Imagine going into Times Square on New Year's Eve and screaming “WHO WANTS TO TALK ABOUT DATA MANAGEMENT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL DECISION MAKING!” and then not only expecting someone to hear you but be excited about joining your conversation.
Considering the location, the diversity of the crowd, and the focus of their attention, what are the odds that you find a common conversational ground? Wishful thinking, right?
Trying to use mainstream social media to create connections and build relationships is just as futile. So why do we all keep heading to these social media sites expecting a different result? The Commons is officially silencing some of our social media accounts and redirecting our efforts to niche online spaces that foster better communication and honest connections with our growing network of environmental stakeholders interested in building digital systems for environmental data.
If environmental data gets you excited, then you are our people - and we want to have more than a hashtag in common with you.
Building Common Connections
The Commons is on a mission to connect with people and have thoughtful dialogues on anything and everything related to environmental data. Large and congested social media companies are the wrong place for these conversations. We spend our work hours talking about critical system issues that cannot get the same level of attention on the big platforms that they can in more intimate settings.
We recognize that using the internet is a prerequisite for community building and communication in this day and age. Nonetheless, we have made the decision to officially cancel our accounts on some social media giants, namely Twitter and Facebook. We realized that we have been quietly quitting these platforms for a few years all the while asking ourselves “why are we here?”. We believe that the fragmented landscape of Twitter and Facebook hurts our community. The energy expended to search for like-minded users and the distraction from our actual work is negative noise that we can silence during our day-to-day operations.
We want to connect with audiences and individuals in the verdant digital islands of more targeted, less algorithm-driven platforms like LinkedIn and Mainstem Network which help to foster growth that helps the entire environmental sector evolve a better understanding and application of technology in the environmental space.
Mapping our decision to leave some social media platforms
While we could simply shrug our shoulders and quietly leave these platforms, we were inspired to document and share our decision. Yes, it’s complicated and yes, we don’t agree with recent business strategies adopted by some of these platforms, but those reasons alone didn’t spark our departure. These conversations began internally before Facebook morphed into Meta or Twitter was acquired by Elon Musk. We never created a TikTok account to show how our applications dance across the screen and we never left users on Snapchat watching our insightful commentary vanish after viewing. What were our undercurrent misgivings? and where we will go online instead?
The problems we have with mainstream social media platforms
We don’t create divisive content
Large, mainstream social media platforms, with billions of users, do not have mission-focused goals like we do. They encourage raising the noise and actually reward divisive content. They engineer their platforms to incentivize continuous, crowded participation to increase presence and activity. These algorithms are smart at analyzing for participation but insufficient and reactionary when it comes to judging the merit of the content. They see success in the volume of content created, regardless of what individuals talk about or where those conversations head and this is not a fit with our organizational values. The Commons wants to be a part of dialogues but we want to use our time to connect with people to talk about moving data between environmental stakeholders and building better environmental decision-making strategies.
We only have so many hours in each day
Mainstream social media incentivizes users to have a persistent presence on their platforms, whether they are sharing dad jokes, political punditry, celebrity scandals, or climate hoaxes. When a user contributes frequently they are rewarded with the chance that more users may see their content. We fully recognize that these platforms launched some influential careers and promoted valuable conversations, but they deploy algorithms like gatekeepers not gateways to more users.
We discovered that the resources gained from disengaging from these generalized social media platforms allow us to build better applications, take part in more intentional conversations, and value all of our team and network. We use our days to ensure we are building the best possible products and leading through action not what these companies deem as “promotable content.”
We create conversations to benefit our community, not the platform hosts
This is a progressive breakup. We are taking action to slowly transition our content, life’s work, and network to places that we believe can have the most impact and lead to the change we hope to see in the natural world. These are values and relationships that are far too important to serve as training data for a concept like ChatGPT or to be bought, borrowed, and sold, hence we are pressing pause.
We will not be missed
Of course, none of these major networks will care about nor notice our departure. While our time and opinions are not valuable to them, they are to us, our investors, and our stakeholders; and, that’s who we aim to grow and support. As The Commons scales and grows, we have less time for the noise and we have a greater responsibility for being accountable to those we serve. Allocating attention and resources to participate in general social media channels does a disservice to our stakeholders.
Where do we go from here?
The Commons is still on LinkedIn, both as staff and as an organization. Feel free to follow us. We love to start conversations, share our latest news, and learn about efforts by other leaders in this sector.
The Commons still publishes limited content on Instagram. We see the benefit that visual storytelling can have on the greater environmental community. We aim to share and lift up the successes of our users in order to showcase the dedication of our community and their work as well as deliver content at the intersection of technology and environmental policy to help educate the sector on software principles important to our work. Come connect with us.
You can find us on the Mainstem Network, a network built by the Water Data Collaborative to support the advancement of the water quality monitoring community by connecting all stakeholders. We help bridge the monitoring goals of community science with the technical services needed to achieve them. Join the community today.
We also routinely share our blog posts through a Commons Newsletter (sign up here) available to anyone who chooses to sign up and stay informed. We only send this newsletter to people who want to get it and we only share content relevant to our mission of building software systems and the outcomes achieved by our team and stakeholders.
We are constantly on the lookout for new networks to join and engage with online and in person. We hope that any online and digital conversation turns into one that takes place in person, as the best way to be better poised to support the work across our community is to listen and learn.