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The Evolution of the Social Web

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Email wasn’t first social phenomenon the internet brought to the world, but it was the first to break through to the masses. It is behind the curtains; you have to be invited into a conversation. Maybe the person on the other end is a parent, maybe it’s a coworker, maybe it’s a friend. Email is a less urgent telephone call.

Then, Facebook arrived. It’s a safe way for long-lost lovers, could-have-beens, and just-missed-the-moments to reconnect and say all the things they wish they said years ago, when they were in their prime. It’s a time machine.

Facebook is also a way for college kids to get to know each other without really getting to know each other. Facebook is an avenue for you to spit out tiny bits of trivia about yourself: you like this movie, these are your favorite quotes. Here are a few pictures you’ve hand-selected that define you. It is you, but always the best side of you.

Before you know it, a few pokes back and forth with that girl you may or may not have met on Facebook turns into a wall conversation, which turns into going out together, and so on. Facebook is the most socially acceptable form of online dating we have. It is your past, present and future all rolled-up into one package.

Status updates brought Twitter to the party, where someone (or anyone) can get a quick snapshot of what you are thinking or feeling right now. It’s a way to share what you find interesting. It is a reassurance that you can shout out to the vast emptiness of the internet and know that someone, somewhere, is probably listening.

Twitter is an avenue for serendipitous social connections. It is far better than Facebook at cultivating a spontaneous, sometimes meaningful relationship with another person, regardless of where that person is physically located. It is the movie “Crash,” translated into ones and zeros and available to anyone with an internet connection.

Then came Foursquare. If people care what you had for lunch and what you’re thinking right now, then they’ll probably care about where you are right now, right? Foursquare rewards movement, going new places, and traveling in large crowds. Through Foursquare, the internet turns your world into the Oregon Trail.

And then there’s Instagram, one of the newer portals we have. If everyone cares what you’re doing right now and where you’re doing it, then surely they’ll want to see it through your eyes. Instagram is as close as an outsider can presently get to feeling what you feel .  Instagram lets you easily and wordlessly show the world things you have created that you judge to be interesting and beautiful.

The one pattern I can pull from this timeline is how much more personal everything is getting. If you started out with email, you were having one-on-one conversations with a previously established connection. Facebook allowed you to share tiny, trivial bits of yourself with others and has since turned into a five, ten, or fifty year reunion. Twitter and Foursquare convinced you that the world cares about where you are right now and what you’re thinking. Instagram invites others to see the uniqueness and beauty of the world like you do.

The social web is getting more personal, more intimate. Piece by piece, you are shedding your protection. You are standing naked in front of millions of people, so to speak. I think that’s interesting, and it makes me intrigued by what the future brings.

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