Social Media and the Internet: A Retrospective

I got to thinking that as one of the elder statesmen of the class I might be able to provide some unique perspectives on social media and the Internet.  I mean, I literally still remember sitting in the Mods at Boston College as a senior during the spring of 2004 when Facebook literally first burst onto the scene.  Due to the proximity to Harvard, BC was actually one of the first schools to gain membership to “the” Facebook, along with other big Boston-area universities and the Ivy League schools.  It may be hard to see in the picture to the right, but BC was the first school listed on one of Facebook’s original homepages.  It’s even interesting to think about Facebook being somewhat of an exclusive club at one time as opposed to the all-encompassing social media platform it is today.  When the link first crossed everybody’s e-mail, nobody really knew what to make of it. What’s the point?  Who is going to see this?  Is my information safe?  While some, including myself, were skeptical, everybody felt compelled to sign up for an account.

My memories of the Internet, e-mail and social media go back to about 1996 when America Online (AOL) was on top of the mountain.  It seemed like they were sending out a new CD-ROM every other day with additional features and offers for free hours on a dial-up connection.  Yes, a dial-up connection, meaning if my mom, dad or sister simply picked up the phone to make a call, I would immediately be signed off and a shouting match would ensue.  It is also crazy to think back to the business model of charging customers for web usage by the minute.  That would and could never fly today since everybody is connected to the web 24/7, but it shows how surfing the Internet and connecting with others used to be more of an appointment activity.  Put another way, Internet usage was literally being rationed in my household like butter during World War II.  How did we ever live like that?  From a social perspective, once on AOL, chat rooms, where you gathered with friends and/or strangers to discuss anything from plans for that evening or political orientation, was the norm, along with direct person-to-person messaging.  I know I am part of a dying breed and to signify my reluctance to change, my original AOL account is still active to this day.  I actually received an e-mail from AOL recently thanking me for 16 years of “loyalty.”  I’m sure they wish everybody held on for as long as I have.

As the millennium approached, AOL Instant Messenger, better known as AIM, became king of my social media world.  This service was essentially an extremely trimmed down version of AOL, comprised solely of the feature that everybody used the most – the direct person-to-person messaging.  For all four years of college, from 2000 to 2004, whether we’d like to admit it or not, everybody I knew was obsessing over AIM away messages and profiles.  Away messages were viewable by everybody on your Buddy List and were meant to entertain and inform others while you were away from the computer.  Even the font style, size, and color were decisions that might require a night to sleep on.  Anybody my age knows we’ve all sat in front of the computer staring at our Buddy List, waiting for the little yellow piece of paper to disappear next to someone’s screen name, signaling they weren’t away anymore and were at their computer ready to mingle.  While at school, AIM was a great way to stay in touch with friends and family from home but I also found myself chatting and making plans with friends who were only steps away within my dorm.  That doesn’t really make much sense, does it?

This takes me to today and why I decided to take this course.  While I am somewhat up-to-date on social media, I am by no means well-versed on everything that is out there.  I created my first LinkedIn account last year upon entering the MBA program and signed up for my first Twitter account 6 days ago.  I have been pleasantly surprised by how useful and fun these platforms can be.  I do have an active Facebook account which was originally set up back in the Stone Age (2004), but as crazy as it may sound to some of you, I can be known to go a week or two without signing on.  As I don’t own a smart phone, I am not plugged into cyberspace 24/7 which partly explains this phenomenon.  I have also never felt the urgent need to check out what my “friends” cooked for dinner or how terrible their day was.  I use it as a means of staying in touch with people and for a good laugh here and there.  While I have survived with these lax social media habits, it is becoming clear that a change may be necessary.  Furthermore, as an MBA student it would be naïve of me to ignore the infiltration of social media within the business world.  It has truly become an essential piece of the puzzle with regard to starting and maintaining a business in any industry.  In working on the core MBA consulting project last year, I learned that even a firm like Putnam Investments has a dedicated social media director.

With all this said, I am looking forward to learning from all of you and I hope this blast from the past gave you some context for where I am coming from.  Now, if you would excuse me, I have to check the Twitter feed.

