Why the second-curve Internet will leave social networks in the dust

On why not everyone is equal on social networks and how the Internet of the future will get back to its original purpose.
Why the second-curve Internet will leave social networks in the dust

I originally published an article under this title way back in 2014, both here and in The Creative Digest. Coming back to the subject five years later, it feels like finally the world is catching up to the themes covered in it.

My article on niche communities from earlier this year, explains where I think we were ahead of this ‘second curve of the Internet’ - but this post, which is a slightly updated version of the original, explains the concept of the ‘second curve’ in more detail.

Back in 2014, Eat24 wrote an impassioned breakup letter to a metaphorical lover. The web-based food delivery service had used Facebook to accrue more than 70,000 'likes' on the social network. But Facebook’s reduction of organic reach now meant that if you had used Facebook to reach your business audience for free, you now needed to pay up, regardless of whether that audience could be considered to belong to you, or even if it was truly valuable to your business.

This is what happens when social networks treat all users as equals. If you have 70,000 likes, you have 70,000 valuable business contracts... right?

Yes, we like to believe that social media is a true equaliser, but are all social contributions truly equal?

Take Quora. Quora users can choose from over 400,000 topics to create informational feeds that are 'tuned to your interests' thereby having the platform act as 'your best source of knowledge' But who is your best source of knowledge? Is it really Quora's 14 million users who pose as experts?

The simple fact is that everyone’s knowledge is not equal. The rush of everyone trying to demonstrate their expertise has done little to provide valuable knowledge. It has created such an overload of noise that seemingly open platforms like Facebook are now adopting the role of publishers - or, as Matthew Ingram calls them, 'content gatekeepers' - attempting to curate that noisy content into something relevant and valuable.

Interestingly, although both Facebook and LinkedIn are acting as content gatekeepers they are doing so in different ways. As Facebook attempts to control published content, LinkedIn has gradually opened up its publishing abilities to all users. It’s now hard to remember that LinkedIn articles were once a space once reserved for the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson. It’s now open to anyone, irrespective of experience

At the time LinkedIn introduced this change, Ryan Rolansky, their Senior VP of Products and User experience wrote: “Combined, our members have extremely valuable and varied experiences; however, their knowledge and expertise has not yet been captured and shared. The average Influencer post drives more than 31,000 views and receives more than 250 likes and 80 comments. By any measure, this is a remarkably high level of engagement for digital content.”

These indicators of engagement may indeed be impressive but what about user experience? LinkedIn users now have to filter through even more noise to gain the knowledge they need, and that is not progress.

On the surface, LinkedIn and Facebook appear to be moving in opposite directions. LinkedIn is opening up publishing while Facebook pulls back. But in terms of assisting the knowledge economy, both the bait-and-switch tactic of Facebook and the open access model of LinkedIn fail to contribute, while exerting ever greater control of knowledge sharing.

Amongst all of this, there is hope for a better future, however. When I wrote about this in 2014, the latest Ten-Year Forecasts from Palo Alto Think Tank the Institute for the Future proposed a new Internet model that is “post-NSA and post-Comcast”, and relies on peer-to-peer structure in a way that more closely resembles the Internet’s first purpose.

"Over the last decade, the Internet has evolved much more hub and spoke”, IFTF Fellow Jamais Cascio explained. “Everything has to go through the major services. The idea with the second-curve Internet would push back into that other model. Peer-to-peer, mesh focused, and getting away from those central points of control and failure."

Cascio’s colleague Mike Liebhold uses the Greek myth of Icarus as a metaphor for the “brief historical moment” where a first-generation distribution of online ideas has proven to be vulnerable. He concludes that just as humans surpassed Icarus in their knowledge of how to build a better aircraft, the Internet’s second curve will distribute knowledge more appropriately.

So what does this mean for consultants, publishers, and any business with genuine expertise as their core value proposition? We think that instead of websites like Quora or LinkedIn, where everyone clamours to demonstrate their expertise and simply creates noise, these businesses will flourish again as consumers seek out trusted, reliable and relevant sources of knowledge.