Once upon a time, social networks were just a way of connecting with family, friends and co-workers online. But with the frenetic evolution of the Internet and technology in general, the paradigm of social media has changed drastically over time and is currently setting the tone for future predictions.
It is believed that it all started in 1997 with SixDegrees, a website that allowed users to create a profile, make virtual friends and chat with each other without having to rely on e-mail software.
Then, by the early/mid-2000s, while Linkedin kept things to a professional circle, platforms such as Friendster and Myspace managed to come out on top of the race.
The king of the jungle
Even though Myspace remained the leading social network for a respectable few years, Facebook eventually surpassed its number of users in 2008 and ended up asserting sustained dominance in the jungle of social media on a whole new level – to a point where it even started to compete with tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft.
Despite reaching a remarkable 463 million users by introducing unique features like micro-posts for sharing short news and coming up with catchy wording (“tweets”, “hashtags”, “followers”), not even Twitter has managed to overthrow Facebook and its nearly 3 billion users as the number one social platform in the world.
Surfing the mobile and video waves
At a time when social networks were mainly based on text and mostly used on desktop platforms, Instagram (launched in 2010) and Snapchat (2011) both managed to turn the tide by settling on mobile devices and presenting content mainly in the form of pictures and videos.
As of October 2021, the two platforms accounted for around 1.4 billion and 538 million users, respectively. As the undisputed leader in this kind of content, YouTube also has numbers that speak volumes, with almost 2.3 billion monthly active users.
TikTok is arguably one of the latest phenomena to hit the world of social media by reaching a mind-blowing 1 billion users just five years after its launch. Its huge success among generation Z – especially influencers – has even pushed Instagram to come up with features such as Reels to be able to keep up with current trends.
The new world of Metaverse
As a matter of fact, the improvement of bandwidth capabilities with fibre optics and 5G was already making way for more and more high-quality content with shorter loading times, thus improving user experience significantly. Nevertheless, Mark Zuckerberg’s groundbreaking announcement at the Connect conference in late October 2021 is about to revolutionise not only the concept of online social networking as we know it today, but also the very way we connect with people in real life.
Besides rebranding the Facebook corporation as Meta to encompass all its activities – Facebook itself, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and Meta Quest (formerly Oculus) – he introduced Metaverse, a 3D social platform that will allow users to embody their own digital selves as avatars in a virtual parallel universe.
From VR messenger calls to gaming, people will be able to “escape” the real world and bring with them “almost any type of media that can be represented digitally: photos, videos, art, music, movies, books, games…”. This is going to be made possible thanks to the combination of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) by using a Meta Quest headset.
And although Metaverse is still at an embryonic stage, Zuckerberg is already planning on hiring 10,000 specialised engineers over the next five years to work on it. In 2021 alone, it is estimated that the project was already costing more than 10 billion US dollars.
A box full of surprises
From desktop to mobile usage, text messaging to sharing vast amounts of pictures and videos, and now on the verge of being able to live a “second” digital life – it would be an understatement to say that social media has never ceased to amaze us over time in every way possible. After all, who would have ever thought of VR headsets as a valuable application for social networking up until now?
In fact, the recent revelations regarding Instagram’s negative impact on the mental health of youth combined with TikTok’s meteoric rise could well have suggested a possible decline in Facebook’s popularity. But the Metaverse announcement might have been a crucial move to restore confidence from netizens and revolutionise the world of social media once again – this time with the help of virtual and augmented reality. Needless to say, it turns out that the acquisition of Oculus back in 2014 was no mere coincidence…
By Andre VINCART