Getting bigger and bigger
Web technologies have evolved around us almost faster than we can understand. The percentage of our lives that is now online is growing all the time. This has raised the importance of social media in our lives.
Emailing services were the first to hit the masses. I remember when MSN was mostly operated as a paid-only service, and we would look up with respect and longing at the people around who had more than the 100 Mb free space. I remember when Gmail came to scene with its 1GB offering, its closed beta was even more in demand than the Google+ invites. It was hailed as groundbreaking; and we all wondered what sort of man would require so much space!
It was the same story in social networks, first with Friendster, people were cautious about them, exploratory. It was judged to be something of an experiment and indeed it was portrayed that way by a lot of the media. No one took them seriously. The bombshell for me came in the form of Orkut. I remember back then with all the settings most of us had no clue about, we would all stalk people endlessly (the predecessor to Facebook stalking, which is now a full fledged career path). It had increasingly open profiles in the early days, and people would generate a frenzy by just changing the tiniest details (read relationship status).
Hi5, Tagged and the recently sold MySpace captured a similarly enthusiastic public. But their market was more a niche and therefore success was a bit fleeting from a general standpoint.
And then Facebook happened. Combining the most loved features of the other networks from all sorts of interests to make it all inclusive, it was the real deal. Most of us have grown along with the network, through its baby steps to the strides it is now making. Today Facebook has around 600 million users who spend about 700 billion minutes on it every month. If it were a country, it would be the third most populous in the world.
The social media scene has now imploded. For instance, we now have Google’s Orkut, which is popular in Brazil, Tencents’ QQ, popular in China, Twitter which limits us to 140 word ‘tweets’, which is well, popular everywhere. There’s YouTube for video-sharing and Flickr for picture sharing, There’s LinkedIn for job networking and Classmates for finding old school buddies, and Foursquare for location based on-the-spot meet ups. Not to mention a host of niche networks on every concievable interest from ones for dog lovers to wine-tasting. Theres now such a thing as “social etiquette”.
Facebook has been massively successful, mostly because it has learnt from its predecessors mistakes. Luring users with a slick and easy to use interface combined with engineering marvels like integration APIs and social gaming have made it supremely popular. The possibilities in social gaming opened up new avenues and we were stuck, checking every hour back to see if our energy had refilled, or if the crops were ready to be harvested.
Personally, I have been a slow adopter. I tend to wait the early months to avoid the newest teething problems before jumping in. On some level, technology and its potential scares us. Maybe that’s because the possibility of become famous because of a historic blunder made on social mediahas multiplied!
Some experts are touting location based services like Foursquare, because their integration will make it easier to get recommendations on places to go and stuff to do in real life. Lets see what the next big thing will be.
As the IEEE Spectrum says, one thing is for certain, the Web if the future will connect our physical world with our virtual one, enabling our online interactions to give us valuable insights into our offline lives.