2006: a handful of the cool kids I knew- early twenties, successful beautiful folk- join MySpace, the first semi-popular social media site. They upload pictures of themselves on nights out, change the backgrounds of their profiles to colour schemes or wallpapers that 'reflect' them, and install a music player so whoever visits their site is treated to the owner's favourite song. (Mine was Firefox's Sex Shooter, if you wanted to know.)
The site starts to develop popularity, but it has its drawbacks. There's no way to see your friends' new updates, like pictures or blog posts. You have to check their profile. The only updates you see are the bulletins, chunks of text sent out to all of your friends. People only use these for chain letters anyway. The site peaks in mid 2007, but usage drains suddenly. MySpace has a huge new competitor.
The cool kids have now moved over to Facebook, which requires more up-to-date software to access. The news feed allows you to see every new change your friends make, and you are notified of any changes to your own profile- comments on pics, messages left on walls, and any time someone accepts a friend request you've sent.
Facebook becomes more popular than MySpace ever was, and much quicker too. The few MySpace users forget their profiles there and spend more time on Mark Zuckerberg's much more user-friendly social media site. Facebook itself goes through numerous redesigns. Comments on statuses are now an integral function after first being allowed through a third party-add-on app, Timeline is a new (and highly controversial) overhaul of the site's functions, messages are easier to send and receive and mobile access improves greatly with the introduction of the Facebook app. But as MySpace dies off, another competitor is throwing its hat into the digital ring.
Numerous celebrity scandals, and a phone hacking investigation resulting in the closure of The News of the World, rock the nation's news outlets. Journalists are no longer waiting to publish their stories in newspapers- they're using Twitter, the fledgling social media site focussing purely on status updates. People turn to this for more up-to-date news, although many doubt the authenticity of news stories that are only 140 characters long. The site, like every other, goes through numerous redesigns in an attempt to perfect its usability.
It's 2016, and has now been a decade since MySpace's popularity spike. 2017 will mark ten years since Facebook's surge in usership- and people's uploads are already becoming noticeably less frequent. The unfollow button is becoming popular, allowing us to stay friends with someone without seeing their updates. (I've done this to 90% of my Facebook friends.) Sites like Statusbrew allow us to choose who we unfollow on Twitter with greater clarity and organisation. We're starting to become conscious of the amount of info we're being overloaded with, and we're doing something about it.
Social media is no longer fun. It's now a habit of vanity, and something we need to cut down on, for time saving's sake. I predict a number of occurrences in 2017:
- Schools and media outlets will offer advice on how to conduct one's self online.
- Facebook's popularity will ebb, with people only uploading the best parts of their lives- as many people do now- only less frequently.
- Facebook's Unfollow button will be used heavily, and people will start to admit to their Facebook friends that they don't see their updates any more. You'll have to visit people's pages to see what they're up to, like in the MySpace era.
- Livestreaming of events will be the new zeitgeist, with people reluctant to go to club nights when they can watch them from the comfort of their homes.
- Local bloggers and amateur writers will frequently upload multimedia news stories as they happen (I'll be one of them), hence beating qualified journalists to stories.
- We'll see an emergence of masses and masses of old pictures and video footage, largely shared over Facebook and Twitter with the #tbt (Throwback Thursday) hashtag. As everyone famous went to school with 30-or so other people, most celebrities will find old pictures of themselves emerging online, taken before the days of social media. Then, after a few more years, this will ebb off as the younger generation's lives have already been largely documented online. This prediction extends beyond 2017, but the peak of the uploading will occur within it.
- Meetup will become hugely popular. Meetup is a social media site, with the emphasis on 'social.' It's intended to help people to find new friends with similar interests and hobbies. Time is a precious commodity, and with long-standing friends unable to make social occasions, for the few with available time, new friends will fill the gap. I joined many groups at a time when my longer-standing friends were going back into education, getting married or having kids (none of which I was doing). I'm not the only person to give the site a shot for those reasons. Many Meetup attendees have said the same things. As the months go on I'm noticing an explosion in the site's popularity, with more and more groups opening up all the time. Meetup has 187K likes on its Facebook page and 38K Twitter. There'll be a million on both in 3 years. It's not only successful, it's hugely fun too, and is the only social media site I've found to emphasise the importance of getting out and meeting people in the flesh, and to actually make it easier to do so.
In conclusion, social media will no longer be thought of as a trendy pastime or a young person's thing. It'll just be another tool for communication, and will be used with more purpose and with less vanity. We'll learn to be more conscious about our uploads, and we'll remember that there's a world out there that we used to partake in a little more than we do now. And we'll get back to doing that.
Remember, though, what you put on the internet largely stays there. My old MySpace profile is still visible, although my login hasn't seemed to work since the site's overhaul a couple of years ago. Also a lot of the info I published- the blog and the bulletins- seem to have disappeared. But your old profiles and questionable updates may still be available to potential employers, so as social media tech moves forward, it might be worth having a trek back through those near-redundant sites- some content, perhaps a dodgy status about an individual- might not be as buried as you might have hoped...