Social media through the ages: Revolutionizing digital content

Social media platforms have been developing and evolving from as far back as 1997. Claire Boston | Multimedia Journalist

By Harry Rowe | Staff Writer

In a world with 7.5 billion people, how many active monthly Facebook users would you guess there are? A hundred million? Possibly a billion? Not quite. According to recent data released by Facebook, there are over 2.27 billion active monthly users on Facebook — 2 billion. Social media wasn’t introduced to the world until 1997 with Six Degrees and didn’t become popular until right before the turn of the century … So how did we get here?

When looking at the evolution of social media, it is important to keep in mind just how basic the beginning was. In 1997, was introduced to the world, pioneering the way for the future of the internet. Users were allowed to create a profile, friend others, post on message boards, and even message their closest friends. The site lasted for a few years until it closed in 2001.

Although it didn’t stick around for very long, the introduction of Six Degrees marked an important moment in social media history. Soon after its close, websites like Friendster and MySpace started gaining huge momentum. According to an article in the New York times from 2006, Friendster had gained over three million users by the fall of 2003, a little over six months since its debut in March.

“Friendster was so focused on becoming the next Google that they weren’t focused on fixing the more mundane problems standing in the way of them becoming the next Google,” Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, a professor of strategy and innovation at the International Institute for Management Development, said of Friendster in the article.

As people drifted away from Friendster, a new website begin to gain traction. MySpace, a company that’s massive rise was just as big as its massive fall, was becoming a mainstream platform. Created in 2003, the website was virtually a Friendster clone. By June of the next year, it was receiving over a million different users per month and just kept going. Popular artists like R.E.M. began posting their albums on MySpace, getting even more traffic to the site. In 2005, the site was bought for $580 million and was growing at exponential rates. At its peak around 2007, the company was estimated to be worth $12 billion.

2008 is when Facebook, a local project started by entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg, surpassed MySpace in users and never looked back. Originally meant for only Harvard students, Facebook, initially named The Facebook, was fairly one dimensional at first. Users could upload a picture to their profile, put some information about themselves and add friends. There was no messaging or even status updates at this point.

Facebook soon gained more and more users, created a high school version that was soon merged with the college one, and was on pace to take off. By 2009 the site had 360 million monthly users, and in the next year it had somehow almost doubled that number with 608 million. Facebook continued to create innovative features like entire games you could play with other users on the platform and a newsfeed on the website. Although Facebook had begun to cement itself as the super power among social media sites, other competitors emerged and created their own niches; by 2010, a platform called Twitter was producing over 50 million tweets a day, allowing users to update their followers of events in real time. In 2012, Facebook bought a two-year-old Instagram for $1 billion. Instagram had already amassed over 50 million users.

That leads us to today, where the average global internet user spends at least 135 minutes a day on social media alone, according to Statista. With dozens of platforms boasting hundreds of millions of users, the market is constantly being challenged and innovators are creating solutions to problems in the digital space. Even at Baylor, social media is a way for students to be updated on real-time emergencies.

“Social Media is one of the many tools we may utilize to notify the campus community of an emergency,” said Leigh Ann Moffett, Baylor’s director of emergency management in the department of public safety. “The university recognizes the need to have redundancy in our emergency notification capabilities and push content to faculty, staff, and students in any way possible. Of all options available, @bayloralert is typically the most timely platform, followed by SMS text and emails.”

Baylor’s Department of Public Safety isn’t the only Baylor department that heavily utilizes social media. Baylor’s Information and Technology Services has had a Facebook page since shortly after Facebook allowed organizations to create accounts instead of just individuals, according to Carl Flynn, director of marketing and communications for Information Technology & University Libraries. They created their three Twitter accounts, @BaylorITS_Alert, @BaylorITS, and @BaylorITS_Help back in 2009, only three years after Twitter was created. While the other two systems are still functioning, @BaylorITS_Help has been shut down.

“Social platforms have helped Baylor ITS to be more immediately available/accessible to our clients over the years,” Flynn said. “It is satisfying when someone tweets @BaylorITS and we are able to quickly respond to their concerns. And, when someone rants on Twitter about ITS, we can see the concerns and address them without being approached directly. This sort of interaction demonstrates that we are listening and responding to our clients, which is a powerful approach to client support.”