Social Media Evolution: a History and a Forcast

Social Media is something you might allude to as like a living organism.  It had a beginning, and it has developed, but will it have an ‘end’?  I’m going to look at my history in relation to social media to examine my perception of what social media is and then try to speculate on what social media will become or if it will dissipate into a world of new media.

I guess you could say that social media began with the internet in a sense.  The internet was created for remote communication (academic or professional at the time), it should only seem logical that the concept of social media (communication for purely recreational and social purposes) should eventually arise through this medium.

Online Forums

I would say that my first encounter with social media (though not through participation so much) was online forums.  As I researched different things online I recall seeing a lot of online forums in search results.  These forums that you can find one every subject (or at least discussing) every subject under the sun still seem to thrive across the interwebs though they are not the prettiest mode of internet communication around (my snobbish graphic design eyes are often offended by them). I would say that these do not often become used very widely because by nature, online forums cater to a niche audience because of the specific subjects they are based upon.

Xanga

Oh how vividly I recall enjoying my first dive into social media. Blogs were SO fresh and I loved customizing or adding music to mine. I had a nice little place to whine or exclaim about whatever was happening in my life at the moment, and since many of my friends had them, I could read their own thoughts and leave comments. Totally way cool. Did I mention you could post pictures? Oh dear goodness!

This will illustrate to you how long ago I remember using Xanga and how far we have come…
I remember that a friend of mine snail-mailed me 35mm photographs so that I could scan them and send him back digital files so he could post some of his favorite pics online. Wow. Just wow.

Xanga now has more features that make it no longer a blog-only platform, but this has not seemed to help retain much of a following or gain new ones. Once a has-been, always a has been it seems.

Bebo

I recall back in the beginning days of social media, before the term existed that a bunch of different things popped up here and there and when you found the next awesome platform you tried to get all of your friends on it so you could still talk to everyone, but enjoy all of the perks of the next big thing.

Bebo was one of these, and it just didn’t last.  I think because it was just too bland and MySpace was just so awesomely customizable.

I looked it up, while writing this post, and see it actually still exists, but I probably haven’t been on it since 2005. Wow. Think about that. That was 7 years ago! If nothing else, thinking about the history of social media reminds me of my age!

Deviant Art

Deviant Art is a social media site that caters to a niche audience of artists. Don’t let that fool you though because it deals from anything from graphic design to poetry, as well as the more accepted fine arts of drawing, painting and sculpture. I recall learning about Deviant Art because of some photographer friends of mine and loved looking at their stuff and browsing zillions of images from users around the world.

This is one site I still use on occasion, especially when I need some visual inspiration.  The site is still very active in its purposefully niche market.

Myspace

Myspace was THE place to be in my late highschool, early college years. I came into the scene after having had enough of blogging on Xanga and wanting more small-scale interaction with friends that was provided with comment walls. One thing I’ve noticed throughout my time in social media is that I have always loved the “about me” sections. And who doesn’t? Being a generally shy person, I guess it was liberating to go on and on about myself in the safe silence of my MySpace “edit your profile” pages.

On this platform you could also change the look of your page and post playlists, similar to Xanga. It also had a blog function, which I occasionally used, but not so much, and none of my friends ever really did unless something SUPER emo was going on.

I recall it being the hugest thing EVER when MySpace started expanding how many photos you could upload. I believe when I started using it, only 10 photos were allowed. It steadily expanded to unlimited to the joy of myself and friends. Posting more about yourself and your life, all the awesome times you had, THIS was awesome!

MySpace is still around and being used in a very big way my musicians. They have attempted to streamline profile pages to a more clean look, with much less customization available. But then, my account seems to ‘grandfathered’ in since I never switched to the new profile look, my old dinosaur HTML-fueled custom profile still remains mostly intact (besides links that have long-since expired).

Facebook

I recall first hearing about Facebook when I was in junior college, probably Spring 2005. I recall creating an account and  filling out my profile on a computer at Butler in Andover and thinking, “Wow, this looks really bland, you really cannot customize your profile? That sucks!”. I remember that until I went away to a small school in Tennessee Fall 2006 (Bryan College), none of my friends really used Facebook, so I left it alone as well, disinterested.

When I started going to Bryan, everybody was on Facebook, so again, I went where my friends were and started using my account again. The school actually ended up blocking the site because the intense traffic was overloading the wi-fi they provided for the campus of around 700 students. A friend of mine heard of a site you could use to get around the block so soon everyone was just going around the block to get what they wanted. We were such rebels!

Carepages

I remember after my car accident (which took place in Tennessee), that my family used the site Carepages (a site for developing a support through different life crisis, like my car accident injuries and ensuing stay in the hospital) to communicate to everyone in a manner easier than straight emails on my condition and improvement. After all my surgeries had kept me knocked out for a week, my dad had me start making posts so people knew a bit more about my experience and condition. I loved reading all the comments and encouragement.

It was a really nice tool for my parents, who were already stressed just trying to tag-team out of state with my mom there during the week and my dad on the weekends so I was never alone.

