Social Media: From Then to Now

By Kyler Van Vliet

Social media consumes everyday life, especially with most people stuck in the house all day, away from friends and family. According to We Are Social, close to 4 billion people are using multiple social media platforms for an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes per day during this pandemic. 

This love of connecting with friends and strangers over the internet started in 1997 with the historic website, SixDegrees.com. The site was the first of many in which users could set up a profile page, create lists of connections and send messages within networks. The site amassed around a million users before its fall in the year 2000. 

Over the next three years, online sites such as Friendster and Myspace came along and set the blueprint for the future of social media. These two apps introduced the functions of following specific friends and updating your status. Also, not only could you message your friends, but you could discover and message friends of friends. 

Then, in 2003, Mark Zuckerberg created Facemash, which would eventually evolve into the most popular social media platform of all time: Facebook. Facebook gained traction by appealing to the mainstream and advocated for people to connect with their family and real-life friends rather than just strangers. They also allowed for their users to shape the website, making it a more likable site.  

Within a year of its inception, Facebook had amassed over one million users and today has around 2.7 billion active users, though it remains unknown how many are fake Russian accounts.  

2006 would birth one of the more toxic platforms, Twitter. In an instant, and with the help of an internet connection, users could post important life updates or their wildest opinions in 140 characters or less. Many of the first posts were of people just commenting dumb stuff like “hungry”, “I love pizza” or “enjoying my day”. So maybe Twitter posts haven’t changed much in its 14-year existence. 

LinkedIn, the adult Facebook, was one of the first professional social media apps that introduced an older audience to social media. The site focused on allowing its users to network for professional opportunities and inquiries. In 2006, LinkedIn would see its first profitable year and, with that, would go on to prove how instrumental it would become in today’s professional world. 

YouTube grew wildly successful in its early phases, but would really start to turn heads with its partnership with its creators. In 2007, YouTube and its creators agreed to split the profits of ad revenue and include profitable incentives for the creators. YouTube would go on to become one of the most popular sites of all time. 

In 2010, we saw the creation of Instagram and Pinterest. 

Instagram was the first site in which users could not only upload photos, but also alter them and add “filters”. This ability would lead to the continuous craze of making oneself more attractive than they really are. 

Pinterest’s defining characteristic would allow its users to “pin” (i.e. bookmark) a photo or website. The site even revitalized lifestyle magazines popularity as the favorite categories of the site were home, arts and crafts and fashion. 

A year later, Snapchat appeared with its disappearing act. Users could send and post pictures/videos that would disappear within 24 hours. The app was immensely popular among teens and allowed for a great escape from family members that slowly, but surely, started to join and ruin Facebook. 

2012 brought along one of the steamiest apps with the creation of Tinder, a “dating site”. Tinder became possibly the most popular social media dating app, but it certainly was not the first; that was Grindr in 2009, which streamlined hooking up for gay and bi men.    

From 2015 to 2018, popular social media sites started to incorporate live streaming services within their apps: Facebook Live, Instagram’s IGTV and YouTube Live. Even though streaming services had been around for a while at that point, it was just then that big time executives caught on to the lovability of watching someone live, particularly someone like an athlete giving their reaction in the locker-room after a big win or watching someone play your favorite video game. 

In the present day, the hottest app is TikTok. What started out as Musical.ly in 2014, where its users could upload lip-sync videos to their favorite songs, was absorbed in 2017 by Chinese company ByteDance and converted into TikTok.

By 2018, US users were all over the new site. The app evolved from lip-syncing into a wide array of comedy skits, original song uploads and collaborations among its creators. TikTok even helped Megan Thee Stallion win the MTV Video Music Award for Hip Hop Song of the Year after the song went viral through the app. 

I believe the future of social media lies with short digital comedy skits, as they have proven successful across platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. Many business forums believe companies will try to add product placement within the content.

Augmented reality and virtual reality will grow faster and faster. With more evolution in technology, I predict you’ll see a drop in price for VR tech and better graphics within augmented reality apps. This reality could still be a couple years away, but I’m sure it will be the future generation’s latest trend.

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