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Is it time to develop your own Social Media Platform Part 1

EBS Integrator
Aug 16, 2021,

Have you ever imagined developing the next Facebook or Twitter? Perhaps you’ve pictured yourself in the shoes of Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey? Is it time to create your own social media platform?

We’re going to argue that yes, it is absolutely the time to get your hands dirty and create the next best thing in social media! And with you at the helm, there’s no way you won’t land among the stars! Why? Because you’re reading our blog obviously.

You're the best thing since sliced bread

Your daily dose of feel-good memes

There are several arguments we’ll touch upon, mostly about why this might the perfect time to get into the business of developing a whole new social media platform.

But first we need to discuss some things and lay the groundwork.

For that let’s dive right in our favourite subject – History!

As we’ve quoted many times before:

“Study the past if you would define the future.” – Confucius

Welcome to Part 1 – Should I develop my own social media platform?

The history of social media: brief overview

We’ve already discussed the various bits and pieces that made the computer work all the way back in 1800’s.

And because Merriam Webster defines the term social media as – form of electronic communication through which users share information, ideas, personal messages or other content.

Technically the invention and widespread use of the Telegraph in 1844 counts as “it” for our discussion.

But as fascinating topic as it is, lets gloss over all that to the first “software” that we picture as social media.

BBS – Bulletin Board Systems

Our overview about social media starts with the development of Bulletin Board System (BBS) which was the essentially the precursor for all the functionality we take for granted today.

BBS allowed its users to log into a server and via their terminal or command prompt perform “functions” as downloading or uploading files, sending messages, reading the news, or even direct live chats.

BBS example

Behold the beginning of social media

IRC – Internet Relay Chat

Though there was some basic live chat functionality for BBS’s it wasn’t until 1988 with the introduction of IRC that users could really experience live chats with uploading images or files alongside their messages.

They could “create conversation” channels with multiple users or a two-way chat between users. You were not limited on the number of these channels or “groups/servers” you were a part of, and there are a lot of them! Guess what, IRC’s still sort of used today, 33 years and still kicking.

IRC comic from xkcd

There’s always that one guy who won’t DX!

Friendster – Rise of the “friend request”

In 2002, right after the great dotcom bubble, and the Y2K, we have our first modern social media as we understand it.

Friendster was the first platform to give users rudimentary networking options and email registration.

Friendster Social Media Platform

It was also among the first such platforms to reach more than a million users. At its absolute peak it had 115 million users in 2008, though majority from Asia.

The idea behind this service was primarily to expand your circle of friends – “meet new people and expand your network among people who share your interests”.

However, it quickly expanded into various other spheres, and made an interesting transition as a primarily “social gaming” network closer to the end of its life in 2010-2015.

Arrival of blogs and business networks – LinkedIn and LiveJournal

LiveJournal LogoIn 1999 Web-blogs started gaining in popularity with the launch of LiveJournal. This saw rise to a whole different sphere, people had basic networking functionality with heir profile, and a basic “friend” feature.

But thanks to this, the future of SEO was also paved forward, very soon SEO specialists will learn how to use blogs as a whole new marketing approach. Hey but we talk about that in its own blog post!

LinkedInAnother social media platform that appeared around this time was LinkedIn, specifically in 2003. LinkedIn primarily focused on business network interactions such as finding employees, private messaging, and job opportunities. This also paved the road ahead to the development of proper HRMS structures.

YouTube video service

YouTube, a video streaming and sharing platform was registered in the beginning of 2005 by three former employees of PayPal. Primarily based on the idea that users would like to share their “home videos” somewhere.

From its beta release in May and its official release in January 2006, the number of unique users grew from 30k to an astounding 25 million views with more than 20k new videos uploaded daily by the mid-2006.

Guess they were right about people wanting to upload their home videos.

Funnily enough the original concept of the service was conceived as a Dating Application. The idea behind it was for people to upload vlogs on what they wanted to find in a partner. Though after 5 days of the beta test, not a single person came forth, even after they offered 20$ to do it on craigslist.

Youtube Dating App

So, the team was left with nothing but a robust video hosting platform and nothing else. At which point the team noticed the absolute lack of such a system at the time.

If you were not a computer expert before 2005, you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out how to use the confusing streaming via applications like DivX, Windows Media Player, Real Media and many other players. Besides it had loads of problem with bandwidth and file sizes.

The dating app idea was scrapped, and they began developing an easy interface for people to upload their own videos, rate them, subscribe to other people’s profiles etc.

Let’s go bigger! – MySpace

While that was happening a few savvy employees at eUniverse saw the massive opportunity and potential in Friendster. After only 10 days of development, the first version of MySpace saw release in 2003.

In only a few years MySpace went international and in 2006 it boasted 61+ million users all across the world. Most of the demographic was young people, ages between 16-22 and had 220k new registrations daily.

What set MySpace from other social media at the time, was the ability to essentially construct/edit your profile the way you wanted with HTML code or use templates.

It was truly an exciting time and it made everyone feel like programmers themselves.

We’re sure that many developers today have their roots in trying to set up their MySpace profile.

