Welcome to the post-social era

category - society
sector - media & technology
type - opinion
With the advent of Web 3.0, major social media platforms will be usurped by small-scale decentralised social networks where privacy, community and co-creation reign

The 2010s were the social media era: algorithmically arbitrated culture organised around – and consolidating power within – massive centralised platforms. At first, the word ‘platform’ appeared to imply some inherent sense of equality and openness, but this lofty vision gradually atrophied over the decade. In the wake of dubious moderation policies, ruthless prioritisation of growth over user experience, and attention economy content bloat, platforms have come to be associated instead with radicalisation, surveillance and atomisation.

Revelations from a series of leaked documents from social media giant Facebook, known as The Facebook Papers, claimed our social infrastructure is in a state of irreparable decay. Meanwhile, tech reporter Ryan Broderick took his own stand in 2020 by proposing a framework for determining when ‘a social network is on its last legs’. His analysis of Twitter, which references fraught and self-reflexive discourse, warring factions, the absence of any internal memory and the domination of power users, could just have easily been applied to any other of the Big Four platforms.

The timing of Ryan’s missive was significant. Just as the decade had drawn to an end, the golden age of massive, public platforms is over. Social media, as we currently understand it, cannot progress. We now face the 2020s – and the dawn of the post-social era.

What does it mean to be post-social? It’s more than a slick rebranding from Facebook to Meta or the technological transition from Web 2.0 platforms to Web 3.0 blockchains. It’s a reshaping of our digital norms and the emergence of new rules for interaction and identity. We’re in the early stages of a transitional phase, but already, some significant patterns are emerging:

Published by:

27 December 2021

Author: Olivia Yallop

Image: Nikeland on Roblox, US


Yours to Make by Instagram, US

Avatars are the new influencers

Forget tell-all Instagram stories and intimate influencer vlogs – pseudonymous identity is key in the post-social internet. While Virtual YouTubers (VTubers) like CodeMiko are already familiar players, in the past six months there has been an explosion of profile picture (PFP) and non-fungible token (NFT) projects, along with generative avatars. This experimental cyber behaviour is testament to the wider cultivation of a new understanding of self-presentation online. One Web 3.0 influencer @richerd recently rejected a 2,500 ETH (£7m, $9.5m €8.2m) bid for his profile picture, citing the value that his personal brand had built around the image as both the reason for the astronomical offer and why he wouldn’t sell it. Such actions provide a bold stance on valuing identity and influence online.

Sandboxes are the new newsfeeds

Stop scrolling. Non-linear experiences are replacing sequential feeds or algorithmically arbitrated content. Whether it’s exploring immersive worlds on Roblox, where Nike just introduced its branded space, Nikeworld, dip-in audio ‘town halls’ on Discord and Twitter Spaces, or participating in decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs), internet culture is shifting away from sequential ways of organising information. Whatever Meta may claim, we’re still a long way off from the existence of a singular, truly interoperable metaverse. Nevertheless, experiments with synchronous interaction and multi-directional movements are making the post-social internet a more interesting space to navigate.

Vertical niches are the new horizontal platforms

Engineered against growth in favour of intimacy. Interest in decentralised technology and distributed infrastructure – with anti-scaling measures such as tokenised access – is on the rise. The use of invitation-only social spaces, such as Telegram and Discord (which grew its monthly active users from 56m to 100m in 2020, before continuing with a further 50% increase in 2021) has exploded. Gate-kept communities such as Gen Z subscription-based platforms Fanhouse and Friends With Benefits (FWB) are also rising in popularity. The value of the $FWB token required to participate on FWB shot up from £3.70 ($5, €4.40) at launch to a recent high of £173 ($230, €204) and above.

So where does this leave us?

As these patterns continue to evolve, technologists will need to design the post-social landscape with the lessons of the 2010s in mind. Constant surveillance will drive users away from platforms, as will a constant demand for attention and connectivity. Meanwhile, brands will need to reconsider their strategic approach to play in this space, looking towards headless brand theory and the expansion of their identity into a distributed eco-system. Consider the rise of DAOs, and how these online organisations allow independent activity to branch outwards in an asymmetric direction.

At the same time, users will need to cast off the assumptions and behaviours of the original online world and be prepared to actively participate in its post-social reconstruction. If we’re due a new phase of the internet, it’s ours to shape.


Olivia Yallop is an award-winning strategist, creative and trend analyst specialising in social media, internet culture and the creator economy. She has just released her debut non-fiction book, Break the Internet.

‘Whatever Meta may claim, we’re still a long way off from the existence of a singular, truly interoperable metaverse’

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