My absence from the social media scene during summer, mainly based on a number of all-too time-consuming assignments, has lead me to realise that I simply do not miss it, save for blogging, as you will understand. And I think I know why, as I suspect I really tired of the social media more than a decade ago. “Hang on,” you say? “Social media didn’t exist at the time”?
Dear reader, I beg to differ.
The sudden enthusiasm for web 2.0 and, in particular, the scores of social media outlets emerging over the last five years or so (in some instances much less) is a very puzzling one, implying that we’re dealing with something altogether new – which indeed it is not. In fact, many of them are, for one reason or the other, 1990’s phenomena – some even older – cracked up to be new.
You have to wonder though, where the enthusiasts were in the early 1990’s to the mid-nineties, at which time the social media flourished, even though you cannot blame them for revelling in the wonders the rest of us hailed some 15 years ago. Even so, it is fascinating to see how so many of the newly converted appear as experts, chiefly based on mere ardour.
My guess is that most of them still wore shorts at the time, lacking Internet access, as most did. Which, in my view, is a perfectly understandable and valid excuse. I, for one, am not the least surprised that they perceive social media as a novelty.
Granted you never found sophisticated, convoluted packages such as Facebook, with its multifaceted solutions back in the heydays of Web 1.0. Nevertheless most of them did exist, albeit separately. What Mark Zuckerberg et al did, was to offer it all as a package, invoking much praise. For work already done by the included third-parties.
Also, video clips weren’t nearly as accessible back in the 1990’s as they became with the launch of YouTube. But accessible they were, even in pre-web times. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re back in the 1980’s, at which time even many of Facebook’s, Twitter’s and the instant messengers’ basic features indeed were available.
In the 1980’s you had access to the net, even if it was a different one, by way of a slow dial-up modem and a plethora of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), first and foremost championed by CompuServe, as I recall (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong in that assumption). It offered much of what we find on today’s Internet, less the GUI (Graphic User Interface) and hypertexted functionality. Let me mention but a few:
- YouTube? A matter of instant on-page access only. You could download just about any video you wanted back in the 1980’s, although often as native AVI files (later, in the early 1990’s, Apple’s Quicktime MOV files came to)
- Flickr/Picasa? Same thing here: Photos were shared by the numbers, quite often at impressive resolutions for that time
- Socialising? Numerous fora were available on the equally numerous bulletin boards
As for socialising, by the end of the 1980’s, some had even been on the Internet for almost two decades, enjoying the blessings of email and the very email-like Usenet (more often referred to as Newsgroups), offering threaded discussions, not to mention IRC (Internet Relay Chat), when it came along at le fin de décennie (i.e. the 1980’s).
When it came to video, we also had Real Player and Quicktime files embedded in web pages for years and years prior to YouTube, which by the way really wasn’t much of a novelty in terms of technology, as it was based on Flash, introduced back in the mid-nineties.
My chief motivation for hooking up in pre-web times was the ability to “modem” (as a verb) brochure and magazine originals to print offices. Little did I know, at the time, that the yet-to-come web would make printed publications obsolete.
Before long I was, however, deeply fascinated by the interactivity (as in interaction between the individual and the on-line community – and between individuals) offered by the web, at a time when “interactivity” was largely seen as a highly graphical experience, with avatars and landscapes, in which the participating parties roamed. VRML (Virtual Reality Markup language, as opposed to the static HTML, Hypertext Markup Language) came along at some point, bringing hope to those who were taken to the idea.
Later on, early 1996 saw the first major Norwegian webchat, SN-snakk on Schibsted Nett:
And oh, there were some quite advanced instant message systems and clients out there, too, such as the mid-90’s PowWow, with VoIP and shared whiteboards! I remember trying it out for a while, before I laid eyes on ICQ and AOL’s IM.
Soon after, in 1999 or so, I found myself a victim of social media fatigue. Which, I suppose, makes my marvelling in present-day social media enthusiasm all the more understandable. At any rate you will, of course, understand that I find the novelty of social media to be greatly exaggerated – and that my absence from social media is to do with more than just time-consuming assignments.
In many ways the various on-line communities of yesteryears were endowed with several (isolated) features superior to those of Facebook or Twitter. In blessing Twitter for its unsurpassed role as conveyor of breaking news, useful links and so forth and so on, we completely ignore that in fact all of the above mentioned, now outdated, services had it all – even that. To their own misfortune they were launched at a time when business models were immature, to say the least.
By the time Larry Page and Sergey Brin eventually incorporated their spare-time project, Google, on 4 September 1998, the infamous dot com era was already long since on its way. I worked in a leading Norwegian daily’s Internet edition at the time, in sync with the Internet’s constant development, as it were. We all sensed that a “new economy” was afoot, even if we did not anticipate its short lifespan.
But Page and Brin inspired much innovation by demonstrating how far you can go with limited funds. The company, founded by the two not yet eleven years ago, now boasts some 20,000 employees, after several credit crunch motivated cut-backs. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that Web 2.0 started with the two. I even took an initiative myself, back in 2000, which could well be construed as a web 2.0 phenomenon; video assisted on-line medical consultations. Needless to say; raising money in the post-dot com period wasn’t easy. Five years later we just could’ve pulled it off.
But others, who either waited the crisis out or came up with their ideas at a later, financially more favourable stage, succeeded, supported by huge expectations to the second generation worldwide web. With Ajax and other means of integration, syndication and cross-publishing came the ability to package a lot of functionality in one portal – or as many as you like. Third-parties were invited to contribute in an open community, such as Facebook.
Wikipedia, launched in 2001, paved the way for content collaboration, such as citizen journalism or even competitors. The blogs, a factor to be reckoned with even then, grew to unfathomable proportions, utilising elements imported or embedded from many of the above mentioned, as well as mutual syndication, linking and, not least, by facilitating a dialogue, by way of reader comments.
Having said that, homepage owners of the 1990’s had much of that, too, even if comments were usually made in the now archaic guest books. But we had feeds, even if the technology behind wasn’t called RSS. I personally had a number of various hard coded (html coding in Notepad) homepages, some made in WYSIWYG editors, too, between 1995 and 2002, of which the last is still available (in Norwegian), by the way.
In many ways the only new thing about blogs, back when they first surfaced, was that they required no prior knowledge of html coding.
In short: Web 2.0 and the social media brought about precious few new features. It has, however, been cracked up to have done just that. Probably, as already mentioned, because the enthusiasts couldn’t possibly know that last century’s Internet indeed offered much of the same.
Upon reading this, I see how I must be perceived as anti social media, but believe me; although I’ve tired of them, I still urge my clients to make good use of Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and so on, as demonstrated on this website, that I recently helped to launch. Most enterprises’ participation in the social media is long overdue. However by approximately 15 years, not four or five, as the newly converted social media consultants would have it.
The real revolution in web 2.0 lies in the so-called cloud. We all know Google Docs and a number of similar services. Personally I’m currently testing the promising G.ho.st service, reminiscent of older thin client solutions, which most definitely is the way to go.
Even Microsoft recently announced a “cloud computed” version of their Office 2010. Who would’ve thought, only two years ago!
But wait… There has to be a catch. Will the use of Office 2010 provide a Sharepoint server of your own – or access to one? That’s pretty much what it sounds like to me. Otherwise they just wouldn’t be Microsoft. But things definitely move in the right direction.
Therein, dear reader, lies the novelty in Web 2.0. Social media, on the other hand.
That’s just yesterday’s news.