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In Darwinian’s theory of evolution, natural selection is “the process in nature by which only the organisms best adapted to their environment survive and transmit their genetic characteristics to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated”.

Truer words were never said of social media.

Treat every online social networking service as an “organism” and we could probably trace back its ancestry right back to its most primitive form.

I decided to do a rough evolutionary timeline in the short span of 30 years that social media have been around:

socialmediaevolution

Social media platforms are constantly being replaced with newer, better, succeeding generations of services which in turn must adapt and change or risk elimination.

In the cruel game of natural selection, “mother nature” takes the form of social media consumers: a fickle group of individuals ultimately deciding who lives or dies in an arena where each service has to literally fight for survival.

facebookvsmyspace

In this article, I will review how social media has evolved from the “primordial” 8 bit generation to the present day 64 bit service and platforms.

Usenet: the social media “Adam”

Usenet Interface

Born in 1979 from the minds of Duke University graduates, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, the Usenet system allowed users to read and post threads of discussion, called news, on one or more newsgroups.¬† Its similar in several respects to the modern day forums and indeed, Usenet could effectively be named the father of all forums. It gave consumers the first taste of “social networking” in the loose sense of the phrase.

Many of us would cringe looking at the graphics we had then. I wasn’t alive during the launch of Usenet but I couldn’t imagine having to network on an interface like that. Just goes to show how spoilt we consumers are these days.

Status: Deceased

Though a friend of mind says Usenet is still being used by hackers wishing to remain anonymous, I can’t say for certain.

Bulletin Board System (BBS): fathers of the World Wide Web

The comic strip sounded like sarcasm to me.

“Well of course you can connect to other computers without being the same kind of machine! That’s just plain obvious.”

Well of course we would think that way. We’ve had the internet since we could work a computer. But even before the World Wide Web was established, people in the late 1970s could still communicate with one another using the BBS. In many ways, the BBS was the inspiration for the World Wide Web and many other aspects of the internet. It allowed users to upload and download data, read and post news on a public message board, and find and communicate with each other by way of email.

The BBS even allowed online games and a primitive form of chatrooms that provided communication using multiple phone lines called MUT, MultiUser Talk. MUT was later replaced by the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) system.

Status: Deceased

Replaced by internet forums.

mIRC

One particular IRC client stood out against the rest. The mIRC came into the market in 1995, and became an instant hit with the online crowd. The client’s main difference was in it’s scripting, giving users the power to customise commands, behaviour and appearance of their mIRC client. Filesharing, which very few IRCs at the time offered, was also possible on an mIRC. Even today, the client is still being used worldwide. IRCs were the precursors to the instant messaging clients we have today, and though no longer popular, is still in active development.

Status: Dying

The same friend told me that IRCs are still used by hackers wishing to remain anonymous. Its very rarely used for social networking purposes though, and I don’t see how it can profit anymore.

Internet forums

Bulletin boards has since evolved into internet forums like phpBB and vBulletin, bringing along with it the ‘netiquettes’ and internet culture we have today. The common features that set our forums apart from the BBS are private messaging, emoticons, picture galleries, attachments and polls. Few internet forums require paid subscription. Most rely on advertising dollars and donations to continue operation. Internet forums inspired the invention of the modern blogs we have today.

Status: Stable

Most people find internet forums to be a great source of information and since there are no visible alternatives in sight, it will likely continue for a long time.

Windows Live Messenger: entering the age of instant messaging

Formally known as MSN Messenger, the Windows Live Messenger almost wholly replaced Amercia Online’s AIM and Yahoo Messenger in 1999. The client allows for an amazing range of features and capabilities including, but not limited to, games, sharing folders, phone calls, web camming, application sharing and animated display pictures.

Instant messaging is still very much alive in our day and age. Contacts are more connected now than ever before. True, a phone conversation would flow much faster and is more personal but you can’t multitask on a phone, and you can’t leave your phone running for the whole day.

Metaphorically, signing in to the client is like entering a large living room where all your friends are gathered. The difference of instant messaging from other modern social media platforms is that most of the people in your contacts list are people you already know. There was small chance of meeting anyone new (although new MSN services available provide for that deficiency though it remains unpopular).

Status: Stable

The communication technology will likely improve in the far future, but ‘instant’ messaging is already pretty much… instant. The only technology I see replacing¬† this is telepathy, or mind reading.

Blogs: the creation of the blogosphere

Taking concepts and characteristics of a forum, blogs have evolved out of the primordial soup of the digital communities in 1997 and rose to popularity in 1999. Blogs were revolutionary in that they gave social media consumers the platform to have their voices heard by the internet community. There are several types of blogs for several different subjects and purposes. The most common form of blogs are personal blogs, an online diary of sorts that allowed readers to get a glimpse into the bloggers life. Corporate blogs are blogs used primarily for marketing purposes, adding content updates that relate to the product or service the company offers and giving the company a sort of personality.

What completely differentiates a blog from its ancestors, besides the obvious customability and depth, is the ability for any user to earn a profit. A blog is one of the few social media platforms that can be very lucrative. Some of the more famous bloggers blog for profit by featuring advertisments in their page. Companies know the influence bloggers have on their consumers and the evolution and growth of the blogosphere makes this platform a necessity for any smart social media consumer.

