Making platforms rich with "content"

posted by Jeff | Thursday, May 2, 2024, 6:38 PM | comments: 0

Last week at the bar, the night before I was at Cedar Point, I met a couple of guys who were really excited about a Facebook page they started, and it had gained a few hundred members. I asked them what their goals with the page were, and they said it was to get as many people as possible on it. I asked how they intended to do it, and they said they would produce as much "content" as possible. "Then what?" I asked. Their answers were all over the place, but it seemed like numbers were the goal. I suppose that I kind of get this, as it's the primary milestone at which Google will bless you with some revenue from the YouTube. I'm not sure how that translates to Facebook.

I don't want this to become a rant about "content creation," where no one is a writer or photographer or filmmaker anymore. But I don't understand the desire to make things in a way that mostly enriches the big platforms. The people who actually make money are a fraction of all the folks trying to make money. Most of it is ephemeral stuff that has a shelf-life of a few days at best. Think about all of the stuff that the algorithm feeds you on Instagram or Facebook. Do you remember anything you saw last week? Probably not. But the long tail of so many people doing this means those companies bank a ton of cash with ads in between it all. The only thing really being "created" is wealth for the platform and its shareholders.

I'm not against capitalism, I'm just not sure how we got to this place where people want to make things for free that might feel good to make, but mostly it just puts money in platform pockets. The value of creative media has just been gutted. The people who do actually make money have to do a lot of work, and often at a certain scale they need to hire people to help. But somehow, "influencer" became an aspiration, in part because the barrier to entry is having a phone, which is to say there is no barrier to entry. It's like America's Funniest Home Videos became the business of the Internet.

Having a web site isn't lucrative the way that it used to be, but at least what you make continues to be yours. Maybe you can make a little money from it, and there is no minimum to do so. I miss the early aughts, when every kid with an Internet connection and an amusement park nearby made a fan site. That was awesome.

This sort of thing sounds very get-off-my-lawn. I don't think apps and platforms and algorithms make the Internet better. Technically, yes, anyone can disrupt the status quo with the right idea. But I have no idea what the right idea is. Facebook seemed like such a great idea early on, but it's telling that so few of the people from my circles still use it. It hasn't been about an online version of my social circles in a decade, at least.

I still think that moderated, niche communities will make some kind of comeback, eventually. The platforms aren't really built for the benefit of regular people, and I think a lot of folks will eventually realize that.


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