Carepages seems to still be alive and kicking, still ministering to its niche audience of people in crisis situations. More power to ’em!

Linked In

I started using LinkedIn during my first graphic design internship, late 2011. I do not recall how I came across it, possibly advertising or just exposure in the the professional world. Anyway, I latched on to it fervently as a tool for networking and developing a professional reputation as I was gearing up towards the end of my college days at that point and looking with wary eyes upon my field and job prospects.

I believe LinkedIn is a great professional tool to have, but with it being something by nature, a bit stiff and etiquette-heavy for the sake of appearances, I have not really used it the way I have other social media sites. This site is for showing my qualifications, skills, education and experience to potential employers, not for posting a picture of my bf and I in our latest, fabulous couple-picture or posting a status of how my day went to crap when I hear Taylor Swift say, “We are never, ever, everrrrr getting back together!”.

I have seen this used much more constructively by professionals contributing to professional, field-related discussion. I feel that I may end up using this site more as I move into my career and am no longer preoccupied by over-analyzing ever word I put in my description of my latest internship.

Twitter

Twitter I was a bit reluctant to move towards, and I guess I should have to admit, am still dragging my feet a bit about. I remember hearing all about how awesome Twitter was and how everybody was doing it, but I just wasn’t convinced. I looked at Twitter and just saw a Facebook post. Why switch to a platform that only gave me the extreme limitation of 140 characters? Yeah you could post pictures, but you couldn’t make albums. The about me section was limited to 160 characters. Are you kidding me? Oh that’s 20 more characters than the Tweets? How thoughtful of you!

I eventually created an account when a friend of mine when to Africa on a missions project and was never one Facebook but said that she used Twitter constantly. I still wasn’t convinced.

Even now, not many of my friends are on Twitter. I’ve warmed up to it a bit more using it more as a news or professional tool, but I still find it hard to want to use it myself or pay very close attention to the millions of Tweets running through my feed.

Pinterest

Pinterest is another one of those new-fangled social media platforms (look at me using ‘old geezer’ phrases!) that I do not yet fully appreciate. I fully understand the popularity, but when I see Pinterest I see two things:  1) I see a bottomless whole I have the option of dumping my valuable time into (while knowing I would thoroughly enjoy doing it), and  2) I see a platform that has been appropriated strongly by an almost entirely female following. I don’t know what overdose of visual estrogen does to the average female, but guys seem to think it will make them grow boobs and have understandably  fled in terror it seems.

After hearing a girlfriend talk of graphic design awesomeness she had found on the site, I took a chance and made an account a few months ago (near the beginning of this class). I spent the entirety of the evening (and well past my bedtime I might add, but what’s new?) falling down the rabbit viewing and pinning at least a hundred examples of great design in various categories. I thought to myself that this could be a great new inspirational tool and much more specific to graphic design than Deviant Art could ever get (as the GD scene on Deviant art is quite small in comparison to the rest), but then I have not get been on the site again, having experienced and become aware of the true black-whole nature of the site and being quite questionable of my self-control ability despite my dire lack of free time this semester.

Moving Onward

In the end of this I see a separation in Pinterest and others from what I had formerly considered the nature of social media. Strong, lengthly dialogue and a high emphasis on sharing personal images. Basically, a very me-centered sort of monolgue. I see this in many of the new developments in the social media scene. Twitter is a micro-blogging site. You do not have long, drawn out ramblings on this site due to the limits of posting. You can bypass this through links or multiple postings, but then these go beyond the actual intent of the platform so I do not see them as particularly valid. Instagram carries on the photo obsession, but still lacks the dialogue. Tumblr is tends to be image-centric, but does not necessarily have to be, as I observed exploring literature tags. Reddit looks as appetizing to my eyes as online forums do, and I already have Twitter for news.

Where does the future go?

When I think about the future of social media I think in terms of its expanded use and its progression. Social media has already started moving from a ‘me-centric’ kind of approach towards a more truly social experience. Is Facebook really social media when so many people use it just to advertise only themselves to the world or whoever will listen? I must admit that to date my use of social media has been very centered on myself with moderate amounts of interaction occurring, a bit of a flip on real life.

I believe social media will become more truly social. Following this trend away from the immature focus on the self and more towards interaction. With people. With politicians. With products. With companies.

I do not ultimately see social media dissolving into media. I think there will always be a line of distinction between ‘us’ and the infamous ‘they’, telling us all about the reality of our world (though this reality actually often conflicts with other ‘they’ sources, MSNBC v Fox News, etc.). I believe that the line will become smaller and smaller and that the perception of social media as a distinct concept may erode but I believe the category in and of itself will be with us for a very long time.

I believe that in a world where people are encountering serious consequences over compromising photos, rants or cyber-bullying that people with better long-term vision for themselves will mature in their use of social media. One man’s courageous statement of dissent is another man’s embarrassing, opinionated rant. Using platforms that are less inclined to personal broadcasts or just becoming much more discrete about what they leave for the eyes of all will be big instruments in the change of the landscape.

The future is ours. Where will we go?

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