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The History of Social Media

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Tracking user growth across the years and how that information can help you decide when to try out a new network.

Today we’re here to give you the tools you need to decide whether or not you should take the time and energy to invest in creating a space for yourself on new social media networks.

In order to understand the future of social media networks, it's important to look at the entire history of social media. And lucky for me it hasn't been around that long, so I didn't have to go back that far!

We really only have to go back as far as 1997, where we have the social media network called 6°. It's kind of tied to that 6° of separation. You remember that game with Kevin Bacon?

Anyway, it started with that concept but only lasted a couple of years because people really liked it so much that it crashed the network and the platform couldn't withstand the level of usage that it was getting.

Then a few years later in 2002, we saw Friendster come on the scene. Friendster is basically something that got started because of the AOL movement. AOL stands for “America Online” and was the first internet browser that was sending CDs to people in the mail with their software.

So all of the people were using AOL and Friendster was born from that, but crashed in 2015.

In 2003, Linkedin came on the scene and has been growing ever since. You can see that Linkedin is actually a pretty popular network at this point, especially for a small niche of people only using it to build business connections.

Myspace became popular in the same year as Linkedin in 2003 and while it is just barely hanging on, it's still out there. People are still using it, but primarily as a music network. My first social media account was a Myspace account.

The orange line represents Reddit. It came on the scene in 2005 and is very slowly just kind of hanging on here for a few years and then in 2012 it starts to pick up steam and actually grow.

We see a lot of growth, overall, starting in 2012 for a lot of social media networks and that's primarily because more people were using the Internet and smartphones were getting better and better by this time.

Then we have Facebook which has a technology that really drives engagement, including apps and games within the platform. Facebook blows everything out of the water. Clearly it's been on its game for quite a while.

It saw serious growth in 2009 when it started letting people have business pages and when it launched new marketing tools which allowed small businesses to use ads. Overall Facebook has what I would call a successful growth curve.

YouTube launched in 2005 and so it is after Facebook, and the same year as Reddit, it has the same little growth plateau here and then in 2010 it's when it starts to shoot up um and its usage and you can see it has just as much of a fast growth curve as Facebook.

When you look at Twitter you can see it launched in 2006 and it climbed slowly for many years, but right now it's at a plateau.

In 2015 and 2016 around the election period, there was a lot of controversy around how people were using Twitter and it was discovered that there were 1000s of fake accounts being operated by computer programs. This prompted Twitter to purge those accounts, which had a drastic effect on overall user numbers.

Instagram (IG) started in 2010, you can see it's slowly climbing, and I believe it's already competing with Facebook, even though technically Facebook owns Instagram now under the Meta umbrella, and I believe there will be a merger of some sort down the road.

As far as IG and Facebook competing with YouTube, they will have to really improve their monetization to do that because right now, advertisers are putting a lot more money into YouTube videos because of the long-standing audiences there.

Pinterest launched in 2010 and it is also seeing some growth lately. It's not as popular as the other networks, but it has a very niche audience so that makes sense.

Google+, which is no longer in existence, launched in 2011. Their growth curve tells a turbulent tale that ends abruptly shortly after. They tried to make some changes to try to revamp the network, but then they said, you know what, “we're not even gonna try anymore, we can't keep up with Facebook.”

Youtube was also owned by Google and was doing very well on its own, so they decided to stop competing with their own social media network.

Snapchat also launched in 2011 and it has a very slow, but steady, upward growth model. You can see it's really not as steep as some of our other networks. At this point, I believe that while it may grow, it also may just plateau and hold on to people who really like that platform and didn't want to go start a new count on Tiktok because there seems to be some similarities between how Snapchat and Tiktok work, but take a look at the Tiktok growth.

It started in 2016 after Snapchat and it immediately overtook Snapchat within two years with its growth and it is experiencing rapid growth now. I believe it’s going to catch up to Instagram in the next 2-3 years. There might even be a merger of some sort between TikTok and Instagram, it's hard to say.

Then we've got Parler, you might remember Parler came on the scene in 2018 because Twitter kicked Trump off of its platform and Facebook was also heavily moderating all of the fake news that was being posted by robot accounts. Many people were really feeling censored and betrayed, so they went over and got onto this new network, because Parler promised that it would not censor your information and that you could post whatever you wanted. It cultivated a niche audience of “freedom of speech” advocates, and they really loved it.

Once people started to move over to Parler, they started posting all their stuff. But Parlor was built on an Amazon-based server, Amazon did not like what it was seeing on the Parler platform so it essentially yanked the platform right out from under them and told them that they couldn’t have this content on their servers anymore.

A lot of people lost their pictures and everything they posted. If they were writing blogs, they lost those too. Surprisingly though, Parler did rebuild on another server and still exists with a very small audience which is continuing to grow.

Clubhouse is a relatively new network, launching in 2020, it had celebrities using it to get it started and you can see it has a sharp incline right out of the gate. But recent numbers show that it will start to decline already as the newness is wearing off and celebrities aren’t using it as much.

Fireside also just recently launched, in 2021. So we don't have enough data to see a trend, but we do know that they have also used celebrities to get their growth started and already we’ve noticed those celebrities aren’t as active as they were when they first started. It’s hard to justify to a celebrity that they should invest time into a platform that has a lot less people than the ones they are used to using.

Understanding the history of these networks should help you to know what to look for when deciding what new networks to use in the future. When you see that rapid upward growth, you now know that without the proper technology in place to handle the volume of people or if they utilize celebrity endorsements in their launch, that network might not last.

Don't take just one or two years of growth as your guide to a platform’s success. Remember that from 2017-2019, Google+ went up by several million users and then it crashed. I think a plateau in growth is fairly normal when looking at some of the other networks, but the steady growth seen by Facebook and YouTube is a great example of successful network growth.

Just remember that, even if a social network comes out with a lot of power behind it, a lot of influencers using it, it's not going to be like that in another two months. So give it a couple of months, two or three months, for all of that social media frenzy to die down before deciding whether or not you really want to dive into a new social media network.

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