Of course it’s interesting watching some social media service that some college student dreamed up in his dorm become a multi-gazillion-dollar company with stock and everything. But with Facebook’s usage near the billions and other online companies hitting Big Casino on Wall Street, it was bound to happen.
Facebook didn’t popularize the Internet, and it wasn’t even the first social media site to show up. Half a decade ago it was trying to catch some crumbs dropped by Myspace. It was just another Web presence.
But Facebook, despite its security holes, privacy issues and the creep-azoid aspects of friending and poking other people, must be doing something right. Whether that sticks now that it’s gone public, well, that question won’t be answered for another few years.
While Facebook was negotiating out its initial public offering (IPO), an article came out in Mashable! about some of the other Next Big Things on the Internet. These are companies that had a great deal of popularity, broke some new ground, and fizzled. These are the companies that, if this was a boxing movie, would be telling you “I coulda been a contender.”
America Online: AOL is still around, though it’s hard to tell sometimes. The days of the free AOL demo CDs that will hook you up to the Internet for free as long as you give them a credit card number are gone. AOL was huge during the dialup days, but couldn’t gain traction as DSL, broadband and Wi-fi took over. But AOL was more than just a way to get online and drain your bank account; they were a community. The first real “walled garden” in Internet parlance. Members could get into various chat rooms and read news that was unavailable to everyone else. AOL’s Instant Messenger was revolutionary in itself, and a lady friend even considered having the (now defunct) AIM logo tattooed on her butt. Despite a disastrous merger with Time-Warner, AOL stayed alive by shifting gears. It’s now in the news business, with national (Huffington Post) and hyperlocal (Patch) up front. AOL is now in the content generation business and finding new ways to lose money.
Friendster: We’re talking late 1990s, early 2000s here. Friendster was one of the first social media sites and for a while, the biggest. I understand they still exist as a social gaming site, although I’m not sure anyone really cares.
Myspace: This was the first truly successful social media site until it collapsed under its own weight. Literally. Users were encouraged to load their pages with all sorts of gingerbread, and it often took forever for a page to load. Facebook, with its slimmer, one-size-fits-all design, ate Myspace for lunch. Myspace is still a favorite site for bands because it’s easy to upload music files, and the thing that may save the company’s butt would be to specialize in that. It’s changed hands several times and the purchase price reflects its fortunes; NewsCorp bought it out for $580 million in 2006, and later Specific Media purchased it for $35 million. Ouch.
GeoCities: Back in the early 21st Century there were several online companies that allowed you to build your own Web page to a pattern. GeoCities’ social aspect allowed users to link their Web pages by interest, so in effect writers could get together under the GeoCities network. GeoCities no longer exists, which probably means the experimental web site I threw together under its banner probably doesn’t either.
sixdegrees.com: A short-lived social site tracing the I-know-someone-who-knows-someone thing. Is it true everyone’s only six degrees (layers of friendship) from Kevin Bacon? The web site is still there, open to members only. I never bothered with it.
Second Life: Fantasy meets technology. Caught virtual fire when folks realized you can be anyone you want online. I’m sure Second Life got as much blame for divorces as Facebook does now. Second Life currency became as good as the real thing in some circles, and somehow dealing in stolen Second Life credits became a cottage industry for some unlawful types. Some of these Second-Life-based businesses kicked off its decline, along with issues with unstable servers. It still exists, if you’re interested.
Orkut: This Google company now has 66 million users, but you’d have to go to Brazil to find them. But back in the day Orkut was a social networking site with serious Google gravitas behind it. But Google does have a history of trying new things and abandoning them when they don’t pan out (see: Buzz, Wave), and the search giant is proving once again with Google+ that social media isn’t as easy as it looks.