I’m calling it: We’re witnessing the end of an Internet era. You could smell it in the air for some time, but there’s no denying it: The end of social media as we knew it 2005-2023 is over. So is the era of Google-style search.
The era defined by open(ish), public-facing social media is gone. What we see, for all its reach, feels like shambling zombies. Zombies with many millions if not billions of users, but zombies nonetheless. There’s the frothing at the teeth, but no excitement there.
Gone are the optimistic, high-energy days of the Flickrs and (pre-Musk) Twitters and Instagrams and Foursquares. Instead, there’s just a churning sea of ruthless SEO, gaming the algorithms , cheap ads galore, and disinformation campaigns.
Let me be clear: Social media was never the place for “the Discourse”, but it was a cultural force and a place to explore and experiment. There was bad, but also lots of good. I think that scale has long since tipped in the wrong direction.
At the same time, the dominant way to search the web — Google-style search, or rather, simply Google’s search — has become practically useless. This was a slow, creeping process but Google search is essentially broken by SEO and other factors. Bing, even with ChatGPT baked in, is no replacement.
That means two major driving forces of the contemporary internet are… basically useless now? Or at least unenjoyable? They feel dead, or maybe undead. At the very least, these areas need to be reinvented. The new kids on the block so far (the Mastodons and New Bing) don’t offer something substantially fresh enough to feel new.
They all lack the certain air of real, open-ended potential.
Of course, not all is dead. Video-based social is alive and kicking, thriving even. There’s still exciting stuff happening on TikTok and Youtube. It seems to be to be closer to entertainment than social, but that might be my own biases in how I use them and see them used from the vantage point of an adult in my 40s rather than a teenager or culture creator in my 20s.
Personally, I’m excited about the new chapter. My gut feeling is that the internet will look dramatically different in 5 years time. Maybe it’s time for a shake-up. I’m looking forward to seeing the post-Twitter, post-Facebook, post-Google Search web.