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This paper intends to discuss the course of evolution of social media sites. Within the discussion, the paper describes the history of social media sites, how social networks were developed and how they operate. In addition, the paper will show facts and figures of major social networking sites like the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
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Over the past few years, social media has turned out to be an essential part of our lives. However, it has been there even before the launch of popular sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. The difference between past years and now is that social media is extensively available to many people all over the world. Over the years, social media has been used for social activities and information gathering (Boyd 2009). These two activities raised the concept of information sharing.
According to Sundheim (2010), the origin of social media can be traced back to 1950s when telephones were first used. During this time, several “phone phreak” groups came into being. The groups were established as a result of high cost of making phone calls. Technologically equipped individuals used to hack telephone line and use them without any payment (Knol 2009). In addition, individuals were fond of commandeering phone corporations test lines and conference circuits so that important meeting could not take place.
Twenty years later, another form of social media materialized. It was known as ‘BBS’ standing for Bulletin Board System (Chapman 2010). The Bulletin Board Systems were tiny servers “powered from a personal computer attached to a telephone modem” (Sundheim 2010). The system functioned similarly to modern day blogs and forums. In those periods, community members could get involved in deliberations, online games, as well as downloading and uploading of files. The only predicament was that computers were too big and costly, sluggish and inefficient hence a small number of people took part in BBS activities. In the year 1979, UseNet were developed by “Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis” (Chapman 2010). These lacked a central server or a devoted administrator and thus they were different from a majority of Bulletin Board Systems and forums. The Usenet give rise to the concept of newsreader clients which then led to RSS feed readers currently employed in tracking blogs and information (Parr 2010). As a matter of fact, booth Yahoo and Google employ many principles of the UseNet system.
During the 1980s, Bulletin Board Systems turned to being a secretive occurrence (Chapman 2010). The sites had been used for unacceptable activities like adult material, virus codes, hacking theories (phreaking) and pirate software among others (Sundheim 2010). During this period, exact names and identities of individuals were highly protected and the sites could not be used for open socialization. However, there were some lawful BBSes which allowed individuals to log in and chat with one another (Nickson 2009). Nevertheless, the process was much sluggish than today.
According to Chapman, another company, by the name of Genie, was developed by General Electric Subsidiary in 1985 and collapsed in 1999. The site made use of text-based service and competed with other social networks thus helping to lower the cost of usage. This site was aimed at engaging the US citizens in some useful activities during leisure hours. Chapman (2010) says that the site offered services like “games, shopping, mail, and forums”. At one period, the site associated with a print magazine.
In 1988, “Internet Relay Chat” (IRC) was conceptualized and used in file sharing and link sharing among other functions (Chapman 2010). IRC is the precursor of modern world instant messaging services.
In the 1990s, social media became more vibrant when Worldwide Web came into existence. This led to more online services provided by “CompuServe and Prodigy’ (Nickson 2009). These were the times when social media started to employ the use of mainstream culture. CompuServe was the founder of the first chat program and very expensive to use. On the other hand, Prodigy was cheaper to use as compared to CompuServe and provided an alternative to people.
As the concept of website became widely known as well as cost effective and speedy, chats systems like AOL took the center stage.
This was quickly followed by the emergence of sites like Napster which could provide online music freely. Sooner, producers protested the distribution of copyrighted music by the site. However, the site had broadened the amount of content one could access via the internet.
Early Social Networks
Dating sites are thought to be the first social network sites. According to Chapman (2010), “the first dating sites started cropping up almost as soon as people started going online”. The sites enabled clients to develop their profiles containing individual’s contacts and pictures.
Internet forums played a big role in the emergence of social networking sites. Forums were developed after the Bulletin Board Systems and were simple to use. Chapman (2010) cautions the view that “sites like classmates.com were the first social networking sites”.
