Monday, September 05, 2016

Is Facebook Dying? What’s Killing It?

I never intentionally set out to be a social media “guru,” though now looking back it seems an inevitable choice. Why? Not only do I love helping people but I also have an insatiable appetite for cracking codes and patterns…then using that information to predict trends.

But this skill has come in handy and has allowed me to be at the leading edge of the evolution of the Digital Age. By examining vast amounts of data, I can see patterns emerge almost with a life all their own. The best way to describe it?

Remember those Magic Eye images that were so popular in malls in the 90s? They just looked like a jumble of dots or colors or random images but if viewed in a certain way, made a larger three-dimensional image? Some people could see the image easily and some to this day claim it was all a hoax designed to sell overpriced wall art.

But this is a lot of what I do when it comes to social media, to analyzing what is going to be the next vector. What sites are gaining traction and which might be flagging or even dying. I ponder all the points and they come together into a larger “whole.”

That was why, when writing my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors of the Digital Age, I chose to focus on human patterns rather than technological ones. Humans are far more constant and techniques I teach in my book will work no matter what changes the Digital Age throws our way. Why? Because my approach is based on people not technology.

This said, there is a new trend that is piquing my interest and I think it’s going to make a radical shift in social media that might even have the power to topple the mightiest of all. Looking at all the random dots? The larger emerging Facebook picture is not pretty.

But before I go there, I want to warn you ahead of time that this post was longer than usual. Problem was, I felt if I spaced this out over separate days that my assertions might lose critical integrity. Thus, to make viewing easier, I have broken it up in the body so you can choose whether to read all at once or space it out.

Thank you!
Act One—The Life Evolution of the Digital Age

The Digital Age as we know it was, in a way, an unplanned pregnancy. The original Web 1.0 collapsed with the fall of the dot.coms and then *POOF* this new idea of how the Internet would work came to be. In the 90s (Web 1.0), web sites were the firm domain of professionals who knew how to write code.

Most regular people (as in those without a programming skills) were not on-line. Those who were on-line used the web in a passive way. We weren’t actively a part of the web. We simply consumed what was given to us.

No one really ever imagined an Internet fueled by user-generated content (Web 2.0) as opposed to controlled corporate content (Web 1.0). What do I mean? Well, a good example of this is the notion of the “Super Model.”

In the 90s, the fashion industry and corporations chose who would get the title Super Model. Many of us grew up in the age of the Cindy Crawfords and Naomi Campbells. They graced every magazine cover.

Every cover.

Like ALL of them.

These days? Who graces the cover of a magazine is far more democratic. Popularity with the people is the highest priority which is why we are seeing so many of the new fashion “icons” rising from places like Instagram. But who would have imagined in 1993 that regular ordinary people would be determining who would be on the front of Cosmopolitan and Vogue, as opposed to some big shot fashion photographer with an “eye” for the next big thing?

And of course it would be the next big thing because, really what choice did we have?
Back to Baby

If we go with this idea of Web 2.0 being an unplanned baby, then we see some patterns emerge. In the beginning a baby is really cute…but can’t exactly do a lot. That was the beginning of the Internet (as we know it). Didn’t do a lot, but it was sooooo adorable and had such potential!

Dial up? Baby learned to crawl. Awww look a the cute message boards.

Cable Internet. Learned to walk, climb and get into everything. We can shop? And not have to wear pants?

The early days of social media (in my opinion) were like the gilded years of childhood. It’s like watching Spawn play. He doesn’t care what color a kid’s skin is, if the kid has expensive shoes, or what hairstyle said kid has. All kids are, as he calls them, “My new best friend.”

We were that way in the beginning of sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter which all emerged at roughly the same juncture in time.

You have a MySpace page? OMG! Me too! Lets be best friends!

Tweet me!

Granted it wasn’t all kisses and unicorns but compared to these days? Those were halcyon times for sure.

Now? I think the Digital Age is in all-out-want-to-stab-it-in-the face-adolescence.
Act Two—Invasion of the Mean Girls

I know all of this is very unscientific, but there is something to the saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” I think when social media was new, regular people minded their manners better. We were caught up in the newness of it all. Then? It wasn’t as new. Then it was part of everyday life.

We got comfortable. Too comfortable. Things people would never say or do in person? Became fine on-line. More folks began burping and farting and scratching themselves in blithe ignorance to the damage it was doing to the overall social experience.
Social media is social. I have said this until I am blue in the face. When we forget that fundamental element, we invite disaster.

Case in point. I was speaking on a panel at Thrillerfest a few years ago and an author was livid with me that I criticized the use of automation.

I replied, “But I’m not on social media to talk to a robot. I can call AT&T if I want that.”

I explained that the problem with automation was it inevitably bred more. That eventually it would wreck Twitter because no one wanted to just sit around for a bunch of automated link spam.

