In case you have been on vacation for the past 6 months, you’ll know that Facebook and Twitter are in a bit of trouble. I don’t mean they are about to go bankrupt or anything (they won’t), but we’re seeing a clear trend of disapproval towards them.
In a recent consumer satisfaction report by ForeSee, Twitter and Facebook scored well below what you would expect, averaging 62.5 out of 100 (that’s well below the average of 74.2).
In comparison, Google+ scored 78, Google Search scored 82, Bing Scored 81, Yahoo scored 78, Wikipedia 78, and the average score for newspapers was 73.
More to the point, Facebook represents the largest drop of all the digital brands measured. And while this report only measured consumer satisfaction, we see the same trend in business satisfaction.
Some people call this social media fatigue, but there is a lot more to it than that. In fact, there is no such thing as social media fatigue. We are not tired of social, we are tired of all the things that get in the way of being social.
We have the issue of control. When you create a blog, you feel in control. It’s your blog and you decide what happens to it. You decide what service to use, how to use it, how to design it, what features to include, and the overall structure. A blog feels like an extension of yourself because you make all the decisions.
We don’t have that feeling on Facebook or Twitter. We feel like we are just a guest playing around in their garden. We have no control. We can decide what we post, but not how it is posted. We cannot decide how things should look, we cannot even decide who should see it because of EdgeRank.
At the same time, we have the constant violations of privacy. One day, we find information we thought we could control is suddenly made a part of something that we didn’t agree to at all – like when our name is used in relation to 3rd party products or brands. We have issues with the design, in which we don’t feel any continuity, not to mention Facebook suddenly changing what email address people see.
For brands it’s not much better. Brands are being limited in so many ways, that they often wonder why they embrace these social channels at all. It’s actually ‘illegal’ to ask fans to vote on two pictures and then reward them with a prize. We can do this on our blogs, but we can’t on Facebook. Again, we’re not allowed to be in control.
On top of this, we are faced with design constraints. We’re not allowed to include promotional messages in our cover images. So, if you have a big event on Saturday, we can’t visually promote that in the best possible way. Again, we’re are not allowed to be in control. And while I personally like the Facebook timeline design, it’s not really that useful.
Then we have another problem; the newsfeed. Posts without links are presented with diminished emphasis when compared to posts that include a photo. Here you get bigger pictures and bigger text than post with links to a web shop, for example.
For developers it’s even worse. There is a continual movement to keep people within the confines of each social channel instead of embracing the connected world. For instance, Twitter is preventing tweets being cross-posted to LinkedIn. They are also preventing 3rd party apps (like Instagram) being able to ‘find friends via Twitter’, They are increasingly trying to keep people on Twitter instead of being a platform from which we can connect.
All of this, of course, is nothing when compared to the even bigger problem causing social media fatigue. The problem of closed platforms.
Let me tell you a little story about email.
In the early 1980s, email worked pretty much as social services do today. Each email provider used their own proprietary protocols and systems, and each system was unable to communicate with any other.
The result was that you could only send emails to friends who were using the same system as you.
This of course was completely impractical. Soon, a number of third party services appeared, which could be used to translate one email protocol to any other, but in doing so you lost the original communication link.
It was better than the closed systems before it, but it was hardly a usable solution.
So email didn’t take off because the process was simply too complicated. It wasn’t until every email provider finally decided on an open, non-proprietary format, that email started to work and became the massively popular communication mechanism that we know today.
Social media is currently undergoing the very same process. When you sign-up for Facebook, you cannot use it to communicate with people on any other channel. There is no way, for instance, to have a communication via Facebook Chat with a person using Twitter Direct Messages.
Each social platform, just like email of the past, is using their own server protocols, their own API specifications, and their own authentication models.
In order for you to communicate with your friends, you are forced to setup separate accounts for each social service. You have to setup an account on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google+, on Instagram, on Path, on Foursquare, on Pinterest, etc. And not only do you have to setup up separate accounts, you also have to manage separate channels of communications.
Imagine if this was also how blogs worked. Instead of just setting up one WordPress blog, you would have to setup a blog on each blog network. On WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, Squarespace, etc.
Not only that, but all your readers would have to sign-up as well. If a reader wanted to follow a WordPress blog, he would have to have a WordPress account. And if he wanted to follow a Typepad blog, he would have to signup for Typepad too.
This is how social media works today. We, as publishers, are forced to setup our presence on each platform, and so do our readers.
In resent years, several startups have tried to solve this by creating third party tools that can convert communication from one system to any other like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or Seesmic.
It’s far better than being forced to manually go to each service several times per day, but it is still a terrible solution that doesn’t really get us anywhere. We still have to create separate accounts on each service, and the communications within each service is still separated from each other.
