Today’s been a pretty productive day. If by productive you agree I didn’t do any work but just spent all the time reading tons of things online. Useful things not instagram posts. Although I did go on a spree with the Instagram stories. I’m still learning that medium and how to communicate. Productivity in general seems to be much higher than before except when it’s specific to work alone. I have been trying to get myself to read a book though. A hardcover or kindle from end to end. The only one I successfully finished though was Elon Musk’s biography by Ashlee Vance. I am quite fascinated by Elon’s ambition but that’s for a later post.
This is a stream of consciousness post. Not a product breakdown which I plan to do of all these social networks in the future.
Thoughts on Social Networks.
Let’s begin with the first network that I am semi-active on, Instagram.
Instagram is a digital portfolio recording of your visual self. Remember Facebook’s, “What are you doing today?”. The new age answer to that or status update is Instagram posts. The difference though is that Instagram is highly curated by the creator and is highly edited. You could get drunk and post things on Instagram but generally you won’t. Which is a fascinating self policing of clutter for the platform creators. Visual images are also highly engaging since they are open to interpretation of many kinds.
You could see a photo such as this.
What is it you see first? What do you feel it when you see? Do you see the HDR image? The non natural attire? Perhaps the saturation of the color. Or do you see a fit man who is contemplating life when he’s a body builder who is hustling on a foreign shoot for more eyeballs and comments?
Regardless of what you think about the actual image, I want to point out to the fact that you can interpret the image in a myriad number of ways. And it’s open to interpretation because you have a different lens on the world. So with lesser content you have more ways of interpreting the same image. Pictures really do speak a thousand words. Because the equivalent facebook status update (or WhatsApp status update) would be,
“Sitting in the rock of San Diego watching the sky and contemplating”. Yurrcckk. What a lackluster update. Who cares right?
That’s the first win Instagram has today. Sold for a billion. Worth over 100 billion today. Visual imagery subject to interpretation and more engagement purely by the self policing content of it’s creators. Facebook doesn’t have much on this (I know they own it but as a network independent) even though ironically Facebook invented the sharing and tagging photograph mechanic that was largely responsible for it’s explosive growth.
Instagram is really interesting. I’m fairly active but largely after spending time exclusively on it since I’m off Facebook I have come to realize some things.
Some use it to get discovered and some use it show off. It’s Facebook in pictures but it is so well crafted (I don’t mean the app but the content) that a lot of people end up showing only their best selves. Not necessarily their true selves. You don’t see people you know, especially if they are image conscious, to start posting photos of pimples and boils or stories of them farting. It’s always filtered. It’s like a mannequin. It’s always transient. It’s almost never memorable. I have been using it to keep in touch with some friends because I found the strangest thing when I went off Facebook. Some people don’t have ANY channel except Facebook and Instagram. Which is both amusing and horrifying. Because besides those two heavily filtered lens of reality they have no vision and connectivity. Linkedin is a colossal failure in both design and execution (have you seen their chat interface? It hasn’t left the early 2000’s). It’s a shame because the intent was great as the only other network that needed your real name.
Instagram has come a long way and some day I’ll write about what they do well besides their excellent taste in product. The largest part though is taste. It isn’t Snapchat. Which I still don’t understand. And I think besides the nudies, Snapchat is pretty much dead now with the introduction of Stories?
It’s a shame though. Viewing the world through a lens first and using visual communication not verbal was Snapchat’s biggest innovation. It was also ephemeral so you could live dangerously on the digital web. It is unfortunately not deep in anyway. There is no long term commitment like there is with the other mediums. I have to give Instagram more time before I have an informed opinion. Facebook, though, I spent over 10 years with and I decided to go off it 2 months back.
I probably should write about why I left Facebook here. I left Facebook to see if I could. It was an experiment in austerity but also a dive into solitude. Which is funny because I don’t have many deep connections with friends to begin with. How many people I know would I actually consider friends I could reach out and talk anything to are very very few not including family.
