Was feeling a bit like some TED talk speaker as I wrote this article, hence the cover image. Deesco made it.
Welcome back! In the previous blog post, I announced our plans to expand the Satania Dropout community by creating a Mastodon instance to complement the Discord server.
For most of you, this will be your first time using an independent social network, as we are the ones running the instance by ourselves, no companies are involved.
In this blog post, I want to share my predictions about the future of online communities, and explain why I think independent social platforms are the future, to justify my wish of making of Satania Dropout an early actor in this movement.
This post will talk about all indie social networks broadly. Not about Mastodon or the Fediverse specifically.
Looking at the past and at the present to anticipate the future
First, I will be analysing a common pattern that occurs with industries that are closely tied to technological progress, I’ll explain how it applies to the online service industry, and use it to speculate on the way it is going to evolve in the coming years.
Then, I’ll look at factors and events in the present times that support these speculations and conclude the whole thing.
Sounds good? Let’s go then!
The pattern with technological industries
Most novel industries that emerged from technological breakthrough go through a 3-phase pattern. It applied to a lot of them like video games, the radio, 3D animation, but the clearest instance of it are films:
The experimental phase, you have a lot of people trying out different things, probably in their garage or basement, that end up setting the foundations. There isn’t a single person who invented films, it’s a mix of innovations, breakthrough, and sometimes even accidents from a bunch of people tinkering around not really knowing what they were doing. From the Kinetoscope, the Cinematograph, the movie with the ugly moon, some of the early adopters may have been doing it commercially but there were no mass markets.
The mass-production phase, when the industry really flares up and the novelty of the medium isn’t enough to sell it any more. As the technology evolves and the scale of it grows radically, the means of production become totally inaccessible to people without extremely large budgets. The only actors in the industry at this point are very large companies with big teams. The Golden Age of Hollywood around 1930 was during the peak of this phase for the film industry but it continued for several decades after.
The independent revolution, as the means of production start to become available to everyone, the knowledge required for it is widespread, and there is interest in the field, you start to see independent teams with low budgets being actually able to compete on a small scale with the larger companies. For film, this slowly started in the 1990s and really took off around 2010. Today, people can make a living creating movies on YouTube and this doesn’t even feel special any more. People walk around with phones that have cameras that are good enough to shoot feature films for Netflix. It is easier than ever to obtain and learn an editing software, as Adobe and many others now have fairly affordable plans and the internet is filled with great resources to learn their software.
Such a revolution happened before with many industries:
- with video games with the rise of online game distribution and how easy it is for anyone to publish a game nowadays,
- with radios as equipment got cheaper, regulations got lighter, and interest grew for local independent radio stations,
- with 3D animation as powerful hardware became more accessible and professional animation software started to be sold at a lower cost. There is even Blender a completely free open-source 3D animation software that is capable of competing with paid solutions. Just look at this demo, when you think that this was made with free software that anyone can download, it really blows your mind.
One of the important things about the independent revolution is that large companies keep competing in the industry and they co-exist with the independent actors.
As I’m sure everyone will be most familiar with video games, while games produced by large companies are certainly more thorough and ambitious than independent ones, indie games have a certain appeal as they are often more creative, less mainstream, they offer new landscapes, they have more care and love put into them, and often aim to maximise enjoyment instead of profit. It would be stupid to say either indie games or mainstream games try to compete with the other, they offer significantly distinct products, neither is better than the other.
How this applies to social platforms
Now you might be thinking “Cool analysis Pizza but how does that apply to social platforms?“, and I can understand that all the industries I mentioned (films, video games, radio, 3D animation) are artistic products when social networks are digital services.
But the connection is that those industries were heavily influenced by technological progress, and it’s these advancements that shaped those industries over time. And from the looks of it, the same things are happening to online services:
First, you had the experimental phase, in the early days of the Internet, people were already chatting with IRC servers (which are older than the web itself), using e-mails (also very old), or discussing on forums. A few companies were making a profit from online services but there were no mass markets.
Then came the mass-production phase, slowly but surely, private companies were making social platforms that were far superior to anything the early experimenters could set up, providing more reliable services with better features and finer design for the times. There was no way the indie forums could ever compete with that, the programming environments used were a pain to work with and needed huge teams to maintain, servers were incredibly expensive, D.I.Y, and uncoordinated on a global scale.
It would be wrong to say that indie platforms didn’t exist though. Forums were a thing, but they were neither popular, attractive, nor (let’s face it) any good. They had a very devoted community of nerds with long hair and beards who valued the freedom and collectivism of those communities. But many people didn’t appreciate those values as much as the forum fans did. And so they remained an obscure, lame part of the internet for a long time.
But now, I think we are reaching an indie revolution for social platforms. For several reasons:
1. Servers are getting cheaper and easier to manage.
Infrastructures and large-scale networks are no longer reserved for top-end software companies.
- With services like DigitalOcean, AWS, or Google Cloud, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to rent a server anywhere in the world.
- CDNs like BunnyCDN can serve data with a worldwide network of servers in every continent for as little as $0.01/GB transferred.
- BackBlaze can store any amount of data for only $0.005/GB/month which is enough for a single person to afford to pay for the storage of the data of tens of thousands of users.
2. The software used by large companies is now available to the public.
Thanks to the advancements of the open-source community, software with the power to handle the load for a multi-million company can be downloaded and used for free. Everyone now has access to incredibly powerful open-source software, so what makes the difference now is what you do with it.
- Need to grow an application to the scale of Amazon? Kubernetes is what you need.
- Want to search through millions of documents in an instant like Google? Try out ElasticSearch.
- Do you have a lot of data on a billion users like Facebook does? Cassandra will manage it without any problems.
3. People genuinely want more ethical and indie software.
Users are starting to realise the bad influence of tech giants over their lives. Digital privacy activism is getting stronger and stronger every day. There have already been widely successful alternatives to mainstream software that made ethics their main argument.
- DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t track their users or follow them around with ads.
- ProtonMail is an email company that protects emails and stores them in a highly-secured underground datacentre.
- Signal and Telegram are messaging apps that encrypt all communications by default to enable their users to talk with the confidence that they aren’t being spied on.
All of those companies are challenging monopolies, and yet they are profitable, they have a great following simply from the fact that they are more ethical and respect their user.
People are sick of empty promises from big companies., and everyone knows that despite whatever they might say, they’ll never be ethical, they’ll never respect privacy, they’ll never play fair.
From these observations and reasonings, we can draw the following speculations:
- Indie social networks will become better and cooler thanks to the growing accessibility of high-end software and servers.
- They will also have a larger following as the demand for more ethical services grows.
- They will probably co-exist with large companies and offer vastly different experiences.
- Competition is unlikely, but they could affect the priorities of mainstream social networks.
I hope you now share my excitement for the way social platforms are going to change in the future!
So stick with us if you want to be part of the revolution! 💕