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I'm calling it: Social networking is over

Mike Elgan | May 3, 2016
And just like that, social networking is no more. The sites formerly known as social networks are pivoting to something else.

It was great while it lasted, but social networking is going away.

The idea was that you could sign up for a social network like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr or Reddit and connect with old friends and acquaintances, make new ones or even interact with strangers about your life.

Except that Twitter was really a "micro-blogging" site, LinkedIn was about finding a job, Pinterest was a pinboard site, Instagram and Flickr were photo-sharing sites, Tumblr was a social-blogging platform, Reddit was a social bookmarking site and who knows what Google+ ever was?

Let's face it: Facebook was the only true major social network -- the only company that was the subject of a movie called The Social Network.

But I'm not talking about the site, but the behavior. Social networking used to dominate all of those platforms.

And the social networking idea existed on all of those sites: conceived broadly, social networking sites were places for people to connect with other people and share their ideas, dreams, opinions, gossip and cat photos.

A few years ago, social networking was the center of the known universe. "Social" served as linguistic pixie dust that magically transformed any boring old thing into something relevant.

Call me Debbie Downer, but I'm here to tell you that those days are over.

Who's killing social networking?

What's happening is that social networking is being replaced or supplanted by three things.

The first is messaging. Those darn millennials we're always hearing about increasingly reject social networking on sites like Facebook in favor of messaging via apps like Snapchat.

Unlike social networking, messaging is private, temporary and immediate. More to the point, messaging normally doesn't go out to one's broader "social network." Messaging content tends to be targeted to one or a few individuals, with the majority of one's "social network" left out on purpose. Using a messaging app feels like "sending" something, not "posting" something.

The second is the general world of online distractions, including YouTube videos, games, articles, podcasts and more.

And the third is social media.

Confusion about the difference between social networking and social media is why most people haven't noticed the decline of social networking. People don't stop to think about the difference.

Social networking is personal content. Social media is professional content.

The sharing of social media -- professionally produced videos, articles, podcasts and photos -- is gradually replacing the sharing of personal content about one's life.

For example, as you read my column, this article is being shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other so-called "social networking" sites. But that isn't social networking; it's social media.

 

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