A Brief History of the Evolution of Social Media – And a Potential Next Step

In the Beginning was the Internet “newsgroup” sometimes called “Usenet”, “forums” or “electronic mailing lists”, but best understood simply as online discussion boards.

Each discussion board focused on specific topics under broad categories like music, science, lifestyle etc., naturally led to the formation of online communities, were open to all and were self-regulated.

These early boards were among the most useful and lively spaces on the early Internet.

Next came commercially managed discussion boards set up by dial up companies, large and small, like CompuServe, Prodigy, the Well and AOL. Access and posting privileges were restricted to paying members of each service and rules of conduct were supervised by moderators employed by the providers

The next phase of the evolution of online discussion boards was their transformation into what became known as “social media.”

Of course, discussion boards were already “social media”, but companies like Facebook and Twitter reduced some of the barriers to their use thus introducing the practice of public online communication to exponentially more people.

Specifically, they:

1. created attractive easy-to-use interfaces
2. gave people the ability to quickly and easily set up their own discussion areas
3. made participation easy by requiring no fees and allowing a single, one-time registration to access the entire universe of discussion boards
4. simplified the process to the point that anyone could publish and have a discussion board-type space online
5. promoted the services and their utility heavily
6. employed psychological tactics in the design of their services to encourage addictive and competitive use, thus adding to growth
7. presented themselves at first – deceptively as it turns out – as a utility where individuals and groups could organize friends. colleagues and customers in online spaces where they could seamlessly and without interference communicate with their own members

These tactics stimulated the adoption of these services and, as Internet use grew exponentially, in short time, billions of people were corralled into first using and then depending on them for communicating with friends, family, colleagues, customers, and clients.

Once the corralling process reached critical mass, the true nature of these “free” services asserted themselves:

1. communications between discussion members were surveilled for commercial purposes and on behalf of government agencies
2. the ability to access one’s own members was limited (ex. one cannot takes one’s discussion board members with them when they leave the service)
3. data generated by communications among members was caused to be stored permanently and made accessible to anyone at anytime who could get the agreement of the service provider to provide it
4. communications deemed “dangerous and harmful” using arbitrary standards became grounds for the sudden termination of a discussion board including all the contact information of the board’s members
5. the service providers began to deliberately influence content on discussion boards to advance specific political and commercial agendas

Thus we have the world as we know it today in which a massive percentage of humaniyt’s communication takes place online and is surveilled, manipulated and controlled by a small group of companies which have shown again and again their proclivity to and comfort with abusing their users in numerous ways.

In an ideal world:

1. Discussion boards would be easy to set up and use for both hosts and users
2. They would be vibrant places for open communication, dialog and discussion
3. Other than objectively criminal or abusive conduct, activity would be uncensored and unregulated (See the First Amendment of the US Constitution)
4. Individuals who create, promote, and manage specific online communities would OWN both the content and the customer data that users voluntarily provide with no other party having any clam to it merely for “providing the platform.”
5. No third party would be empowered to censor communication, covertly influence conversations or otherwise threaten or abuse participants because of opinions expressed, questions asked, information shared, and experiences related.

Is this ideal world attainable?

Yes…if online community hosts will give up the misguided notion that social platforms that cost them nothing are “free.”

For reasons cited above (see “the corralling process”), they are anything but free.

If you want to operate an online community and discussion space where you control both the content and the voluntarily provided customer data without the interference of any third party – and you are willing to pay for it – I recommend you test a new service called Social Lair.

Disclosures: 1) I know the developers, 2) I am not receiving any inducements, financial or otherwise, to tell you about it, and 3) it is a new service, in its early days, and new to me as well, so use your own judgement in how to proceed.

That said, the developers set out to create an ideal social media platform and I believe have succeeded in doing this better than any other option that I’m aware of.

The developers created this platform with marketers and advertisers in mind, but it’s equally useful for non-profits, real world communities, associations, and people like physicians, scientists, researchers, patients, and the interested public whose communications are now routinely surveilled and censored by companies like Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook on behalf of their pharma industry clients.

Click here for more information about Social Lair.

– Ken McCarthy

P.S. The platform double as a first rate project management platform and is better than much-hyped Silicon Valley products like Slack.

P.P.S. For over 25 years I’ve been sharing the simple but powerful things that matter in business – and life – with my clients.

If you’d like direction for your business that will work today, tomorrow and twenty years from now, visit us at the System Club.

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