So… social media and nifty things you can do with it… I saw a friend of mine, who is an artist, starting to publishing his own cartoon series on Facebook. He had a fairly good depiction of himself in different weird or everyday situations, basically like a status update, but in image format. I thought the idea was unique and quite fun… until I saw another friend who have never shown any artistic talent before (he has other talents, but drawing is not his thing) doing the same… with the same style of drawing.
Then another one, and another, and another. I quickly realized this wasn’t my friend’s drawings, it was a new app for Facebook called Bitstrips, where you create an avatar of yourself, select a background, ad a caption, insert your avatar and write a speech bubble.
Now, the thing about this is that the first 1 or 2 friends on your list that do this seem like the cool kids. They have a new, fun idea that is realized through the aid of an app. Then most of your friends are doing it! It looses its novelty fast and ceases to be a unique, fun idea for a number of reasons.
When the first friend does it, you’ll be logging in every day to see the new idea in practice and you’ll know who did it because only one person you know is doing it. When the second friend joins in, you’ll still know it’s either one of them, and the avatars and writing style is probably different enough for you to see at a first glance who it is. Then a third friend joins in, but the limitations in the avatars make it harder to see who is who by this point. Then comes the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh friend and by this point you have to read the names again to see who made the update. The “punch” of the message is diminished.
It was the same with Instagram photos of food. When one friend did it, it looked unique and you knew it was that friend. When a second friend joined in, you could still see by the style of the food and the angles of the camera who was who, but then it all blended together when more friends joined in.
This is commonly called “diminished return,” meaning that the more you are exposed to something the less novelty it will have.
Every app wants to be the new, hip thing, same as every website. They want the whole world to use it, and for a while that might happen. At this moment, Bitstrips is quite new, so it “only” has about 5,000,000 active daily users. But, in a short future, more people will use it because it is a fun and the new thing. In the near future, I predict that it will lose its novelty and just like the Instagrammed food, only a few of your friends will still be using it on a regular basis.
We’ve seen this happen with other things as well. Who doesn’t remember Geocaching on the phone? Or GeoGuesser that used Google Maps as a guessing game? Both of these were used by millions in the past year, but hardly have any users at all at the moment, because as soon as the novelty wears off, as soon as “everyone is doing it”, people get bored of it. The users are no longer the unique snowflake they thought they were and they go back to the things they’ve always done… or do they?
Some of these new, hip things stay with us and evolve into something lasting. Facebook itself is a prime example of this. At first it was just the latest craze, but Facebook managed to do something most don’t — they retained their novelty even years later. What did they do that others fail to do? In the beginning, it was at its core just a clone of MySpace, yet it managed to take most of the users from MySpace. People went over to Facebook and stopped using MySpace because there was no need for two copies of the same thing. But, why did Facebook get the crowd, when MySpace was first?
I believe there is no real reason for this. It was just random chance that made people fall for the new thing rather than the exact same thing they already had. This allowed for bigger revenues for Facebook which in turn lead to more and better development. MySpace is still around, but is now mostly used as a smaller version of a website for indie bands or film makers.
Instagram was its own site, but in order to get more users they needed more exposure. They created the Facebook integration that automatically put your pictures on Facebook for all your friends to see (and be jealous of), and soon it was the new craze. With more users came more attention and soon it had so many users that were primarily using it for Facebook publishing that Facebook simply saw it appropriate to buy the service from the creators in order to truly make it integrated with Facebook.
It lost its novelty fast though, and nowadays it’s only used by those couple of friends that are just in the habit of taking a snap of their food when they get it. Most others upload images directly to Facebook because the few “vintage filters” that were Instagrams selling point completely lost their novelty and it’s just a hassle to manage two accounts to upload to one site.
I believe that the things that stick around for a longer time are things that not only are new and cool, but also serve a purpose. The first thing that pops up is usually not cool enough; it takes several tries. MySpace was kinda cool, but when Facebook came, it was the cooler of the two and got the crowd. When Google+ came around, everyone already had Facebook and G+ wasn’t cool enough to win the crowd over; they were simply too late to win the big crowd.
Bitstrips and Instagram weren’t the first of their kind. There were others before them, like ComMe, ComiPix and Imgur. Bitstrips and Instagram are/were just the cooler versions. They took the experience of their predecessors and made something better out of it. But they are still limited to their one-note thing and serve no real purpose. Nobody will take the time to select a filter when they want to take a picture of that cool thing they saw while walking to the bus, so they won’t upload it to Instagram, but rather to Facebook directly. Nobody will take the time to create a comic strip out of the cool thing they just saw; they’ll simply save the time and effort and write it directly on their Facebook wall.
This is why novelty apps will always fail, even if they are used by everyone in the world for a short moment. There is nothing wrong with jumping on the bandwagon; I do it often. I like novelty stuff, because there’s something fun and exciting about it. However, the bandwagon will always move on and, unlike the bus, the bandwagon rarely visits the same stop twice.