Three huge players in the social media industry; Tumblr, Facebook, and YouTube – have shown their user base in 2018 how little they consider their needs in growing their platforms.
Facebook has been piled on with scandals throughout the year, from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to sharing private user messages with third parties.
Tumblr banned NSFW content on their platform, which was a significant element of the content from many of its users.
And YouTube once again produced a YouTube Rewind clearly showing a far bigger interest in their image to advertisers than the culture of their community.
Another social media company in 2002, Friendster, which at its peak had 100 million+ users, eventually collapsed due to a lack of understanding of its users.
Friendster wasn’t the first social media company. The ’90s saw companies like SixDegrees and LiveJournal arise in the internet space. However, these sites came at a time before the internet’s infrastructure and usage could allow for fast growth.
Friendster did run into a similar issue of server’s overwhelmed by its quickly growing user base, but it wasn’t the only factor related to user experience that contributed to its fall.
The focus of Friendster was helping friends-of-friends meet. You couldn’t see people who were more than four degrees away (friends‐of‐friends‐of‐friends‐of‐friends), so people would friend strangers or acquaintances to expand their friend reach. This was even encouraged by Friendster’s “most popular” feature. This system – which today seems very closed – was perceived as a dating strategy. Mutual friends could eliminate any awkwardness by bridging to strangers you might fancy.
But with this system also came the Fakesters – fake profiles who would friend a ton of users. These profiles would be famous celebrities or cartoon characters.
While the user base found the fake profiles hilarious, Friendster did not, and began a purge of these users and also eliminated the “most popular” feature. Users began to feel alienated.
A NY Times article from 2006 also showed that Friendster was too prideful – it found itself invincible. Its quick growth was partly attributed to the media coverage it had received. When Google offered to buy it, they turned the offer down, and instead of listening to its user base began to try to mirror itself to Google’s services.
MySpace didn’t receive as much media coverage, but it quickly capitalized on the Friendster exodus and made itself more welcoming. MySpace’s profile personalization features were superior to Friendster, and Indie-rock bands flocked to it.
MySpace also quickly capitalized on the fact that there were varying ages on their site (Varying ages was also the case on Friendster). Friendster continued to cater to their 20-something crowd as Friendster saw itself as more of a dating platform, but MySpace dropped their age limit and added features to cater to these different ages.
Constantly improving your own platform by observing the users is one reason why Twitter built itself up in the 2000s. The hashtag feature, retweet feature, and tagging feature with the @ symbol were all a product of watching what users did (i.e, typing RT “Retweet” before a post they were copying) and later embedding it into the platforms actual functionality.
The internet even in 2018 is still a bit like the Wild West. Laws are still catching up to it (Senators showed their lack of understanding earlier this year) and the users are constantly repurposing. If platforms aren’t careful, even with billions of users, they’ll eventually be uprooted by the underdogs.