The vast majority of Australians use at least some form of social media, but how did this phenomenon rise to become such a vital part of how we connect with each other?
Social media has been with us, in some form or another, all along—since the first people shared their history while dancing around a campfire—since homing pigeons were used to declare to the world the winners of the ancient Olympics.
Since letters were sent on boats back to the mother country telling family tales of strange and wonderful lands.
Right through to the arrival of the telephone (1890) and the radio (1891) and the emergence of early supercomputers with their primitive forms of email.
When we look at how social networks have evolved alongside the improving accessibility and quality of our internet, we must keep that history in mind.
If being social is a human need, then high speed internet is knocking down geographical barriers, allowing people all over the world to communicate.
The first Internet Relay Chat rooms, or IRCs, began to emerge. Like an endless, streaming conversation with many voices, it allowed people to connect to each other in one place and talk.
The first Australians begin connecting to consumer internet in homes, but penetration is a tiny percentage of the population.
The arrival of mIRC turns the original chatroom software into a more visually appealing, wide-ranging, user-friendly experience with full Windows support.
The internet begins to boom. In this year, Australian internet penetration rises from 3.3% to 16.4%. In this same year, ICQ would emerge—an instant messaging service that facilitates file swapping and emoticons.
Potentially the first social media channel emerges in the form of Six Degrees. The website allowed users to upload a profile image, create a contact list and post updates to bulletin boards, primarily in the form of text.
An early blogging service, called Blogger, emerges and starts a revolution. While nowhere near as sophisticated as the social networks that would come, Blogger popularised the ability for anyone to share their experiences and learnings with the wider world.
Over half of Australia now has the internet in their homes.
Myspace launches, becoming the first of the superpower social platforms effectively combining blogging with networking. At its peak, it would reach one billion user accounts, using internet speeds of the era to facilitate image and sound sharing, as well as social gaming. We also started to see the first niche networks, with the launch of business-to-business service LinkedIn.
YouTube appears on the scene. Video becomes a popular form of communication. It opened the door for the widespread sharing of video content—as opposed to just text or images—via the social media channels that would appear the following year.
The social networking phenomenon begins to explode. Through this year we see the public release of both Facebook and Twitter. Shortly thereafter came the arrival of Tumblr in 2007, Spotify in 2008 (in Europe) and then Foursquare and Pinterest in 2009. Each found an audience, but offering a niche variation of the social media experience.
The arrival of the iPhone takes social media to a whole new level. While not the first smartphone, and not available in Australia until the following year, its wide adoption and impact on the device design of its competitors brings user friendly social media access to people’s pockets. Its rear-facing camera allowed users to share images quickly with friends, while the App Store gave developers an opportunity to try new concepts.
The first hashtag is used on Twitter.
YouTube first begins to offer high definition videos.
Instagram is launched, bringing with it a new era for the sharing of high-definition photography. It’s helped by the rapid rise in camera megapixels on smartphones.
Twitch arrives on the scene, using more advanced internet infrastructure to popularise live video streaming. Snapchat also launches with an advanced evolution of the instant messaging system.
Facebook launches live video, quickly followed by Instagram and then Twitter. Users can not only share pre-recorded video, images and text to their networks, but a live feed of what is happening in their lives.
The use of social media in Australia is near ubiquitous. Over 16 million Australians have a Facebook account. And every month five million of us share images and live video through Instagram. We’re connected to a global network of 2.51 billion of our fellow humans worldwide.
Where will social media go next? The increased accessibility of the internet Australians enjoy ensures we won’t be limited by hardware. With the content marketing industry predicted to be worth US$300 billion by 2019, there is certainly no lack of investment in the platforms either.
Surely the next step is to use emerging virtual reality technology to allow users to engage and interact with each other in computer created environments. Using the social networks of the future, Australians will be able to connect with each other on a whole other level.
Do you have a small business and want to go social? Check out these extra tips on how to build an engaged online following.