Social media has completely changed the way human beings communicate with each other. Billions of people have taken up some kind of home on the internet. Social media has altered the way our countries are governed, our self-worth is assessed and our wallets are emptied. It is not an overstatement to suggest that humanity as a whole has gone through a sort of bonding process with connected machines.
In Isaac Asimov’s famous short story ‘The Last Question’, the reader follows the human race through thousands of years as it slowly merges with communicative technology. Like so many of Dr. Asimov’s science fiction narratives, the merging of humanity into a communicative singularity looks like it may well be in the process of coming true.
How did social media become such an important part of so many human lives? This article takes a look at some of the evolutionary touchstones that form the history of social media – perhaps one of the most important technological developments of the last century.
Pre-Internet Bulletin Boards
Social media can trace its origins to an age before the internet. Some people have speculated that morse code was the precursor to social networking as it created a culture of abbreviations and social cues through its limitations. This seems to be a rather primitive and base concept of what social media is. To really see the story of what we would now recognize as social media, we have to look at BBS – Bulletin Board Systems.
CBBS, the first Bulletin Board System, was launched in 1978. Like all pre-internet bulletin boards, it relied upon computer users dialing in to a server in order to type information, which could then be accessed by other members able to dial in to the server. It was based in Chicago. Its owners realized that people would be more likely to dial in to the server if it was based in an urban center so that a larger quantity of people would be able to make cheap, local calls in. Bulletin board members were concerned with many of the same things as modern social network users: sharing creative work, know-how and finding friends.
Old Friends Reunited
Classmates.com was one of the first services that we would recognize as a modern social network. Like many early social networks, it was designed with a specific demographic in mind: people that wanted to reconnect with old school friends.
Classmates was launched in 1995 – two years before the invention of the World Wide Web. It still boasts around 70 million members today. This is largely thanks to the specificity of its purpose.
Friendster was a pioneering social network in the early 2000s. It boasted millions of members and was even considered for purchase by Google. It introduced many of the features that we now take for granted on social networking sites. Unfortunately, Facebook and Myspace were both superior websites, and Friendster fell apart. Some internet archeologists blame a lack of strong connections between users for the demise.
Myspace offered some distinct advantages over Friendster, and actively poached users from the older service. It allowed users to customize their page with simple HTML code, host videos and find new friends purely through online acquaintances using the ‘top friends’ feature. Myspace was incredibly addictive and opened up a world of online society that did not have a real-world equivalent. Relationships were formed that were distinctly internet-based. This is a key societal feature of modern social networks.
Myspace was also the gateway to learning code for many enthusiastic young users. An entire generation of internet-obsessed teenagers was introduced to the building blocks of web development as they customized their pages with lines of HTML code.
Facebook – College Experiment to Social Media Behemoth
When asked to picture social media, most people would instantly think of Facebook. Facebook ruled supreme over the online landscape for many years and still have billions of registered users.
Facebook was founded in part by Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard psychology student and keen programmer who had already produced several less successful social networks such as Facemash – a site where users could tastelessly rate each other’s attractiveness. Facebook was launched by Zuckerberg in 2004, and was initially only available to Harvard students.
Facebook’s simple, modular design and ease of use soon made it so popular that it gained external investment and was expanded into public service. It quickly overshadowed Myspace and Friendster, and by 2008 it was the dominant platform.
Twitter, Instagram, and The Mobile Revolution
The rise of the smartphone as a near-ubiquitous connection between humans and machines shook up the world of social media. Sites optimized for mobile like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat became the primary communicative methods of young people. Equally important is the fact that people no longer need to feel dedicated to a single social network. People frequently switch between multiple platforms on their phones.
The common usage of multiple mobile social media apps has led to a change in the way products are marketed. Marketing managers now have to build multi-platform campaigns to truly get the word out. Click here for more info about improving your social content collaboration and distribution with any number of audiences.
TikTok – New Modes of Communication and Surveillance
A new social media giant has entered the fray and become incredibly popular with young, internet-literate creators. TikTok is a rebranding of the Chinese service Musical.ly, which gained millions of users before being bought out. It offers users the chance to create content using an innovative short-form video editor. Short-form content production has become an interesting subtextual language in itself and deserves an entire article to explore.
TikTok has come under fire for its use of data. Data produced on TikTok is able to be harvested at will by the company, which happens to have strong ties to the PRC government.
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