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Loss of identity: Our Social Networks are becoming increasingly uniform 📱🎭

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In the cutthroat world of Silicon Valley, new features often leave a feeling of déjà vu. It sometimes becomes difficult to attribute, from memory, the paternity (or if you want the maternity 😅 ) of an option to a particular social network, so many and frequent are the signs of uniformity.

If, from a legal point of view, these technical appropriations only very rarely fall under the law, this saturation of applications with similar functionalities impinges on their identity.

Social Network: please introduce yourself ! 👨🏾‍✈️😅

So a social network can be defined as a set of individuals or organisations, linked together through social interactions. Generally speaking, a social network takes the form of a dynamic interface on which subscribers connect (virtually) with « friends » or « contacts ».

Social networks are a big part of our lives. Even those who were more reluctant a few years ago have found a platform that suits them (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Slack, Twitch, Telegram, Messenger, Snapchat, …)

Besides the established codes that concern competitive strategies and the battle for users’ attention, there are more plausible impacts.

  • The impact of social networks:

Social networks are the most common way to keep in touch but they have advantages and disadvantages that are worth knowing whether you are a techie or not.

  • Advantages of social networks

Social networks have advantages such as

  • Communicating with family, friends and people who live far away,
  • Entertainment, games, information,
  • Getting closer to loved ones and regaining lost relationships,
  • Share, denounce and change our world,
  • Break the solitude.

Photo : Count Chris – Unsplash

  • The Disadvantages:

But while they bring many benefits, social networks, like the internet, are capable of both the best and the worst.

  • Bullying and harassment
  • Paedophilia and child pornography
  • Cybercrime
  • Disinformation (Fake news)
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Mental health problems in adolescents
  • Isolation and radicalisation
  • Addiction

Photo by GuerrillaBuzz Crypto PR on Unsplash

This article is quite important in the sense that as we live in a hyper-connected and ultra-competitive world, we find that the reasons we embraced social networks are diluted in a melting pot of similarities.

Our favourite social networks: all the same ? 👯

A few days ago, LinkedIn announced the launch of a new tab, Discover. It allows you to discover suggested content, published by people you don’t follow. As if the inspiring posts of our contacts weren’t enough. The professional social network has taken the name of Google’s feed, the icon of YouTube Explorer, the principles of TikTok, and has placed all this content in a tab, like Facebook – with one difference: it is not yet the default feed. LinkedIn has thus become the latest social network to plunge headlong into the abyss of recommendation.

Platforms had staked everything on known and declared relationships between their users: they are now turning away from them, impressed by the miracles of TikTok’s algorithm.

However, Snapchat, in its time, was a precursor. The application was able to attract people thanks to its ephemeral messages and stories. Since then, Instagram has quickly copied it, with success. Snapchat could no longer rely on the originality of its formats to retain its users, who gradually migrated to other applications. What an obvious move!

After success, a hint of failure? 🚮

All platforms then jumped into the race to see who would replicate the first, latest buzzworthy feature. Stories landed all over the place, and already, signs of fatigue appeared. Twitter and LinkedIn quickly backed off. This failure did not cool Microsoft, which after all the world, decided to add it to Teams and Outlook.

Another recent example, another bitter failure: Instagram, of course. The application, which had succeeded by copying Snapchat, thought it would succeed again by using the ingredients of TikTok. But this time, Instagram failed: the slings and arrows of a few influencers, shared by many users, got the better of this obsession (see our article on the subject).

It’s only temporary, but reels and recommendations are the two things Adam Mosseri plans to build on as Instagram continues to grow in the wake of TikTok.

Photo : Kostiantyn Li – Unsplash

Platforms have diluted their singularities

Like e-commerce platforms, which are developing marketplaces to offer the entire product range, social networks are copying each other in order to offer all formats and functionalities. While this has sometimes worked, it must be said that successes are much more limited today. The fault, in particular, lies in a lack of interest in the experience of their users. Because by copying each other, the platforms no longer really have an identity:

  • Whatsapp is intrinsically linked to the development of new communication uses with a need to be able to be in contact from anywhere, at any time with one’s loved ones, faster than email, less intrusive than a call, the messaging application is now a must on most of the planet.
  • Instagram first built its success on a strong and singular promise, that of sharing photos with friends and easily accessing them in return. It was simple. That was why we launched Instagram, why we went back.
  • Twitter was the certainty of access to short messages. The platform went from 140 to 280 characters, and is now developing 2,500 word Notes.
  • LinkedIn was about finding professional content, before getting lost in stories, recommendations and posts that no longer inspire many people.
  • Snapchat with ephemeral messaging and filters
  • Slack as a messaging application dedicated to collaborative work. This communication tool allows employees of the same company to exchange messages, files and projects.
  • Telegram with an ultra-secure messaging service where all data is stored in the cloud on servers scattered around the world.
  • Messenger, which offers more features than just messaging. It is possible to send photos, videos, create discussion groups and make calls for free, and its success is also due to the fact that Facebook did not give its users a choice, forcing them to install this application if they wanted to continue chatting with their friends.
  • Twitch, whose success is based on an important and very well worked implantation in the video game streaming environment.

Platforms refuse to allow competitors to have exclusive rights to a feature or format. And innovation is more expensive in the medium term, and more risky, than copying other features.

What is the point of designing when you know you will be copied? What is the point of designing when you know you can copy?

Photo : Hello I’m Nik – Unsplash

They have been beaten on the technological front

But in the long run, copying rather than innovating causes difficulties. If users have asked Instagram to go back to being what it once was, it’s because the app had lost sight of where it came from. It had forgotten what made it who it was. Why users loved it, used it. Instagram traded user experience and brand appreciation for the hope that certain quantitative metrics would increase. And in this case, it didn’t even work.
This is also one of the lessons to be learnt from these recent failures: no matter how much you are called Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, you are not immune to the arrival of more agile players, able to develop much more effective algorithms very quickly. TikTok’s For You feed is impressive, while Instagram is still experimenting with its suggested posts. Meta has all the cards in hand, or at least all our data, to set up optimised algorithms…
And more recently, the Premium trend to monetise and offer subscriptions to increase the number of subscribers and build on the exclusivity base.

Platforms should again assume their differences

Copies are no longer attractive as a barrier to entry. Nor do they help to retain users.
Indeed, platforms should rediscover the taste for innovation. That of singularity, novelty, and being different from the other players on the market. By keeping in mind what they are. By accepting what they are not. This is how they will maintain the unique link that unites them with their users, and how they will be able to face the growing offer of applications, seeking at all costs to capture our precious attention time.
Would copying be showing its weaknesses and limits in the technological sphere?

Sources : Les Echos, Slate, Je Décide, Les Gens d’Internet 

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