The internet is constantly battling for your attention. Sachin Monga (@SachinMonga) divides this battle into three wars that are being waged for our attention. These wars are fought among different apps and websites to hold your attention with audible entertainment, visual entertainment, or a combination of the two.

Smartphones unleashed three distinct attention wars. Media apps (“social” or otherwise) can only effectively compete in one and must fight every other player in that particular arena for a finite pool of attention.

Our sensory constraints drew the battle lines. Often, we can look but not listen; other times, we can hear but not look. And sometimes, we can give our phones 100% of our sensory attention.

There can only be 1 or 2 winners in each attention war because media is a supply-driven marketplace with crazy strong network effects.

The best creators will invest in whatever platform offers the most attention to harvest social capital. Each war has one dominant format — whatever is most engaging based on the sensory constraints. If you can look but not listen, photos win. If you can hear but not look, audio is the only format. With no rules, video wins.

If each war is winner-take-all and has one superior format, then we’d expect the winner in each war to offer a feed that is 100% the best of that format.


War 1: Visual

When Instagram launched and started delivering high-quality full-bleed pictures (including from many pro photographers!), FB’s legacy text-centric mixed-media feed was like a knife in a gunfight. IG quickly became the most engaging place on our phones… until the 2nd war began.


War 2: Audio & Visual

In the no-constraints heavyweight division, we’d expect the winning app to be 100% video and take advantage of sound to outgun further any mixed-media competitor that can’t assume your sound is on.

TikTok executed perfectly. You can’t even use it without sound on.

TikTok doesn’t even pretend to be “social” media — while IG and FB force you to jump through hoops like making an account and adding friends, the For You Page is a dopamine IV-drip into your eyes and ears; the maximally engaging entertainment machine.


War 3: Audio

It’s surprising how long podcasts and music shared a weird duopoly on the third battleground. Regarding live, audio-only content, the two main competitors are Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse.


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