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How many social platforms do we really need?
Social media wars, Threads, and a new YouTube channel
The early days of live video
It was almost exactly eight years ago when I started live streaming on an app called Periscope. It wasn’t exactly by choice because the thought of broadcasting myself on video was and still is terrifying, but I did it because it sort of became part of my job at the time. Our tiny five person startup had no intention of going into the live mobile video space since we were working on another product, but we found ourselves thrown into it literally overnight after a two-day hackathon experiment went viral on Twitter.
Pre-pandemic, you couldn’t drag me to FaceTime or even video conferencing calls unless it was required at work, so video was a huge step outside my comfort zone. I suppose using Zoom nearly everyday for the past three years normalized seeing my face on a screen, but back in 2015? It was super cringe for someone like me who hated seeing themselves in photos, no less. So I never thought I would start a YouTube channel, but apparently 2023 is the year for trying new things!
My one video upload so far is a travel vlog so I’m not in front of the camera much (I still find it terrifying to be honest), but it’s been interesting to see more talking head reels on Instagram from friends and people I’ve followed forever on social. This is the same community I tried recruiting to live video eight years ago, but sometimes the critical mass isn’t ready to jump in.
When you look at social media today, it seems all kinds of crazy to think that live video only gained traction eight years ago. Video content is the most popular and consumed content on the internet right now, but less than a decade ago, it wasn't. Anyone who was doing live video back then, which really was just a niche group of content creators and tech nerds, was considered an early adopter and pioneer. But being an early adopter doesn’t necessarily equal success as I’ve learned a few times in my entrepreneurial career. In tech, product market fit is everything, but so is timing, and timing is sometimes just pure luck.
YouTube is the new TV, but so much more diverse
When I was in Korea, one of our tour guides asked if I was a YouTuber because I was filming on my phone all the time. In a moment of language panic, I inexplicably said yes.🤦🏻♀️ It sounded absurd, but I knew I wanted to document my trip for posterity and also to share with my family since they weren’t coming along with me. I had to put it somewhere. What if I just made it public?
As I was looking for travel ideas on YouTube for my trip, I stumbled across something really interesting when I went down a rabbit hole of travel vlogs. I discovered so many Asians and Asian Americans vlogging about their lives, most of them women. It seems like some channels with huge subscriber numbers started during the pandemic, which actually makes a lot of sense. Those years were primed for both creating and consuming aesthetically pleasing videos of other people’s lives as much needed escapism. In some ways, it felt like a throwback to mid 2000s blogging, but entirely visual and with a ton more representation. It reminded me of this sentiment:
If opportunities are closed to you or aren’t coming your way, create the opportunity yourself.
Vloggers seem mostly young—Gen Z and Millennials from what I’ve seen so far, and that makes sense too since this is a generation comfortable with creating video content on TikTok. But I couldn’t help but notice that there were so few vlogs out there by women my age. Is there even an audience for Gen X vlogs? I know that all my mom ever watches anymore is YouTube and it’s become my default form of TV as well, but would anyone want to watch mundane details of daily life that is a popular genre of YouTube videos from an aging Gen Xer? I guess I'm curious enough to find out!
A cage fight over our data
Speaking of generational social media usage, I’m curious to see if Gen Z adopts Threads because while they are on Twitter, it definitely ranks behind YouTube, TikTok, and IG. If you’ve been on social media for any number of years (and at this point I’m counting about 20 if we’re including Flickr—and I am), then maybe you have a similar experience of the same circle of followers following each other everywhere for years. Some apps have become ingrained in our lives, for better or worse, but there’s a whole graveyard of apps that have tried to break into a really tough social media landscape and failed: Google+, Orkut, Ello, and Path, just to name a few.
I absentmindedly downloaded Threads the day it launched because, I don’t know, FOMO? When I reopened the app two days later, I was surprised to see I already had over 700 followers at that point. I didn’t automatically port my instagram followers to Threads like it prompted me, so I didn’t really think anything of it, but yes, of course! It’s an effective growth hack move and it worked beautifully. But it also got me thinking…if Threads was intended to be a Twitter alternative because Musk seems hell bent on single handedly imploding his own app, why would I want to follow the same people on Threads as I do on Insta and vice versa? What should I be posting? Was I supposed to post as my Twitter self or Insta self? The best part of live video eight years ago and even starting a Substack seven months ago is meeting new people outside my core social circle.
I think many of us are hoping to recreate the fun times of Twitter yore when we came on after each episode of Lost to collectively decompress about what the hell we just watched. Peak Twitter in my opinion was February 26, 2015, when we debated the color of a dress and was captivated by the escapades of two loose llamas on the run in Arizona. We watched it unfold together in real time and it was enthralling. Twitter was wild that day and anybody who was on felt lucky to live in a time where we can experience this delightful frivolity together. This is when social was FUN, so in this age of monetization, ads, bots, sponsorships, and self promotion, I’m cynical that we can capture that time again, except maybe in the very early days of an app when growth is priority.
Because let’s be real here. Some users want to jump from Twitter to Threads because Musk is acting like a real immature man child, (well, maybe they both are) but are we really saying that we trust all our data with Zuckerberg? It’s in big tech’s DNA to squash the competition either by acquiring smaller players or just building and releasing a better version of the same product.
Zuckerberg has always been good at pouncing at an opportunity and seizing it when he sees an opening (is he a visionary or innovative? Debatable). Do we really want to give Meta more power and dominate the social media landscape? It’s like, which of these two billionaires should we hand over all our data to? Even though Zuckerberg has claimed that ads was a year away on Threads since they were focusing on growth right now, it’s been reported that at least one ad has appeared in the form of a partnership. You know the good time vibes aren’t going to last.
It’s true that Thread’s massively quick adoption is a success unseen in recent years aside from OpenAI’s ChatGPT, but it’s riding on the backs of Instagram’s huge user base because of the linked accounts. If you already have a big following on Insta, you have a head start on Threads. If you’re a small account trying to gain followers, you’ll realize that it’s not a level playing field. Where’s the fun in that?
Twitter’s downfall has been touted for quite some time, so it remains to be seen if Threads will sustain engagement despite the massive initial signups. I haven’t decided if I’ll use Threads. I haven’t posted anything yet and I don’t know even know what I would post (I’m having that problem in general with social media right now). If we’re online everywhere all at once, when does that leave time for the real world? And I say this as someone who is diving back into content creation again! At some point, it becomes all too much. For now, I’m sticking with the three cat accounts that I’m following on Threads and leaving it at that.
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At work, before we would show our designs internally to each other for feedback, every designer would often go into a preamble of over-explaining what we thought were shortfalls in our work, probably as some kind of defense mechanism because showing work feels really vulnerable.
So here’s my preamble: I shot all the footage on an iPhone before really knowing what I wanted to do with it (meaning, I didn’t think I’d be starting a YouTube channel). So the footage isn’t really well thought out, the quality isn’t the best, the color grading is sort of terrible because I fought with iPhone’s weird way of blowing out highlights, and there are cringe parts for sure. But I also need to remember that these YouTube videos are just for fun and aren’t striving to be cinematic masterpieces.