In 2003, I started a site called CampusFish.com. The idea was that people would give me money, and I'd give them a place to put a blog and host photos, and even upload them from their crappy flip phones of the time. On the home page, there was an activity feed of the latest posts that you could click through to. It was focused on college kids, who seemed open to sharing this sort of thing, and if you could refer enough people to signup, it would be free for you. I made a couple hundred bucks a year for two or three years, and we had a nice little community.
About a year later, some little shit at Harvard came up with a similar idea, but gave it away, and that little shit now basically owns half the Internet and 2 billion users.
This is not about my inability to execute on that idea. I was almost eight years out of college, the Iraq war was happening, I had a job that I didn't like, and I guess even then I subconsciously knew my marriage wasn't going well. The problem with that whole idea was mostly that I wasn't in college at the right time, when the Internet could have made me a whole lot of beer money. (Side note: Last year I hired a guy who did make some solid money back in the day on the Internets during his college years, and I have crazy respect for that.) Also, people were starting to steal music, so those weren't good times to ask for money on the Internets.
What this is really about is the fact that we don't really own what we share on social media. Sure, Facebook will let you export the data, but the format of that package is generally not very useful, and there's no way to relate it back to other real life people. It's just a dump of photos and text. But realistically, what else can people do?
In the oughts, with a little bit of easy to learn technical expertise and a relatively little money, you could set this stuff up yourself. You could own your own domain name and all of the data of stuff you posted up there. Hopefully you knew how to back it all up and such, but it was doable. I definitely don't miss maintaining servers and such, but I literally had a T-1 connection to my house and a server under the desk for a few years (at horrendous cost). That's the reason I have almost two decades of really immature nonsense still living on my blog, and it demonstrates how far I've come (or regressed) since my 20's.
The real benefit of something like Facebook is reach relative to effort. I have a friend that largely retired his own blog to post stuff on Facebook. His domain name just redirects to Facebook, where he posts stuff publicly. I kind of hate that. I mean, it's cool in that we can share a place to converse, and there are notifications and stuff to facilitate conversations, but his own content isn't really his. As people seem to be less interested in the big social networks, they'll eventually move on. Then what?
Sometimes I think about revisiting the CampusFish model, only private. Facebook has a pretty creepy business model around advertising, and their trust is in the shitter with the Cambridge Analytics scandal and the countless foreign state trolls trying to manipulate people. They can't do that if the only purpose of the network is to share stuff privately with a specific group of people. Sure, you would still be using a social network for all the things, but at least you would be a customer of that network and not the product.