By: Jenny Xie
When I was in elementary school, the coolest thing on the Internet was Neopets, “a virtual pet community” where we can “adopt” non-existent fantasy creatures and conduct a full range of hyperrealistic activities from collecting interest in a bank account to buying furniture for a house to setting prices for items in a shop. That was my first social network, you could say.
Somewhere between elementary school and middle school, I grew up a little bit and discovered Xanga - one of the earlier and eventually biggest blog communities. At first, my interest arose out of the novelty of it all - never before was there a platform where I can produce something (in this case, a “post” with my words and pictures) and have it broadcasted to the entire world. Never before was there a platform where somebody can easily get a taste of who I am without knowing me in person. Never before was it also possible the other way around - and around, and around.
At the same time that I made my first social media breakthrough, so did millions of other people. Not only was there a new way for me to express myself, but now there’s also a way for me to discover other people - strangers leading fascinating lives or better yet, friends who I could know on a different level: the digital level. The way I saw it in 2004, the selling point of blogs can be summarized in two parts:
1. The content: amateur, refreshing, personalized.
2. The eco-system: as far and wide as Internet connection can take you.
As someone who is fueled by information, I honestly felt like I’ve struck gold with Xanga.
But who could’ve predicted that new technology would give me everything I want and more - year after year - all the way to the social media-infiltrated cultural landscape in which we live today?
I remember being on Facebook in 2006 when only maybe a dozen people in my high school were signed up. It wasn’t much fun. Just blue and white; where are the pretty customizable themes I could show off on Xanga or Myspace? I never could have imagined Facebook evolving into the colossal, far-reaching playground it is today. Forget about themes. Rounds and rounds of layout changes - recently peaking with the seemingly unpopular Timeline - could not deter people from signing up and staying on. That’s because while the appearance and/or particular privacy issues of Facebook may have gotten people skeptical, it is exactly this “privacy intrusion” that’s the essence and sustaining appeal of Facebook. With every compromising change, Facebook rolls out a new element of sharing (i.e. geo-tagging) that further incorporates the information people are sharing with both friends and businesses. While the specifics of privacy issues in terms of how social networks handle the information we supply are complicated and definitely worthy of examination, the “share-bility” of anything online is an inevitable reality and precisely one that keeps us on a hook. Truth is, the information people contribute and circulate online is invaluable. It’s social capital. It’s representative of our desires to reach out and grab a hold of the wider world not in our immediate homes, offices, towns.
This desire can and should be harnessed. Whereas the original Facebook was a sparse playground with a few swings and monkey bars, the playground we traverse now is, at the risk of sounding trite, a jungle. Complex and unpredictable. Interconnected. Brimming with opportunities. We are quickly getting comfortable in our new roles as producers rather than just consumers on the Internet, and it’s this new position that enables us to engage with businesses on a friendly, social level.
This is where Likeable Media and my work comes in. Here we have all these people and businesses discovering and maturing with social media, excited to put themselves out there - which is just about all that’s needed to cultivate positive, dynamic relationships on the ultimate shared drive that is the web.
Ever since the speed of Internet connection began to positively correlate with the variety of things to do online, I have felt that to be offline and not engaging is to be cut off from the instantaneously updating feed of the world. This thought holds true now more than ever.
And as a current Likeable Media Buzz Builder, I just don’t see the trend dwindling.
What about you? Do you have a social media story? Where do you see social media going in the next few years? Share your thoughts in the comments below!