The beginning of what may be a highly accelerated platform collapse?

I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had over the past 3 years, but have crystallized and lodged themselves in the front of my brain over the past week.

We are at the beginning of what may be a highly accelerated platform collapse, particularly for Facebook.

  1. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have businesses that are driven by polarization. We know that high-arousal content drives engagement and usage. The events of this week were a true turning point in the polarization and moderation discussion. You, ironically, have both sides calling for moderation. The far-right is pushing for changes to section 230, which would effectively require moderation, and the left is calling for de-platforming of some of the loudest voices.
  2. This is a worst-case scenario for platforms. They’ll see engagement drop, which means far less advertising revenue, coupled with vastly higher costs related to moderation. Unlike the technology they build and scale at low cost, moderation is largely an incremental human cost.
  3. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have largely failed to innovate outside of advertising-driven products. Facebook has launched a number of new products like Facebook Portal, a 2nd rate Echo competitor, and Oculus, neither of which are strong standalone businesses. YouTube benefits from its close ties to other Google products like Android. Twitter remains essentially unchanged.
  4. I spent some time mapping the age at which technology juggernauts who failed to innovate start to fail. The magic number seems to be around 15 years old.

As of today, Facebook is 16, Youtube is 15, Twitter is 14.

5. Facebook engages in anticompetitive behavior. They either buy up businesses that pose a threat to them, or they copy their products and use their massive scale to crush them. This has largely stifled innovation in the social web space as VC funding flows not to business ideas that have the potential to grow on their own, but to ideas that are seen as acquisition targets for Facebook. This behavior is coming to end as the threat of regulation looms.

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Matt Karolian

2018 Nieman Fellow @ Harvard. I make things happen on the internet for The Boston Globe & Boston.com