Technology | May 16, 2022

From open social media to niche communities

Thanks to (or because of) the pandemic, I resumed a hobby I had left behind: gaming. I’ve always been keen on technology and video games. Counter-Strike, Diablo II, Age of Empires, DoTA, LoL, and all those online video games that became popular all around the world —and especially in Argentina with the emergence of cybercafés— were part of my teenage years.

With time, I started leaving them behind to focus on other things. But during the COVID lockdown, I downloaded League of Legends and returned to old habits. That led me to Discord. This platform, similar to Slack, allowed gamers to chat while they played, but it has evolved quite a lot.

Although I knew about the software and had used it a couple of times, becoming a regular user showed me that many people are migrating from big social media platforms to other services that allow them to create their own small communities of people with the same interests.

And it’s not just Discord. Many platforms are trying to position themselves as a space to create these niche communities. In fact, Telegram is one of them. All you need to do is write whatever you can think of on the app’s search bar, and you’ll find communities around that topic. From cinema to football and all there is in between.

No wonder why Mark Zuckerberg himself announced WhatsApp’s new feature, Communities, only a couple of days ago. Communities will be similar to Facebook Groups but will be hosted on the messaging app. The difference between Communities and current WhatsApp groups is that everything will revolve around a particular topic, and administrators will have more moderation powers (in WhatsApp groups, moderation is limited to kicking someone out).

Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s the end of social media. After all, there’s a reason why Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44,000 million. But it sure is a behavior change. We’re going back to old-school communities like forums —small groups to discuss a particular topic— or, if you’re a bit older, like IRC channels.

By Axel Marazzi

Axel is a journalist who specializes in technology and writes for media such as RED/ACCIÓN, Revista Anfibia, and collaborates with the Inter-American Development Bank. He has a newsletter, Observando, and a podcast, Idea Millonaria.

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