Self-promotion and art have always gone hand in hand, but what happens when only a few billionaires like Musk and Zuckerberg control the means of promotion? In 2023, we’re a long way from the innocent early days of Myspace and Tumblr. These social media sites used to encourage creativity, customization (remember learning HTML?), and community, free from algorithms and constant advertising.
When Twitter launched in 2006, most people were using it to share status updates in the vein of “Eating a sandwich.” Meanwhile, artists used Tumblr to share their work in an open-ended and stylish blog format, and curators used it to compile their favorite art and memes on the web. It was a simpler time (and now Gen Z is pining for it too).
Today, most artists have to play the social media game, no matter how many times the algorithm or terms of service get changed. Would Yayoi Kusama be the household name she is today if not for her instinctive grasp of Instagram? Would Beeple have made that record $69 million sale if not for posting viral work on socials every day? As the digital art world and social media collide with blockchain technology in the form of NFTs, leveraging social media and cutting through the noise has only gotten more important. But many artists are tired of the status quo.
The Social Media Landscape in 2023
In June 2023, the social media landscape is a chaotic mess. After a series of jarring and sometimes head scratching moves by Elon Musk at Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg saw blood in the water and launched Threads on July 5. It reached over 100 million sign-ups within a week of launch, taking off like a rocket with its Instagram integration and a contingent of Musk haters ready to protest by switching to a different corporate overlord.
Just a few weeks later, it’s a very different story. Threads only has around 13 million daily active users (a 70% drop from its 44 million peak), and those users don’t have a reason to stay engaged, as they only spend an average of 4 minutes a day on the platform. Meanwhile, Twitter retains a core audience of around 200 million daily active users who spend an average of 30 minutes on the platform.
There’s clearly a hunger for something new in social media, so why has Threads dropped like Meta’s stock price in 2022? First off, Threads feels eerily similar to Twitter but lacks a lot of its competitor’s functionality. You still can’t browse your feed in chronological order (it’s coming soon), so the algorithm is bound to show you a lot of unwanted brand and celebrity content. And you can’t search topics (a huge piece of the Twitter experience) or even use the app on desktop.
Then in recent days, Musk followed through on his X obsession by changing the Twitter logo to a minimalistic X, which lines up with his ambitions to rebrand Twitter as a “super app” in the vein of WeChat in China. WeChat is like a Swiss Army knife of apps — you can chat, pay for things, hail a cab, book appointments, and more.
As Twitter/X CEO Linda Yaccarino tweeted, “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centered in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities.” Perhaps the X team can pull off the seemingly impossible and create a new “global town square” that combines social media and fiat/crypto payments in a transparent way that avoids WeChat’s privacy and censorship issues.
Can Crypto Solve This Problem?
Meanwhile in web3 land, the most visible social platform is Lens Protocol, which is still in beta and slowly rolling out access with a waitlist. Lens takes a decentralized approach to social — you own 100% of your data (including your posts, connections, and profile info) and can move it to another platform at any time. Creators can monetize their work with NFTs on other platforms and bring them into their Lens posts, token gate their content, and use the same handle across apps.
In a way, Lens is on a similarly ambitious mission as X, but with the web3 ethos and community at its core. Who knows if they can deliver on these ambitions (and if non-crypto natives will even be interested in their vision), but for now, it’s exciting to see their team putting it into motion.
So in this shifting and unpredictable landscape, where does that leave artists? For now, the promises from X, Meta, and Lens are largely unrealized, while other platforms like Bluesky and Mastodon face similar existential struggles as Threads, without the benefit of Meta’s massive reach.
Where are you supposed to direct your energies when web2 and web3 social are currently “Under Construction”? At the moment, it’s an open-ended question, with plenty of opinions and few answers. Only time will tell. One thing is for sure — artists are craving a new place to connect with their communities in a more direct way, away from the noise and sneaky game-playing that the algorithm requires.
The NFT space deserves something better. Now’s the time to dream big.