The internet business strategy where you accumulate lots of users and then figure out how to make money later has decisively entered the 'figure out how to make money later' phase, and the transition has so far been a mess for the sites we use most to discuss and get updates on videogames.
Twitter and Reddit in particular are coming apart at the seams. Here are just the latest user grievances:
Twitter makes everyone mad
- A temporary limit was put on the number of tweets you can read per day: 600 for unverified accounts, after which the message "rate limit exceeded" appears
- This was to "address extreme levels of data scraping and system manipulation," according to Elon Musk, but the explanation hasn't stopped even fans of the new Twitter owner from being mad about it
- Anecdotally, I've also gotten more DM spam in the past couple months than in all the years I've used Twitter, and now that "verified" checkmarks are a Twitter Blue perk, spammers are using them to get to the top of discussion threads
- In other bad news, Twitter hiked its API pricing earlier this year, causing some third-party apps to drop integration and hindering researchers
Reddit dismisses rebelling mods
- Reddit also hiked its API fees, pricing out a number of third-party app developers
- Reddit mods who rely on third-party tools protested by temporarily closing thousands of subreddits, but Reddit didn't back down, and even threatened to depose mods who didn't reopen popular subreddits
- As one consequence of the conflict, Minecraft's devs are no longer using the seven-million subscriber Minecraft subreddit as an official communications hub
Discord, Twitch, and YouTube
Other platforms have been under thematically similar, if less immediately consequential, strain recently. The Discord experience hasn't degraded like Twitter's, for example, but its focus on increasing revenue—with microtransaction stores, most recently—hasn't altered our impression that the salad days of Discord are on the way out.
Like morph ball Samus, Twitch's endless string of little explosions only seems to keep it aloft, but you've got to think it's taking at least a little damage from each one. Most recently, the streaming site walked back strict new branded content rules—which were designed to secure Twitch's cut of ad revenue—after streamers revolted. YouTube has had recent revenue-related turmoil, too: The site was accused of misleading advertisers, and is now going after ad blockers with an unpopular three-video limit.
The message is clear: The free services once hailed as the Web 2.0 revolution would like to make more money now, please. But stuff like pricing out popular apps with expensive API calls doesn't seem like a long-term solution. With AI freaking people out on top of all this, it feels like we're undergoing a fundamental change in the way we communicate and share media online, but I don't think anyone really knows what that change will be.
Who knows what's next?
Despite being dubbed "Web3," cryptocurrency and NFTs haven't yet offered a solution to Web 2.0's afflictions, with nothing enticing so far emerging from the blockchain-based "autonomous organizations" that were hyped up during the pandemic metaverse frenzy. The general notion of "decentralization" remains one of the most popular visions for the future of the web, but nothing I've seen so far has convinced me that the internet ideals of yesteryear will conquer the Musks and Zucks.
The Twitter sequel with the most buzz right now, Bluesky, does bill itself as an "open and decentralized" protocol, but I wonder how different Bluesky's evolution will really be given that it was co-founded by Jack Dorsey, the same entrepreneur who co-founded Twitter. And another decentralized Twitter alternative, Mastodon, has been active for years without becoming nearly the sort of public square that Twitter still is. Elsewhere, Reddit is threatening to overthrow volunteer mods, dispelling any illusion that subreddits are independent city-states, and Meta's new Twitter competitor, Threads, is also "federated," but I doubt anyone's ever accused the Facebook and Instagram company of getting out of the way of its users.
Another idea floating around is that all this turbulence means we're cycling back to pre-social media forum culture, before people were min-maxing their posts for peak engagement. Perhaps the popularity of Discord is a sign that what people want now are smaller, self-contained communities, not public squares or algorithmic content holes like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok? Is nature healing?
I like the sound of this cozy, retro future where webrings make a comeback, and maybe we'll see some fracturing as competitors like BlueSky offer less centralized alternatives to Musk's blustering and Reddit's unease, but it's hard to imagine a scenario in which the web genuinely shrinks and those of us who remain go back to niche enclaves. Streamers are signing $100M deals now. Are the kids really gonna go back to caring about which late night TV host has which time slot?
(It might also be telling how many times I've joined "the new Twitter" and then never looked at the app again. Bye, Hive Social, and all the rest.)
The future shape of the web might just be one of those emergent phenomena that are impossible to predict by looking at their parts, the parts here being all of us trying to extract different kinds of value from the biggest communications network humanity has ever known. It might involve some of the ideas discussed here, but in an unexpected configuration, or maybe none of them. Who can say? If I had to guess, probably no one.