MySpace example

You had control over your background, custom music/sounds, profile picture position, graphics, gifs with glitter… soo much glitter…

Every visit to a new profile page was an exciting journey into how the person thought, what they found interesting, cool or appealing. It was truly the mirror into the souls of many people.

The team at eUniverse essentially copied the model of Friendster, removed all the stuff they didn’t like, and added robust customization. Importantly they accounted for scalability and proper infrastructure.

They quickly became the absolute giant of social media in around beginning of 2008, named as the most popular platform in Europe and USA.

Facebook has entered the chat

But one of MySpace’s biggest strengths was also its biggest weakness – the immense customization. People are lazy, and quickly outgrew their teenage phases.

Users needed something more “presentable”, and easier to set up and run. In comes Facebook, its main competitor. Though Facebook was developed in 2004, it could barely compete with MySpace in those early years.

Facebook’s prototype was called Facemash, and it began as a simple “RateMyClassmates” app, developed my Mark Zuckerberg when he was in Harvard in 2003.

FaceMash

This however violated the universities policy and only after two days of operation it was shut down.

But, due to its popularity among the students, Mark quickly registered the URL “Facebook” and began working on his project. Initially it was only available to Harvard students where they could post their class schedules, discuss classes and such. A year or so in, Mark introduced the feature of tagging other people in your pictures and the famous “wall”.

Eventually other schools joined in, but it wasn’t until 2006 when Facebook opened its doors for business to everyone and anyone above 13 years old. Mark correctly predicted the use of social media with advertisers and “engaging” with your customers.

It quickly propelled Facebook ahead, that by 2008 it surpassed MySpace in number of unique users and by 2010 it had acquired its half-billionth user.

Twitter – Free SMS with some Networking

From its birth Twitter was originally designed as a free alternative to SMS with some networking features. Originally called Twttr, designed in 2006 by Evan Williams and Biz Stone, its premise was quite simple:

Users would be able to type a small, limited messages, called tweets, and send it them to the main server. Which upon it would be sent to the various users (followers) who’ve signed up to receive the tweets either on their phone as text messages, or on their computers.

Eventually you could follow various topics or interests with hashtags, which themselves would act as forms of hyper-links to yet undiscovered users.

Today hashtags are of massive importance to social media and especially advertisement or spreading awareness for your product. This exact same reason was what propelled Twitter into its juggernaut position, because originally the creators were struggling to find a revenue stream to exploit.

So much like Mark Zuckerberg, the creators of twitter realised the massive importance and power that social media gave to advertisers.

Google+ tried to join the session – connection failed

Google+ logoAnd Mark wasn’t the only one, Google, by 2012 a massive software juggernaut already making acquisitions left, right, and centre, was troubled by the growth that Facebook was showing.

So much so that there are rumours that then CEO Larry Page was essentially scared by another engineer, Vic Gandotra, that Facebook will kill Google.

Regardless of their reasons, Google decided to imitate both Twitter and Facebook. And though initially it showed some success and might have sounded like a genius proposition, it ended up too confusing to their users.

You see Google+ was somewhat indistinguishable from Facebook and they hoped to use their internet presence to establish a “close ties” network such as Facebook had.

But at the same time, they used the asymmetrical following model such as Twitter. You could follow people and hear what they had to say without the other’s party’s interaction.

One problem is that those approaches are pretty much opposite. Humans are motivated to communicate with each other. That, however, is only if they think someone is listening. Lack of feedback is very demotivating.

Algorithms don’t solve everything

Google+ introduced another problem – specifically Rank-based presentation.

We’ve already discussed how Google began and how it became the absolute leader in search engines by the use of their sophisticated algorithms.

Well, those algorithms did the exact opposite by prioritising their content by their “value” on their Google stream (Wall). Which sounds good but proved to be detrimental in showing you, for instance, messages from your family or friends.

Eventually they would create a separate interface such as notifications that would prioritise messages addressed directly to you; however, it was a little too late.

Besides it ended up making users sometimes read the same messages twice, they would first read the main feed, and then read the personal interface, showing the same content.

Final nail in the coffin in Google+

But arguably the final coffin that made Google announce in 2018 that they are closing the consumer version of the social network Google+; that coffin was called “Project Hancock”.

Project Hancock was an internal codename for the creation of millions of Google+ accounts via onboarding of active google users of YouTube, Gmail and other Google services. This created an absolute massive amount of “ghost accounts”.

You would think creating more accounts would be a good thing, but it proved to be completely opposite.

Having soo many accounts, and not having clear feedback whether they were even active, proved to lower user engagement substantially.

Google+ Meme, goes poof

And just like that Google+ shut down its services on April 2, 2019. We wonder how many people noticed anything change?

Learn from them and their mistakes!

So, what did we learn? All of our current social media platforms were created with a very strict idea in mind, concentrating on one single premise.

Some changed like YouTube, some became integral in everyone’s life like Facebook. Others tried to do too much, on too many levels, and failed.

Join us next week as we take all this information and elaborate more as well as give you some suggestions how you could succeed in creating your own social media!

But before you go, tell us honestly, did you notice Google+ disappear into the night, or this is the first time in years you suddenly hear about it?

Stay classy business and tech nerds!