The first large scale and well recognized social network, SixDegrees.com, was launched in the year 1997. It could allow individuals to build profiles, “list their friends and, begin in 1998, surf the friend lists” (Boyd and Ellison 2007). Profiles had been used before in early dating and community sites. SixDegree.com endorsed itself as a site where people could connect with one another and send messages. Regardless of the large customer base, it had, the site could not sustain business and it collapsed in 2000. By this time, many individuals could access the internet but there was no extended network of online friends (Boyd and Ellison 2007). In addition, people who developed relationships via the internet did not meet due to fear of strangers.
According to Chapman (2010), several community tools started to encourage “combinations of profiles and publicly articulated friends” between 1997 and 2001. Boyd and Ellison (2007) informs that since then, AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet, and MiGente welcomed people who developed individual, specialized and dating profiles. Then, LifeJournal was launched in 1999 and it involved the continuous update of blogs. It encouraged its clients to come up with interaction groups where they could chat. On this site, individuals could mark others as pals so as to trickle their journal and control privacy settings. Sundheim (2010) says that LifeJournal is the father of live updates currently common in social networks. In the same year, 1999, Cyworld, an Asian site, was launched and incorporated Social Network Features in the year 2001. Additionally “the Swedish web community”, LunarStorm, operated as a social network site in 2000. Its features included pals list, visitor books, and memoir pages.
The next chapter of social network sites was demarcated by the launch of Ryze.com in 2001 with intention of assisting individuals to control their commerce networks. Boyd and Ellison (2007) inform that the founder of Ryze.com initially introduced it to his pals. These were members of San Francisco commerce and technology society which constituted of businessmen and investors who later formed other social network sites. It is said that individuals behind the formation of Tribe.net, Ryze.com, LinkedIn, and Friendster were highly related and believed in supporting each other without competition. Ryze.com never become populous and it collapsed later on.
Advances in Social Networking
The site was formed in the year 2002 to replace the social activities previously conducted by Ryze.com. In addition, the site was aimed to compete with Match.com which had become a commercial online dating site. By this time, most online dating sites involved the meeting of the stranger with a common goal. However, Friendster assisted “friends-of-friends” to socialize by assuming that they would create a more romantic association as opposed to the case with strangers (Boyd and Ellison 2007). The site had the huge following of gay men, bloggers, and attendees of Burning Man (Pipl 2007). However, as the site gained more command, technological and social hardships arose. Its servers could not support the huge number of users and it was characterized with constant breakdowns and finally, individuals turned to emails as an alternative. The image of the site was further tainted by the media who broadcasted its inability and inefficiency. In addition, the site started to prohibit the activities of its most loyal supporters thus losing more.
At the beginning, the site restricted individuals from accessing profiles of friends with little connection. In an attempt to overcome this, clients added associates and interesting- looking visitors to broaden their reach. This resulted in some individuals gaining lots of pals through a use of most “popular feature” (Boyd and Ellison 2007). The fake profiles created, known as fakesters, made use of celebrities so as to attract friends. This concept angered the site’s top brass and it was prohibited thereon. As a result, more clients left.
However, Chapman (2010) informs that the site is still very active with more than ninety million registered clients and over sixty million exclusive visitors each month. Further, he notifies that most of the site following, 90%, is Asia based.
Hi5 is another social network site launched in 2003 and with a following of over sixty million clients (Boyd and Ellison 2007). In this site, the profile secrecy of a client consists of his addresses as well as those of second and third-degree friends. Clients can specify on whom to access their profiles using the customizing tools provided on the site. Hi5 has a huge support from “Central Africa, Latin America and Asia” (Chapman 2010).
This site was also formed in 2003 and it was among the first typical social networks to be used for business purposes. Initially, the site necessitated clients to build a profile and socialize through sending private messages. Later on, other features like groups, chat forums, up to date profile attributes and real-time updates have been added. In this site, it is assumed that you hook up to the people you are familiar with.
According to Weiner (2009), as at October 14th, 2009, LinkedIn had fifty million clients, growing at a rate of one person per second. Onywang (2009) says that by March 2009, the site had 36 million clients with a new member after every second. Weiner (2009) boasts that when the site was first launched in 2003, “it took 477 days to reach 1,000,000 members and currently, it takes only twelve days to record the same number.
