There was a time before the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web in the early 90s where walled gardens, such as CompuServe and Aol, were popular amongst computer enthusiasts. These tools were like an early version of the Internet, an online space for people to share information and debate anything and everything.
Netscape came along in 1994 and made the Internet easy for anyone to access, but prior to that happening the walled garden sites were packed full of real experts and enthusiasts. It was easy to talk to published authors in the literary sections, professional musicians in the rock music sections, and company leaders in the business sections.
Once absolutely anyone could get online to talk about anything they wanted to, that all changed. The enthusiasts either moved on or were just drowned out in a sea of noise.
This memory of the online world two decades ago reminds me a little of where we are with the development of social networking today.
There are many social networks, but the ones that have come to dominate the market are really Twitter (for conversations), Facebook (for maintaining a friends network), and LinkedIn (for business networking). And, of course, Google is endlessly trying to break up this oligopoly with their own developments that reach far beyond just search alone.
When social networking began in the middle of the last decade, it was the young and early adopters that were doing it. Now the average Facebook user is a 30-something and the fastest growing group of new users is 50+ women.
So the networks have gone mainstream. Even your parents are probably on one of the main social networks. And so marketers and advertisers have crawled all over these tools trying to figure out if they really offer the Holy grail of being able to advertise to an audience of one.
Of course the possibility is there, but has anyone concerned themselves with the fact that younger people are looking for new places to communicate and share their information online?
Facebook is undergoing a major revision at present and Twitter has yet to make any money. If the young desert these services, will the other users follow to pastures new, and if so where does that leave all the social media experts in advertising agencies up and down the land telling their clients that a Facebook campaign is the silver bullet they have been seeking?
It’s a fast changing world. Many people get all their information about the world from these networks today and yet they barely existed in 2005. How can anyone predict with confidence how advertising, marketing, and customer services will use these tools in another half decade?
One thing is certain in my mind though. If the younger users start to desert the major networks then they are on a slippery slope to obsolescence – remember Myspace?