Startups

What social media’s future means for work, and trust

Social media have made a big shift in recent years, from prioritizing people you know to stuff you like. Could it be shifting further to decentralized community ownership?

Niche.club cofounders Zaven Nahapetyan and Christopher Gulczynski.

(Courtesy image)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink, Technical.ly’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up to get the next one.


Technology was once what limited how big a community could grow. Today we are our own limitations.

Social media giants are global conquerors. One in three of all humans on the planet have a Facebook account, according to Statista. Yet those big platforms battle toxicity, user fatigue and disinformation. A response is underway.

“The trend in social is getting smaller,” said Christopher Gulczynski, the CEO and cofounder of Niche.club, a social content platform launching this month. Gulczynski has elite pedigree: He’s the cofounder of dating app Tinder responsible for its iconic “swipe left, swipe right” functionality and a co-creator of Bumble.

Gulczynski cofounder and Niche CTO is Zaven Nahapetyan, who left an engineering job at Facebook to work on their alternative. Niche is building toward a more distributed Web3 model. The platform will offer tools to form online communities, which will be owned by the community members themselves as so-called decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs in the lingo.

“The dream is you pull out your phone and you discover people you have things in common with,” said Nahapetyan — without the combustible nature of advertising-driven social media giants.

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Social media trends have consequences for all of us. Three-quarters of Americans regularly use at least one social platform, according to the Pew Research Center. The platforms are business tools and have influence on how culture shifts. Entrepreneurs and other professionals benefit from tracking those shifts.

And social media have made a big shift in recent years, from prioritizing people you know to stuff you like. This transition works well for rapacious social media growth. Our personal networks grow in a linear fashion (how many new friends do you really make each month?) but interest in a celebrity, a sports franchise or a hobby can prove boundless.

In the industry jargon, this is the move from the “network graph” to the “interest graph.” Facebook and Instagram were founded primarily as tools to see updates from people you knew in person. Today, your TikTok feed is a stream of topic-based short videos, many of which come from people you’ll never know.

The algorithmically powered interest graph has its drawbacks, but Gulczynski and Nahapetyan think decentralized community ownership is the big ticket. To do that, they’re wading into technophile argot du jour: blockchain and Web3, though they warn it’s still early.

“To really have killer Web3 app products will take several years because the tech is so new and so unprecedented,” Nahapetyan said. For example, imagine a group of employer brand marketers form a community on Niche. The members would “own” the community, which is a hazy kind of promise that if the group generated revenue (say, via memberships or corporate sponsorships), the earnings would be shared among the members. That takes technical as well as social solutions.

“The early web was decentralized but hard to navigate,” Nahapetyan said. ”Web2 was all about consolidating it, and we made the user interfaces better but we took power away from people. Web 3 is the best of both.”

Current tools exist to support like-minded, small-group communities: think Meetup, Reddit or Slack, all of which have social components. Niche aims to be purpose-built for healthier online communities. Technology can always scale bigger, but perhaps people can’t. What’s the point of building anything small online?

As Gulczynski put it: “We can start working for ourselves again.”

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