Reddit, the so-called “front page of the internet,” has been unable to fully capitalize on its enormous audience and influence, even after being purchased by Condé Nast (which it then spun out again; Condé Nast is very careful to specify that it own Reddit, though its parent company Advance Publications is a majority stakeholder).
Facebook is instructive: It’s less a place for creation or debate than it is for hosting all of the nitty-gritty, more boring data about your life.
For much of its life, Facebook aggressively trafficked not in collecting rage comics and funny video clips, but in collecting bland lists of favorite movies and where you went to college — personal information that it can use to target ads with alarming specificity.
Tumblr’s reblog structure, which created lengthy, publicly shared conversations between strangers, also helped popularize the concept of the Discourse, the internetwide conversation happening all at once.
It is also the primary meeting place for fandoms of shows like It is rare, but not at all unprecedented, for a site to reach Tumblr’s size, prominence, and level of influence and still be unable to build a sustainable business.
If Twitter has seemed a bit more staid over the last year, it might have something to do with its algorithmic timeline (which you can turn off). This can be a blessing and a curse, but allowing users to feel safe posting whatever is what allows these communities to grow, whether it’s via 4chan’s lolcats or Tumblr’s porn GIFs.
When heavy-handed moderation is put in place, you not only limit expression, you run the risk of alienating the creators — like when top You Tubers like Pew Die Pie began to rebel against the platform after advertisers withdrew over content they found objectionable. The general thinking in the rise of social networks was that if you make stuff that gets a lot of attention (or, better yet, own the real estate on which others are making stuff for free), brands will put their ads next to it.Importantly, iteration, and a meme’s growth, is much easier to track and understand when platforms use strict chronological timelines, which allow users to see a visible progression of online discourse, rather than trying to piece it together like a puzzle.Algorithmic timelines, like Facebook’s News Feed, are terrible for collaborative online culture.And by selling ads against people’s identities, rather than their creative content, the company has churned out impressive profits, and given a wider impression that an ad-supported content platform is viable.(One of the great ironies of Twitter’s and Tumblr’s inability to make sustained profits is that Instagram and Facebook are both full of videos and posts screenshotted and stolen from their more productive, less wealthy rival platforms.) But the truth is that running a platform for culture creation is, increasingly, a charity operation undertaken by larger companies.Even You Tube, which is synonymous with online video, still has trouble with profitability.