Social Media Through The Years


The story of Facebook is one that many of us are familiar with, thanks to Jesse Eisenberg’s rendition of Mark Zuckerberg as we learned of the humble beginnings, internal dramas and long-winded politics. Today, Facebook has reached it’s point as the number one most used Social Media platform in the world, though has seen it’s first drop in users since 2004 – but could it all be coming an end with this privacy breach fiasco? And what about all the other platforms we’ve known, loved and forgotten over the years? What’s their story? What was their downfall? And are they still around?

We deep-dived down through the history of Social Media platforms and we were in for a solid education with valuable insight into maybe why each platform didn’t work out long term. Learning more about each platform, how it worked and why it lost popularity tells a story of how the customer really is king. Consumer behaviour is one of the single largest drivers behind trends, it puts a microscope on how we as individuals have become so indulgent with social media, how we drive trends (and kill trends), and the shifts in how we as a society communicate with one another and absorb information.

Let us take you through the stories of key players throughout the history of social media

Friendster

2002

Friendster was one of the OG Social Media Platforms, launching just after the Internet boom when Internet access became more widely available in homes worldwide, being one of the first to allow people to connect wherever they may be, it was one of the first platforms to reach over one million users before it all fell apart. The platform branded itself as “the fun and safe way to organize your social life”. It focused on creating a “Circle of Friends” based on truly common bonds, with ways of discovering those bonds through shared interests – kind of like some sort of masked dating site. Unfortunately, the company did not anticipate the level of growth and weren’t prepared to provide their growing user-base with the features and functions that they needed, or that other platforms became able to fulfil, and suffered from a vast range of technical difficulties it just couldn’t bounce back from.

Despite missing the mark with changing trends, ultimately it was the rapid growth of the Internet and the immense number of competitors quickly emerging in the social media space that drowned out Friendster. Only 2 years after the brand’s launch, hard-hitters like Google tried to launch their own versions of the platform, creating confusion and noise for the users, which Myspace (then Facebook) would eventually interrupt with exciting new features and a more community-based focus using personal information and connections.  Developers have managed to salvage the Friendster platform and brand, still maintaining popularity in Asia as a Games Network with 8 million users.

Myspace

2003

When Myspace came along, it wasn’t much different from competitors, but it was prepared with the resources to adapt as it generated traction and therefore better able to serve it’s users – it was the “smarter” social media platform of it’s time. A venture started by eUniverse (now Intermix Media) employees, the platform first took off by tapping into the eUniverse database of 20 million users and e-subscribers, and used incentives to encourage ambassadors to drive sign-ups. It had some major drawcards, including the fact that you could embed YouTube videos into profiles, and was so user-friendly it turned your average joe into a HTML wizard with it’s simple coding access allowing you to customise your profile. Who else remembers the love heart or rainbow mouse cursors, or the matrix of numbers or symbols raining down as you opened the page? Myspace excelled in it’s music offering, where it provided a platform for many now renowned artists, such as Lily Allen, Owl City, Arctic Monkeys and Sean Kingston.

Myspace’s success saw the platform even overtake Google during it’s prime, becoming the most visited website in the United States in 2006. As we all know, Myspace was eventually pushed aside in favour of Facebook in 2008, but still managed to generate $800 million in revenue. These days, Myspace has redirected it’s focus towards pop culture and music, at one point being bought in a joint venture by Justin Timberlake, and is now owned by Time Inc.; it’s now essentially the go-to for news articles, music and radio.

Bebo

2005

Ah Bebo, a place where “sharing love” was something like a drug that junkies needed a fix of every day to show people they were liked and admired, and the ability to customise widgets to your page was a way to show your friends just how cool, creative and unique you were. This passing fad was definitely more of a Millennial trend, launched in 2005 by husband-and-wife team, Michael and Xochi Birch, given the backronym “Blog Early, Blog Often”.

