The Summer break is over and it’s back to reality with Semester 1, 2017. For my first entry I start at the beginning and look at the history of social media and ask what keeps us coming back for more.
The definition of social media changes depending on who, where and when you ask. A simplified interpretation I have come to adopt is that social media is open interaction with other people via internet technology.
Pictured: Not Reality
Origins of Social Media
The first digital network was created in 1969 when 4 computers known as APRANET were linked together. In the 20 years following, the internet was structured around corporate enterprises and large tertiary institutions. The proliferation of the personal computer (PC) in the 1990’s allowed individuals direct access to the internet, planting the first seeds for social media as we know it today.
In 1997 the first social network SixDegrees launched (a brief history here). SixDegrees rapidly gained 1 million users but the platform ran ahead of its time with Generation X not yet ready to embrace the public nature of sharing personal information. SixDegrees provided a social media platform with public profiles, instant messaging and friend lists; a staple of many modern social media sites today.
SixDegrees log in page circa 1997
The early 2000’s saw the creation of Friends Reunited, MySpace, Friendster, Bebo and modern behemoth Facebook. YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter would all launch in the later years of the decade and gain rapid global acceptance. By 2009 however Bebo would shut down and MySpace had lost significant market share, never to recover.
Today Facebook, Weibo, Twitter, YouTube, Pintrest, Tumblr and LinkedIn rule the social media roost but there is consistent competition from new entrants. In the short history of social media so far it seems “here today, gone tomorrow” is the new normal.
Why Do We Use Social Media?
People are (generally) social creatures and we crave interaction. Social media facilitates interaction on a scale never seen before.
A 2015 survey by Global Web Index found the top reasons for social media use were to keep in touch with friends, stay up to date on current events and kill spare time.
Social Media doesn’t just allow us to keep in touch with our friends however. It adds value because we interact rather than merely react. We share photos, videos, music, memes and messages in real time and our receive immediate feedback in the forms of likes, reactions or favourites. These reactions help validate our online experience and enhance the process of interaction.
Social media also helps us facilitate our own decision making. 70% of Americans seek out the opinions of others before making purchase decisions and social media provides incredibly rich platforms to share experiences. Need a new lawnmower? Use social media to ask dad by posting on his Facebook wall, find an Instagram hashtag (#goodlawnmowers?) or better yet read direct customer reviews and feedback from Amazon.com.
Jimmy is clearly unhappy with his lawnmower purchase
It’s not just interaction that drives our use of social media. One of the greatest strengths in social media is the ability to collaborate with other people. Wikipedia demonstrates this beautifully, itself being one of the largest digital collaborations in history. Researchers and scientific teams use social media platforms to communicate, work on collaborative documents (such as spreadsheets via Google Drive) and disseminate their research findings to wider audiences. NASA last week demonstrated this by heading straight to Reddit to discuss their research findings on the new solar system TRAPPIST 1.
Social media clearly taps in to the human need to interact but provides a richness and experience that gives it wide applications from staving off boredom to discussing new galaxies.
What do you think? What have I missed in the history of social media and what compels us to use it so widely? Are we programmed at a psychological level to share and seek validation?
In addition to articles already linked in this post I found the following to be of great interest and help in writing about this topic: