One aspect of the Facebook story, which seems to provide a jaw-dropping experience for many is the fact that the first version of the platform was built in a college dorm room and launched within a month of conception.
To many people who look at Facebook now, this seems an unbelievable feat, but when this fact is pointed out to those who understand computer programming, their jaw’s usually stay right where they are.
My point is that social platforms such as Facebook aren’t as difficult to build into basic functioning websites as many would expect. And whilst today’s Facebook features such as facial recognition tagging, niche advertising and post geo-targeting are becoming the expected norm, it’s important to realise that it’s not these wiz-bang gadgets that have driven their adoption or growth.
When Facebook came into mass popularity, there were already other major players in the social media arena, primarily Myspace and Friendster.
Facebook saw something being done, and simply offered another way to do it. It was not necessarily a better way but rather more importantly it was a ‘different’ way to provide social media.
What Facebook did differently was to help mature generations realise that social tools were not just for kids.
This was done through originally having to own a college/university email address to join and also, it’s simple design and features.
Whilst younger generations saw Facebook as boring and dull, the older generations appreciated it’s simplicity and helpfulness in maintaining real-life relationships.
This air of simplicity, elegance and exclusivity was in direct contrast to the over-powering nature of MySpace which offered too much for the user to do.
A Typical MySpace and Facebook Page in 2006
The major social platforms now available could easily be viewed from afar as offering the same experiences, but it is their subtle differences that have driven their popularity.
I’d like to have a look at the major players and see how their offerings differ – driving their adoption.
As I’ve already mentioned, Facebook chose to offer simple design and functions to facilitate communication rather than trying to do too much. Ensuring that every user had limited control over what could be done on the site meant it levelled the paying field between the tech savvy and laggards. In other words – people with little computer experience didn’t feel out of place using the platform making it a popular place to be for everyone.
Google+ provides a ‘social layer’ to your web experience. The main difference between it and Facebook is due to the fact that Google dominates so much of the online landscape. Having a Google+ account active when you browse means that you can easily integrate your social profile into much of your web activity. With Facebook you usually have to choose to opt in to such experiences. Google+ is popular with the tech savvy due to its enhancement of their overall web experience.
Linked In has revolutionised employment through it’s adoption of the Facebook model and replaced a users social network with its professional network. A good way to describe the power of Linked In is as follows:
One day you wake up and decide that you would like to work at IBM. Using Linked In, you can simply search to find people who work at IBM and be shown a virtual map to help you discover who in your professional network works at IBM or more importantly, who knows someone who works at IBM, perhaps it might be someone who knows someone who knows someone who works at IBM, and thus a simple digital introduction could be facilitated between the parties involved.
Put simply, access to famous people. For the first time, a popular social platform allowed users to follow a person without needing approval. The adoption rate by famous people who wanted to present their lives in ways different to traditional methods (‘Right now I’m eating a piece of toast’) drove the growth of Twitter and continues to make it one of the most used platforms available.
Twitter for a visual world, Instagram also won users over by its immediate nature.The ability to choose flattering filters before processing the image was also standout feature. Once again, famous people flocked to Instagram, driving it’s growth.
Pinterest’s focus is not about sharing, its about collecting. Collecting has different psychological drivers to sharing so it is felt to be a different experience. Some people are driven to collect things, its a common human trait and Pinterest simply facilitates this in a digital way. Of course, one element of collecting things is looking at them and sharing them with others but this is not the main goal for the user.
Tumblr and blogs provide users with a place to express themselves in a way that they might not feel comfortable sharing with their larger, real-life social circles. Users usually express their interest within the frame of a certain topic or niche with images and text. This is usually done to a degree that would usually be deemed socially unacceptable on the more popular platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. Tumblr and Blogs provide an easy to use platform to practice this focused expression.
Vine fosters creative competition that many people can take part in and share. Everyone has to use the same device and follow the same rules when making their creation. Because it is done through video, the number of options for creative output is much more than that of a still image. The timing of it’s release was key to growth, just before Instagram introduced video functionality.