Now, is Twitter useless and gone? No. But for socializing? Pretty much. It’s harder and harder to find real people because the relentless surge of automation has crowded them out.

I gave another prediction years ago. I cautioned users from posting too much on inflammatory topics like sex, politics and religion. If we think of social media as social, this makes sense. Who wants to go to a cocktail party to be yelled at and attacked?

What? No takers?

I postulated that, like automation would inevitably breed more automation, more toxicity would breed further toxicity.

I cautioned that if people failed to employ the same kind of self-restraint used in person, that eventually even mega-giants like Facebook would be abandoned and left the sole domain of bullies and trolls much like Twitter has been left to bots.

Why? To be blunt, there would be too many jerks pissing on the party.

It takes no genius to surmise that regular people would eventually not tolerate non-stop venom. Even Psychology Today wrote a recent article about how the presence of even one mean employee (not even a bully but merely rude) can drag down the entire workplace. What is true at work is true on-line.

Back to my metaphor.

In humans, this is a critical and difficult stage of transformation that is key for determining not only a future adult identity but the core elements of character. What kind of adult will the teen become?

On one hand teenagers can be dreamy and filled with hope. Wild with abandon and creativity.

But on the other?

They can also be selfish, cruel, unrestrained, reckless, and…drama queens. Everything is a big deal. Of course what happens is that when everything is important, then nothing is.

In earlier days of Facebook we would hit critical junctures where emotions would be more heightened than normal (I.e election years). In the social media tween years? Wasn’t too bad. Was at least manageable.

Now, with the Digital Age being in full on adolescence? It is freaking moody and volatile and plain damn MEAN. It’s selfish and emotionally out of control.

Full steam ahead and no one is sidetracking me from my drama du jour!!!
Drama, Drama and YES…More Drama

Everything has become a big deal and so many of the people I follow have morphed into pseudo-journalists overnight. Here’s the thing, if I wanted to be hysterical, I’d stream CNN. But I don’t want to be hysterical. I want to talk and laugh and…socialize.

Facebook used to have shorter and fewer cycles of distress. There would be some big disaster/event/decision/election and everyone would be in a tizzy for a few days. But then? FB would return to a relatively bucolic normal.

These days? The cycles have become so brief they are now overlapping and blurring into a singular rage-filled constant. It seems everyone is upset about everything and to make matters worse? Too many folks insist on talking about whatever is bothering them non-freaking-stop.

And God help anyone who disagrees.

I’m wondering if people are becoming meaner or if the mean ones are the only ones remaining on Facebook.

Not everyone mind you, but a far larger proportion than I’ve ever witnessed. What’s worse is the offenders are also becoming far more aggressive and oblivious to any semblance of civility and decorum.

For instance, I never post about politics or anything else inflammatory. If you scroll any news feed on any of my social sites, you are going to laugh. I love making people smile. If you follow me, you are not going to need a bottle of Tums at the ready for what I post on my wall.

But the other day a friend of mine who resides on the opposite side of the political spectrum was pulling my digital pigtails and I baited. We were all poking fun at one another and having fun.

*enters troll*

This guy set his sites on me and no matter how politely I tried to get him to lighten up, he was hell bent on proving how smart he was by going for my jugular. Eventually? I had to leave the conversation and block the person.

So y’all know…

I was never ON Facebook to defend myself non-stop from ruthless and brutal attack. I don’t think anyone is…and that is what will be Facebook’s undoing.
The Unfollowed

Recently I have found myself doing something I thought I would never do but have been forced to in order to maintain some semblance of sanity. I’ve started unfollowing people (many of them other writers). Not unfriending. I don’t believe in that.

I also don’t believe living in an ideological echo chamber is healthy and have all kinds of friends. I’ve never blocked content I might disagree with…until recently.

But it had less to do with the type of content and more to do with the sheer VOLUME.

Sort of like automation. Automate a few links on Twitter? Meh. No biggie. Automate everything everywhere?

*runs away screaming*

These writers—The Unfollowed—have mutated from friends into geysers of hysteria, hate, ranting, or general pissed-offedness. And I think that’s sad. The same writer who’s spending time on social media might one day announce a book that I would have seen and maybe even bought…had they not pushed me to the point of unfollowing anything they posted.

There are even some well known authors I used to read and buy their books…but now I no longer like them. Deep down I resent how they’ve selfishly beaten me over the head with their opinions. Frankly, there are too many nice and considerate authors to buy from instead.

What makes this all the more interesting is that we humans are by nature social creatures. It’s in our DNA. We don’t socialize we go crazy or die or go crazy then die.

Whatever. Y’all get the point.

We have also come to accept that much of that socialization will be done digitally. I think Facebook was bullet-proof so long as there was no other alternative. But now?

I bring you…The Pokemon GO.
Act Three—Can Pokemon Go Kill Facebook?