Again, it’s just like the early 3rd party email converters of the 1980s.
The future of social media
The question is then, what is the next step? What is the future of social media? And the answer is painfully obvious because we have already seen it happen with email. The future is when social becomes a protocol.
Many people think that the future of Facebook is alternatives like Diaspora, or the many Twitter alternatives that are popping up, but no. Diaspora, while much more open and flexible than Facebook, doesn’t change the problem. You still cannot communicate across services. You still cannot tie it into everything, and you still have to ask people to create a separate account for each social service.
And it’s the same with the many Twitter alternatives. We are not moving forward and, as such, neither of these alternatives have any chances of making a difference.
The future of Facebook is …nothing. Meaning, the future of social is not yet another destination. It’s a communication protocol, a standard way of connecting with each other. There is no ‘the next Facebook’, because Facebook itself is like the email systems of the past.
Let me give you a very simple example of the future of social media. Take this article. Is it social?
No, of course not. It’s published on a website, and while I have added sharing buttons to it, that’s doesn’t really make it social because you don’t actually share the article, or the communication within it. You only share a link.
But what if I copy/pasted this article and instead posted it directly on Google+ or on Facebook, would it then be social?
Well, yes…it would. Then it would be just like any other social post, tied into the social fabric of the social channels.
But wait-a-minute…that means that today we define social not as what we do, but where we do it. If we post an article on a website, we are not social. But if we post it on Facebook, we are.
Why can’t we define a website as a social channel? Why do we think of social media as a destination? Again, it’s just how we used to think about email.
Isn’t the act of posting something that others can connect, follow and communicate with what social is all about?
There shouldn’t be a difference between how social you are when posting something on one channel versus posting it on another. Social media today is still stuck in the old world of destinations.
This is why the real social revolution has only reached 2% of its real potential. We haven’t actually started being social yet …
What will the social world be like in the future?
First of all, social media won’t be a destination. This has a number of huge implications. For one, you will no longer have to sign-up for different social channels, just so you can follow a brand or your friends. You will be able to decide which tools or services benefit you the most.
Today, people and brands don’t really have a choice which services they want to use. If all your friends are using Facebook, you have to use Facebook as well.
But what if you could follow your Facebook friends from Google+? What if you didn’t want to sign-up for Facebook at all, and you happened to prefer another channel? That’s social as a protocol.
With email, you don’t have to sign-up for an Outlook account, just because several of your friends happen to be using that. But you can still communicate with them because email today isn’t a destination. It’s a protocol.
For brands, it’s even more profound. Today, brands are forced to publish their content on social channels, and in the process are disconnecting it from their business. We see this, for instance with the Facebook readers of the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and many others, including brands like ASOS, who have to operate two web shops, one on Facebook and one on their website.
When social becomes a protocol, brands can just use whatever platform that fits their business model the most. It would be just as easy to follow a brand on a website, as it is to follow it on Facebook.
And I’m not talking about cross-posting or linking the way we see it today. That’s destination thinking. I’m talking about social as a protocol, where the content comes to you, on whatever channel you prefer to use.
If you prefer to use Google+, you can read the full article on Google+. Here is one concept made by Michelle Marie, in which you are following the New York Times directly from within Google+
It’s the full article. It’s not republished. It’s the original article, from the source. It’s included in your stream but you are not following NYTimes on Google+, you are following the website of NYTimes inside Google+.
More to the point, if you read the article over at Google+, the interaction is made a part of the original content. Meaning your comments and likes, +1s, or hearts would also show up on any other channel.
When social becomes a protocol, the interaction and communication would be linked to the content itself, rather than the platform.
You might say, this is never going to happen. But it will.
It happened with email, which was first defined as a destination, then a destination + connectors, then as a standard protocol. But it doesn’t stop here…
It also happened with TV. In the early days, TV shows had to be made for each specific type of TV, just like social posts have to be made for each social channel. But today, TV broadcasts are a protocol, and it doesn’t matter what type of TV you happen to own.
It happened with radio and the telegraph, and even satellite communication.
It happened with our lightbulbs, electric outlets, coffee machines, kitchen stoves, washing machines, the rims on our cars, and the windows and doors in our houses. It happened with soda cans, shipping containers, cardboard boxes. It happened with our clothes, the zipper and buttons. It happened with your speakers and audio file formats. It happened with our cameras, video recorders and batteries. It happened with our food, our milk cartons and honey jars.
In fact, it happened with pretty much every single thing we have ever known. Each one started life as an object controlled only by the company who made it, then extended by third parties to allow it to work across manufacturers, and finally to becoming a standard or a protocol that disconnected the object from the destination.
The social shift is just the natural evolution of how things happen. Not only that, but all the trends are pointing in the same direction. The dissatisfaction we see with social media today, is the result of the limitations of the actual destinations.
