Social networking has come a long way since the days of over-stuffed Myspace profiles and 12-hour chats on AOL Instant Messenger.
The way we use social media has changed more over the course of the past ten years than we realize. Do you remember sharing videos before Youtube? How did you plan events before Facebook? What was the myspace term for “writing on someone’s wall?”
Just like you’ve already forgotten what the old Facebook layout looked like, we can’t remember everyday life before the mass takeover of social media. But, with all the changes comes increased usefulness for social media. While social networking began purely for recreation, could we finally start using social media for a socially relevant purpose?
Tracing social media back to its beginning is like figuring out if the British or Lexington Militia fired first to start the Revolutionary War.
Between AOL, Friendster, the first email in 1971 and Myspace, all we know is that social networking was born out of somewhere, at some point. What really matters is that those first few online interactions between friends shaped the way we came to think of the Internet and bulldozed a trail for further and more expansive methods of social networking.
We had to deal with Myspace profiles taking the better part of five minutes to load, only to crash our browsers and send dozens of error reports to Internet Explorer. We dealt for a while, but then we moved on to bigger and better things.
The Different Uses
We really aren’t content unless we’re sharing everything with everybody on the web, all the time. The world of social media is developing to suit that need.
While Myspace was great for writing on your friends’ wall (or whatever the equivalent was called) or looking through Spring Break photos, it held little use outside of that. Bands and musicians used Myspace for free promotion and a few magazines or local businesses set up shop, but by and large, companies had no presence on myspace.
Facebook ushered in the age of being connected to more than just friends via the Internet. Facebook allowed us to talk to friends, read about upcoming concerts, subscribe to podcasts and “like” local gyro restaurants all at once. Facebook successfully integrated just about every aspect of our social lives into the web.
The few things Facebook overlooked where quickly picked up by other social networking sites.
Sifting through long posts, pictures, videos and other assorted clutter to get to news was difficult on Facebook, so Twitter sprouted up, giving people 140 characters to spill their guts or forever hold their peace. No pictures, no Farmville results, no 500+ word status updates, just quick bits of information with links to more.
But, what else did Facebook miss? What about telling everyone where you are at all times? Foursquare stepped in to fill that need. You obviously want your friends and co-workers to know that you just checked in at that new restaurant so they can ask you about it later.
And we all want our friends and family to know which songs we put on our “50 Best Songs Ever Recorded” playlist, so Spotify stepped up to the plate, allowing us to share and create playlists with friends.
A Larger Purpose
That’s all good and well, but finally, a social networking site exists that has a useful, real-life purpose past the point of socializing.
Just Visiting is a healthcare oriented social networking site and forum that allows hospital patients to connect with friends and family, whether distant or local. Through the site, patients can communicate without the limitations of visiting hours, medical status or distance. Just Visiting is possibly the first social networking site that accomplishes something beyond wasting time and “liking” the pages of your favorite Chinese buffets.
Will other sites like this one arise? Sites with a forum for discussion of issues, socially relevant topics and useful interaction? We can only hope.
About Guest Author:
Holly Watson is a graduate student working towards her doctorate in literature. She is a tech and social media junkie and enjoys blogging on behalf of golden rule. You can follow her on Twitter at @hollyemily7.