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kottke.org posts about Alice Gao

The unbearable lightness of being yourself on social media

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2016

From the NY Times, the excellent Jenna Wortham on How I Learned to Love Snapchat. This bit caught my eye:

Its entire aesthetic flies in the face of how most people behave on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — as if we’re waiting to be plucked from obscurity by a talent agent or model scout. But Snapchat isn’t the place where you go to be pretty. It’s the place where you go to be yourself, and that is made easy thanks to the app’s inbuilt ephemerality.

I wonder if Snapchat’s intimacy is entirely due to the ephemerality and lack of a “fave-based economy”. Blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram all started off as places to be yourself, but as they became more mainstream and their communities developed behavioral norms, the output became more crafted and refined. Users flooded in and optimized for what worked best on each platform. Blogs became more newsy and less personal, Flickr shifted toward professional-style photography, Vine got funnier, and Twitter’s users turned toward carefully crafted cultural commentary and link sharing. Editing worked its way in between the making and sharing steps. In 2013, Mat Honan wrote of Vine:

It built a ground up culture that feels loose, informal, and — frankly — really fucking weird. Moreover, most of what you see there feels very of-the-moment. Sure, there’s plenty of artistry that goes into making six second loops, and there are volumes of videos with high production values. But far more common are Vines that serve as windows into what people are doing right now.

Sounds familiar, right? I’m almost positive that when Instagram was first blowing up, similar things were written about it in comparison to Flickr. Now, as Wortham notes, Instagram is largely a place to put your heavily curated best foot forward. But scroll back through time on anyone’s Instagram and the photos get more personal and in-the-moment. Even Alice Gao’s immaculately crafted feed gets causal if you go back far enough.

Although more than a year older than Vine and fewer than two years younger than Instagram, Snapchat is a relatively young service that the mainstream is still discovering. It’ll be interesting to see if it can keep its be-yourself vibe or if users tending toward carefully constructing their output is just something that happens as a platform matures.