This article came down my Facebook newsfeed this morning, courtesy of friend and Florida newsman Taylor VinsonIt spawned two ideas in my head: one related to a shift in how social media has adapted as an industry and another about how shifts in this industry may begin influencing how literacy develops. We’ll talk about the first today, and I’ll post about the latter tomorrow.
The article isn’t long, but it does demonstrate that a shift is taking place in social media. Teenagers, those arbiters of excellent taste, have been moving away from Facebook and toward instagram and twitter as their main (or “most important”) social media platform. The graph is the most interesting part of the article, as it demonstrates the shift away from Facebook and toward Instagram. Meanwhile, other social media platforms, like Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterst, have remained relatively stable, in terms of importance.
This is interesting largely as it relates to Richard Lanham’s The Economics of Attention. Here Lanham argues that money is not the limiting factor in 1st world economic environments: attention is. People only have a limited attention span and will spend that attention on whatever is capable of holding it. Lanham does not differentiate between positive and negative attention, which I believe to be a flaw in his argument as we’ll see later. The more attention a commodity is capable of gaining, the more people are going to spend on that commodity. It is now not important to merely gain their money through direct means, you must gain their attention first.
Facebook seems to have adapted to this in ways that its most famous predecessor, MySpace, did not. Perhaps because it was the first social network to attract a truly mammoth audience, MySpace made small changes, but largely gave the users control over their own webpage. As Facebook began to emerge on a non-college scene in 2006, MySpace went the way of the dinosaur as a new social media took its place. The operative word here is “new.” The novelty of Facebook made people curious, which attracted more attention to it and slowly choked out MySpace’s user base. That’s how the attention economy works.
Facebook seems to have learned from MySpace’s cautionary tale. First, it updates its interface and features frequently, much to the chagrin of its users. My first facebook status was, “Thanks Facebook, I’ll never use this worthless feature.” I thought the newsfeed feature was creepy. Now, it is hard to imagine Facebook conversations actually happening on a simple wall posted without the attention gained from the newsfeed. Facebook found a way to manipulate their own attention micro-economy, bringing the most relevant information your friends are posting to you, which has helped to keep people there.
Of course, as the article states, Facebook has become the “Mom and Dad version of Instagram and Twitter.” Wants mom and dad’s attention finds its way to facebook, teens do not have as much interest in it anymore. That is attention they do not want, presumably because they are developing their independence. However, I am sure this is also because they know that mom and dad will see their posts much differently than their peers will.
So, parents aren’t on Twitter and Instagram, which makes it more appealing to teenagers. Teens are leaving facebook for Twitter and Instagram, and Facebook isn’t that worried. Why not? Because Facebook owns Instagram. In one of the biggest social media news events, Facebook bought Instagram, did not integrate it directly into Facebook, but made sharing easier and proprietary. As the title of the article lets on, “Teens Are Leaving Facebook for Facebook.”
This is another lesson Facebook learned from MySpace: you aren’t here forever. You will lose to the newest, shiniest thing. Rather than losing to it, Facebook bought it while it was still relatively young. Facebook has also begun to buy other social media commodities as well, such as Whatsapp?, a mobile chatting client. Facebook is becoming a social media mega corporation that is not only capable of buying the next big thing, but also using its other commodities to direct your attention to the next big thing. In short, Facebook has the potential to become the social media attention monopoly, constantly directing people to their new acquisition and creating the next big thing based on what you are already using.