Posts Tagged ‘History of the Internet’

analogEarlier today a friend of mine, Frank Bridges, posted a link to an article about a new Facebook app called Paper. He made a comparison between Facebook and Instagram and MTV and its subsidiary VH1, a damned good comparison that makes it a paragraph worth reading.[1]

If you go back to boyd & Ellison’s Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship (2008), they lay out the chronological history of the major social networking sites from SixDegrees.com (*sniffle*) to Facebook (which at the time it was published was had only been opened to the general public for less than a year).  What is clear is that the popularity of any given social networking site seems to follow a pattern. It builds, generally driven by a youthful tide, peaks, seems to collapse in on itself,  and as the popularity recedes, the “next big thing” comes crashing on-shore. (The additional part of that cycle I’ve noticed is that the big ones like Friendster and MySpace, seem to redefine themselves and come back as niche sites). Facebook came along in time to hop on the top of the mobile wave and have been able to ride it pretty steadily since about 2005, far longer than any other site.

To quote from an earlier blog post of mine:

Facebook benefited from 2 things that I think gave them a longer lifespan than their predecessors. First, it had a built in population of users by the time in opened to the general public in 2006. By coincidence or design (and probably a bit of both) the progression of their rollout populations was very smart. By the time they opened up to the general public, young people from about 14 to 25 were already acquainted and comfortable with the brand and usage expanded up and down from there. Its ascendancy also coincided with the dramatic uptick in the adoption of mobile technology. This meant that you could carry your entire social network in your pocket (well, at least the people that were also on Facebook).

I’ve always seen their growth strategy up to about 2009 as being very simple: “how do we make the site sticky eno

Facebook addressed this in 2010 by picking up the pace of the site’s investments in technologies and sites that allowed Facebook to enhance the services it provides to users at either end of the spectrum including the  2012 acquisitions of Lightbox and Instagram (Wikipedia, 2012; “Facebook Newsroom,” 2012, “Forbes,” n.d., “Inside Facebook,” n.d.;).  (They added other functions and sites to meet the needs of other site stakeholders but we’re not looking at that right now).ugh to retain the users and seductive enough to convert the non-users ”. I think some very prescient folks realized that Facebook would lose its cachet among teens and 20somethings as their parents and *grandparents* swelled its ranks. Really, who wants to go dancing at the same club their parents go to? The Pew Internet & American Life project told us that teens are “diversifying their social network portfolio” (Madden, 2013); keeping the Facebook account while using other sites they perceive of as having less drama and fewer adults.

Instagram is their attempt to retain the lion’s share of the youth audience; it’s MTV. I know a young man in junior high school who isn’t very interested in having a Facebook account but who thinks his Instagram account is awesome.  Paper, on the other hand, is VH1 an attempt to retain the late boomers/early gen Xers who are still ambivalent about growing role technology is playing in their ability to connect with their family and friends as well as to offer something fresh and new to their original core audience. Heck, they even include a guy using a manual typewriter in their promotional video!

Well played, Facebook, well played.


Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

Contributors, M. (2012). Facebook, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Facebook Newsroom. (2012).

Forbes. (n.d.).

Inside Facebook. (n.d.). Retrieved February 03, 2014, from http://www.insidefacebook.com/

Madden, M. (2013). Teens Haven’t Abandoned Facebook (Yet). Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Commentary/2013/August/Teens-Havent-Abandoned-Facebook-Yet.aspx

[1] “Facebook is now the VH1 and Instagram is the MTV. Years ago I remember I was watching VH1 all the time and I wondered how the hell that happened since I had never watched the channel before. Then I realized that not only had I changed, but so did VH1 and that was a planned thing, because many of my generation had stopped watching MTV. Facebook is bleeding young people at the moment, because they are using Instagram more. They are communicating with images and hashtags. FB’s Paper is a way to keep us older folks who like to read tangible objects and write with tangible objects”.

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In boyd and Ellison’s foundational article, Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, they define a social networking site thusly:

…[W]eb-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2008, p. 211).