Status: Growing

There are people alive today who dream of blogging for a living. Its a great indication how much fun people get out of blogging. Theres just something about letting people hear your thoughts and feelings that makes you feel warm inside. Kinda like when you write that diary and pretend to hide it knowing it’s going to be found anyway.

Six Degrees: the first of its kind


Six Degrees was the first social networking site ever to be in operation. It evolved from the concept of ‘six degrees of separation’; everyone is at the most six degrees away from anyone on the planet. Unfortunately, no one got the concept and it was sold in 2000 for $125 million, and shut down a year after. It was however, the precursor to other social networking sites like Friendster and Facebook.

Status: Deceased

Six Degrees paved the way for future social networking sites. It was too complicated itself, which was probably why it shut down.

Friendster


Taking from the concept of Six Degrees, Friendster had a highly successful reign in Asia in 2002 which continued until early 2008 when Facebook gained immense popularity, leaving behind millions upon millions of inactive accounts in the biggest internet ghost town. Friendster was an example of the internet consumer’s viciously low attention span and loyalty to any one platform.

Rumours, presumably started by rival Myspace, that Friendster would become a pay site made it unpopular with the younger Western crowd. 90% of their users are from Asia, particularly Singapore, Malaysia, Phillipines, China, India, South Korea and Japan.

Today, Friendster is looking at expansions into Asia and growing its list of features to seperate themselves from social networking giant Facebook.

Status: Near Death

I think I’m being generous when I say its not dead. I checked into Friendster yesterday and none of the accounts in my friends list had been entered in the last 3 months, except two which were entered a month ago.

Myspace

Also the victim of Facebook’s growing popularity is Myspace. Myspace was a copy of Friendster launching in 2003 and gained popularity over the years with the Western countries until 2008 when it lost its users to Facebook. Today, it struggles to compete with Facebook with an extreme makeover, adding applications and updates and redesigning their pages.

Status: Near Death

Myspace is probably as dead as Friendster. Or maybe less dead. But dead is dead.

Facebook: the big boys on the block


Facebook started first by focusing on smaller communities of high school students. The name itself is taken from the American college face book given to freshmen on their first day of school. It differentiates itself effectively with its many features and games, including a public wall that friends of the user can post messages on. Its integration into the iPhone and other smart phones make it the most accessible social networking site currently available. Its popularity speaks for itself and remains at the top of the food chain. However, its hard to say how long Facebook can keep its users happy before another social site pops up.

Status: Growing

Almost everyone has a facebook account these days. Not to mention ‘facebooking’ is now as much of a word as ‘blogging’ and ‘tweeting’, I’d say facebook could last.

Twitter: so simple, its smart


A service evolved from SMS (short messaging service) and blogs, Twitter is a microblogging site that enables users to send messages, called tweets, to the world in 140 characters or less. Twitter is also highly accessible, integrating itself in various smartphones like the iPhone. According to comScore and other research sites, only 11% of its users are teenagers. Its used by companies, reporters, educators and even politicians in the case of Barack Obama’s unorthodoxed campaigning online.

Where it is in the food chain is highly suspect. At the moment, Twitter looks to have a bright future with companies looking to use the platform to reach out to its target consumers, a job twitter is flawless at. Its simplicity however, is a double-edged sword; although its consistently ranked top 5 in the list of social networks most used, it also has a very low retention rate (40% according to Nielson Online) with users dropping the service after a month.

Status: Growing

Personally, I found the service jarring. It’s literally ‘too much, too fast’. I’m one of those people with an unhealthy compulsion to reply to every message and in twitter, I’m like an addict getting a constant fix.

The statistics don’t agree with me though, so I’m gonna have to call it as it is.

Youtube


Youtube remains one of the largest and most effective video sharing site in the market. Naturally, with the improvement of digital technology, sharing videos was an obvious step for the online community. It’s not surprising that Youtube met with extraordinary popularity that’s still rising even today. Its reported that Youtube’s bandwitdh in 2007 consumed as much bandwitdh as the entire world wide web in 2000. Companies have engaged the site to market their products. Vloggers who were virtually unknown suddenly rose to massive fame. People suddenly lost hours of their day just watching videos on Youtube.

Although not a social networking site in the strict sense, Youtube does offer an immense level of connection in the form of comments, video replies, subscriber systems and private messaging. The site is easy to use, and highly accessible through most digital devices.

Status: Growing

The revenues earned from the site is gradually increasing, but Google still hasn’t figured out how the site can be used to earn profits. Youtube is constantly evolving and changing together with digital technology so it would stay in operation into the far future.

Other worthy mentions

Linkedin: More for the businessmen. A site that could widen your range of business contacts. Your profile page is your resume here.

Flickr: Although you can’t call it a social networking site in the strictest sense, the site offers more than just image sharing. You can also set up a profile, add friends and create groups.

Revver: The very first video hosting site to share all revenue generated by a video on their site with the video’s owner 50/50. Several video hosting sites are starting to do the same, but Revver shares revenue for all videos (Youtube requires you to have at least 500 subscribers).

Delicious: Hate the name, kinda. Its a social bookmarking site that’s pretty useful if other social news sites couldn’t already do the same. It takes it to a new level with rating systems however and is helpful when your in need of some recommendations into sites.

Digg: Same as Delicious in several respects. Digg has a top 100 Digg Users system that rewards top one hundred users with more traffic. You can ‘dig it’ or ‘bury it’ depending on how useful you thought the link was.

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