The Facebook Effect reveals the inside story of social media site Facebook: its modest origins, its meteoric rise and its continued dominance in social networking. Author David Kirkpatrick shows how Facebook has not only changed how we communicate with each other, but also how we think about politics and the media – not to mention our attitudes toward privacy.
Facebook didn’t invent social networks; in fact, the concept has been around since 1985.
Early social networks took the form of electronic bulletin boards. If you were a member, you could “chat” with other members online about common interests. One of the earliest online communities is the The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, or the WELL, which is still active today.
These early communities evolved rapidly as technology developed. Members could create personal profiles, establish private groups or even chat in real time in “chat rooms,” somewhat akin to today’s instant messaging. America Online (AOL) and Geocities were the first to offer such services.
Classmates.com was another site that helped you find and contact that good-looking guy from your graduating class: a feature still integral to modern social networks.
Strictly speaking, however, such virtual communities weren’t really social networks, according to the sociological definition of the term. In a true social network, a user can construct a profile, create a friend list, and use others’ profiles and friend lists to make new connections.
By this definition, the first real social network was start-up Sixdegrees.com. Its purpose was to map the relationships between people via member profiles that also listed friends and interests. The site’s draw was that you could “ find” someone in seconds through the site’s search engine.
Yet we all know the most satisfying part of finding a “friend” online is seeing what they really look like! It wasn’t until 2002 when Friendster was launched, a social network that allowed a user to include a profile photo. With this feature, the site was an instant success.
The following year, scores of new social networks popped up, including LinkedIn, Myspace, Spoke and Tribe.
So by the time Facebook arrived, the market was flooded with competition. Yet from day one it clicked and its success has been meteoric since.
What was its secret? Let’s go back to Facebook’s beginnings, starting in a college dorm room.