A Social Media Agency is a UK based PR firm that firm that designs marketing exclusively for social media. It’s natural then that they would maintain a directory of social networking sites. And they do. They maintain a list of almost 250 social networking sites. They range from general use sites like Facebook and Twitter to niche sites for booklovers, vampire enthusiasts and more. That list could easily swell if they added alternative reality sites such as Second Life, blogging platforms such as LiveJournal and WordPress, massively multiplayer online role-playing games  (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft (do folks still play that?) and dating sites such OKCupid and EHarmony, that have appended social media like elements  to their interface. It seems as though there are enough sites for everybody including the dog.

No, I’m serious about that dog part.

But, if the all the world’s a stage, how many parts do we play today? How many parts can we reasonably sustain? Sociologist Erving Goffman used the theatrical metaphor of the “performance” to describe our interaction with other people. He didn’t mean it in a way that implies people act falsely in front of others, but that we comport ourselves differently for different “audiences” or groups of people. For example, when we are at work we behave in a way appropriate to the workplace. When we are with a bunch of friends watching football our demeanor and behavior is most likely different even if there is an overlap in the two groups (Goffman, 1959).

In their study of identity and interaction online, Bullingham and Vasconcelos, found that, “[t]he key finding from interview data is that participants often attempt to re-create their offline selves online, rather than actively engaging with persona adoption”(Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p. 109) But they only looked at a very small population and asked each person about their activity on one particular site. It’s not a leap to believe that in the same way our concrete world work and social selves differ according to the setting, that our Facebook and LinkedIn selves will differ in a Goffmanian way as well. After all, even if there is an overlap in the people we are linked to on the two sites, we are there for different purposes.

So many social networking sites; so many interesting opportunities.


Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. (D. M. Boyd & N. B. Ellison, Eds.)Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

Bullingham, L., & Vasconcelos, a. C. (2013). “The presentation of self in the online world”: Goffman and the study of online identities. Journal of Information Science, 39(1), 101–112. doi:10.1177/0165551512470051

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. (E. University Of, Ed.)Teacher (Vol. 21, p. 259). Doubleday. doi:10.2307/2089106

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This graceful looking infographic has two panes. One shows the history of the introduction of browsers and the web technologies that made the internet colorful, interactive and dynamic. the other shows the growth of number of users as well as the monthly traffic over time. You can see the growth of the Internet as it maps to the tools that made it so attractive and useful to people.

It still boggles my mind that when I first went online there were only about 10 million people online. Today almost a third of the entire world’s population is online keeping me company.

Click on the picture to see this beautiful piece. It was originally published by The Washington Post’s The Switch and tweeted by The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project which is how I came upon it.

So what year did you first get online?

Evolution of the Web

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Is Facebook Doomed? is the kind of article that irks me.

It quotes a financial analyst named Eric Jackson who said, “In five to eight years they  [Facebook] are going to disappear in the way that Yahoo has disappered [sic]”. Anyone who makes the  grand pronouncement that by 2020 FB will have gone the way of Yahoo is stating the obvious. Of course it will and the most junior of students of social media can tell you that.

It’s what Nicole Ellison and danah boyd told us back in 2008. In their article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, the “History” part tells the story of social networking sites (SNS). From 6 Degrees to Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, all of these sites grow, dominate their landscape for a few years (except for 6 Degrees which *created* the landscape the subsequent SNS inhabited), and then sharply contract as their users migrate elsewhere. However, they don’t disappear; instead, after a period of dormancy and realignment, they reinvent themselves. Friendster did it, MySpace has done it and there were rumors a few years ago that 6 Degrees was trying to reboot itself (but the new “invite only” iteration seems to have sunk beneath the waves).[1]

It has been 6 years since Facebook opened up to the general public. It’s already been at the top of the SNS game twice as long as MySpace was. All social media sites have a lifespan, they end up declining either because they don’t have a critical mass of users to support they become so big that they implode as new users flock to the next big thing.

Facebook benefited from 2 things that I think gave them a longer lifespan than their predecessors. First, it had a built in population of users by the time in opened to the general public in 2006. By coincidence or design (and probably a bit of both) the progression of their rollout populations was very smart. By the time they opened up to the general public, young people from about 14 to 25 were already acquainted and comfortable with the brand and usage expanded up and down from there. Its ascendency also coincided with the dramatic uptick in the adoption of mobile technology. This meant that you could carry your entire social network in your pocket (well, at least the people that were also on Facebook).

