At some point or another, every developer will attempt to make a social media network. I’m pretty sure if you go get a degree in some web dev field it’s part of the course at this point. At it’s core, it’s not hard. It’s an API, with a frontend that takes text posts of all things, stores them in a DB with a few high speed caches in certain locations to speed things up. Infinitely scalable and ready for 100m DAU’s tomorrow. So why isn’t there … more?
The issue is, there is. You can find countless open source alternatives to things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, you name it. Chances are some dev has coded a full alternative for you to use. So why aren’t they more popular?
Social Media as an Idea
The issue is never really… the idea. The idea is solid (unless you want to make money with in a reasonable timeframe). Twitter has millions of users. Threads just broke 100m really easily. Facebook still dominates with over 2 billion I believe. People love interacting with each other, sharing information and getting those sweet dopamine hits. I say that as someone pretty much addicted to social media, although doing better to limit my usage now. I still find myself instinctively opening those webpages, getting angry, closing them before realizing I wasn’t meant to be on there!
Anyway, going off track. It works clearly. So why do we need to put up with these platforms that suck? Let’s face it. People have been trying to cancel and close down Facebook for the past 10 years and failed. The issue always comes down to Money. Facebook works so well because it has a trusted ad network of clients which pay really well to advertise their products, and they have a proven success rate of converting those advertising dollars into spend. Twitter on the other hand is a scrolling feed, which honestly you tend to ignore / forget the ads. I remember I once tested their automated promoted posts tech and it would promote my personal posts which were cups of tea. Ended up getting around 60,000 impressions of my stupid cup.
If you want to build a social media network, you need a business model that actually will pay for all those servers. Twitter has yet to turn a profit as far as I’m aware, and they consumed over 10 billion dollars in private investment. Just imagine that, a company was given over 10 billion dollars and couldn’t turn a profit. Same with YouTube, Google had largely led them to break even / make a loss for years. I think recently I read that they were doing better, but that’s a lot of money you need to burn before you see a profit.
Which is where it all comes crumbling down. You want to make a social media network that’s awesome and doesn’t suck. Well you need to do it without private investment and investors wanting a return on what they’ve put in. If you don’t go that route you’ll absolutely need to champion users either paying for access or creators paying to upload content to you. Someone has to pay. Things aren’t free. Which is why it’s a non-starter. We’ve seen with Musks new Twitter that seemingly the only people buying access, are those that have something to sell. Whenever you open up a post it’s now a sea of blue checkmarks just confidently incorrect about various things. That’s not a viable platform either because people like me have now stopped using it.
It’s a hard business model to crack. Reddit is undergoing the same issues at the minute, they’re wanting to headline an IPO, but they need to be profitable to do so, and as far as I’m aware…. they aren’t. How can you make posting infinite texts posts free without a kick ass advertising network that knows literally everything about you. Okay now try compete with Facebook rates. You can’t. Especially when Reddit is a largely anonymous platform. (Pssst, that’s why they’ve been pushing mobile so hard)
Do you ever wonder why websites started going down the app route. Quite simply it’s because:
- You can’t block ads
- They can collect more data on you
Simple two step approach, a mobile user is always worth more to a company than a web user. Especially if those web users are running extensions which happens to block the only way you make money.
This is where I lead into why I’ve just spoken about twitter, facebook and reddit for the past 5 minutes. I was developing a social media project. That actually worked kinda nice. It was using a Symfony backend with a VueJS Frontend. It was actually going really nice, until this wave of worry hit me with the business side of things. So I’m announcing a kind of #buildinpublic moment? Here’s the first look at it.
As you can see. Very basic. And it’s meant to be. Inspired heavily from old.reddit and not the new site. It’s extremely lightweight and only does a couple of calls versus the thousands you get if you view a twitter/reddit.
Of course you can thumbs up / down posts, comment on them, give people rewards for contributing to the community, create your own custom tags and have communities moderated by whoever you want. It’s probably the dream replacement for something like reddit.
The good thing is. I self host, so even if a billion users came over and started using it, my servers would just crash instead of making me homeless and on the hook for millions of dollars in AWS costs.
So, honestly, like every web dev. I don’t know what I’ll do with this project. It’s evident that I’ll need to charge SOMEONE to use it, whether that’s a monthly cost of 99 cents, or whether that’s building a fantastic ad network which is an entirely different business altogether. One thing for sure is I won’t be the last.
Also, if you can think of a damn name for this project let me know. The other issue with this being a go-to project is everyone and their gran has registered any worthwhile domains to camp on, so every social media domain is going for thousands of dollars. But then I remembered that Meta created Threads.net, even though they don’t own Threads.com which is a completely separate product. Valve doesn’t own valve.com, they own ValveSoftware.com, maybe that’s another blog post idea!
Social Media websites are at their core one of the easier things to build for a developer. At most the complexity gets will be showing people things they actually care about, but then you get into a morality issue whereby you’re showing users propaganda and things they shouldn’t be looking at, which you’re helping to amplify. It has a vast array of protections required that we haven’t even touched on. Adult topics that need to be addressed, if you have image / video uploaders you’re now getting to get involved with scanners to check the content isn’t illegal. We had this problem over on StreamBit.tv, and that’s not even to touch on the bare drama you need to deal with. You make a decision to change something in the business model, you’ve now got your communities up in arms and closing down because they don’t agree with you. It’s a horrible thing to get into. On top of all that, if you do go the ad route, then you end up creating an advertising business, not a social media network, then your profit conflicts with giving the users what they actually want.
Yeah…. best not to get involved.