Up until the specific prediction of a gossip-focused platform, I think OnlyFans fits the role described by this post pretty well.

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Very interesting an insightful post. Thanks!

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The Internet, on the other hand, is closer to 50 years old, with the DNS system about 45.45 years ago would be something like 1974. https://tools.ietf.org/html... has a date of November 1987. While DNS was likely in use prior to publication of the RFC, it seems unlikely that DNS was in use for 13 years prior to its defining RFC. https://tools.ietf.org/html... suggests 1983.

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https://www.thelayoff.comis something like what you are describing, but in the business space.

And yeah, it's pretty horrifying. For every genuine piece of news, there are about a hundred rants about some group or another being favored instead of my group. (ie "company hires too many indians" followed by "company discriminates against old people"; all of course utterly ungrounded in any sort of actual statistics and numbers).

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"I think the folks running social networks know about what the problems are. After all, they've been documented for over 2 decades."

Who are "the folks running social networks"?I don't think they're dispassionate and well-informed technocrats. Rather, I think they're the mirror image of their users.

So half of them are libertarian extremists who think that some version of "the marketplace" will solve every problem whatsoever, while the other half are leftist extremists who believe that every social pathology ever encountered is the fault of the patrio-hetero-caucaso complex, but by keeping out the representatives and tools of that complex, the rest of "us" will sing happy kumbaya together forever.

This may sound cynical, but I think it reflects reality. You can go back to at least Gutenberg to see predictions of how technology will be used, that turn out to be laughably false. And yet almost no-one (ie pretty much everyone outside a small group of academics with deliberate interest in the history of technology) is aware of this history of predictions --- but everyone is exceedingly confident about how their pet theory of human nature translates into predictions regarding some new technology.

The fairly recent book _Valley of Genius_ is a good example of this. It's an oral history of Silicon Valley and what I found most striking about it is the confirmation of this pattern. Almost all the principals state how they had these confident leftist hippy hopes for PCs in the 70s, then for the internet in the 80s. And while almost all will admit those hopes were dashed, there's much less willingness to admit that the dashing was inevitable, that the basis for the predictions was nonsense. Rather silly conspiracy theories about "the man" and the perversions of capitalism are blamed (like it wasn't obvious in 1970 that capitalism would persist?)(Pretty much the only two persons interviewed that I could confidently tag as having re-evaluated their worldview after the passage of some time were Steve Jobs and Jaron Lanier...)

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Clay Shirky wrote a number of essays on social software. Probably the best is "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy". "Social Software and the Politics of Groups" is also good.

From "A Group..."

>And the adults who had set up Communitree were horrified, and overrun by these students. The place that was founded on open access had too much open access, too much openness. They couldn't defend themselves against their own users. The place that was founded on free speech had too much freedom. They had no way of saying "No, that's not the kind of free speech we meant."

>Now you could ask whether or not the founders' inability to defend themselves from this onslaught, from being overrun, was a technical or a social problem. Did the software not allow the problem to be solved? Or was it the social configuration of the group that founded it, where they simply couldn't stomach the idea of adding censorship to protect their system. But in a way, it doesn't matter, because technical and social issues are deeply intertwined. There's no way to completely separate them.

>Communitree wasn't shut down by people trying to crash or syn-flood the server. It was shut down by people logging in and posting, which is what the system was designed to allow. The technological pattern of normal use and attack were identical at the machine level, so there was no way to specify technologically what should and shouldn't happen. Some of the users wanted the system to continue to exist and to provide a forum for discussion. And other of the users, the high school boys, either didn't care or were actively inimical. And the system provided no way for the former group to defend itself from the latter.

>Now, this story has been written many times. It's actually frustrating to see how many times it's been written. You'd hope that at some point that someone would write it down, and they often do, but what then doesn't happen is other people don't read it.


From "Social Software and the Politics of Groups", one of the main points is that social software encodes politics.


I think the folks running social networks know about what the problems are. After all, they've been documented for over 2 decades.

In computer engineering/science, the lag between academic research and commercial shipping product can be 5-30+ years. It would not surprise me that some of the research that you're interested in would be found in 1980s and 1990s journals from the ACM (and similar societies).

>how low can we go?

We have not hit bottom yet. Americans have always had a very strong antipathy towards intellectuals. Even de Tocqueville wrote about it 150 years ago.

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If anonymous denunciations are a dime a dozen, do you really think they will retain their potency?

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Interesting read. Thanks!

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When it comes to online discourse, twenty years ago isn't nearly far enough. Neither is Arnold Kling's twenty five years, although at least he's going to back to the birth of the world wide web. The Internet, on the other hand, is closer to 50 years old, with the DNS system about 45. And online discourse has been part of it for all that time.

When you go back that far, it becomes clear that blogs, which Arnold captures as the "old vision" of the Internet, were in fact a relatively new creation, going back the 20 years or so that you tag as the beginning of history. Blogs were a way for individuals to become journalists, critics, experts. However, blogs are an online instantiation of broadcasting, so in that sense they are older.

The better comparison, first captured (at least from what I saw) by Clay Shirky is Broadcast vs. Participatory. Blogs are newer, and broadcast. Owned by a single individual or group, they control what is published, control how others can participate.

Participatory discourse is newer, but have no obvious real-life analogy. But in technology form they go back much further than blogs--discussion boards, bulletin boards, chat sites--all the way back to the 70s. That's because participatory discourse is really what online technology created. Online forums have moderators, but aren't "owned" in the same way. The owner can't control what is published and have only a binary control over who can participate.

