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A little history

May 4, 2009

Here is a great history lesson in social media taken from an article by Danah Boyd. I put just a piece here because I think it is a great narration of how this all started. The whole article is really quite interesting, you should take a look if you have the time.


Excerpt from Social media is here to stay… Now what?

by Danah Boyd

“History is never a linear narrative and there are multiple histories that can be told of any phenomenon. I’m going to tell you one history of how social network sites gained traction in the United States, beginning with the rise of Friendster in 2003. This history is explicitly partial and American-centric, but I’m going to tell it anyway to highlight a few important things.

Like many other sites at the time, Friendster was designed as to be an online dating site. The goal was to attract audiences repelled by Quickly, the site got picked up by gay men, the digerati, and urban 20-somethings who were known for running around naked in the desert on an annual basis.

Friendster, the company was not prepared for what the latter group would do. With too much time on their hands and a lot of artistic idea, many of the early adopters began creating “Fakesters” or fake characters. They used these for many different purposes, but notably, they were used to collapse the network graph.

As the company tried to swat away what they believed to be the blight on their digital landscape, a new wave of 20somethings started flocking to the site to join in on the fun. This new group – indie rock bands – had a goal. They wanted to connect with their fans and they thought this new tool would be purrrfect. Of course, by creating portraits that looked like the Fakesters, they fueled the ire of Friendster. They too were shooed away.

Angered by the site’s management, many of the early adopters started leaving. Many different sites entered the market on the coattails of Friendster and attracted different audiences. Many of the Burners flocked to The digerati flirted with Orkut before moving onto other media-sharing-focused social network sites; they returned to SNSs with Facebook.

The most significant player that emerged during this period – MySpace – was effectively ignored by the press and digerati. MySpace aimed to attract all of those being ejected from Friendster. They succeeded in getting a few small niche populations before gaining traction with the musicians who were just starting to get that social network sites were valuable. Based in Los Angeles, they had an upper hand.

They managed to attract club promoters and others catering to 20-something urban hipsters who were looking for a tool for coolhunting. This in itself would be a footnote in the history of social network sites, except that bands have fans. And indie rock bands are not just listened to by those who can legally hear them play in clubs. They are loved by young people. Slowly, a symbiotic relationship emerged on MySpace as bands and fans became mutually dependent on one another. Against this backdrop, a youth phenomena emerged.

Meanwhile, another U.S. site was taking hold with a slightly older population. Facebook had launched as a Harvard-only site before expanding to other elite institutions before expanding to other 4-year-colleges before expanding to 2-year colleges. It captured the mindshare of college students everywhere. It wasn’t until 2005 that they opened the doors to some companies and high schools. And only in 2006, did they open to all.

By that time, the landscape around social network sites had changed. MySpace’s popularity with American teenagers had sparked a new wave of moral panics, driven primarily from the media’s misrepresentation of teenage runaways and disturbed kids who leveraged the site to find and knowingly meet up with older men for sexual encounters.

Facebook was narrated as the “safe” alternative and, in the 2006-2007 school year, a split amongst American teens occurred. Those college-bound kids from wealthier or upwardly mobile backgrounds flocked to Facebook while teens from urban or less economically privileged backgrounds rejected the transition and opted to stay with MySpace while simultaneously rejecting the fears brought on by American media. Many kids were caught in the middle and opted to use both, but the division that occurred resembles the same “jocks and burnouts” narrative that shaped American schools in the 1980s.

While there were many adults on MySpace for legitimate purposes, it wasn’t until white collar professionals joined Facebook en masse that the moral panic started to subside. Finally, privileged Americans “got” social network sites, even if they were stuck confronting their high school identities through the listing of 25 things. At this stage, over 35% of American adults have a profile on a social network site. The adoption by this older, wealthier, more educated crowd changed the headlines of the news. Facebook became the new darling and most people thought that it had squashed MySpace long before it had even a fraction of the number of users.”

Read the full article at:

Originally found at:

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