The experiment was also to see if I could starve off one addiction. I wasn’t addicted to facebook but it swept a lot of my free time. I had over 2000 “friends”. Multiple groups where I was the admin. Multiple groups that I used to sell and connect with people online. It was the biggest website back linking software for my blog/website and whatever “fame” I could gather. What would happen if I hit delete and just let it all go? Could I build my online presence again? Could I bring my name Karthick, oddly spelt as many have complained, back to the relevance of Google searching again? All of this is to say that if I had to cut my existence in one big shot, the biggest swing I’d take was on my digital self. Facebook was the part that got cut off. I retain my blog and I’m contemplating starting a newsletter soon but it was to see if I could do it and what would I learn.
The second reason for leaving Facebook was the sheer superficial passive line on the pulse of my social circle.
There was no real interaction and I had some characters who I know, unfortunately, really rile me up. Its amusing now because I don’t miss them and I haven’t been in touch but the intensity of my debate turned out to be my folly for thinking what I had to say meant anything to them.
What really hit me though was I had these 2 friends of mine in college who I thought I was close to. I met them a lot before I got married. I had even met them first to tell them of my significant partner. Before I decided to get married, I had sent an invitation to them on a group WhatsApp channel and was planning to call them. They decided to just shun that and act it out saying they expected something more personal and I should have shown more effort in calling them. Which is weird because I knew what they were up to and I was updated on their feeds. So I didn’t feel like I was out of touch. But I really was. I didn’t realize it because generally with friends of mine I have my undocumented rule. I’ll help you in whatever way I can when you want it and we don’t need formalities. The world doesn’t work that way though. I haven’t done a good job staying in touch with many friends and I often wondered if it was because I was comfortable on the digital medium and just having no confrontation. Most of the friends I did have (and some of mine still) are just drinking, smoking weed, partying or prancing about their lives complaining about work. I don’t see them go anywhere or do anything. That’s fine of course but I can’t relate to friends who don’t have some deeper conversation around them. Those that want to read more, see more, share common interests, those are the kind that interest me. I don’t have any best friends I think because I don’t understand that term. I wouldn’t preferentially treat someone that needed help because they entered an imaginary boundary line of a definition.
That was the large problem with Facebook. You are out of touch with the connections you make. You think you know someone by following their posts but you don’t really.
Manipulation and Privacy.
In India that’s not really a thing. You are manipulated in the crassest ways (have you seen the TV Ads?) and generally have no privacy when it comes to anything but of late this thing has been really irking me. How does a set of algorithms based on a few agreed connections decide what I need to see and why? The news feed was one of the greatest inventions Facebook brought about but it was twisted to such an extent that I never got an overall view of all my connections. I just got a few that were repeated again and again. Some of my friends (who ironically joined Facebook) was SO frequent in posting that I ended up seeing his stuff over and over again in random orders and the rest of my friends were swamped. If a picture posted got more than 100+ likes I had a huge dopamine hit. I generally thought it was very popular. But that was deceiving. A 2x or 3x number had seen it and didn’t choose to interact with it. They were jealous, afraid, hateful, optimistic, happy or generally curious. I wouldn’t know because the existence was binary. Like or didn’t like. What sort of a connection is that really? If someone had posted a picture and it wasn’t in that instant I had loaded my page I wouldn’t see it till a few others decided it was worth interacting with and it would then surface to the top of my feed.
Privacy, of course, many people have written about and frankly a loss in billions in shareholder value is a topic that doesn’t need beating upon. I like Mark Zuckerberg and I respect his execution and original intent but this really needs to be fixed and I have many ideas for a later post. I don’t plan to return to Facebook. I have been tempted many times to get in touch with few folks but largely I use email, twitter, instagram and phone calls to stay in touch now. I will run similar experiments on each of them in the future but if you get an invite from Karthick Gopal (yes I know about the spelling) it probably isn’t me until I tell you here.
I took a lot of notes on how to build products, how to re-engage users and form actual social connections. I’ll probably use that in a later post. I have no intention of building another social network but I can’t help wonder what if we didn’t chase money and actually built a community that could share and relive a true connection instead of replacing it with bits and bytes?