Trailblazers, The Pioneers Who Led The Social Media Revolution
It’s no secret that social media has blown up to unprecedented heights. Two decades ago the Internet was still defining itself and dial up speed was the Google Fiber of its day.
Social Media was picking up the phone or sending snail mail with the end result being to take time out of your day to meaningfully connect with someone else.
The origins of social media are still very much grounded in that same innate human desire, to connect and be heard. So, let’s take a quick tour down History Drive.
In the late 90s, due to a high levels of influence from pop culture, the music industry, and a growing sense of individualism, our society began searching for a new way to connect, outside of themselves, and share.
Share their ideas, their talents, their hopes and their dreams with others, which resulted in the dawned of the early social media age.
One of the most successful and first social networks during the growing internet boom was Classmates.com, created by Randy Conrads, the former Boeing manager on November 17th, 1995. To provide a little context this social network was created when Mark Zuckerberg was just 11 years old and most people didn’t even have cell phones.
The platform created something of a virtual yearbook that allowed users to find old high school classmates, stalk bullies from an era past, and, at its essence, reconnect, although early users could not create profiles.
In 2015 the Classmates.com had over 70 million registered users with around 90% of their clientele coming from high schools.
When looking back at them their concept was solid in creating a platform that played on the poignant power of nostalgia, although users could not create profiles.
Now, in an interview with GeekWire, the current CEO Habani Heller talked a little bit about why Facebook eventually overtook them,
…one of my favorite former CEOs, long before Facebook existed, literally took a plan to (the) board of directors, and in essence, had Facebook-like plan in blueprint. The board was very focused on our value proposition and passed.
Facebook for us is more about current connections. Of course, it also includes reconnection, but it’s much more about connection. That is something they have done that I’ve seen no one else do. They’ve become the phonebook for the Internet age…And that’s all around the moment…Facebook is all about sharing info that’s going on in the moment.
Next came the rise of one of the most widely agreed upon movers of the social media, the social network, Six Degrees.
Six Degrees was started by Andrew Weinreich in May of 1996 but launched the next year to the general public with features the combined profiles, friends lists, as well as affiliations to organizations like schools.
Their full description found on Wikipedia, which is interesting, is
It was named after the six degrees of separation concept and allowed users to list friends, family members and acquaintances both on the site and externally; external contacts were invited to join the site. Users could send messages and post bulletin board items to people in their first, second, and third degrees, and see their connection to any other user on the site.
The site grew to over 3.5 million users at its prime but a few factors slowed their growth. Users who were heavily pushed to invite new users grew tired of the site’s tactics which became too invasive and resulted in a loss of interest. Slowly as user base began to dwindle the few that remained fell into the “hard-core group of computer users,” who still consistently complained about spam-filled memberships.
The other thing that worked against them was being too early to the market. The lack of people connected to and on the internet was not at the level needed for success. Now that, coupled with the fact that the internet’s infrastructure was far too limited, spelled out the recipe for disaster.
At the end of the day the company folded at the turn of the millennium and was sold to Youstream Media Networks.
And then came the pre-mid wave.
For the next major push in the social media evolution came from Ryze, the little known precursor to LinkedIn. Ryze was given its name because it was all about “helping people ‘rise up’ through quality networking.” The social network was created by Adrian Scott and launched in October 2001. The platform allowed users to create profiles, add friends, and message others.
According to the website the platform has somewhere around 1 million members in over 200 countries although it still looks very clearly stuck in the early 2000's.
The more and most interesting component about them was that, allegedly, Jonathan Abrams was an early member of the platform and was inspired so much by what Ryze had built. The promising power of connecting people through the internet was too great to ignore, so much so, that he eventually went on to found the next major social pillar in, Friendster.
Launched in March of 2002 by Jonathan Abrams and Peter Chin, the premise, essentially taken from an early predecessor — Six degrees, stemmed from the same concept of “degrees of separation,” but reinvented the branding around the concept. They used new term and fresh terminology in, “Circle of friends,” which led to a new train of thought on what social could be.
Social networks didn’t need to just operate and facilitate environments where people who already knew of each other could participate in engaging. All the was needed was a common bond between people, whether they were friends or not.
The interface had many similar features to that of a dating site as well as the ability to show users how they were connected to strangers. This made making new friends with strangers less intimidating, especially from a dating perspective.
Due to this new spin on social networking, within a year the social platform bolstered over 3 million registered users with multiple investment opportunities.
Unfortunately, the company was not able to scale at a quick enough pace to keep up with the rising demand, which led to a whole host of technical and management issues. As impatient users began leaving to find other forms of networking, namely rival Myspace, the company eventually transitioned to a different industry.
By 2011 the site abandoned all of its user profiles and became an online gaming platform but was still not able to attract enough of an audience and, in June of 2015, closed up shop for good.
Friendster’s downfall led to one of the biggest pushes into the modern area of social media.
LinkedIn was started by Reid Hoffman, Allen Blue, Konstantin Guericke, Eric Ly and Jean-Luc Vaillant. Their approach was drastically different from past networks in that they focused less on trying to connect old classmates or friends and more on being a resource for connecting like-minded business professionals.
The platform simply began as a place to post resumes online but transformed itself into something more by valuing the power of professional connections. Within the first month after the launch the site had roughly 4,500 users and only continued to grow after that.
The success growth eventually translated to the biggest initial public offering, for an internet company since Google, in 2011.
The platform, now comprised of a little over 450 million, has firmly gripped the professional market and has vastly improved features to things like more in depth analytics for businesses, a complete redesign of the look and feel of the platform, the addition of LinkedIn Pulse, a publishing component within the site and more interaction opportunities between users.
Around the same time that LinkedIn got started two platforms made their splash into the scene. The one most know in Myspace and the other lesser known platform in hi5. Together these two raised the bar, in conjunction with the niche focus of LinkedIn, in what social media could be.
In June of 2003, hi5 was launched by Ramu Yalamanchi. The site eventually went on to find a high level of popularity in Latin American countries, Mongolia, Tunisia and Romania.
So much popularity was gained that in 2007, the site was second most, only to Myspace, in traffic. Just a year later, the site was reportedly the 3rd most popular social networking site behind Facebook and Myspace.
The site offered features like, creation of profiles highlighting interests of users, friend networks where invites could be sent through email, photo sharing, user groups, and status updates.
In a 2009 redesign, hi5 added a number of features oriented toward gaming and entertainment. Two years later the platform was bought by if(we), a social and mobile technology company.
A few months later, in August of 2003 Myspace was founded by several employees from the Internet marketing firm eUniverse. The launch of this platform solidified the growth of social media and paved the way for Facebook, which fully opened the floodgates to the modern era of social media today.
At the end of the day social media was and has always been about connecting people and helping bridge gaps through commonalities. People crave connection and that is what social, at its essence does.
Social media has come a long way and has caught a lot of flack for the cause of our current societal system trajectory into a dark abyss, but it really boils down to how you use it.
We still believe that it is a force that companies, individuals, etc. can use to connect, collaborate, market and sell. All with the core being about real connections.
For us, the social component of social media hasn’t been lost, so IF you believe this too, let’s talk, we’d love to hear from you