It’s been interesting to watch online populations over the last two decades. The first point of internet access for many people back in the mid 90s were closed network internet providers like Compuserve and AOL (America OnLine). These services offered not only the internet in whole, but also a safe space for organized content. User groups, specific email lists and direct access to products and organizations were big attraction points.
At the turn of the century we saw those services dwindle as smaller, focused sites on the internet offered access to larger groups of people and services. Sites like classmates.com became popular ways to find old friends, and businesses established their own web sites tailored to their particular goals and needs.
Today we see sites like classmates.com struggle to keep users as we once again gather together on large services like Facebook. Looking at today’s social networks reminds me very much of the old Compuserve and AOL models. A mass of people can co-mingle, while also participating in focused content presentation and communications circles. The gathered numbers are significantly higher, as are the content participants, but the general feel is the same. On Compuserve I interacted with others who shared my interest in the Kurzweil K2000 (my then favorite synthesizer). Today, roughly two decades later, I interact on Facebook with others who share my interest in Camel Audio Alchemy (my current favorite synthesizer). The names changed, the participants are greater in number, and I’m not paying by the hour for access, but the befits remain the same.
I expect to see this pattern play out again over the coming years. Factoring in the time it took for users to learn and use the internet, future cycles will probably be more in line with one decade rather than two.