New social media platforms come and go all the time but it seems like a few mainstays have developed. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin (though Twitter DOES have its doomsayers) have established themselves as internet standards, while smaller platforms struggle to gain an audience. Networks like Peach, ello, and Vine (RIP) struggle to gain users and generate profits. But the social media giants like Facebook aren’t just snuffing out small-time social media platforms in the west, they’re crossing international boarders and taking over the networking scene on a global scale.
I’m not sure what the average age in our class is, but when I was growing up, the big social network was Nexopia. This platform was very regional in that it was made by Edmontonians, and was designed to be used by Edmontonians. It grew slowly and expanded to serve a lot of Western Canada. And at the same time, Facebook was growing to serve a wider user-base than its initial target of Harvard University students. The regional social media borders expanded, and when they met, Facebook eclipsed Nexopia, and many other regional social networks along with it. I’m not sure what Facebook had that managed to draw so many users away from Nexopia. Maybe Facebook had better functionality, or maybe it had the appeal of a wider reach. Maybe Facebook just had fewer child predators than Nexopia. Hard to say. I was too young to be thinking about such things at the time, and unfortunately, not many people are writing think pieces about Nexopia these days.
What is interesting to me, is that this trend is continuing all across the globe. As the gif above shows, the regional social media platforms are slowly disappearing and being replaced by Facebook as the dominant platform the world over. Second and third place is going to platforms like Instagram, Twitter, or Linkedin. I see this as a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, if the whole world is on Facebook rather than smaller regional platforms, then the whole world is more connected. Regional differences don’t impede upon communication. But then, there is the darker side of globalism. Nexopia may not have been perfect (there really were a lot of child predators on there), but its design was a reflection of Western Canadian culture. There was a uniqueness present in its functionalities that was untouched and unchallenged by the whims of Silicon Valley tech giants. Fifteen years ago, when social media was first taking off, every culture had their own brand of online communication. It may seem like a small thing, but imagine if Italian food eclipsed all other regional cuisines and became the new world standard for food. Imagine if all buildings started being designed according to Saudi architectural standards. These wouldn’t be the worst things to happen, but they would make the world a lot less interesting.
China is in a unique position here, as the government controls access to the internet and blocks off a lot of western social media sites. They don’t block social media though. Region-specific platforms like Renren and Sina Weibo are thriving, and have a unique cultural flavour about them, as they are unimpeded by competition from Facebook. Of course this is censorship, and very contrary to our own values here in Canada. But from a standpoint of cultural preservation, it’s not that different from Canadian initiatives like CBC and the CRTC. I’m not advocating for any kind of cultural isolationism here, but if we view social media platforms as a cultural form, then it’s worth thinking about what is being lost through the ubiquity and dominance of Facebook.