Most industries go through three phases; youth, maturity, and decline. The transition points are full of innovation and opportunities. Social media is leaving its youth and maturing. We can see this by looking at the development of platforms their effect on innovation, money, content, and searches.
The golden age of social media began with novelty and freedom as people experimented with its possibilities. People published anything and everything as platforms were rudimentary. Blogging was new and Twitter just a dream. Content was mainly user generated as media companies were not involved and no one was making money out of it. It was like the early days of the free press era when printing presses allowed pamphleteers and writers to publish on a variety of topics with greater freedom and to larger audiences. The old gatekeepers such as technology, resources, institutions, and audience interest were overcome. However, the free press reached maturity when the penny press arrived. Social media is entering its penny press era.
In the novelty phase, innovation was an everyday occurrence as everyone was busy discovering new territory. The search capacity was limited but users just discovered sites on their own. Technology still limited content generation as dedicated platforms did not exist. Content was free as people enjoyed the novelty and wanted to share.
The second phase of the youthful era occurred when established platforms emerged. The platforms allowed more people to publish. Content expanded and deepened as people started to settle the discovered territories. Innovation continued but it refined existing procedures rather than discovered untouched territory. As platforms emerged, the challenge to established media companies crystallized. The platform creates the opportunities for rivals. The industry has begun to adapt even though it still struggles to make money from the content rather than advertisements.
The third phase is the transition from youth to maturity. We can see this in the way platforms are changing. Users want quality content and ease of access rather than a rambling 5000 word essay on an esoteric point. Such content still attracts readers, but its audience is smaller and self-selecting. Readers want content they can digest quickly and guides them to further reading if desired. Search and structure have improved to find and deliver content that interests them. Readers no longer look for material in the same way. The structured search systems reduce random searching.
The newest platforms are what allow for the gatekeeper function. The platforms for social media monitoring and reputation management can organise content on social media for the user. Like the penny press, where the material is being better organised and presented, which drove off amateurs and dilettantes, the new applications now can sort and select content. Social media companies can now harvest, market, and deliver targeted content better than ever. They can now see a way to make money, which will widen the gap between amateur and professionals. The golden era is now at an end.