Social media

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.

There were simpler, more widespread alternatives, too, such as The Palace, Virtual Places and WBS – of which the latter really brings out the nostalgic in yours truly, a regular guest back in 1995.

Screendump from the soon-to-maybe relaunched Webchat Broadcasting System, with the look and feel of its mid-nineties predecessor.

Screendump from the soon-to-maybe relaunched Webchat Broadcasting System, with the look and feel of its mid-nineties predecessor.

Later on, early 1996 saw the first major Norwegian webchat, SN-snakk on Schibsted Nett:

The mid-nineties header of Schibsted Nett

The mid-nineties header of Schibsted Nett, with changing daylight as the day (and night) progressed… A feature that I found highly intriguing at the time.

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.

Google in 1998.

Google in 1998.

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 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.

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6 Responses to Social media: A 20th century phenomenon

  1. Kristine says:

    Interesting read. If I was forced to live without social media for months I think, like you, I’d miss my blog the most. Facebook would hardly be essential, Twitter a bit more so as it’s great for keeping me up-to-date on what “my crowd” is reading, thinking, doing, and there are cultural differences here.

    As one who’s lived for what feels like substantial parts, but in reality is just about six+ years, of my life abroad, I’m often struck by the differences btwn the Norwegian and the British Twittersphere and Blogosphere: the Norwegian is much more personal, the British has much more of a professional and/or issue-based focus. There are exceptions to this “rule”, but … ah, well.. they are different, and I’d miss them in different ways.

    I can understand you feel the way you do though. I only go back to to Cluetrain, 99 in theory but 00/01 in praxis, but sometimes that feels ancient (in a negative sense). I didn’t start actively using social media until last half of 05 though, and still: it feels rather surreal when I read, which I find I’m doing often these days, of a few months old new-found expertise in social media, and, more often, debates in the Norwegian social media-verse we had a few years back in the UK media-verse. It’s a strange world indeed.

    Too much work, as you say, would perhaps make me dip out of it too, though I’d have a hard time not blogging for more than weeks, but I can symphatise with how you might feel the hype around it a bit strange, over the top, surreal ++ too after all those years you’ve spent in this environment

  2. Jarle Petterson says:

    I too find find Facebook the least interesting of the two (it and Twitter), Kristine. Extremely intrusive, with friends’ and acquaintances’ anticipation of your approval of a load of applications (as a rule I never do). Also I’ve seen how addictive it can be.

    Apart from that, there’s been very much ado about, you know… Nothing, really. With so little new, compared to ancient phenomena, you have to wonder what the (pretty overwhelming) fuzz is about, really.

    And yes, I agree 100 percent: The Norwegian blogosphere and the ones overseas, especially in the English-spoken world, differ in so many ways. There’s a reason I keep a blog in English on top of the Norwegian one, you know. Over here the emphasis on the social aspects is palpable, whereas the English more often than not focus on important matters, demonstrating relevance and insight while doing so. I don’t mean to imply that’s always the case, but an overall impression nonetheless. Your own blog, for one, makes an excellent exception from the rule, by the way.

  3. Kristine says:

    From the rule about Norwegian or English blogs?;-) Because my notion and understanding of blogs, my blog awakening if you like, was very much facilitated by people associated with the Samizdata blog, a kind of “father of blogs” or political blogs in the UK, esp. by , my blog is very moulded by that. And strangely enough I often find myself counted as one of them, in other words as an expatriat UK (media) blogger rather than as a Norwegian blogger. That’s unintentional in the sense that I never set out to be a UK blogger, I didn’t think nationality was important for blogs at all, but UK media bloggers, and some political ones, were my reference points. And because I write in english, which is a result of the blog being coneived in London and me having clients and friends in many non-Norwegian speaking countries, I’m often not perceived as a Norwegian blogger. Hell, I get all these UK politicians following me on Twitter;-) But the topic of national blog cultures is one I’m very fascinated by. I mean, even the Norwegian Twittersphere is very different from the UK one, and the whole experience of using Twitter has changed since it started becoming mainstream among Norwegians. I sometimes think I should have, like you, one Norwegian and One English account, but then I already have @Netthoder and @KristineLowe to maintain, and that feels like quite enough.

  4. Jarle Petterson says:

    Ah… Well, yes, I jumped to the obviously premature conclusion that your blog is Norwegian in branding it an exception from the general rule. Of course! 😉

    But now that you mention it, I can see how it is construed as British, however exiled. If it hadn’t been for my prior knowledge, I would have, too.

    And yes, the Norwegian Twittersphere, as well as the blogs, are perhaps a little too up close and personal for my liking, in the sense that you’re expected to hold a set of geeky values, as if use of very common, extremely mainstream tools, such as Twitter, requires a certain amount of geekiness. Perhaps as a result of misconceived exclusivity. It certainly ties in well with my assumption that social media are still considered ground-breaking, a little vanguardist, and new — by some.

  5. […] Social media: A 20th century phenomenon | Insignificances […]

  6. me says:

    I want to go back to the 1990’s internet!!!! I’m tired of all this, twitter, facebook, myspace generation. Give me my old internet or give me death!

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