60-Second Read: Why Niche Social Media Is the Future
In 1950, the entire global population was smaller than the number of people on Facebook today. Facebook has embraced this role, attempting to be everything to everyone. Over the course of the last 20 years or so, Facebook has expanded from simple status updates to business pages, instant messaging, and the acquisition of major tech startups like Instagram and WhatsApp.
The acquisitions in particular have garnered some unwelcome attention from regulators who think that Facebook should be broken into smaller pieces for anti-trust reasons. But what if Facebook didn’t need to be broken up? What if the world of social media users did it for them?
Smaller Communities on Social Media
It’s no secret that Facebook has become increasingly fragmented already, creating little bubbles of people who see their own articles and status updates, rarely if ever interacting. Facebook has even leaned into this fragmentation, emphasizing its Groups feature in a Super Bowl ad a year ago.
We’ve also seen the rise of single-purpose social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat taking center stage. Neither of those apps pretends to be the end-all, be-all of web interaction. They do one thing, they do it well, and their users don’t expect more from them.
Another newcomer is Clubhouse. As described by NPR, Clubhouse is “an audio-only app where friends and strangers alike hold court on all kinds of conversations.” Any user can suggest a topic — or create a “room,” in the app’s parlance — and other users can record audio clips that build to a conversation about the topic.
Discussions can ramble for hours, unfiltered and unedited. But despite this lack of structure, more than 2.3 million users have downloaded the app in the last year, and one venture capital firm valued the app at $100 million.
Why the Future of Socializing is Small
When Facebook launched, it was handy to have all your friends in one place. Being able to see baby pictures, plan a vacation, and flirt with strangers in one place was convenient. Now, one big news feed for everything has become unwieldy. People are seeking out smaller, more tightly-knit communities online. Here’s why:
- Nimble browsing: with quick loading times and a smartphone in every pocket, modern users don’t care if they have to download a dozen different apps. They’re happy to look at food pictures on Instagram, switch to WhatsApp for chats, then switch again to TikTok for videos and again to Imgur for memes.
- Distinct communities: users don’t need to maintain the same friend group across every platform. They interact with a group of fellow skiers on one app and a group of fellow Nuggets fans on another. The “one-stop shop” of social media simply isn’t necessary when there are so many boutique communities available.
- Distinct personas: you don’t act the same at work as you do with your friends. If you keep separate communities, you can maintain separate personas to interact with different friend groups.
In the end, regulators might not need to break up Facebook in the courts or in Congress. The natural habits of web users might do the job for them.