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Social Networking: All of This Has Happened Before, And All of This Will Happen Again.

Posted on Jun 25, 2011.

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Nietzsche’s brilliantly simple Principle of Eternal Recurrence is the basic premise proceeding from the assumption that the probability of a world coming into existence exactly like our own is finite. If either time or space are infinite then mathematics tells us that our existence will recur an infinite number of times.

‘All Of This Has Happened…’ title was employed in Peter Pan, and it has consequently been reworded, reused, reconceptualised in various ways over the years, mostly in sci-fi fiction – e.g. The Matrix and Battlestar Galactica.

What the Dickens are we getting at here, you may ask? I’ll tell you what we’re getting at: life, like nature, is ineluctably cyclical. As the world turns, and repeats itself, so does human nature. Everything, eventually, in an infinite time and space continuum, repeats itself. And thus, so does social networking.

Hence, in the seemingly topsy-turvy, maelstromy, confusingly confusing virtual, app-driven world of social networking evolution, and all of its tangential developments, it can be quite easy to accept that it’s all a bit ‘proper random’ (as the kids say), a bit beyond our control. It’s not. It’s the same fundamental paradigm repeated over and over again. The variation changes – depending on our state-of-art -- but its outcome is basically the same – i.e. we want to communicate with each other, but we want to do it in ever increasingly-touchpady interesting ways.

Or, is it?

Personally, I’ve been online since 1996, and dabbled with every social networking platform which has drifted along my cyber regions ever since. Let’s take a digital meander down the highways and virtual byways of social networking since ’96 and see how the cyber socio-cultural landscape has changed and evolved, shall we?

The all-bets-are-off days of Web Ver 1.0 were a scary affair sometimes, regardless of dial-up speed constraints. However, social networking didn’t start with the Web, it started with the ‘net. The proper internet, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) -- and slightly before that, Usenet. Purely text based (with the primitive option of streaming audio files), one would scour the IRC cyberverse for a personal interest, stumble upon something interesting, and dive right in. Despite its socio-technological curiosity value, it wasn’t a great user experience really. Illegal CB radios back in the 80s were more rewarding. At least with the illegal CBs there was a voice on the other end of the line, as opposed to the speechless IT snobbery of IRC.

Social networking stumbling block no.1: The Psychological Need to Speak to a Human Voice.

This issue, this human need, transcends social networking circa 1996, and still finds itself firmly ensconced in the telesupport world of 2011. But we’ll come back to that...

1997, and AOL (America Online) is doing great guns, despite its horrible software; Excite Virtual Places, Geocities, Microsoft Messenger and ICQ are bringing up the rear. Microsoft also had another app quietly doing the rounds which was quietly fantastic: Microsoft Net Meeting. Essentially the virtual world’s first VOIP app, on a quiet night, with a good head wind on dail-up, one could video conference with someone on the other side of the world without so much as a pixilated bye or leave. I personally used to ‘Net Meet’ with a fashion model in New York: around 2AMish, my time, I would log in and she, 9PM NY time, would skip around her loft apartment in various dresses requesting my opinion. I’m not an expert in such matters, but she was very attractive so I went along with it.

1998 – 1999. A very interesting year in terms of innovative Web 1.0 platforms, platforms which were conceptually brilliant but born prematurely and consequently hampered due to their dail-up constraints. MP3.COM was one: a teeming community of musicians, artists, motion graphic designers, remixers etc., all online for the betterment of their fellow contemporaries. Plus, it was also possible to make quite a lot of money – e.g. £25,000 per quarter by some (Trance Nation) – but MP3.COM’s demise is another story. (Do a Wiki search for haphazard business maverick ‘Michael Robertson’.)

OnLive Traveler was another. I’m not sure of OnLive’s beginnings, but in retrospect, one presumes it could claim to be the precursor to Second Life. It involved pre-designing a 3D avatar, logging into a 3D ‘portal’ and communicating in real time via audio, i.e. the computer’s soundcard and microphone. Plus, of course, communicating in speech diminished the urge to lie. (I did though. I sometimes logged in as a soap opera character, e.g. ‘Frank Butcher’ from Eastenders, and did the mockney accent and everything. When asked by a naïve American, ‘Have you got any kids, Frank?’ I replied, ‘Yeh. Ricky.’) Various conglomerates were onboard, including MTV. It was a fun experience. A highly innovative piece of software, in must be said. But of course, now that the platform has been dead for 10+ years the ruthlessly futuristically-centric cyber community doesn’t really care. Shame.

  1. Web Version 2.0.

Everything seismically changed when broadband rolled out. It didn’t change overnight, of course. It incrementally rolled out laboriously slowly, in little pockets around the world. Web 1.0 social networking platforms suddenly looked positively archaic in the face of its super-speed broadband equivalents. However, the social networking platforms of the 2.0 era were nothing more than enhancements of what had preceded them.

All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

Second Life is OnLive Traveler but enhanced; Myspace is MP3.COM but enhanced; Skype is Net Meeting but enhanced; Twitter is IRC, but with a few trimmings. Facebook…Zeus knows what Facebook is, really, because they keep haphazardly annexing bits on the end of it without any user feedback whatsoever. Oh, and let’s not forget the burglar’s favourite, Foursquare.

Who really cares about another person’s Foursquare account? No one. There is something fundamentally anti-social and effete about a person in a social situation eschewing having a laugh with his mates in favour of tweeting that he’s having a laugh with his mates.

In light of expensive iPads and super-mobile phones etc., social networking circa 2011 is a geek-chic brave new world. To some, at least – i.e. those who haven’t experienced anything which has proceeded it. To those of us who have, like me, it’s merely another rather ordinary stage of tech evolution, something which will soon transpire. Friends Reunited anyone?

But what of the future of social networking? Some argue that networking via a Facebook is contra-social, in that it doesn’t involve fleshy human interaction; others see this has a benefit, in that keeping someone (one’s not really fond of) at a virtual arm’s length averts the need to speak to them in person. Again, contra-social.

After an enjoyable research into my networking platforms of old – and aggrieving some of them – I discovered that the natural lifespan of most networking sites is, approximately, five years. Twitter and Facebook are both approaching their 4th birthday.

Darren Edwards.

Business Assessment

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