Every app attempts to expand until it can send messages. Eventually those apps are added to the existing pile of apps that already do so.
It’s now more than twenty years since i was introduced to the web, which marks me as a post Eternal September but pre Web 2.0 user. Long enough to remember what the web was like before it was, well, everywhere. Most importantly, long enough to know what it was like before social media was a thing. I’m not going to rant about social media here, as that’s been done to death. I have nothing of value to add other than one small observation, which can be inferred from the above misquote.
I still consume the web via RSS1. It’s gone through a few iterations, that is to say desktop applications, terminal applications, browser applications, and eventually to Feedly. But it remains the easiest way to follow sites i am interested in. Content, or parts of content, come into a single feed and i open the ones that might interest me. No visiting several hundred (plus) sites everyday to check for updates and such. I’m sure this isn’t news to you, but if it is you should check it out. I add a new source roughly once a month and prune sources every couple of years.
Anyway, the web didn’t start this way - syndication methods were created when the web started to sprawl and the “not enough hours in the day” problem arose. Eventually we ended up with RSS. Nobody really wants to go visiting every site they’re interested in to check for new content every day, so RSS is a nice solution that’s trivial to implement and use. I even have one for this site.
Messaging, it seems, went the other way. What started off as one or two things (email, usenet, IRC) has now massively fragmented because every single social network, every social app, every aggregation site, every whatever site now seems to have direct messaging functionality that cannot be forwarded on to a catch-all location2.
Of course i have collected at least a dozen email addresses over the past twenty years. The ones that remain in use are handled by forwarding to a single inbox, but often messages get falsely flagged as spam on the original end and those don’t get forwarded. So i still have to log into Hotmail, et al, periodically to check the spam folder because their algorithms suck and they don’t let you turn them off. I should probably update all my existing accounts, but i have hundreds of them.
I’m intentionally misquoting Zawinski3 above because email has been taking a beating from instant messaging functionality in apps or on sites over the past few years4. It seems that now whenever i receive a message it will be via one of umpteen different platforms. People don’t seem to bother with email anymore. Here’s all the ways you can now, or could at one point, get in touch with me in a “private” sense due to direct messaging functionality available in the platform:
- ICQ - long since forgotten my number
- MSN - defunct
- Google Wave - remember this?
- PMs on Forums - that i no longer visit because they’re gone
- IRC - although i am only on one network
- SMS - only if you know my phone number, so highly personal
- WhatsUp - an alternative to SMS
- Telegram - a secure alternative to WhatsUp
- Slack - an alternative to IRC
- Asana - a TODO list
- Trello - another TODO list
- Skype - a messaging app, of course
- Reddit - essentially RSS gone off the rails
- Metafilter - RSS not gone off the rails
- Facebook - a social network
- Twitter - a social network (shouty!)
- LinkedIn - a social network (spammy!)
- Instagram - a phocial network
The bottom three are placeholders for whatever other services will pop up before the end of the year. Or maybe even the end of this blog post. Or sentence. You’ll notice i haven’t added github/gitlab/bitbucket as these (to my knowledge) do not have direct messaging functionality. Yet. You’ll also notice there are many that i don’t use.
The problem with all of the above is that they require me to either have them open in a tab, installed on my phone, or visit every now and then to know when i receive a direct message. I don’t want more tabs, i certainly don’t want to install the likes of Facebook and such on my phone, and visiting the sites every now and then is problematic.
The problem with the social networks is their default state is a shouting match. You only need to link to a few dozen users before your feed becomes a constant stream of inanity. They’re designed this way, of course, to keep you coming back and to keep you on the site. That’s captive users, ad impressions, revenue. You might visit to see if you have any messages, and then you get sucked into the feed.
So why “Social Media Zero”? The same reason as Inbox Zero. The default state of the social networks is to shout at you, so fix that to prevent spending anymore time than necessary there. Unfollow everyone on Facebook. Mute everyone on twitter. Remove feed elements with uBlock. Don’t send a message over social media when an email could be sent instead. It’s the approach i am now taking. If something is important enough it will reach me by another means.
Before you say it, i don’t want to delete my accounts. They are still there for getting in touch with those friends and contacts i don’t see often enough to have their latest email address, or phone number, or whatever.
My interaction with these sites is now reduced to opening the page, seeing i have no messages, closing the page. No distractions. Social Media Zero.
I wrote this post because i’ve heard several times this year exasperation from other users, often highly technical people, about yet another messaging platform. I’m starting to see it on technical blogs and sites now as well5. We’re sick of it. We don’t want another social media site, messaging service, or source of asinine distractions. Don’t add direct messaging to your platform, if people want to get in touch let them figure it out. And for people that want to get in touch: just send us an email. Please?
Well i’m sure it could be forwarded on, i am a software developer after all. But fuck that. ↩