How did anti-social become social?
If the history of the world was compressed into 1 year, homosapiens would have been around for 12 minutes, agriculture for 1 minute, the industrial revolution was 2 seconds ago, computers have been around for 4/10 of a second and the internet has been in existence for 1/10 of a second – the blink of an eye.
A lot has happened in that blink.
From the days of the internet being a computer network for command and control purposes, things have come a long way. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s computers were far rarer than the mullet and users were left feeling isolated sat in front of their screen and keyboard. Yet it was this elbow patch-wearing brigade and reclusive nerds who blazed the cultural phenomenon trail that we now term social media.
Back in the day it was The Bulletin Board System that was a crude online meeting place that allowed users to communicate via a central system to download files and post messages to other users. The fact that national telephone calling rates were high at the time meant that many Bulletin Boards contained local-centric content that spawned local groups.
All of a sudden, social had been borne out of the antisocial.
CompuServe then allowed members to share files and send a message to a friend
via an ‘e-mail’. Their multitude of discussion forums were extremely popular and
paved the way for today’s versions, whilst AOL created communities where users
listed details about themselves. Pretty forward thinking in hindsight!
At the same time the race to get a PC in every household was on. By 1995,
SixDegrees.com and ClassMates.com were among the first to fulfill the modern
definition of social networking.
In 2002, social networking hit the mainstream with the launch of Friendster.
Friendster used a degree of separation idea that only people with common bonds can build a strong online relationship. They made certain that their users were given many ways to discover those bonds. In 2003, Friendster had more than three million registered users.
A year later, LinkedIn arrived on the scene – a networking resource for business people to connect with other business people. Today, LinkedIn has more than 30 million registered users.
Whilst MySpace, which also launched in 2003, has many times that number, it
targets a young adult audience with music, videos, and a cool, feature-filled habitat.
It is Facebook however that is now the leader in the social networking arena. It
launched in 2004 as a university and campus-oriented site but with 150 million
users, what is their secret?
1. Its large number of easily-accessed features
2. Its memorable, descriptive name
3. A highly targeted advertising model
4. Financial injections
5. That its users seem to enjoy the honesty and openness that their system promotes
What the effect of the current economic situation will be on the social networking industry is as yet not fully understood. We are seeing reduced advertising revenues for Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and the rest but how this will limit development and evolution only time will tell. I guess this will be learnt one tweet at a time.
So, is online social networking a driver of wider social and anthropological change or should we all start sewing on elbow patches as we hide behind our keyboards again?