The Internet (and the following social component) has evolved dramatically since babyhood, from chatrooms to increasingly advanced social sites. And though many new trends have come along, none in my estimation have ever had the power to dent Facebook…until Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go is basically geocaching but way “funner.” It’s made what used to be a relatively nerdy activity “mainstream” just like Web 2.0 did to Web 1.0.

So are we witnessing the genesis of Web 3.0? Worth pondering😉 .

And yes I get that this gaming experience is new and there are problems (I.e. accidents/players being a nuisance) but I really don’t care because Pokemon Go is only the beginning, a sign of what will surely be ahead.

Pokemon Go is doing what no other social media site can do. It’s getting people out of the house to socialize.

Players enjoy the fun and the mental challenge of a scavenger hunt and their social needs are once again being met in person (likely where the other humans are far less likely to suddenly start ranting in their face about Monsanto).

Why I think Pokemon Go will change everything is because I follow the money. The problem with monetizing any social site is that people there to mingle, not to shop. Advertising is either invisible or annoying and pure social media sites have had always had a challenge monetizing (even Facebook).

But Pokemon Go doesn’t have that disadvantage.
Pokemon Go makes money off people buying stuff to play the game. Where there IS money is in merchants joining in and promoting the experience.

Businesses have a vested interest in customers getting out of the house and coming to THEM…which means if this catches on the way I think it will? Facebook will be hemorrhaging advertisers.

Seriously. I already see it happening.

Tuesday, I took my son rollerskating because I was fed up with Facebook and played hooky. Guess what I saw? The skating rink was advertising that skating was a good way to get their “egg to hatch” (referencing Pokemon Go).

According to my hair stylist (who blushed and confessed that she’d abandoned social media and taken up Pokemon Go) the eggs hatch depending on the player’s overall level of physical activity. I can say that my stylist looked remarkably trimmer, tanner and…happier.

I think Pokemon Go is going to be a major blow to the social aspect of Facebook.

Now, Facebook (at least from what I can see) will remain relevant and important…just in a very different way.

We will still post pictures, keep up with family and scan headlines…we just won’t stick around. Fewer and fewer people are going to choose to socialize there, especially once developers start releasing better iterations and even new variations of games like Pokemon.

For instance? They get a D&D GO and you may never hear from me again,😀 .

But back to my obsession with patterns. This evolution of the Digital Age toward social games of augmented reality makes a lot of sense. Pokemon GO fills a lot of needs that Facebook either can’t or won’t.
Pokemon Go gets people out of the house.

That is NOT what Facebook wants. FB wants us to be glued to the screen non-stop and doesn’t care if we are isolated, lonely, angry and have grown an extra ass from Cheetos and stress.
Pokemon Go gives us more exercise.

We need to get the heck out of the house and we need to remember how to talk to another actual human being and have some manners when doing it.
Pokemon Go brings people closer.

It is bringing families closer. Instead of Dad scrolling FB and Mom immersed in Pinterest and Junior off on Snap Chat? Isolated, not engaging. They can go for a walk together and hunt virtual critters. Grandma can engage with the grandkids. Couples can do something together.
Pokemon Go is good for businesses.

Pokemon Go is an answer to what a lot of businesses have needed, what they have struggled with. How do we get customers to come to US? Anyone in sales knows that getting people in the door is the hardest part. That roller rink? That was genius. I could see this at golf courses or gyms or malls. Get people walking out in the world and playing together.

What if bookstores began integrating with some of these games? Bringing in people who might catch a critter, then cool off browsing some books?

When we put all these factors together? I see a major paradigm shift ahead. What this means for writers or branding? I’m not entirely sure. I need more data, though I DO have some seriously exciting ideas (I.e. people walking to audiobooks or author podcasts to unlock levels).

But even if I am wrong about Pokemon, I am right about one thing. If people don’t stop the hysteria and grow the hell UP, help social media get past the teenage drama and onto adulthood? People won’t stick around. They will uncouple from the crazy train.

What are your thoughts? I have not yet played Pokemon Go, but for anyone who has? What are your thoughts? I’ve heard a lot of good things…namely from people suddenly missing from FB. Do you think FB has gotten out of control with the emo stuff? Are you sick and tired of its eye-rolling and temper tantrums? Are you ready for the Digital Age to just grow the hell up and get a job? Do you think we can save Facebook’s social side? I am unsure.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.
We are doing ANOTHER round of Battle of the First Pages!!! August 5th

The first time we did this we had some tech issues doing this new format and we’ve since worked those out, but for now I am still keeping the price low ($25) until we get this streamlined to my tastes.

LIMITED SEATS. This is an open workshop where each person will submit his or her first page of the manuscript for critique. I will read the page aloud and “gong” where I would have stopped reading and explain why. This is an interactive workshop designed to see what works or what doesn’t. Are you ready to test your page in the fire?

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