We don’t have social media fatigue. We have social destination fatigue.
What happens now?
So what does this mean for our current social media channels? Well, first of all, this social ‘shift’ from destination to protocol is going to take a while. The current social world is very entrenched in the traditional form of social.
So, who’s going to feel the pinch first?
Twitter is probably the first one to feel the pressure. It’s format, limited to 140 characters, means that it cannot be a connection by itself, it can only be the facilitator of a connection.
Twitter’s very existence is based upon being something that connects people between destination. And once those destinations are replaced, a big part of Twitter’s role evaporates.
There is, however, one interesting aspect of Twitter and its social future. Twitter Cards. The idea is that a tweet is not just a tweet anymore, now a tweet is accompanied with the actual post itself (or a summary of it).
The concept of Twitter cards is very interesting, because it illustrates a glimmer of the future of what social will be about.
The problem, of course, is that Twitter isn’t doing this for the sake of social as a protocol. They are doing it to force you to use Twitter as a destination. As such, Twitter is actually moving in the wrong direction.
They are trying to discourage you from connecting directly with the source, by republishing your content within a tweet. The concept is interesting, but the reasoning behind it isn’t.
Twitter will not go away anytime soon, but without the destinations, their future will be a social niche. Great for sharing quick things you want people to see, but not really a part of the larger social revolution.
Facebook has even bigger problems because everything it does is designed to establish Facebook as the one and only destination for social media.
They are trying to find a way for you to only use Facebook. As such, their entire business model is based on the opposite of what the social revolution is about.
Forcing brands to create specialized brand pages and getting newspapers and web shops to create Facebook apps, these are all tools to get you to use Facebook as a destination.
The features and functionality, and the overall social effect, is all very impressive, but it doesn’t change the fact that Facebook is trying to prevent us from turning social into a protocol.
In many ways, Facebook is like Apple. Why, for instance, can’t you buy iBooks on your Android phone? Surely there is a market for that? The reason is simple. Apple’s iBookstore does not exist to sell books, it exists to establish iOS as a destination.
It’s the same with most Facebook features. They are not designed to help the social world. They are designed to establish Facebook as a destination.
There is, however, one glimmer of hope for Facebook. We see it with Facebook and Spotify. The way social works between those two destinations is almost like social as a protocol. Almost, because while you can see everything you do on Spotify within Facebook, and even bring your friend connections back to Spotify, the actual communication is very one sided. Facebook is still the only destination.
Google+ is in many ways also a destination, especially with its lack of a two-way API and outside tools. In that regard, Google+ is just as bad as Facebook, in trying to use social to force people to become part of that connection.
Just as all other social channels, you need to be on Google+ to take part in it.
With that said, Google+ is actually the closest thing we have to the future of social as a protocol. While Google+ itself is a destination like all the others, Google+ as a service is not. For example, it’s integrated into Gmail and Google Calendar and ‘Hangout on Air’ is integrated into YouTube.
The future of social for Google is looking very promising. It’s already really close within its own services. It won’t be long until YouTube and Google+ become part of the same social protocol. When you upload a video to YouTube, it will also automatically become part of your Google+ stream. When you post a comment on Google+, it won’t be long until that comment is made part of YouTube as well – and vice versa.
But it doesn’t stop there. Think about Blogger combined with Google+. Soon we will be able to create a blog on Blogger, and then, whenever we post a new article, it will be posted on Google+ as well. Not the link, but the real article.
Then, when you comment on Google+, it will be made part of the article on Blogger and vice versa. As an individual, you are then free to decide how you want to follow it. You can follow it on the blog or on Google+. You decide where and how your want to engage with it.
Unlike Facebook (and Twitter), Google has the capabilities to expand beyond its social network. They have the tools, the sites, and the services, to turn social into a protocol.
Of course, it would still be limited to Google, and still be a destination. But we already use YouTube videos across channels and sites. If that happens with Google+, then we are looking at an early framework for social as protocol.
Nothing comes after Facebook.
As I started out saying. The future of Facebook is…nothing because we have reached the end of social media as a thing, a place and a destination. The future of social media is to be aprotocol.
There will not be another Facebook. There will not be another Twitter, and there will not even be another Google+.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a future for social tools, there is! We are at 2% of the real social revolution, and the social space is looking very exciting. But it’s a different type of social.
Pinterest is a social destination. Foursquare is a social destination, Path is a social destination…and they are all defining social as a ‘thing’.
But think of the Google+ vs Blogger example, where the social element is not a destination at all, but a protocol that binds everything together. What tools could you add to that? How could you extend it? How could you augment it? How could you compete with it?
The real social shift is just about to start!