Words with Friends, Venmo, Yelp, and even Netflix — what do these all have in common? They’re social media platforms. They allow us to instantly engage with others via an Internet connection.
But, wait. What are were the precursors to social media? Based off of this past week’s lectures and readings, I learned that some of the precursors to social media include bulletin board systems, online services and instant messaging (and avatars!). Remember when AOL Instant Messaging was our go-to form of online communication?
All of that eventually led to the platforms we can’t imagine living without: social media. Believe it or not, some of the first types of social networking sites were online dating sites and forums. Fun fact: The first real social media site was called SixDegrees, created in 1997, which allowed users to connect with others and form contact and friend lists. LiveJournal showed up in the late 90s and then Friendster, LinkedIn, MySpace and, of course, Facebook.
In the brief time period between the mid-90s and early 2000s, I can see how these social media platforms changed with our cultural values. For instance, Dr. Strahler noted that forums, which were popular in the early 90s, signified the values of the online community at the time — participatory culture. This is when we seek feedback from others and interact by commenting, and sharing ideas and experiences.
LiveJournal, which launched in 1999, was simply a platform for users to write about their experiences online. There wasn’t a ton of customization or multimedia options at the time. Now, we can post and record videos on social media sites. It’s not just about the copy anymore.
When Facebook first started, users spent a lot of time writing on their friends’ walls and using Facebook as a way to stay in touch with friends via wall-to-wall conversations. Now, users rarely have conversations on friends’ walls and, instead, use Facebook as a platform to display what they deem are important and valuable in their life.
Additionally, users private message friends using Facebook chat instead of Facebook walls. (Facebook Chat was the fifth most used mobile app with 43.1% of users in a ComScore mobile app data survey using the app. That number surpassed the popularity of Google Maps, Instagram and even Twitter, so it gives you an idea of how popular this social app has grown to be.)
To see how social media continues to impact our lives, Dr. Strahler had us view this powerful video:
One of the biggest takeaways was how seniors (yes, our grandmothers and fathers!) are the fastest growing demographic to sign up for Twitter. I never imagined that my grandmother would be the latest person to tweet something out to the world. Not only that, but what I thought was a 10-second attention span for all online users is now a 7-second attention span. Our attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish which has an 8-second attention span!
What does this tell me? That our brains are processing an exorbitant amount of information through social media platforms and the media. It also looks like the gap between generations is, in some cases, becoming more narrow when it comes to using social media. And while our cultural media consumption values and needs have shifted from oral communication to written communication and now multimedia visual storytelling, so too have the user interfaces and features of the social media sites we know, love and obsess over today.