There’s a constricted idea of what the internet is capable of. Social media is immediatly attributed to Facebook and Twitter because they’re the biggest players on the field. In Sweden, Spotify is getting great press even though Jamendo is the superior choice for music distribution. The internet is not trade or services – it’s communication.
Someone suggests teaching Facebook to schools to make them understand social media. But if we attribute it the label “social media”, do we not suggest much more than a lucky US-based company which merely offers a centralised, restrictive, surveilled and censored service? This post is not aimed at that specific article however. It’s much more general than that.
What we see today are only a proof of concept for a baseline of possibilites available by way of the internet. The current “globally used” (what about Brazil and China?) services are all centralised and restrictive. We are bound to see future development in even more awesome social networking technologies available to common internet users – similar to Google Wave. Today we have user-created services with user-generated content and the key of the future is decentralization. This implies even more social interaction, resulting in greater user-based filtering.
Personally, I’m seeing the world from a technical point of view. Unfortunately, for the end-user, the development process is often irrelevant. Free software is thought of as “free as in beer”, not free as in speech. Culture is copied and fileshared without regards to copyright laws, and thus Free culture is also viewed just as if it wasn’t priced. The steps to a common understanding of libre – the right to use, modify and share – seem long and far away. Nevertheless they’re prerequisites for future development in online social networking.
Then how do we change this nihilistic, disrespective view on social media’s true nature? One might start with presenting Twitter’s main open source competitor identi.ca, using Creative Commons Attribution licensing. Also there’s the open source WordPress, which I use, that is superior in all aspects to any proprietary platform such as Google’s Blogger or Sweden’s popular “blogg.se”. Another service is the unfortunately closed source Flickr, but at least CC-licensing is a given choice there.
If the general public starts recognising what separates these services from the proprietary and restrictive ones, we are not far from a social media revolution. One might not immediatly think about it, but copyright issues today enforce a noticable restriction on social media development. Sites like YouTube are more successful than progressive open source alternatives simply because they have a legal department financed by Google. Free licenses, however, effectively reduce the amount of bureacracy needed to come up with new ideas.
A lighter copyright regulation would immediatly spawn several new internet top sites. To catch a glimpse of the future-to-be, compare the all-praised Spotify with its direct libre counterpart, Jamendo. The latter allows you to listen without registration, payment or advertisement. Jamendo also allows you to choose your music player of choice, embed it on other web services, download entire albums for offline-access. Heck, Jamendo even lets you support the artists and easily share your own works! From what I hear, Spotify can’t do any of those things.
The future is decentralization. With my above conclusions, users can soon also take part in the distribution, not just generation, of content. It’ll be harder to make mad profit, so there’ll be resistance – but this also introduces significantly lower costs. Given that the internet isn’t crippled along the way, we’ll be getting there site by site, API by API. Open standards, one by one. Shortly followed (or introduced?) by Free – libre – software implementations. Paving the path for true social networking.
Update 2009-12-31 14.23: I forgot to mention the most important part about Jamendo – they allow you to upload your own, independent work to benefit from the entire Creative Commons community.
Cory Doctorow, I found through the EFF, mentions that anyone against DRM-free e-books by consequence wishes to abolish the printed book, since printed books have an ancient history of being shared regardless of copyright. That’s exactly why social media can’t be social as long as we’ve got specific laws which are different from afk social behaviour.