A vision for the internet in 2023
An exploration into "collective media"
At the end of 2021, we concluded the year with an essay titled, “Manifesting a Feminist Internet.” So I thought—why not make social media predictions an annual tradition? Between the influx of recent articles claiming social media is dead and Elon Musk continuing to display prominent signs of a fragile male ego, I thought I’d take inspiration from our NYC vision boarding event (in collaboration with the social moodboarding app Landing) to share a little more about what’s on our vision board for the social internet in 2023.
Perhaps the best place to start with is what I perceive to be the biggest problem with today’s social internet. I frequently refer back to Moira Weigel’s “The Internet of Women” essay for this:
“When I ask if the internet is a woman I am not only thinking of all the women using the internet to talk to one another. I am also thinking of how much of what we do online corresponds to activities that have traditionally been seen as female. Social media makes “women” of us all. We preen and pose, hoping to draw eyes to us. When others do the same, we emote for and affirm them… Our culture considers care of all kinds feminine. And we treat female feeling as a natural resource that anyone can take for cheap, or free… On online platforms, we make money for other people, in return for the feeling that we are being seen and maybe even loved. In return for a digital place to live, we click. We let the men who own the platforms keep tabs on us 24/7. Good ‘digital housewives,’ as the media theorist Kylie Jarrett has named us, we spend our days making ‘cookies’ for them!”
Weigel’s overarching stance is that the social internet currently mirrors the way women are viewed and treated offline. This is a huge issue, but what if it didn’t have to be this way? Building off her stance, what if we embraced the communal spirit women have practiced for centuries and used it instead as inspiration for how social platforms are built? What if we didn’t just take advantage of free labor (content creation) and instead recognized the utility and value in traditionally “feminine” communication?
Over generations, social, political, intellectual, cultural, and economic information resources have defaulted to serve the “default male” population. As a result, women talk, having learned that the fastest way to obtain reliable, valuable information is through each other instead. So, yes, I’m curious how we could improve search, democratize the ease of access to information online, and spark deeper connections by recognizing this very human behavior. What if we did actually build technology through the lens of how women have shared information for generations? It wouldn’t just be better for women, but it would be better for everyone.
"Aspects of the feminist internet are already taking shape. Achieving this vision would require us to radically overhaul the way the web works. But if we build it, it won’t just be a better place for women; it will be better for everyone." — Charlotte Jee, "A Feminist Internet Would Be Better For Everyone
That’s why we at Diem, along with other next-gen consumer social founders, like Miri & Ellie of Landing, Naj of Somewhere Good and Jenny of NEWNESS, believe the future of social media is actually “collective media.” Collective media fosters a sense of communal building where users are self-determined (and often rewarded) to build their online experience with each other. Where traditional social media can feel like performing on a stage, collective media feels more like attending a party. Collective media centers on a more aligned collaboration between platforms and the communities they power. We’ve been led astray by the algorithms that favor the attention economy over a genuine connection with those who share our interests and experiences. After ~15 years of this status quo, we’re now met with the opportunity to build the systems of social platforms differently, from scratch. We know the impact large social networks can have on the world and we cannot enter into the next phase of the internet with the “growth at all costs, monetize later” mindset—we must align business interests with community interests from day one. If anything, we’re actually seeking to revert back to the premise of why the World Wide Web was created—to meet the demand for automated information sharing amongst a community (at the time, it was scientists at universities).
From our work, we know that people are looking for a “new internet,” or a place where they can “world build.” With this lens, the future of social could look a lot more like collective world-building, which writer Terry Nguyen wrote about in depth a few weeks ago. She wrote, “the magic of effective world-building [is that] the audience, immersed in the fantasy, is eager for more. It’s a strategy employed by entertainment companies to oil the wheels of major fan-favorite franchises. But more recently, world-building seems to have permeated across popular culture, harnessed by celebrities, brands, and all kinds of content creators.” To Nguyen’s point, we’ve seen worlds come to life in pop culture over the years, expanding to movie franchises (Marvel, Disney), video games, legacy brands (Nike, LEGO), start-ups (Ruby Hibiscus, Poolsuite), creators/celebrities (Astroworld, DeuxMoi) and fandoms (Swifties, Harry Potter). “Worlds, in [this] context, are self-reinforcing economic engines.” Historically, world-building has been very top-down (like a franchise) but over the past few years we’ve seen collective authorship come into play, with communities (like those that cropped up with NFT communities) collectively forging the future of their “world.”
In the social internet, I don’t believe platforms have unlocked the true power of collective “world-building” just yet. For example, Instagram and TikTok, do let individual creators build worlds as individuals, but they don’t empower people to build collectively. We need digital spaces for communities to gather and create things together, versus simply commenting and reacting to content posted. I envision a place where content isn’t static—it lives, breathes, and is constantly updated by the community surrounding it. Wouldn’t it be so much cooler if the interactions we had with each other online were less passive or predatory, and instead more centered on collectively architecting the value of the platform through each person’s contribution?
Wikipedia, which was created through digital crowdsourcing, is an epic example of this at scale. Nguyen makes mention of Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin grouping world-building authors into two types: architects and gardeners. He defines architects as novelists who lay out entire stories before they start writing, and gardeners as those that let a garden organically bloom, knowing a few things (like what type of tree they planted), but not the weather that will impact its growth. If we apply this framework to the social internet—traditional social media looks like architecture and collective media looks far more like gardening.
The last thing on our 2023 vision board is reimagining our social circles online. What are the ways we can connect beyond our friend groups/IRL networks? TikTok did this by unlocking a new social graph so that new creators could be discovered easily, but what could happen if social graphs unlocked more knowledge and creativity? In our user research recently, someone said to us that “communities create shortcuts to the right information.” This can be achieved by building platforms that prioritize connection over niches, and building spaces that explore and celebrate all corners of who you are because none of us is just one niche, interest, or label—we’re complex multi-dimensional individuals.
In conclusion, I’ll leave you with this quote from Weigel:
“The internet is ambivalent. Fortunately, inhabiting ambivalence is something that women are good at, having had to practice it for so long. One thing is clear: When enough people whisper the truths about their lives together, they cast a powerful spell. For months now, we have been living under it. In that murmuration, a question like a heartbeat: What now? What now?”
With that—I’ll see you in January. We have something very cool in the spirit of collective media coming your way.
Big news! Our app got a new look, meaning we’re one step closer to our mission of building a social search engine that closes the gender information gap. We wrote a guide about our new approach—learn how to Diem here.
What we’re reading…
The year men flopped (The Cut)
The mindf*ck of midlife (The Cut)
Contributed to Jayme’s Diem last week, on how does social media affect your self-worth & identity?
I really struggle to not compare myself to other’s faces or bodies — even when I know it’s edited, it really impacts my perception of myself and my own beauty. I try to not to engage/unfollow people but the algorithms always finds a way of presenting them to me… I continue to try actively unlearning the behavior of comparing myself to others.
Read more and contribute your stories in the Diem app, here.
Till next year!