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BW Businessworld

The Social Network

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It seems hard to believe today but Internet denizens were quite social even in the pre-Facebook and Twitter era. The ancestors of the current generation of social media champions — Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc — existed in the Web 1.0 era, and some of them were quite popular. During 2000-05, bulletin boards and chat fora on all sorts of topics had cropped up. They were normally attached to a specialised portal. For example, there were parenting portals with parenting boards, sports sites with sports chatrooms, and stock market sites with stock market bulletin boards where registered users could post their views and read other people’s posts.

Then there were chatrooms and instant messengers like ICQ, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. People got together, created closed chatrooms or groups and made friends with total strangers who shared the same interests. By today’s standards, they were primitive. And they suffered from two big handicaps. One, they were relatively rudimentary compared to the features that today’s social media platforms boast. Two, you needed to be sitting in front of your computer to use them. Besides, advertisers still saw digital as a relatively small play, and even within digital, search engines and portals were more interesting to advertisers. During 1999-2001, portals like Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, MSN, Rediff, Sify and others tried to become gateways where people would make their first stop before moving to the other sites on the Net.

In 2014, digital has really come into its own. Digital advertising is growing faster than advertising in any other medium. In fact, marketers are abandoning or reducing exposure to print and television as they put more ad dollars on digital plays. Social media platforms have really taken off, and the champions among them today attract more advertising revenues than some of the biggest players in old media. Social media platforms are also turning into gateways for other sites much like the old style portals. The biggest difference, though, has been made by the rise and rise of smartphones across the world, which has completely changed the game for social media.

Marketers are betting billions of dollars on social media sites now. But with social media usage habits also changing rapidly, today’s big daddies — Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter — are also splurging billions to keep ahead of competitors, either by developing new features or by buying promising newcomers.

Our special issue, coordinated by senior editor Mala Bhargava and senior associate editor Chitra Narayanan, looks at the rapidly changing social landscape and also how to get the best out of the current generation of social media platforms.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 30-06-2014)