Whilst there is undoubtedly much discord on and about social media, an app called Discord may be the future.
Even before most people had personal computers, when the internet was largely occupied by a ragtag bunch of hobbyists and researchers, they used it to chat. Internet Relay Chat, or “IRC”, invented in 1988, was a primitive technology for sending messages online. Unlike the even older email system, in which one might have to wait minutes for a reply (God forbid!), IRC allowed people to talk in real time, sending short bursts of consciousness to a group, more like the way conversations work in real life.
Online communication services like MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger followed, but in the mid 2000s, something changed. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which emphasised broadcasting over conversation, became the dominant social services. Suddenly, we were encouraged to present status updates to as wide an audience as possible. With posts ordered by news feed algorithms, the social internet became a battle royale for attention.
The performative aspect of social media, its blunt statistical feedback in the form of likes and followers and its data-gathering elements, have also caused users to hanker for a different form of online communication.
If that alternative is to come for social media, it might look something like Discord. The 300-person company founded in 2015 would be instantly recognisable to those who first used IRC more than three decades ago. There are no algorithmic feeds, or likes, or even advertising.
Rather than posting from public profiles, users chat in community groups known as servers, a cascade of jokes, discussions and emojis. They can switch between voice, video and text chat instantly.
Jason Citron, Discord’s chief executive, describes the service as a “digital third place”. If the office runs on email, the home on Facebook, Discord is the social club, the sports team, the pub. “Your first place is your home, your second place is your work and your third place is somewhere you go with your community,” he says.
Citron, 35, uses a lot of offline analogies to describe Discord, in part because by his own admission its appeal is “hard to explain”. If Facebook and Twitter are the town square, shared and public, Citron says Discord is a collection of rooms, each arranged according to its purpose, with its own rules, and requiring permission to enter.
Contrasts to today’s social media giants are deliberate, he says. “It's not like a performance, or showing off, people come to Discord to be with their friends and their community, and they relax. You get to feel comfortable in that space because you're not trying to game algorithms. It’s not this open forum that you might have on other social media, it’s an invite-only place, so you have some comfort and safety.”
In other words, you can discuss your love for jazz-fusion without annoying the aunt who visits your profile to see baby photos.
Watch this space...
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