.
As to that “railways” reference in the title, here’s how he finishes:
Medium, Soundcloud and ultimately Twitter are – like the railways – worth saving even if they cannot be run at a profit. 2017 can and should be a year in which the users of platforms reclaim these freedoms not as privileges but as rights.
I’ve got a lot of time for that view, actually, but those sites are mostly set up on a capitalist model (even if they have a community spirit), and I can’t see that changing any time soon.