Where next for social media?

30 June 2014

Social Media, the phenomena that began as sites allowed people to connect with old friends, family members and school friends globally, is now so ingrained in our day-to-day lives that people now use it to communicate in the same room.

As the generation of digital natives expands we take a look back to see just how it has evolved.

Where it began

Where it began The 1980s played host to Internet Relay Chats, which again served to connect individuals but Social Media began to take shape as we see it today in the 1990s. The decade saw an evolution of chat boards bringing together significant numbers of contributors in one place on one topic. In 1997 Six Degrees was created, allowing users to list friends and family members who then from their own account accepted the connection based on the premise that all individuals are only 6 relationships away from each other in some way. This system however remained disjointed and lots of connections were left unfulfilled and users isolated.

A change was needed and this began to take shape with networks such as Friends Reunited and Friendster. Although they developed on the concept of individual profiles and connecting with friends, their larger take up meant that being able to find and add friends was utilised to full potential. The turn of the millennium put emphasis on categories and similarities of users with sites like Makeoutclub - connecting users with similar music and fashion taste.

Shaping today

Individual profiles were the main point to bring traction to Myspace in 2003 and the key to its early success. Myspace slowly allowed for more and more customisation until eventually user profiles were dependent upon users’ html skills.

This is what brought to it a lot of its members, especially digital natives who flitted between this and sites like Piczo, where again, users could completely structure and model their profiles. This feature also isolated a lot of members who had been on the social media journey as well as late adopters and consequently led to the site’s decline. In June 2006 it overtook Google as the most visited site in the United States but by May 2014 it ranked 392nd.

This created space for sites such as Bebo and Facebook. Bebo reigned in the customisation features with pre-designed layouts.

Facebook on the other hand stripped all of this back with navigable profiles and the ability to share posts with all friends – the focus being keeping others up-to-date with user lives and not profiles up to date with trends.

This is an approach adopted by its emerging competitors. Twitter opting for a similar approach in 2006 but with the novelty of limiting posts, and Instagram and Pinterest focusing on the posting and sharing of images.

Where next?

It’s clear there’s been massive developments in social media over the years. And to a digital native like myself it is difficult to see where else there is to be explored, when a system seems so established. And yet it is clear, there’s always room for innovation, especially in an area so vital as communication.

The focus appears to be shifting now to vetting the established platforms. Calls are being made for education in schools on how to create employable social networking profiles as companies increasingly vet applicants and now sites such as Social Sweepster are taking form, which advise users which posts they may benefit from removing.

Users are not just wary about how information they disclose conveys them but also what becomes of it once it is posted. Following Instagram’s announcement in 2013 that all images posted to the site would be under their ownership the issue of who owns what data has increasingly been on the agenda. This has been heightened by the emergence of the right to be forgotten. Requests to have traces of personal information removed from the Internet are at the mercy of Google as is the implementation of this. With the end to net neutrality it is also likely that social media sites with the biggest budgets will thrive as they secure their users a faster service bringing in even more traffic and killing off emerging rivals.

Platforms such as Google+ have failed to gain the response hoped for and for now it appears progress will be in the marketing of the individual through established sites such as Facebook, Twitter and increasingly LinkedIn and not looking for the next big network.