7 comments

  1. Fun read. I wonder how small the population of active AOL users is…On that note, it kind of seems like everything we do now via social media is an expansion upon what AOL tried to do with their individual accounts and personalized dashboards. You could still add your favorite quotes to your AIM profile, and list your “top 8” friends (but only their initials) in a similar fashion to Myspace. I still remember obsessing over what buddy icon, sound, and song lyrics were representative of my being.

    Seeing how AOL has really moved out of the top spot over the years makes me wonder what lies in the future for Facebook. I can see many similarities in the ability to customize a profile and dashboard to fit your personal needs, and the social aspect with AIM and Facebook messaging, etc. Is an away message really that much different from a dated Facebook status?

    There are two things that I really see missing: the social multi-media aspect: the ability to share and archive pictures and videos; and also timeline updates- AOL had no way of showing past or future activity. It makes me wonder if one day we will return to the days of not knowing what anyone was doing at every second of the day via their Tweets or Facebook status updates, or how much fun they had on their last vacation via a photo album. Because social media is just in its infancy, it is hard to know what the future holds for us and in our relationship with this technology! I guess that’s why analytics tools are so useful.

  2. I think this is a very interesting look at how the internet and social media has evolved. It’s crazy to think back to the dial up connection and I remember fighting over who’s turn it was to use the computer for AIM with my sister. I was only 14 in 2004 but it is funny how you felt compelled to use it when you didn’t even know what it was. I find that its the same now. I constantly de-activate my Facebook but then realize I am out of the loop on what parties and events are coming up because all invitations these days are on Facebook rather than in the mail. I just recently created a Linkedin because as part of my internship I was asked to search for potential employees in Florida. Linkedin was a great tool to help me search for people but those people who I selected received new employment opportunities because of their profile. It just goes to show how beneficial staying up to date with social media can be.

  3. It’s amazing how far we’ve come since AOL, but we still talk with lol and tmrw in texts and fb chat…and I still see g2g sometimes on fb chat sometimes too! For my blog tomorrow, I will be writing about what I think AIM (and other social media outlets) accomplished for people. Part of me still wishes AIM was around (I seriously was camped out on that program in high school…only stopped when all but one of my friends stopped using it several years ago). AOL was definitely a pain, but I still think in terms of a pure chat program, AIM would still probably be the best (although facebook chat has definitely been making strides in recent years). I wonder if in another 15 years we will be thinking about how facebook and twitter seem so primitive compared to what we have then. I doubt anything will appear as painful as that sometimes incredibly long 6 step process of connecting to the internet with AOL ha!

  4. […] should check out scandari’s blog post here that reminisces on how big a part of our lives AOL/AIM was. Instant messaging (IMing) changed the […]

  5. Rookie! My first “social media” experience was on Quantum Link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Link) on my Commodore 64, logging in at 300 Baud. Of course, you’ll note that Quantum Link eventually changed its name to America Online.

    One of my professors from my Ph.D. work always said that “technology is best understood from a running start. I think it is likely that your experience in the early social media days will help you see what is different and what is not about new social media platforms, which will help you understand the future. I’m stunned about how so many of the issues associated with the dot-com boom are still playing out in social media.

  6. jillianricci · ·

    What a great perspective. Facebook has become so ingrained in college life today that I have a hard time imagining what things would be like without it. Its certainly helped me learn people’s names, where they’re from etc. Its crazy to think how this wasn’t available a few years ago. If the only way to get acquainted with someone online was through their AIM profile, I would have had a tough time learning so many names freshman year. Kind of creepy but true!

  7. Great initial reflections on social media! I think the fact that you are not on social media 24/7 will give you a different perspective in the class. Unlike myself and I’m sure a lot of the MI621 class, you may be able to see some of the negatives or idiosyncrasies of those of us “obsessed” with social media more clearly. It’ll be interesting to see whether your social media habits will change by the end of the semester and how you’ll reflect on the semester. Good start, can’t wait to read more from you!

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