Whether you love it or hate it chances are you have buckled under the influence of social media, and you have certainly not been oblivious to this trend which edges nearer to a lifestyle. Even more than a lifestyle, what started as a way to simply stay connected with acquaintances has become a part of everyday communication that has redefined what it means to go viral.
What is social media? Social media is a term used to describe online interactions where user generated content is shared or the exchange of information takes place. In other words, it’s the sharing of information through an online network.
Since the Web was in its infancy users have harnessed the Internet as a tool for communicating in ways that were never before possible. Email was amazing for instant delivery of a message no matter where it was headed; chat rooms were perfect for meeting new people that might be hundreds of miles away; AIM and ICQ buddy lists enabled users to stay connected with friends and personal acquaintances.
But it was in 1997 that the idea of a “Social Network Site” was introduced with the launch of SixDegrees.com (playing off six degrees of separation). The site was created to help people connect with others, allowing users to build a friend list, view people’s profiles and send messages directly. At the time there were a variety of individual options for online communication, e.g. email, chat, profiles, dating sites etc., but what SixDegrees did was combine all these features and tools to create a social environment where connecting with others was easy and fun. Though this online pioneer is no longer an industry leader, it once welcomed millions of users and it cannot be overlooked that SixDegrees.com played a hand in the evolution of social media.
Launched in 2001, Ryze.com was one of the first social network sites focused primarily on helping tech professionals and entrepreneurs connect with business networks. Ryze not only helped introduce online social media to the world of small business, but also acted as somewhat of a breeding ground for future sites. (Ryze creators and many initial members of the site, such as the creators of LinkedIn and Friendster, were well acquainted personally and professionally).
As the tech-savvy generations came up and the number of Internet users increased so too did the presence of social network sites, and it was a few years into the new millennium when social media became a trendy sensation thanks to the launch of sites like MySpace and Tribe.net. SixDegrees and Ryze may have been ahead of their time, but both are good examples of sites that paved the way for today’s most popular social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress and LinkedIn. There is also a growing presence of specialized niche sites which welcome a community of users with similar interests.
Nowadays it is nearly impossible to avoid encountering some type of social media, whether it be online forums, blogs, social blogs, wikis, social networks, podcasts, photos, video, or social bookmarking.
A scholarly examination of social network sites was conducted in 2007 by researchers at the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, which is a web-based, peer-reviewed scholarly journal. By utilizing a variety of methodical techniques, theoretical traditions and analytic approaches the intriguing study draws upon a unique collection of articles focused on analyzing a broad spectrum of social network sites. It helps display the value of social media today by taking a look into its history.