As a young adult in the final years of grade school, interest around the internet was fast accelerating. Even though dial-up connections meant fairly long wait times for website pages to load, users were not deterred. And from boarding school, each time town outings were permitted, there was a mad dash to try and reserve a seat in the many cyber cafes that dotted Darjeeling in the early 2000’s.
It was customary to check one’s e-mail account, although the possibility of actually relevant correspondence was slim. It was mostly promotions and spam that would make up the bulk of one’s inbox. But around 2003, there was an increasing number of messages from a company called Hi5. This was, as we would later learn, the first iteration of a social media platform.
While Hi5 definitely onboarded users, there wasn’t as much activity. Smart phones were still several years away and access to personal computer hadn’t become ubiquitous. So, logging into one’s Hi5 account was an occasional affair and most users, or at least those on my list, were inactive. There were hardly ever any updates.
Along came its successor
I then recall people signing up en masse on a platform called Orkut in 2006. It was also the same time when Gmail was beginning to become the preferred emailing platform. Google’s cause was also helped by the fact that a Gmail account was a prerequisite to opening an Orkut account.
This social media platform was successful in engaging users. With its characteristic purple interface, it was reminiscent of ‘slam books’ that we would purchase and fill out when we were in middle school. At the time, storage must have been a concern and therefore, a maximum of only 12 or so photos was permitted. Friends could write testimonials for one another and groups could be formed to discuss common interests or topics.
However, there was one feature that perhaps contributed to this early social media entrant losing popularity. And this was its prominent display of who’d visited one’s profile. LinkedIn currently has this feature too but in a strictly professional setting, users are possibly not irked when a possible recruiter or business prospect has looked one up.
Facebook dislodges Orkut
In late 2007 or so, inboxes began to be flooded with messages from a certain Facebook. Its interface initially seemed complex but it extended numerous options. Messages could be scribbled on a friend’s wall and there were features like buying a round of virtual drinks for friends or gifting a digital rose to one’s lady love. By 2009 or so, all my peers had migrated from Orkut to Facebook; this platform was now the de facto leader in the social media realm.
Facebook was initially a community of young people. With personal computer ownership on the rise and the availability of faster internet connections, numerous users were active in posting ‘status updates’. For the next decade and more, Facebook would successfully hold its charm with its user base then comprising teens to senior citizens. Along the way, Facebook acquired Instagram and Whatsapp; these were complementary services to its core offering. As of 2021, Facebook boasted 2.85 billion monthly users. To place into perspective, this figure represents more than a third of the world’s total population.
However, following a massive spike in usage following the pandemic’s onset, Facebook has registered steady declines. And earlier in February 2022, Facebook saw its most significant drop. It lost a staggering USD232 billion off its market value on the back of declining users. However, what has contributed to Facebook losing popularity? What has led to the once popular platform now losing its lustre?
This article is the first in a two-part series.