TPTB[2] might revoke my “Like” button, but I’m predicting that the innovation that supersedes Facebook will be here within the next 3-5 years.

I don’t know exactly what it will be but it will come from an industry outsider (Sorry Google but I’m channeling Granovetter here, innovation comes into a network from without and you’re too strongly tied to the rest of big tech, you are an insider).  I also predict that when it happens the remaining users will not be young people, but people 30 and older. This is because their weakest connections are the more sentimental ones from their past and Facebook facilitates a high level of ease in maintaining those ties. I predict that older users will be less likely to move to a different platform when so much of their history, people as well as artifacts, is already embedded within the site.

Finally, I think that whatever succeeds Facebook will have a highly customizable user interface but a very stable base. Right now, Facebook seems to tweak a notable feature every 6-12 months, it changes the layout and the usual outcome is the people complain for a while until they become acclimated. I’m predicting that the successive technology will have a user interface that is modular (you can swap elements in and out as you desire), but the basic screen will remain fairly consistent. This will enable the site to add new modules for users to plug into their personal interface if they so choose. The process of changing up the interface will be WYSIWYG[3].

Aaaand I think I just described a smartphone, lol.


boyd, d. m., Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), Article 11.

Dimmel, Brandon. (2012) Is Facebook doomed: analyst predicts site irrelevant by 2020.  http://www.manolith.com/2012/06/05/is-facebook-doomed-analyst-predicts-site-irrelevant-by-2020/ Retrieved September 23, 2012.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. The American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), pp. 1360-1380.

[1] The stated goal of 6 Degrees was to connect with Friends of Friends (of friends of friends and so on up to 6 nodes away) for informational and/or recreational purposes. They even showed you a diagram that would look very familiar to social network analysts where you were the central node, people you knew were connected to you by a line and were at the center of their own network systems.

I found the idea of 6 Degrees making a return tantalizing though because that was the first SNS that I used. While anyone looking at the interface would recognize it as an SNS the way we are used to today, its downfall is that there just weren’t enough Internet users who used the site to sustain it.

Only about 23%of US adults had Internet access in 1996, the year 6 Degrees rolled out. Internet users were still relatively elite group technologically, socio-economically, as well as by race and gender. (Suffice to say, my sister and I were oddities in the online world.) First, they had the financial resources to purchase a computer that would have been fast enough get you on and around the Internet in the first place. Then you needed a modem (which was generally purchased separately from your computer) and the money to pay the monthly Internet access charges. They also needed the technical know-how to set up their modem (do they even still have those master and slave switches inside a computer anymore, lol).

I also wonder if a large portion of people who might have used 6 Degrees were already networking through sites like Usenet, Prodigy and local online communities like The Well.

[2] The Powers That Be

[3] What You See Is What You Get

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This is slightly off the topic of online communities but does deal with technology. Someone shared the video below with me and I was struck by the rush of technology from crude wooden tools to rockets. Watching it, I had a couple of thoughts technology over time.

Technology makes some people very uncomfortable because it changes the world, sometimes in profound wave. .

Sherry Turkle and other digital dystopians believe that CMCs are stripping humans of our ability to connect with other people. Rather than encountering new people and situations as we pass through the concrete world, we dive down the rabbit hole of the Internet and select who and what we are exposed to.

Technology, especially communicative and travel oriented technologies, have been greeted by a Greek chorus saying that *this* will be the technology that destroys our family and puts our youths at risk. Before the Internet it was TV, radio, automobiles, bicycles, the machinery of the industrial and a thousand other inventions and ideas that were branded as dangerous to society. Every time we have extended capabilities as humans, there are people who see it as “bad” as opposed to just seeing it as change.

I take a different point of view: technology is just an element like carbon or sodium. It’s not good, not bad but neutral. It’s what we choose to do with that technological element that is invested with a moral position. I am softly deterministic in that I believe that:

  • The progress of technology is inevitable. The minute something new is introduced, someone is immediately working on some variation that makes it better (for them at least)
  • It is inevitable that evolution of technology will be a major factor in the evolution of society. I do think that there are other factors that are as important but I think that most of those are reactions to or implementation of technology driven by technology on some level.
  • Every technological element gets used for both good and bad purposes.