The site was launched in 2003 and it was the most populous social site in the universe by the year 2006 (Bhateja 2010). The site was unique from others as it allowed clients to totally customize the appearance of their profiles. Initially, MySpace accepted communication via confidential emails, clients’ comments on individual’s profile and bulletins related to all the pals. Each client in MySpace enjoys the services of automatically receiving a blog.
Three years after its establishment, the site introduced MySpace IM, a messaging service that allows individuals to chat. Other additions include “real-time status updates and news feed showing friend activity” (Chapman 2010).
According to Owyang (2009), MySpace has a massive membership of seventy-six million in the United States and a growth rate of 0.8% per month. Further, as quoted by Owyang 2009, Social Media Bible says that by February 2009, the average time spent by every member of MySpace was 266 minutes every month. This represented a five percent increment as compared to January 2009 and 30% increment when compared to the previous year.
Facebook came into being on February 4th, 2004 “as an internal friendship network for students of Harvard College” (Nickson 2009). The site then gained rapid popularity among other learning institutions, businesses and eventually to the whole public by the year 2006 (Chapman 2010). In 2008, Facebook was the most populous social network site having trounced MySpace off the top spot and still continues to thrive.
Facebook allows its clients to upload photos, videos and even customize their profile content as well as the design.
The clients have various methods of canvassing with each other. One can employ private messaging service or write on a friend’s wall. The comments posted on somebody’s wall can be accessed by his pals but not the general public. In addition, a person may edit his personal profile and privacy settings so that people can see the only sections the user does not mind. A client can decide on whom to view what depending on the level of relationship. Further, individuals can update their status so that others comment on it and the chain of comments is seen by all the friends. In addition, one can comment or like his status.
Currently, the site has five million active members and approximately a half of them log on every day (Facebook Press Room 2010). Further, every client in Facebook has at least 130 friends and 700 billion minutes are spent on Facebook every month.
By end of January 2009, Facebook had 150 million active members who accessed it services almost on the daily basis using their mobile phones (Zuckerberg 2009). The site has clients in all the continents and is available in over seventy languages in the world. Seventy percent of Facebook users come from outside United States (Facebook Press Room 2010). According to Smith (2009), Facebook enjoys approximately 54.5 exclusive guests each month and its growth rate in the United States is 3.8% per month. Inside Facebbok (2010) informs that over 45% of Facebook members are individuals below twenty-six years of age.
Onywang (2009) informs that despite some individuals having over a hundred friends, communication is usually limited to individuals adequately knowing each other. Arrington (2009) observes that Facebook has completely overtaken MySpace not only in the US but also everywhere in the world.
Over the last few years, the number of Facebook members aged around thirty-five years has been increasing (Zuckerberg 2009). Abell (2009) informs that the number of females aged 55 years and above is highly increasing in Facebook.
Other Social Networks
Multiply was established in 2004 and it has strict privacy and security measure. This is a family friendly and media sharing site (Chapman n.d.). The other social network site is Orkut and was established in the year 2004. This site is very common in Brazil and India with over 65 million clients (Arrington 2009). Further, Arrington informs that Orkut allows its clients to communicate via instant messenger, status update, and media sharing. Additionally, there is a social network site known as Mountain. It was founded in 2008 and works slightly different from others. It allows individuals to follow one another using photos, videos and even music instead of the ordinary status updates. The site encourages entrepreneurs to register and advertise their goods as a way of reaching consumers.
