Take a moment and think back to 2005. For many people, it may seem as though only days have passed since the year ended and revelers in Times Square cheered in 2006. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the past 9 years have been some of the most formative in recent history.
To put it in perspective, YouTube was founded in 2005. The website that hosts everything from ridiculous videos of cats dancing to the revolutionary propaganda of the Arab Spring didn’t exist a decade ago. The Kyoto Protocol, the most famous piece of climate change legislation in history, was passed. Pope Benedict XVI was elected, following the death of Pope John Paul II. Saddam Hussein went to trial. The first iPhone was still two years away, and social media was so primitive that it centered mainly on Myspace, which had a stranglehold on the industry, before it was even really considered an industry.
Due to practical technological limitations, the aesthetic design of Myspace in its early years bore no resemblance whatsoever to the current standard set by Facebook. Eye-catching cover photos, Spotify integration, and a visually dominated aesthetic were nowhere to be found. Users had a space for a profile picture and a box to input basic HTML code, affording them a degree of customization.
Social media accounts were essentially glorified email inboxes: convenient ways to communicate with others that weren’t standing directly in front of you. At that point, it would have been hard to believe that social media would grow from an additional inbox to an instant communication tool used by revolutionary dissidents, like the roles Facebook and Twitter played during the Arab Spring uprisings.
By 2010, Facebook had been around for several years and was already the world’s top social network, having successfully built on and expanded the foundation originally laid down by Myspace. As everyone knows, it then evolved into the multimedia platform known all around the world today, boasting integration with a multitude of other sites and apps and being as functionally ubiquitous as email. Facebook has even rolled in many of the other disparate social media devices that Myspace helped popularize, such as instant messaging and photo sharing.
In addition, there is now a much more intense focus on the monetization of social media. As our collective media consumption skews increasingly toward the digital side of things, social marketing and ad placement have become an enormous part of the social media experience. In stark contrast to 2005 and the heyday of Myspace, when social media was a unique way for some people to communicate, social media is now an integral part of our modern society, serving to not only drive interpersonal communication, but commerce and social change as well.
Going forward, social media will continue to converge towards a single point: firmly establishing a niche in our ever-crowded digital lives. The trick is whether or not these platforms will truly be “social networks” like the Myspace and Facebook of old, or rather another curated ad platform for companies and brands to expand their reach in search for the elusive millennial audience.