Writing Assignment: Write a 3 page paper summarizing one of this week’s lesson topics. Choose one of the following as your topic:
1. President George W Bush
2. Social Media
3. President Barack Obama
Include any names, dates, or other facts that were of particular interest to you.
Post the essay to your blog or the forum when you are finished.
Long before it became the enormously profitable mass information and entertainment giant it is today, long before it was accessible to the general public, and certainly many years before Al Gore claimed he “took the initiative in creating” it, the Internet was a focal point for social interactivity. Of course, computer networking was originally envisioned back in the 50’s and 60’s as a top-secret military-centric command and control scheme. But as it expanded beyond just a few government hubs and computer labs, so too did the idea that connected computers might also make a great place for discussing mutual topics of interest, and perhaps even meeting or renewing acquaintances with other humans. In the 1970s, that idea was starting to make it’s way towards reality.
Even though they had gone public during the late 70’s and early 80’s, computers were still a rare commodity. The machines’ language was bewildering, and their potential seemingly limited. What’s more, the whole sitting-in-front-of-a-keyboard thing was seen as very anti-social. Put all this together and you have a medium where only the most ardent enthusiasts and techno-babbling hobbyists dared tread. Yet it also was during this time, and with a parade of purportedly antisocial geeks at the helm, that the very gregarious notion of social networking would take its first steps towards becoming the cultural phenomenon (that now everyone enjoys) that we know and love today.
It started with the BBS. Short for Bulletin Board System, these online meeting places were effectively independently-produced hunks of code that allowed users to communicate with a central system where they could download files or games (many times including pirated software) and post messages to other users. Accessed over telephone lines via a modem, BBSes were often run by hobbyists who carefully nurtured the social aspects and interest-specific nature of their projects — which, more often than not in those early days of computers, was technology-related. Moreover, long distance calling rates usually applied for out-of-towners, so many Bulletin Boards were locals-only affairs that in turn spurred local in-person gatherings. And voila, just like that, suddenly the antisocial had become social. The BBS was no joke. Though the technology of the time restricted the flexibility of these systems, and the end-user’s experience, to text-only exchanges of data that crawled along at glacial speed, BBSes continued to gain popularity throughout the ’80s and well into the ’90s, when the Internet truly kicked into gear. Indeed, some services — such as Tom Jennings’ FidoNet — linked numerous BBSes together into worldwide computer networks that managed to survive the Internet revolution. And the internet wouldn’t stop growing, and by the mid 1990’s it was moving at full speed. Yahoo had just set up shop, Amazon had just begun selling books, and the race to get a PC in every household was on. And, by 1995, the site that may have been the first to fulfill the modern definition of social networking was born.
Though differing from many current social networking sites in that it asks not “Who can I connect with?” but rather, “Who can I connect with that was once a schoolmate of mine?” Classmates.com proved almost immediately that the idea of a virtual reunion was a good one. Early users could not create profiles, but they could locate long-lost grade school chums, menacing school bullies and maybe even that prom date they just couldn’t forget. It was a hit almost immediately, and even today the website has over 57 million certified users.
In 2002, social networking hit really its stride with the launch of Friendster. Friendster used a degree of separation concept similar to that of the now-defunct SixDegrees.com, refined it into a routine dubbed the “Circle of Friends,” and promoted the idea that a rich online community can exist only between people who truly have common bonds. And it ensured there were plenty of ways to discover those bonds.
An interface that shared many of the same traits one would find at an online dating site certainly didn’t seem to hurt. Friendster CEO Jonathan Abrams even once referred to his creation as a dating site that isn’t about dating. Within a year after its launch, Friendster boasted more than three million registered users and a ton of investment interest. Unfortunately, the service has since seen more than its fair share of technical difficulties, questionable management decisions, and a resulting drop in its North American fortunes. Although briefly enjoying success in Indonesia and in the Philippines, Friendster has since abandoned social networking and now exists solely as an online gaming site.