Niche Social Networks
Niche social networks were developed by groups of individuals with particular interests. The interests include social networks hobbies, fervor, and any other common interest one can imagine of. An example here may be Ning which is a podium for developing social networking sites. Chapman (2010) says that “networks are hosted by Ning but can take on their own personality and can even pay to have their own branding instead of the Ning brand.” There are more than 1.5 million existing networks which one can connect to. Ning enables individuals with minimal technical know-how set their social networks and thrive in the market. In Ning, there is no coding or programming thus it is simple to use. Media Sharing Social Sites Photobucket This site was founded in the year 2003 and was used in photo sharing. Uploaded pictures could either be accessed by every member or be protected using a password. The storage memory provided was five hundred megabytes which were reduced from one gigabyte in the year 2009. The site was purchased by “Fox Interactive Media” in the year 2007 for a cost of 250 million dollars (Chapman 2010). Flickr The site hosted over 3.6 billion images by mid-2009. Its features include groups, “photo pools, and allows users to create profiles, add friends, and organize images and video into photo sets/albums” (Chapman 2010). In Flickr, members can license and keep all the copyrights for their photos. YouTube According to SiteImpulse (2010), YouTube was “the first major video hosting and sharing site, launched in 2005.” Its clients may upload video clips for up to ten minutes long and share with friends. The site has recently introduced television shows and videos under the authority of producers. Social features in YouTube are comments, ratings, and alternatives to paying for favorite shows. Real Time Updates
Real-time updates are becoming a tradition in social networking. According to Bhateja (2010), “the free social messaging utility for staying connected in real-time with friends and family is what www.twitter.com promises.” It provides gratis communal networking and micro-blogging service that allows its clients to share and view other users’ updates commonly known as tweets. The site was launched in the year 2006 with its headquarters in California.
Twitter gained its support in the 2007 South by Southwest meeting where updates tripled from twenty thousand per day to sixty thousand per pay (Onywang 2009). The site has cult-like supporters with clients like Oprah and Moon Frye (Sniderman 2010).
According to Ostrow (2009), “the growth rate for Twitter was 752%, for a total of 4.43 million unique visitors in December 2008, at the start of 2008; Twitter had only around 500,000 unique monthly visitors”. Further, he says that twitter clients are mobile, and minimally tethered by technology. The available information shows that twitter is among top five hundred sites that realize more than 4.1M clients per month. In addition, most of the members are more learned with the number of females exceeding that of males. O’Dell (2009) acknowledges that the site recorded eight million exclusive visitors in March 2009. In February 2008, four million individuals in the United States accessed the site compared to 2.6 million individuals the previous year. This shows a 55% growth as compared to 33% growth in the previous two months. Ostrow (2009) argues that exclusive visitors to twitter grew by 1,382% year in year out, from 475,000 exclusive guests in February 2008 to seven million guests a year after, thus “making it the fastest-growing site in the Member Communities category for the month”. In February 2009, twitter had ten million followers which were seven hundred percentage increment as compared to the previous year.
Every member of twitter has at least 126 friends although, only twenty percent of it traffic comes via twitter’s website and the rest originate from computers and smartphones.
This is a fresh micro-blogging site founded by Y combinator in May 2009 (Chapman 2010). Clients send contents via the email and these may include pictures and music. In this site, signups are not required thus it differs from other social sites.
This site was launched in the year 2007 and immediately gained 75,000 members (Chapman 2010). Features in the site include uploading of “photos, videos, text, audio, links, conversations, and other content on blog-like sites.” The site is suitable for lifestreaming as it has mobile appliances for sending to Tumblr. Tumblr is simple to use and thus can be used by individuals with minimal technical knowledge. It has a dashboard where one can view the updates of other clients.
The history of social media can be traced back to the 1950s where Phone Phreaks groups emerged with hacking ideologies. This was followed by BBSes in the 1970s although most of these social sites were banned for involving in unacceptable activities. The earliest social networking sites were involved with dating activities and it is suspected that they were established as soon as people went online. Sites like the LifeJournal and the SixDegree.com were all involved in social activities like dating and users were allowed to create their profiles. Individuals used to follow their friends or friends of their friends. Social networking became vibrant after the year 2003 when sites like MySpace and Facebook were established. These sites have grown so rapidly with Facebook hitting 5000 million marks for its members. MySpace, LinkedIn as well as twitter have a huge following too. Social networks can be classified as real-time updates and social media sharing among other depending on their features.
List of References
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