One example are the changes in society today that has given many workers the 24/7 work day. While there were always people who were on call (doctors, for example), however, today, many more workers are issued cell phones, pagers and other technologies that tether them to the workplace. If we look back into history, there are other examples. The industrial revolution began as the tail end of the 18th century and stretched into the mid to late 20th. One of the factors that drove the image of America as a country with the streets paved with gold were jobs and especially jobs in the industrial centers. Not only did people move from the farms into the cities for work but teaming masses came to the United States from all over Europe to work in the cities. I question whether we would have had that same level of immigration had industrial technology never been invented.

My other thought about technology is that the pace of development seems to be constantly increasing. Most people reading this will be familiar with Moore’s Law (no relation) which talks about the exponential rate that the speed and capacity of computers. I think it goes beyond that. It seems as though the rate at which all technology is being developed and introduced is speeding up. I’m not sure if that’s true but looking at the video it seems that way.

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I stumbled on this via on of the Twitter feeds I follow (Barry Wellman or danah boyd maybe?) and found it an amusing trip in a time machine.

January, 1983, Time Magazine declared that the personal computer was Time’s Machine of the Year for 1982 (beating out, among others, Steve Jobs). They stated that 4 million Americans were online, which was about 1.7% of the population. By 1995, the year of this PSA, Internet adoption was still only 14% (The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, Internet Adoption 1995-2012). Rereading the articles from that 1983  issue of Time,  it showed that the landscape of computer users was a place that was predominantly white, male, economically advantaged and technologically elite[i]. The majority of people they spoke with saw computers as becoming as ubiquitous any other households appliance but it doesn’t seem that they saw it as a replacement for their media sources such the radio, TV, etc.

By 1995, a personal computer was still primarily an information tool, an electronic manifestation on Vannevar Bush’s memex; a replacement for the family typewriter; and a novel (and economical) way to instantaneously communicate asynchronously across town or across the globe.  However,  the script for this PSA projected that by the time these 10 year olds were in college (2003-2004ish) the Internet would be the TV, phone, shopping mall and workplace.

I see this as bolstering Tim Berners-Lee’s expressed opinion that the term Web 2.0 was jargon and that the whole purpose of the World Wide Web[ii] from the beginning was to be a collaborative space that facilitated human interconnectivity.   In 2005, he said about blogging (perhaps the poster child of Web 2.0), “Every person who used the web had the ability to write something. It was very easy to make a new web page and comment on what somebody else had written, which is very much what blogging is about”. That people saw the Internet as place to connect socially, professionally and commercially would have been no surprise to Berners-Lee.

I got online back in 1991 and I recall that my social circle was amused that my sister and I (she had gotten on the Internet about 4-6 months before me) had home computers. The most common question I got was, “what do you do with it?” Email and productivity software was common in the workplace and that was how I primarily used it at home: sending email to one of the few people I knew online, following a few Usenet groups, writing, doing some work from home.

At the time this time this PSA was made, I think I had already moved from CompuServe to AOL (or was about to)[iii]. Amazon.com came online in 1995 but was still just a book seller. Classmates.com also came online that year (which I would cite as being *the* FaceBook). Sixdegrees.com, which I would peg as the first social networking site most of us today  would recognize as such, would launch the following year, 1996, but sputter out before the turn of the century. YouTube was still a decade away as was Facebook (and guess who was a 5th grader back in 1995?).

However, as prescient as the writer of this PSA was (the YouTube description give the name Cindy Gaffney), the Internet was still seen as a tool, a service provider that built on existing existing communication tools. However the fruits of these predictions were there but in their infancy.

  • There were rudimentary phone services (I can’t remember the name but I remember reading about it when I bought a modem, I’m sure it was expensive, complicated to implement and that the quality was poor);
  • There was online retail. Amazon’s 1995 start date was quickly followed up by EBay in 1996.
  • There were brief animations on the Internet. I can’t remember the exact year but I think the Hamster Dance and the Dancing Baby came out around 1997ish. It took a critical mass of Broadband users to make high quality videos (and by extension Internet television) viable[iv].
  • As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons I got a computer was so that I could work on extra projects at home. I didn’t have the authorization to upload material directly onto the organization’s server but I could work, save it to a floppy disc and bring it to work with me. The introduction of laptops increased this activity.

