There have always been specialty communities on the internet.
When I first went online in 1983, services like The Source, CompuServe and Genie were already organizing around specialty interests. This was a decade before the internet started letting in consumers. I like to say this was a decade “before the web was spun.”
CompuServe had specialty groups for ham radio enthusiasts, woodworkers and even journalists. I got into my first flame war in 1988 and learned that it’s easy to engage online, but it’s harder to disengage.
Ever since, site owners have wrestled with this idea of community, and the related topic of censorship. This topic has become especially fraught in 2020. Calls to delete Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) or get off Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) are swirling because of their speech policies.
The “new” solution is the specialty community. An example is Parler, which recently completed its first round of private fundraising. But what is Parler?
Come Into My Parler
Parler says it is an “unbiased social media” platform offering “free expression.” The software’s framework is like that of Twitter. The service launched in August 2018.
The Parler pitch is aimed at conservatives who feel under attack on mainstream platforms. Fox News contributor Dan Bongino made this plain in explaining his investment, backed by a #Twexit campaign for conservatives to leave Twitter.
In 2020, President Donald Trump’s administration has been urging Republicans to abandon other social media apps and switch to Parler. In July, the Trump campaign was reportedly debating whether to put out its own app or just support Parler.
Over its first two years Parler drew about 1 million users. Support from the Trump administration quickly doubled that figure, according to Parler CEO John Matze. He said the company is not yet profitable. The business plan is to distribute advertising through influencers, based on who users like rather than who users are. The idea is that Parler would take a portion of the income influencers generate. Think of it as an app store for conservative celebrities.
What Is Parler? It’s Not for Everyone.
It’s Trump’s support that is driving traffic to Parler. About 80% of the people reaching the site do it using the site’s name as a keyword. Its biggest audience overlap is with Gadgism, a technology news site that shares Parler’s politics.
If you use Twitter, you know how to use Parler. Tweets are called “parleys” and responses are called “echoes.” As of July the company had 30 employees.
The Bottom Line
Despite its rhetoric of serving everyone, Parler’s community has specific standards that limit its reach.
Both sides in political conflict have issues with mainstream platforms. There are as many liberal complaints about Facebook policies as conservative ones. A growing number of brands have recently stopped using Facebook to advertise. They say its content policies allow hate speech to flourish.
Advance Publications’ Reddit divides traffic into “subreddits” based on topic. So it is with the user bases of social media platforms. The fate of the platform is tied to the fate of the topic and interest in its point of view.
If Trump is reelected, Parler could flourish as a major voice for the administration’s supporters. It could go through a second round of funding and even show a profit. Should Trump lose, Parler may go the way of Gab, a rival that had to relaunch in 2019 after becoming too closely identified with hate speech.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial and technology journalist since 1978. His latest book is Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, essays on technology available at the Amazon Kindle store. Follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in FB.