It was nearly three decades ago that Jim Barksdale joined Netscape as CEO and offered a prescient pearl of business wisdom that would come to define much of technology innovation in the time since: “There are two ways to make money. You can bundle, or you can unbundle.”
There is no greater recent example than in cable television during the early-mid 2010s, when consumers hit an apparent tipping point and had enough of expensive, one-size-fits-all cable packages. Driven by the dual desires to save money and curate content more precisely, subscribers began canceling their cable subscriptions in favor of subscriptions to several streaming services.
In 2023, the majority of American households had no cable television subscription of any kind for the first time in decades which has generally worked to the benefit of the consumer. Major streaming services have enabled consumers to define the scope of their television consumption, opting out of payment for channels they never viewed.
For some television content producers, this represented a win: companies who were once paid $2 per cable subscriber now offer their own stand-alone service at a multiple several times that, seizing the opportunity Jim Barksdale spoke of. Those producers who struggled (generally) did so because they failed to accept the changing tide and moved too slowly to justify their existence as a standalone, niche product.
This industry-wide fragmentation encouraged television viewers to focus on their interests and it fundamentally re-formed how television content producers think about their businesses, much in the same way that music CDs were unbundled into MP3s.
The same has now happened in social media.
The demise of Twitter over the last fourteen months has been unlike any other social media failure we’ve seen: previously, major social media players were simply replaced by similar mass-market social media players, like how Friendster and MySpace gave way to Facebook and Twitter.
But the culture in 2023 has shifted and rather than go through a mere relocation of Twitter’s users, we’re experiencing a diversification. Users are not flocking to a single all-encompassing alternative. Instead, they’re dispersing into a myriad of niche networks which cater to specific interests and communities, from professional networking and creative arts to sports and political discourse. This unbundling reflects a growing appetite for platforms that offer more than connectivity – users seek relevance, shared interest, and something that caters to them.
It isn’t just about where people are posting their photos and videos, either. Individual features of mass-market social media platforms like Facebook have splintered, too.
An obvious example is Birthday.App, which has emerged as a social media leader by isolating one key Facebook feature: the birthday calendar. The birthday calendar is so important, a staggering 68% of Facebook users say is among the top three reasons they don’t deactivate Facebook.
But, true to the trend, many are realizing that maintaining a Facebook account just to receive a reminder that it’s your aunt’s birthday is akin to driving a Ford F-350 to pick up a gallon of milk three doors down.
Instead, Birthday.App keeps it simple, focusing on enabling and encouraging human connection on a loved one’s birthday. They do this by leveraging their proprietary artificial intelligence to populate a birthday calendar for you, so you (and your loved ones) don’t need to provide any information, which isolates a key part of the Facebook birthday experience: we don’t want to have to figure it out on our own.
Birthday.App is the MP3 to social media’s CD: why buy the whole album when you just want to enjoy your one favorite song?
Birthday.App, like other new niche leaders in social media, are finding success in focus: the magic, delight, and joy that comes from human connection, embracing the newfound fact that you don’t need to sacrifice your sanity (and endure algorithmic news feeds) just to enjoy social connection with your loved ones.
In 2024, it’s clear breaking up with your mass-market social media (er, unbundling) is the winning move: it may not save money the way unbundling in music and television have, but it may just save your sanity.