The function not explicitly predicted in the video is the Internet as a virtual agora and major role it’s played in the maintenance of social network ties: blogging and social networks sites.

The action of blogging is older than the term, that should come as no surprise to anyone reading this. I remember that some of the earliest personal sites on the WWW were crude versions of what most of us would call a blog: updates on a person’s activity, his (or less commonly her) thoughts and ideas. Some may have had pictures. I’m not sure that anyone realized how much so many of us had to say. In addition,blogging has served the very important function of providing a focal point for societal subgroups and outliers to coalesce around and form their own communities.

While you can build a case for predicting using the Internet for a telephone as a tool for maintaining social network ties, social networking sites have taken it far beyond that. It’s more than being able to shoot an email to a good friend after you’ve moved out of the neighborhood. You can still maintain a level of involvement in each others lives that wasn’t possible before through (a) more frequent incidental interaction, (b) exchanging pictures and videos of important private and public local events (sometimes within less than 5 minutes of an event occurring). So while they might live 1000 miles away, they can see video of their daughter’s 7th birthday party or and annual block party. You can also get to know their friends more easily because you are all sitting in a virtual room together conversing with your common acquaintance.

I’m not sure if anyone predicted this 15 years ago (If anyone reading this knows of anything like this please let me know, I would love to read it).
Finally a few other oldies but goodies:

This is an AOL commercial from about the same time as the PSA above (195)

This is a news segment about high tech gifts for Father’s Day. (I don’t know what I know this but the “Dad” in this piece is Mike Jerrick.)

The First World Wide Webpage


boyd, d. (2012). Danah boyd’s twitter account. Retrieved August 6, 2012, from https://twitter.com/zephoria

Bush, V. (1945, July). As we may think. Atlantic Monthly,

Friedrich, O. (2003, January 3). The computer moves in. Time Magazine,

Laningham, Scott (podcast Editor, IBM developerWorks).developerWorks interviews: Tim berners-lee (audio podcast)

Pew Internet & American Life Project. (2012). Internet adoption 1995-2011. (). Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Wellman, B. (2012). Barry wellman’s twitter account. Retrieved August 6, 2012, from https://twitter.com/barrywellman

[i] Although this wasn’t the Internet, I remember using WordPerfect in the late 80s and early 90s. Formatting involved remembering a function key combinations and being able to troubleshoot a document that didn’t look right involved interpreting the code associated with your document. And computers were not cheap. My first computer cost $2100 in 1991. As point of reference, my current desktop, which has the largest hard drive available when I bought it last year, ran about $1200 in 2011 (about $770 in 1991 dollars).

[ii] For context, when I refer to the Internet, I’m talking about the tool that grew out of Arpnet, into academic institutions at large and then to the general public: the interconnected computer networks that connects us through computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. There were several protocols by which a user could connect to the Internet, the most popular one is the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web is a term that a lot of laypeople use interchangeably with the Internet. While the Internet allowed us to connect, the World Wide Web enabled hypertext, one click links within a document that navigated the user to another document with related information, and multimedia. Web browsers, from Mosaic to Firefox to Chrome, provided a graphical user interface that which made the WWW more accessible to users who were not as technologically adept as the Internet pioneers. Going onto the Internet became less like reading a book on a screen and more like reading a colorful magazine that may also include sound and moving pictures.

 [iii] In the mid 90s, AOL put on a full court press to get subscribers. In order to used the service you needed the floppy disc (later a CD Rom) with the software to get you online and set up. This media was *everywhere* they would blanket mail neighborhoods, put the discs in magazines, I even remember my local library having a display with the dreaded discs (I suspect they made contributions to public libraries for that sort of access). New subscribers for 10 free hours of AOL access. Back then, they charged you by the hour for access. AOL didn’t go to a flat fee service until Oct 1996 (Wikipedia: AOL)

 [iv] I wonder about the role of Saturday Night Live and music videos in creating fertile ground for the “VidClip Culture” (I should probably add Sesame Street here since I’ve read in a couple of places that Sesame Street was one of the inspirations for the MTV style of short, fast bits of motion, sound, color and music). Do any media scholars have thoughts on this?

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