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Social Media Getting Older, Losing Its Cool

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
February 3, 2014 Deadline
March 2014 Issue

Social Media Getting Older, Losing Its Cool

Social media are losing their “cool” factor, becoming a part of the largely ignored information static in our daily lives.

Automated “bots” dominate Twitter, sending out so many tweets that it takes an effort to find any value. A small group of real, human users remain entertaining and informative, but searching and sorting tweets requires too much effort to be fun anymore.

If you follow sports scores, news alerts or special events then Twitter is a wonderful tool. My friends who participate in fantasy sports leagues rely on Twitter for breaking news, at least on game days. They seldom send tweets, except to trade barbs with other “team owners” in the leagues. Twitter was supposed to make “texting” more social and more engaging, but the sheer volume of traffic renders Twitter useless.

For most of us, hashtags, those “#WordsToFollow” that need a secret decoder to understand, have lost their appeal. Facebook tried to add hashtags, to be more like Twitter, and it seems nobody cared. We don’t want to skim messages about “#WaitingInLine” or “#EatingDinner” from millions of strangers.

During disasters and major crises, Twitter has proved its value. Maybe it is a good sign that on most days Twitter is snarky jokes and entertainment headlines we can ignore.

Facebook lost its cool when the average user age crept over 40 in 2012. The average Facebook user is 41, according to DoubleClick. User profiles suggest that nearly two-thirds of Facebook users are 35 or older. That’s also true for Pinterest, where middle-aged women are the largest demographic.

As one of my students observed, Facebook is where parents argue about politics by posting bumper sticker slogans between YouTube videos of cute kittens. A glance at the posts of my own friends and family reflects this reality, with the latest political half-truths breaking a stream of cat images. I prefer the cats.

If parents and grandparents are using social media, it can’t be cool.

It isn’t that young people have stopped using Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Snapchat. Usage has changed, though, as parents have joined social media services. Since Mom and Dad are also using these media, my students say that direct text messages are cool again. Young people don’t like sharing virtual space with the older generations.

The shift to mobile computing is driving change among social media services. Phones and tablets have replaced laptops in coffee shops, classrooms and offices. As Facebook’s Messenger app illustrates, people are returning to sending direct messages, just as my students claim to prefer. While this might seem like a step backwards, it proves that people are tired of the static and clutter of most social media.

The days of sitting at a screen, reading long articles and visiting chat rooms are gone. Today, it is quick messages sent directly to one or two friends.

When I ask students about writing blogs or joining community forums, they shrug. They might share photos with a word or two, but young people aren’t interested in composing essay-length blogs for the world to read.

Blogs were once the realm of young people. “Web logs” began as public diaries, featuring all the angst of youth on public display.

Gradually, blogs emerged dedicated to special interests, from cooking to quilting. Technology, investing and politics were also popular topics. Blogs seemed like the future only a decade ago.
Today, personal blogs are fading quickly, based on traffic reports. Major media companies own the few blogs that attract significant traffic. It isn’t that a few people haven’t found success as bloggers or podcasters, but media conglomerates wisely hire such writers or encourage them to move blogs to larger websites.

NM Insights, a division of the Nielsen Company, reports there are 170 million blogs and micro blogs on the Web. At least half of these blog go stale within six months of being created. Those that remain have few visitors. It seems millions people worldwide are creating content nobody else reads.

As blogging matured, it also faded. The twenty-something blogger of 2004 is now a thirty-something blogger, assuming the writer is still posting new content. Some studies suggest that bloggers are more likely to read other blogs, so as fewer people maintain blogs, that social media community shrinks.

Apple and Google tend to anticipate trends, including social media trends.

Over the last two years, both companies discontinued tools for following and reading blogs. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) support was removed from Apple’s Safari browser and their mail application. Google ended its Reader service, much to the dismay of a few million loyal users. Though I disagreed with these choices, the choices proved prescient.

Without the built-in RSS reader in Safari, I no longer skim blogs and aggregators like Slashdot on a daily basis. Yes, I could visit Feedly or launch the Feedly app on my phone, but I don’t. When I do check Feedly, only a handful of blogs are active.

Did the end of Reader and RSS support kill the blogs? I doubt it. Instead, Google and Apple noticed the decline in activity and reallocated development efforts. Blogs aren’t going to vanish, but they are shrinking into a smaller and smaller corner of the Internet.

Apple also pulled enhanced podcasting tools from its popular GarageBand application. The idea of an average person recording a successful show has faded, as old-media outlets dominate the podcast medium. Many popular podcasts are repackaged radio and television broadcasts, with only a handful of independent podcasts reaching a wider audience. Six of the top-ten podcasts in the United States are from National Public Radio. Unsurprisingly, internationally the BBC produces the leading podcasts.

The dream of the Internet and World Wide Web democratizing media has proved elusive. Instead, social media rise and fall, especially as they lose their cool factor.

Only a few years ago, MySpace and Friendster were popular social media. I doubt Facebook and Twitter are headed toward the same fate as their predecessors, but they will evolve.

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