When the WWW (*not* the Internet, and I do wish people would get that straight) was created, it was bulletin boards that were the original discourse model. Magazines didn't first provide "comment space" but rather "online communities" and "Forums". The New York Times, Washington Post, Salon, Slate, and many more had these back in the 90s. One by one they all went away for the same reason: they cost a hell of a lot of money, required moderation, made NO money, and grew out of control. Many of the users used the forum without even reading the owning media site.

Participatory discourse is what the "nerds" started and arguably invented--not blogs. Blogs grew out of a different space entirely. The earliest blogs were diaries, and started in the 90s. They were the creation of individual people who wanted to push their ideas out into the world. The best known early blogs: Mickey Kaus, Jonah Goldberg, The Daily Howler. Blogs are broadcast, not participatory, and the media preferred them to the wide world of forums almost immediately. Blogs are very much self-promotion, and another odd glitch in your post is this notion that social media is self-promotion as some sort of new thing.

If you go back to the last 90s/early 2000s, you see a lot of talk about governance. Everyone recognized the passion of participatory methods, but also learned quickly that people just wanted a place to talk. So how to channel that passion without creating a huge expense in management and moderation? Answer: you couldn't.

Another huge problem still here is how do you make money from all this communication. That's really been there from the beginning, of course, and has been much written about.

What you describe as the "rise" of social media is what I would describe as centralized models of broadcast and participatory discourse trying to make money from communication. Social media has done nothing to change these basic models.

Twitter is classic participatory model. Youtube is literally broadcast. Facebook was an attempt to have it both ways but primarily broadcast. Typically, Twitter is having much more fuss about the governance issue (typical participatory), Youtube and Facebook much more with censorship charges (typical broadcast).

And of course, we still don't know if they can make money off communication. In the early days, they made money off of the belief that they must be profitable, eventually. A lot of the money they made off of ads appears now to have been because they lied about it.

When you say it "used to be run by young nerds": Public discourse of all sorts is still pretty overwhelmingly male, from letters to the editor to today. Participatory online discourse is *very* male, at best broadcast gets to 50-50. So, for example, Twitter (participatory) is about 2:1 male, while Facebook (broadcast) is closer to 50-50.

But online sharing is more female--this seems to be what you refer to as "lowbrow". Pinterest and Snapchat are heavily female. The less talking, the more pictures and sharing, the more women. When women talk, it's more commonly around brands and feedback or reviews. But even there, men tend slightly more towards Yelp, to give *all* people feedback, whereas women prefer Facebook, to give their friends their opinion.

I don't know that things will go anywhere until we get past the "use social media to economically and socially destroy people", but happily Trump might have a lot to do with ending that, or at least reducing it.

Meanwhile, online discourse will continue to kill paid media jobs--the want ads, newspaper ads are long since decimated. But book/food/movie/TV critics are increasingly rare as a paid occupation. The ones making money do so not because their opinions are valued so much as their writing and thoughts are. Online discourse is killing a lot of the traditional ads market as well, of course.

I usually advise people not to confuse new technology with new patterns. There's nothing new about social media save scale. Twitter in particular killed a lot of the usual costs associated with many to many discourse--but did so by giving up a lot of control, which is why so many journalists are whining about how meeean Twitter is.

Businesses will continue to try and channel the huge interest in online discourse in a way that allows them to profit from it. That's the constant. At this point in time, I see no new model of discourse arising.

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Your prediction sounds like a description of Snapchat, and I would bet high schoolers are already using it the way you describe.

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Anonymous rumor-mongering doesn't strike me as low status. It does strike me as the type of application expected by early net users. Posting evidence of one's own extremely low status tastes and self-harming activities already seems rampant, lower status, and contrary to the expectations of early net users for net applications to do something interesting with the net's new capabilities. I guess we will see more of the same, maybe culminating with masses proudly reposting suicide cult leader images (I doubt this is a bigger threat than competing governments, but one way to try to make sense the claim it is).

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Third point: In one sense, social media is getting less lowbrow because moderation has risen over time. Most blogs, news sites, YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Reddit and other media now censor trolls, spam, bigots, and off-topic stuff more frequently and strongly than they used to. Removing these undesirable comments seems elite and highbrow. Did 'mods' even exist in the early days of social media?

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Fascinating post. Two points:

1. The fact that young male nerds of old social media valued anonymity and separate identities makes it unlikely they were discussing big grand topics for status, no?

2. There have been two recent examples of lowbrow media that shared salacious gossip on others, and both have been shut down: Lulu (2016) and a Duke University student's fuck list (2010).

"When Lulu launched over two years ago, its approach to mobile dating raised more than a few eyebrows. Instead of connecting girls with eligible dudes nearby, the app let them share anonymous reviews of men they knew, complete with hashtags like "#LifeOfTheParty," "#TallDarkAndHandsome" https://www.engadget.com/20...

"college in general often bring[s] about certain situations that result in...sex. Until now, no studies have succeeded in developing a methodology for quantifying and ranking these...In this study, we used data from four years at Duke University to create evaluation criteria for such encounters and applied these criteria to the evaluated Subjects, hopefully allowing for future maximization of enjoyment..." https://deadspin.com/565228...

Do you think these were just ahead of the times?

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Advertising revenue model. As I recall, the 90s is when a bunch of free services began to crop up, paid for by selling advertising space. This meant the goal was to get as broad a user base as possible.

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The gossip service you mention sounds like Secret or Yik Yak: https://www.recode.net/2015...https://en.wikipedia.org/wi...

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Lately I think of social media as the communication equivalent of the economics of light. In the old days light was expensive and so we had to be careful how we used it; then it decreased in price so much we now use it constantly with virtually no thought.

As a consequence the fact of illumination doesn't imply much, except that someone is probably home. Likewise for communication. It seems like it is most significant where we expect to see it, and do not - like when a major twitter account goes silent.

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