The History of Social Networks Part 2

Posted by Steven Suwatanapongched on August 2, 2011

In The History of Social Networks Part 1, I covered the legacy social networks that I was once a part of. I use the term legacy to mean out-dated, unpopular, and in some cases discontinued.

Now I’m going to cover the current social networks that I am active on today. I guess you can say that these are my picks, for now.

Facebook

I remember when I first heard about Facebook. It was probably from my youngest sister and another friend, both of which were in college still– around maybe 2004 or 2005. I had already graduated and was working. I was also in graduate school at Depaul University. I kept hearing so much from these two about this new sites, which were supposedly better than anything else out there.

I admit I didn’t have much interest in it since the primary users were college kids. It was a network I had long departed from for two to three years already. Eventually, I did sign up for it when I finally got around to signing up for the optional school email address. This was a time Facebook only allowed people with school email addresses to be part of their social network. This was maybe 2005 or 2006.

Facebook still didn’t capture much of my interest. It may have been because blog sites such as Xanga were all the rage, especially for the eldest of the Generation-Y and most of Generation-X. Not to mention I was still blogging on my personally written blog.

Up until 2010, I used it a lot for contact management, posting and sharing interesting links of videos, articles, and pictures. I added pretty much everyone, and sought out everyone to be facebook friends. I use it quite a bit today, reluctantly. Facebook used to be fun for me, back when I had 200-400 friends on it. I could pay attention to the main feed as well as comment on people’s post comfortably, without having to scroll through too much. After 600 plus friends, it no longer is the case for me. I have accepted too many friends, most of which the content shared is of low quality in my honest opinion.

This is easily the biggest social network in existence today. It used to be a network for college friends, but has since ballooned into the very social platform that everyone is expected to be on, and has spread across into other websites as the default login and identity.

Twitter

I’ve been on Twitter since it first started in 2006. Back then I tried it, I didn’t get it, and I just unregistered my account (@sunpech). About two years later, in 2008 I tried it again (reactivating my account) after attending a social media event, where I was recommended to use Tweetdeck to help manage the stream of noise. I mean, that’s how I saw it back then, noise– it was like drinking water from a firehouse. Too much, too fast, with very small amount of signal or interest. In other words, the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) was too low. But thanks to Tweetdeck, it helped me manage my interest stream/lists, who to follow, and how to tweet easily. That, and I had to unfollow @guykawasaki, as that account tweets way too much.

As I’ve seen people tweet,

Facebook is for friends and family. Twitter is for interests.

I think this is very true. Well, at least the last sentence is.

Facebook is a mess, and interestingly enough, pure noise to me, while Twitter is everything of interest to me. It has it’s own culture, limitations (140 character tweets), and community. I should give a special mention to Google Reader, although it’s not really a social platform, it’s a fantastic reader. Twitter very much compliments Google Reader in terms of what I read and pay attention to every single day.

Picasa

I was a Flickr user, but their desktop software wasn’t as good as Picasa, so I made the switch to use the latter as my main photo application. I would say these two are the two popular photo social networks currently. I almost feel as though the rivalry between these two are like Canon vs Nikon. In the end, they’re both good, very popular, but in the end it just comes down to what you want out of each. I think Flickr has a better community than Picasa, but Picasa is just far superior software, and plus they don’t limit how much you can upload to your album each month.

I know about Instagram, but it’s iPhone only for now. Perhaps I shouldn’t say this until an Android app comes out, but I will say it anyway: I don’t get why its users take such awful photos with the crazy ugly filters. The pictures of food on it make me lose my appetite. There’s a time and place for the vintage photo filters, and most of the time, is not it.

LinkedIn

The social network for professionals: LinkedIn. I’ve been on it for a while, but never really used it for anything. I find that it’s a ecosystem full of recruiters who blindly want to connect and spam you with job offers. I hope to one day fully utilize the site, as other job sites I’ve used lack the human/face element of a company-to-employee relationship. I think the professional social network has a lot of potential, just so long as they stick to being pure professional, and not try to deviate from that core.

Foursquare

I had a Gowalla account before I used Foursquare. What won me over was how Foursquare had apps for my Android device, as well as Blackberry and iPhone. Gowalla, like many other companies, only had an iPhone app. I think that’s what prevented them from find the success that Foursquare found by releasing for all platforms at the same time. I’m not saying Gowalla is legacy or bad in any way, I just think, they would have done better if they approached the check-in, location-based social network like Foursquare did, by pushing all smarphone platforms.

I think Foursquare is still going through a lot of growth. There was a period of time in 2010 that I swore off from using the service, and started to use Yelp just because their service had better uptime during peak hours. But it wasn’t until when I was in Bangkok, Thailand, did I notice the power of Foursquare. Because it’s powered by the users, in that any user can add a location to the service, that it was so immensely popular in Bangkok. Yelp, unfortunately did not have a presence in Thailand at all.

Foodspotting

I would describe Foodspotting as a social network for foodies that is picture-driven. I think this is a great example of how the future of social networks isn’t in one huge social network for all, but rather in specific and very niche markets. Foodspotting is obviously catered towards foodies that take pictures of their food, that is their culture.

Initially they only had an iPhone app, but in March 2011, they finally released an Android app– so I was finally able to join and contribute from my phone.Google Plus (G+)This is the newest social network from the search giant Google. It’s not quite open to the public, but I’m using it as a beta user currently. I often think of Google’s rather disappointing past attempts at social networks: Google Buzz, Google Latitude and Dodgeball, and Orkut.

Things I would like to see with G+ is better integration with Google Reader, Music, Maps, Blogger, and Picasa. Although the latter is somewhat already the case.

I consider G+ to be a nice medium between Twitter and Facebook. Circles is a fantastic way to organize friends, and although many would say that the same feature is in Facebook, I would argue that’s not quite true. With Facebook, when you friend someone, by default it’s mutual, and the relationship is immediately two-way.

On G+, and even Twitter, by default it’s initially one-way– someone can follow you, but you don’t have to follow back. This is a fantastic noise control. I hope to blog more about this in a post all it’s own.

Spotify

I haven’t been so excited about a music driven social site since Lala. I really enjoy discovering new music and playlists, and overall storing it all in the cloud. That was what Lala was before Apple bought them and closed them down. I was pretty mad at Apple for shutting down such an awesome service that was still in it’s infancy. But anyway, Spotify has made it’s way into the US now, and I jumped on from day one pretty much, and immediately jumped to paying a premium account.

Since the birth of the mp3, music has long had it’s hand in the social network. People just want to share/steal music. However the record labels has made all of that troublesome. But all of that could be a different blog post all together.

What does the future hold? It’s hard to say. But looking at the history, at least my history, of social networks, we can see a few things:

  1. Social networks, like all popular things in the real world, they come and go.
  2. The very niche social networks are becoming popular or at least seem to have staying power .
  3. There are still new social networks and communities to be discovered.

The Internet is very much about connecting not just information, but people and their interests. The traditional social networks that tries to be everything, I think will soon discover that they can’t do a good job to please everyone. Users will find a better hangout that delivers a better social platform for their specific interests.