The next big hit, LinkedIn, took a more serious approach to a social media phenomenon. Rather than be an online playground for teenagers, former classmates, and cyber-monkeys. LinkedIn was, and still is, a networking resource for business people who want to connect with other professionals. (To drive home that fact, LinkedIn contacts are referred to as “connections.”) Today, LinkedIn boasts more than 297 million members. Myspace also launched in 2003. Though it no longer resides upon the social networking throne in many English-speaking countries — that honor now belongs to Facebook just about everywhere — Myspace was once the perennial favorite. It did so by tempting the key young adult demographic with music, music videos, and a funky, feature-filled environment. It looked and felt hipper than major competitor Friendster right from the start, and it conducted a campaign of sorts in the early days to show alienated Friendster users just what they were missing. Over the years however, the number of casual Myspace users declined, and today the site exists now as a social networking site targeted to bands and musicians
But then, the whole social media scene was shaken with the release of Facebook (which now happens to be the most popular social media network). Founded, like many social networking sites, by university students who initially peddled their product to other university students, Facebook launched in 2004 as a Harvard-only exercise and remained a campus-oriented site for two full years before finally opening to the general public in 2006. Yet, even by that time, Facebook was considered big business. So much so that, by 2009, Silicon Valley bigwigs such as PayPal co-founder and billionaire Peter Thiel invested tens of millions of dollars just to see it flourish. The secret of Facebook’s success — the site currently boasts more than 1.3 billion active users — is a subject of much debate. Some point to its ease of use, others to its multitude of easily-accessed features, and still others, to its memorable name. A highly targeted advertising model certainly doesn’t hurt, either, nor did financial injections such as the $60 million from noted Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing in 2007. Regardless, there’s universal agreement on one thing: Facebook promotes both honesty and openness. It seems people really enjoy being themselves, and throwing that openness out there for all to see.
The reason for Facebook’s success? It has an open API which makes it possible for third-party developers to create applications that work within Facebook itself. Almost immediately after being released, the platform gained a massive amount of attention. At one point in time, Facebook had hundreds of thousands of apps built on the platform, so many that Facebook launched the Facebook App Store to organize and display them all. The other key to success was Facebook’s ubiquitous ‘Like’ button, which broke free from the bounds of the site and began appearing all over the Internet. Now you can ‘like’ or “tweet’ just about everything even when you’re not on Facebook or Twitter. Realizing the power of social networking, Google decided to launch their own social network (Google+) in 2007. It differed from Facebook and Twitter in that it wasn’t necessarily a full-featured networking site, but rather a social “layer” of the overall Google experience. Initially, Google generated a lot of buzz with the service’s Hangouts feature, which allowed users to enter live video chats with other online friends. At the time of launch, Facebook was scrambling to keep up by integrating a video chat feature of their own. Within just four weeks, Google+ had garnered 25 million unique visitors, and at one point it had over 540 million users. Regardless, the service definitely didn’t dethrone Zuckerberg’s behemoth, as it was shut down by Google due to becoming a dead site. (this seems to be the fate of all of Google’s pet projects, doesn’t it?)
Over the course of the past two years, “Fourth screen” technology — smartphones, tablets, etc. — has changed social networking and the way we communicate with one another entirely. What used to sit on our desks now conveniently fits in the palm of our hands, allowing us to effortlessly utilize functionality once reserved for multiple devices wherever we go.
Given the abrupt rise in mobile computing, it’s not surprising the most popular social media platforms of the past several years hinge on the capabilities of smartphones. Photo and video-sharing applications such as Snapchat and Instagram, the latter of which has now garnered a staggering 20 billion images since the app’s initial inception in October 2010, exist almost entirely on mobile. The same goes with platforms such as Foursquare, an application in which users use their smartphones to check in to various locations around the globe, and various matchmaking services. Tinder, for instance, currently boasts more than 10 million daily users, each of which swipes for potential partners based on their approximately in relation to their smartphone.
Then in March 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus VR, a company on the cusp of mass producing virtual-reality headsets. Upon sealing the deal, Zuckerberg commented regarding the communication potential for the platform, highlighting the slew of potential uses for the virtual technology when it comes to academics, viewing live events, and consulting with doctors face-to-face. However, Facebook has taken a hands-off approach in its management of Oculus VR, allowing the company to continue focusing predominately on gaming applications while other parties, like the U.S. military, quietly looked into using virtual reality headsets for military purposes. A number of medical experts have even begun using virtual reality to treat anxiety, combat-induced P.T.S.D., and other pronounced mental illnesses. Entertainment, meanwhile, has invested in virtual reality for years.
And now at the present day, it seems that the Internet, social media, and technology as a whole, will continue to grow and evolve, with things like Augmented Reality and VR getting ever more obtainable. Who knows, maybe one day humans could transport themselves into the digital realm. But until then, we’ll always have social medias like Twitter and Facebook to belittle others and meet up with friends.