Is Brian Joffe as good a seller as a buyer?
New technologies meet old brains
THE STUDY OF social networks goes back to the 1800s. And it’s worth mentioning that because the fundamentals haven’t changed much. Communications are now much easier and we’re able to speak to a multitude of people globally in milliseconds. But we’re still people with brains who haven’t come very far over the past couple of centuries.
It’s fascinating to see how cutting edge social networking tools are still subject to the constraints of our monkey brains. For example, studies have revealed the maximum size for social groups of human beings is around 150: more for some people, less for others. That capacity – referred to as “Dunbar’s number,” after Robin Dunbar, the anthropologist who first studied it – is hardwired into our neo-cortex regions after millennia of evolution. And that holds true whether you’re talking about a Stoneage rural village or Twitter. We just can’t work in organisational groups larger than that.
So as we look back on the rise of Web 2.0 and social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter it’s useful to remember the dynamics haven’t changed much. We have new tools to communicate with but we’re still people – used to building our social networks around campfires and, more recently, office cocktail parties.
The Internet is, of course, a communications tool. That’s what it was designed for by the United States military. So the technology we’re talking about is also rather old. However, it hasn’t always been very easy to use – and that’s the fundamental difference between early networks and their more modern equivalents. The early days of the World Wide Web – invented in 1989 – were very much a one-way street; you received information into it if you had the technological know-how, but most people were only able to send information out.
The transformation of the Web in the 21st century from an information portal to an information platform that just about anyone can upload content to, changed everything. This fundamental transformation was coined ‘Web 2.0’ by Irish journalist and publisher Tim O’Reilly.
In the pre-Web 2.0 days, people communicated using email and other direct systems. Nerds, however, were able to do so much more using Internet relay chat (IRC) and bulletin board systems.
The original bulletin boards (BBS) were run more as a hobby than anything else. Enthusiasts would host the BBS software on a computer and others would dial into it using their modems. Once connected, users could read news, upload or download software and other content and interact with other users of the BBS system.
There is an argument to be made for bulletin boards and modern social networks – which are pretty much the same thing as far as I’m concerned. It’s a central point where a group of people can upload information to share with others. The only difference between early bulletin boards and Facebook is the barrier to entry – and, of course, the support for more modern technologies like video chatting. Friend – or buddy – lists also weren’t much of a concern to early online social networkers, as there were very few secrets to be kept; users generally shared everything with everyone.
The first, mass-market Web 2.0 social networking platform was Myspace, established in 2003 and enjoying a heyday from 2007 to 2008. It was the beginning of something new. A place that anybody could access and use to arrange groups of connections. News mogul Rupert
Murdoch saw the next big thing emerging and bought Myspace for US$580m – one of the worst investments he ever made.
Things changed fast. Facebook, established in 2004, began to take hold of the market when it was opened up for anyone to use in 2006. Twitter was established in 2007 and began to grow in popularity with social networking aficionados.
Skip ahead three years and Myspace was sold last month to Specific Media and pop star Justin Timberlake for a paltry $35m. Facebook is the new king of the social jungle – for now.
This year also saw the first major social network IPO, with LinkedIn listing on the New York Stock Exchange. It doubled its share price in the first day of trading and had quadrupled it by the close of the second day. Many who remember the dotcom bubble burst of 2000 believe they’ve seen that all before. And Facebook is expected to list next year.
RUPERT MURDOCH (below) Bought Myspace for US$580m JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE Myspace sold last month to Specific Media and the pop star for a paltry $35m