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CAN SOCIAL MEDIA SURVIVE WITHOUT ADVERTISING?

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With all of the recent mass layoffs, re-structuring and behind-the-scenes evolved workings in regards to social media platforms, it seems like that corner of the online environment is shaping up to be a reboot of sorts. This is most noticeable in the current Twitter situation. With the press, previous employees, companies contributing media dollars (or not), and the rest of us—who are just plain curious about Elon Musk’s takeover—chiming in and sharing opinions. It's a hot topic to say the least. A lot to unpack there, no doubt, and with strong opinions on both sides. However, that’s a rabbit hole for another time. What we're wondering is... What comes next?

 

Amongst all the firings and restructurings and pointing-of-fingers, there seems to be a massive undercurrent at play. Something that is sure to be of focus once the initial shock and proverbial dust settles. We’re talking about Web3, AR, and in all essence, the Metaverse.

 

One prominent theory behind the increased polarization of society is due to social networks designing their algorithms to boost engagement, and in turn people’s time spent on social media, at all costs. This has resulted in disdain and outrage becoming the main currencies of the web. Social media companies promoted this strategy so they could sell more impressions to advertisers, which heavily attributed to the increased 'click-bait' nature of online content. Making quality information less attractive to audiences and advertisers alike.

 

Some might argue that advertising played a significant role in this,. However, we can’t ignore the fact that advertising has effectively subsidized the internet for billions of people the world over. Without its revenue, we don't get Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or any other online social media platform of today. And that brings us to what might be occurring now. An evolution of the space.

Web3 proponents claim that an internet without advertising is possible because advertising revenue will be replaced by transactions made in large part and directly by consumers. This may not be plausible at the scale required to support the internet. Or maybe it will. Especially if advertising is offset by a subscription-based model. Still, is an internet without advertising even fathomable? The streaming wars are an example of how a subscription-based model edged out advertisers. Resulting in a successful adaptation of an un-interrupted experience. With the rise of Netflix came an online binge watching solution to content consumption. Commercial free and ad free, but at a cost that continues to increase incrementally for the user.

 

Could social media follow in Netflix’s footsteps? Would people be willing to subscribe to a fee-based internet, or pay to be a part of a social media platform without advertising support? Maybe the solution is an ad free subscription, or better yet, stages of minimal to excessive ad participation. Netflix recently started a lower fee-based platform that is ad supported, which could be construed as proof advertising's involvement is here to stay. Or, with the evolution and growth of the Metaverse, and all it will have to offer, ours could be a fragmented experience with some channels being free and others not. Then again, maybe companies will foot the entire bill through the sale of their products, services and experiences in this new online escapism utopia everyone believes the Metaverse to eventually be.

 

Of course, through trial and error, like most inventions and re-inventions throughout human history, there very well could be better solutions and models than these. If history has taught us anything, it's that human kind is determined and resilient at solving problems. The more difficult the better. It’s a tumultuous time, but it’s also an exciting one to be in when you consider all the barriers on the verge of being reconfigured, reconsidered and quite possibly altogether removed.

Like most conundrums, there is no simple answer. We will just have to wait and see. But one thing's for certain. The way we use the worldwide web is changing, adapting and constantly growing, for better or worse. Much like the universe is. And as it continues to do so, it might not be as interesting to seek out and discover new worlds in far away galaxies. Not when we can experience them from the safety of a VR headset and the comfort of an easy chair.

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