Stop Trying to Make Social Networks Succeed

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by Ploum on 2023-07-06


Lot is happening in the social network landscape with the demises of 
Twitter and Reddit, the apparition of Bluesky and Threads, the growing 
popularity of Mastodon. Many pundits are trying to guess which one will 
be successful and trying to explain why others will fail. Which 
completely misses the point.

Particular social networks will never "succeed". Nobody even agree on 
the definition of "success".

The problem is that we all see our little bubble and generalise what we 
observe as universal. We have a hard time understanding Mastodon ? 
Mastodon will never succeed, it will be for a niche. A few of our 
favourite web stars goes to Bluesky ? Bluesky is the future, everybody 
will be there.

That’s not how it works. That’s not how it ever worked.

Like every human endeavour, every social network is there for a limited 
duration and will be useful to a limited niche of people. That niche may 
grow to the point of being huge, like Facebook and WhatsApp. But, to 
this day, there are more people in the world without an account on 
Facebook than people with one. Every single social network is only 
representative of a minority. And the opposite would be terrifying when 
you think about it (which is exactly what Meta is trying to build).

Social networks are fluid. They come, they go. For commercial social 
networks, the success is defined by: "do they earn enough money to make 
investors happy ?" There’s no metric of success for non-commercial ones. 
They simply exist as long as at least two users are using them to 
communicate. Which is why criticisms like "Mastodon could never raise 
enough money" or "the Fediverse will never succeed" totally miss the 

If you live in the same occidental bubble as me, you might have never 
heard of WeChat, QQ or VK. Those are immensely popular social networks. 
In China and Russia. WeChat alone is more or less the size of Instagram 
in terms of active users. The war in Ukraine also demonstrated that the 
most popular social network in that part of the world is Telegram. Which 
is twice as big as Twitter but, for whatever reason, is barely mentioned 
in my own circles. The lesson here is simple: you are living in a small 
niche. We all do. Your experience is not representative of anything but 
your own. And it’s fine.

There will never be one social network to rule them all. There should 
never be one social network to rule them all. In fact, tech-savvy people 
should fight to ensure that no social network ever "succeed".

Human lives in communities. We join them, we sometimes leave them. 
Social networks should only be an underlying infrastructure to support 
our communities. Social networks are not our communities. Social network 
dies. Communities migrate and flock to different destinations. Nothing 
ever replaced Google+, which was really popular in my own tech circle. 
Nothing will replace Twitter or Reddit. Some communities will find a new 
home on Mastodon or on Lemmy. Some will go elsewhere. That’s not a 
problem as long as you can have multiple accounts in different places. 
Something I’m sure you do. Communities can be split. Communities can be 
merged. People can be part of several communities and several platforms.

Silicon Valley venture capitalists are trying to convince us that, one 
day, a social network will succeed, will become universal. That it 
should grow. That social networks are our communities. That your 
community should grow to succeed.

This is a lie, a delusion. Our communities are worth a lot more than the 
underlying tool used at some point in time. By accepting the confusion, 
we are destroying our communities. We are selling them, we are 
transforming them into a simple commercial asset for the makers of the 
tool we are using, the tool which exploits us.

Stop trying to make social networks succeed, stop dreaming of a 
universal network. Instead, invest in your own communities. Help them 
make long-term, custom and sustainable solutions. Try to achieve small 
and local successes instead of pursuing an imaginary universal one. It 
will make you happier.

It will make all of us happier.

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