This platform originally featured a Lifestream (similar to Facebook’s Timeline) were you could see posts between friends, and essentially stalk the hell out of people’s public conversations (similar to Twitter), and as we mentioned earlier, you could also “Share the Luv” to add that extra touch of affection. The kicker was that you could only give 3 Luv’s per day though, so it had that sense of exclusivity, and your profile had a tracker to show just how many Luv’s you’d received over time. Basically, this platform was a huge ego-booster, it allowed users to create a sense of status and, in our opinion, was one of the trend-setters behind using social media to create a perceived idea of your reality. You could isolate what you shared with others to make yourself appear a certain way. You could even sort your Friends list to only show the people you liked most/made you look the most popular.

At one point, this platform was even bigger than Myspace, in terms of it’s popularity with users, especially throughout the UK with, at one point, a registered 10.7 million unique users. Eventually, this platform died out as users transitioned over to Facebook. This is believed to have happened after a 2012 technical problem caused the site to crash for 36 hours, where some say users assumed the platform was gone and no longer available but we’d say those Bebo junkies needed a new fix, STAT, to satisfy their ego boosts, get back to chatting to their crushes and show off what song they were currently listening to. However, this sad loss happened after being sold to AOL in 2008 (one of AOL’s worst business deal decisions ever) at the peak of the platform’s history. After AOL realised just how badly they played their cards, Bebo was then sold to hedge fund operators, Criterion Capital partners, to try and recuperate losses, before re-launching with a modernised design in 2011; but alas, the company volunteered for bankruptcy in 2013. Then when you least expected it, Bebo came back yet again in 2014 as Bebo Blab, brought back to life by original founder, Michael Birch, who redesigned the platform as a messenger app… which lasted only 2 years, until ending and coming back yet again now as a streaming software platform. 5 points for resilience, Bebo!

Vine

This is one we were sad to see go, but unfortunately just became part of the Social Media clutter as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat continued to grow and servicing areas of Social Media that rendered other platforms useless, and basically, a waste of time. The ultimate procrastination tool, and the holy grail for short-attention-spanned individuals. Vine was designed as a video sharing platform for 6 second long videos which saw their most popular users reaching international fame for their creative takes on the medium. The problem lied in the original premise of the platform in which Founders had only really intended to create a tool for the production of short-form videos as a way to promote casual moments in everday life to share with friends – which was exactly how they pitched it to Twitter, to complement the existing rapid fire sharing of thoughts and statuses. As we all know, instead, users took the opportunity as a creative challenge.

Production levels got near ridiculous within the mere 6 second time frame and we couldn’t be more thankful for it. The fact that Vines played on an infinite loop, like a GIF but with audio, presented so much potential for interpretation. However, the platform was just too limited and the novelty was lost out to other platforms which boasted more variety in video sharing. Some Vines have since been converted into video reels for YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and the like, and are still as viral as ever. Many of the platform’s most popular contributors are still widely followed on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Snapchat

The principal concept of Snapchat was to simply send pictures and messages available for only a short-time before becoming inaccessible, with limited replays and seconds long time frames for displaying and usually 24 hours for viewing. It has since evolved to now include Stories, which Instagram eventually adopted, and now Facebook too. It also now has the ability to “discover” brands and ads in short-form entertainment. The prototype first launched as Picaboo in 2011 by Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, then relaunched a few months later as Snapchat. Then just over 6 months later in 2012, the platform saw 25 images being sent per second, and by early 2017 had 160 million daily active users.

Now, we know Snapchat is technically still alive, but not necessarily well. Following a huge market share loss after Kylie Jenner tweeted about it, Snapchat has recently faced even direr times now with Rihanna quite openly sharing her anger with the social platform. Essentially, insufficient internal audits allowed a game advertisement to slip through the cracks, which urged users to either Slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown in a very distasteful attempt at social entertainment. The platform continues to tick along, but we can only imagine poor creator, Evan Spiegel might not be managing well with the drama. More recent news again, indicates that Snapchat users are still dropping off due to recent re-designs of the platform with demands to “BRING BACK THE OLD SNAPCHAT”. We’re not actually sure what the future holds for Snapchat, but the platform is still one of the largest players today.