No one really knows why birds migrate. Scientists can conjecture all they want, but until a Canadian goose pipes up and says, “Yeah, it’s because of food and a safe place to breed,” we can only guess. If that actually happens, my bet is migratory patterns will be the least of our worries.
Like birds, the flocks of social networking users tend to move from one place to another (though not often back) in our online environment. While the flock seems to have settled on Facebook recently, where shall we go next? My hypothesis is that we, too, are looking for food (connection to those of like mind) and a safe place to breed (privacy or freedom from the intrusion of marketing messages). But to analyze where we’re going, we must understand where we’ve been.
First there was sixDegrees, noted as the first social networking site to combine profile creation, friends listing and (the kicker) public surfing of friend lists. Classmates.com didn’t add these features until later but when it did, became the second stop on the social networking migration. Classmates offered something SixDegrees did not: A framework in which to find your friends. You could find people you went to school with, one of the primary reasons most social networking users list as why they originally signed on.
Then came LiveJournal, which added an element of blogging to the picture. Ryze’s launch in 2001 sparked the rise of profession-based social networking as LinkedIn came into the picture. Friendster entered the picture about this point as well, and almost became the first major social networking site. Still, while individuals had favorite sites where they explored and spend time, there was no great migratory shift that pulled people away from one site and toward another.
Until MySpace. Sure, it was labeled (correctly then, not so much now) as a site for teenagers, there’s no debating its extraordinary growth. As MySpace began its rise, the initial inklings of Facebook started at Harvard, Yahoo! 360, YouTube, Bebo and Ning all came into the picture. While these niche and smaller efforts at social networking did little but muddy the waters, the over-commercialization of MySpace was priming the online world for its first major migratory shift.
Then 2006 came and Facebook lifted its .edu requisites. Suddenly there was a warmer south and the flocks began to move.
Yet, a funny thing happened on the way to Facebook. People realized they didn’t have to leave MySpace. Our attention deficit disorder society developed the ability to multitask in the social networking environment and many of us maintained both MySpace and Facebook accounts, as well as identities in several other networks.
(For the purposes of this discussion, YouTube, Flickr and the like are considered User Generated Content sites more so than social networking sites, though they each contain elements of community building components.)
Still, you would have to be a fool not to recognize the world’s obsession with Facebook. The under-commercialization of the environment fits perfectly with the online user, one who has fled to the Internet to escape the 5,000+ marketing message inundation we call our daily routine.
In general terms, the flow from SixDegrees to ClassMates to LiveJournal to MySpace to Facebook is somewhat mythological. Most users of MySpace weren’t allowed on the computer when SixDegrees or ClassMates were hitting stride. Still, the early adopters have made those transitions. The reasons for shifting have also changed. SixDegrees to Classmates was likely the result of the framework for search and explosive popularity. Moving to LiveJournal or MySpace was likely the result of functionality as well as popularity.
And the shift to Facebook brings with it another varied reason. How many times have you read a post or heard a complaint (or thought it yourself) that MySpace is just too commercial, too busy. Facebook is an alternative.
Now Facebook, and its related community, is all lathered up over its social advertising model. While they promise to remain clutter-free and clean, is this the impetus that will open the door to the next big thing? Will the implementation of Artificial Intelligence guiding our marketing exposures simply wig everyone out as opposed to making our Facebook experience more contextual and convenient?
And if it’s the former, what social networking site or service is poised to take the reigns? Will there be a new monster site on the horizon or will we break off into microcommunities, thus detaching ourselves from the greater society?
Is this the apex of the pendulum?
I’ve posed this question to some academics. As I await their response, what is yours?
For more on the history of social networking, including a cool timeline graphic I haven’t yet secured permission to put here, go see “Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship by danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison.[tags]migration, social networking, networking, Facebook, MySpace, internet behavior[/tags]