The Rise of the Social Media Pilot Fish


Anybody who’s been around long enough to have migrated from one social network to another knows that many services felt everlasting, but most eventually fell into obscurity. Once the new big thing came along, everything else paled in comparison, and we left MySpace in droves to sign up to Facebook. With Facebook, Google+ and Twitter ruling the roost, is it likely that we’ll migrate like that again in the near future?

Much ado has been made about Snapchat stealing the youth market from Facebook, but that’s largely not true. Teen users still have Facebook accounts, but using Facebook directly isn’t quite as cool anymore. I’d wager that older users, who are taking to social media in huge numbers, are much less likely to hop between services. Facebook is their account, so that’s where you’ll find them.

With increased capacity and bandwidth on smartphones it’s easy to maintain multiple accounts. Or you can just set permissions to allow your Instagram pictures to post everywhere. That way, each network is updated, keeping friends and followers engaged, without micromanagement. You don’t need to put your old account out to pasture when all the notifications make your phone beep just the same.

Snapchat, WhatsApp and other chat services won’t dethrone Facebook or even steal much focus. Texting your friends doesn’t rob your Twitter feed of content, and picture apps don’t stop you posting baby pictures to Facebook. These kinds of communications are a different animal to posting about your life among a wider circle of friends and family.

Jelly, the app from Twitter Co-Founder Biz Stone, is part of a new crop of apps. There’s no point in apps these days trying to amass hundreds of thousands of users on their own when Facebook has already collected a billion users that it can pull from. Jelly connects you with contacts you already have, through networks you’re already involved in.

Take a picture, ask something about it (What is this? Who sculpted this statue?) and someone in your friend/contact group will know. Or they can pass along the question to others in their contact groups, and one of them might know. Instead of relying on what an algorithm can guess, the service is pitched as a search tool that relies on the wisdom of the crowd.

There may not be another great migration between social media platforms anywhere in the near future, but it’s not unthinkable. MySpace, Bebo, Geocities — these networks have all stumbled, fallen or collapsed entirely as new networks and systems arose and overshadowed them. For now at least, new services seem content to be social media pilot fish, feeding on the scraps of bigger networks.

Image credit: Frau Hölle

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