Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us for the innovations of the future! Todays episode is on former Social Networking pioneer, Friendster. Today when you go to friendster.com you get a page that the social network is taking a break. The post was put up in 2018. How long did Rip Van Winkle Sleep? But what led to the rise of the first big social network and well, what happened? The story begins in 1973. Talkomatic was a chat room and was a hit in the PLATO or Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations community at the University of Illinois, an educational learning system that had been running since 1960. Dave Woolley and Douglas Brows at the University of Illinois brought chat and then the staff built TERM-Talk the same year, adding screen sharing and PLATO Notes would be added where you could add notes to your profile. This was the inspiration for the name of Lotus Notes. Then in the 80s came Bulletin Board Systems, 84 brought FidoNet, 88 brought IRC, 96 brought ICQ, and in 96 we got Bolt.com, the first social networking and video website with SixDegrees coming in 1997 as the first real social media website. AOL Instant Messenger showed up the same year and AOL bought ICQ in 99. It was pretty sweet that I didn’t have to remember all those ICQ numbers any more! 1999 - Yahoo! And Microsoft got in the game launching tools called Messenger at about the same time and LiveJournal came along, as well as Habbo, a social networking site for games. By 2001 Six Degrees shut down and Messenger was shipped with XP. But 2002. That was the year the Euro hit the street. Before England dissed it. That was the year Israeli and Palestinian conflicts escalated. Actually, that’s a lot of years, regrettably. I remember scandals at Enron and Worldcom well that year, ultimate resulting in Sarbanes Oxley to counter the more than 5 trillion dollars in corporate scandals that sent the economy into a tailspin. My Georgia Bulldogs football team beat Arkansas to win the SEC title and then beat Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. Nelly released Hot In Here and Eminem released Lose Yourself and Without Me. If film, Harry Potter was searching for the Chamber of Secrets and Frodo was on a great trek to the Two Towers. Eminem was in the theaters as well with 8 Mile. And Friendster was launched by Jonathan Abrams in Mountain View California. They wanted to get people making new friends and meeting in person. It was an immediate hit and people flocked to the site. They grew to three million users in just a few months, catching the attention of investors. As a young consultant, I loved keeping track of my friends who I never got to see in person using Friendster. Napster was popular at the time and the name Friendster came from a mashup of friends and Napster. With this early success, Friendster took $12 million dollars in funding from VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Benchmark Capital the next year. That was the year a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerburg launched FaceMash with his roommate Eduardo Saverin for Harvard students in a kinda’ “Hot or Not” game. They would later buy Instagram as a form of euphoric recall, looking back on those days. Google has long wanted a social media footprint and tried to buy Friendster in 2003, but when rejected launched Orkut in 2004 - which just ran in Brazil, tried Google Friend Connect in 2008, which lasted until 2012, Google Buzz, which launched in 2010 and only lasted a year, Google Wave, which launched in 2009 and also only lasted a year, and of course, Google + which ran from 2011 to 2019. Google is back at it again with a new social network called Shoelace out of their Area 120 incubator. The $30 million dollars in Google stock would be worth a billion dollars today. MySpace was also launched in 2003 by Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, growing to have more traffic than Google over time. But Facebook launched in 2004 and after having problems keeping the servers up and running, Friendster's board replaced Abrams as CEO and moved him to chairmen of the board. He was replaced by Scott Sassa. And then in 2005 Sassa was replaced by Taek Kwn and then he was replaced by Kent Lindstrom who was replaced by Richard Kimber. Such rapid churn in the top spot means problems. A rudderless ship. In 2006 they added widgets to keep up with MySpace. They didn’t. They also opened up a developer program and opened up APIs. They still had 52 million unique visitors worldwide in June 2008. But by then, MySpace had grown to 7 times their size. MOL Global, an online payments processor from Malaysia bought the company in 2009 and relaunched the site. All user data was erased and Friendster provided an export tool to move data to other popular sites at the time, such as Flickr. In 2009 Friendster had 3 Million unique visitors per day. They relaunched But that dropped to less than a quarter million by the end of 2010. People abandoned the network. What happened? Facebook eclipsed the Friendster traffic in 2009. Friendster became something more used in Asia than the US. Really, though, I remember early technical problems. I remember not being able to log in, so moving over to MySpace. I remember slow loading times. And I remember more and more people spending time on MySpace, customizing their MySpace page. Facebook did something different. Sure, you couldn’t customize the page, but the simple layout loaded fast and was always online. This reminds me of the scene in the show Silicon Valley, when they have to grab the fire extinguisher because they set the house on fire from having too much traffic! In 2010, Facebook acquired Friendster's portfolio of social networking patents for $40 million dollars. In 2011, Newscorp sold MySpace for $35 million dollars after it had been valued at it peak in 2008. After continuing its decline, Friendster was sold to a social gaming site in 2015, trying to capitalize on the success that Facebook had doing online gaming. But after an immediate burst of users, it too was not successful. In 2018 the site finally closed its doors. Today Friendster is the 651,465th ranked site in the world. There are a few thing to think about when you look at the Friendster story: 1. The Internet would not be what it is today without sites like Friendster to help people want to be on it. 2. The first company on a new thing isn’t always the one that really breaks through 3. You have to, and I mean, have to keep your servers up. This is a critical aspect of maintaining you’re momentum. I was involved with one of the first 5 facebook apps. And we had no idea 2 million people would use that app in the weekend it was launched. We moved mountains to get more servers and clusters brought online and refactored sql queries on the fly, working over 70 hours in a weekend. And within a week we hit 10 million users. That app paid for dozens of other projects and was online for years. 4. When investors move in, the founder usually gets fired at the first sign of trouble. Many organizations simply can’t find their equilibrium after that and flounder. 5. Last but not least: Don’t refactor every year, but if you can’t keep your servers up, you might just have too much technical debt. I’m sure everyone involved with Friendster wishes they could go back and do many things differently. But hindsight is always 20/20. They played their part in the advent of the Internet. Without early pioneers like Friendster we wouldn’t be where we are at today. As Heinlein said, “yet another crew of Rip Van Winkle’s” But Buck Rogers eventually did actually wake back up, and maybe Friendster will as well. Thank you for tuning into another episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We’re lucky to have you. Have a great day!
Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us for the innovations of the future! Today we’re going to cover my daughter’s favorite thing to do these days: Snapchat. Today Snapchat has over 203 million users. That’s up from 188 just a year ago. And with around 50 million logging in monthly, it’s becoming one of the most used social networks in the world. But how does a company manage to go from nothing to, well, so… much… more… You see, the numbers don’t tell the full story. Nearly 80 percent of people on the Internet between 18 and 24 use Snapchat. As does pretty much every kid I know who’s younger than that. A lot of people don’t really like Snapchat, but the seems to be partly because a lot of them don’t seem to understand it. Neither does the world of finance. They have yet to figure out how to turn a profit. But in a world where users means once that number starts to slow, the adults will be called in to make all the money. This doesn’t mean the stock of Snap Inc doesn’t jump around. Facebook did it. And in the short term, life looked good. But in the long term, many of those decisions Facebook made has led to talk of breaking up Facebook, and has caused CEO Mark Zuckerberg to spend more time in front of the leaders of various nation states than I think he’d like. But Snapchat is a Gen Z company. And there’s something more there. How did Snapchat end up in these types of conversations? In part this was because with the popularity of Facebook growing amongst older generations, Gen Z and beyond wanted to stay connected but more more authentically and less for show as is common when trying to just go out and gather likes. This starts with how the company was founded. Snapchat was started in 2011 by now-CEO Evan Spiegel and partners Bobby Murphy and Reggie Brown, while going to school at Stanford University. They had a core tenant: that messages are removed once viewed. In the beginning, it was just for sharing pictures from one person to another. And it was the first social app to really embrace a mobile-first design philosophy. They worked on Picaboo, the first name, for a few months and after launch kicked out Reggie Brown, who had the idea in the first place. They rebranded to Snapchat, keeping Reggie;s Ghostface Chillah icon though. They would later settle with good old Brown for a little more than $150 million dollars in 2014. At release time in 2011, Snapchat was an iOS app. The next year, they released an Android app and similar to the guys from Silicon Valley they were having a rough time keeping up with demand of over 20 million photos per day already zipping through their network. 2013 brought a bunch of features like the ability to find friends, to reply by double-tapping, better navigation, and Snapkidz for children 13 and lower. The “My Story” feature allowed users to put snaps in storylines. In 2013 Snapchat also taught the world about API rate limiting. Given that they didn’t limit the number of possible API connections they leaked about 4 and a half million usernames and phone numbers on a website called SnapchatDB.info. As is often the case, getting hacked in no way hurt them. I mean they said they were sorry. I think that’s painful for Stanford… Nevermind. They added video in 2014. The network continued to grow and Snapchat teamed up with Square in 2014 to send money to friends through Snapchat. After 4 years, Snapcash was discontinued in 2018. 2015 Brough in app purchases to get more replays. I never liked that. They also relaxed the requirement to hold down a button while watching snaps but didn’t remove the requirement that you couldn’t take a screenshot without alerting the sender. But the big thing was adding effects. This led to an explosion in popularity. Bunny ears and noses were everywhere. And world lenses led to those little frames at special events all over the world. Snapchat got big enough to release a notable figures feature. 2015 also saw Spiegel say that Snapchat was for rich people, not Indians or the Spanish. They temporarily lost 1.5% in share price but… I guess it’s like when people have been drinking too much wine, they say what they really think. 2016 brought Snapchat Memories, which allow saving story posts in a private location in the app. We also got geofilters in 2016, bitmojis, and locking snaps with a PIN. They managed to raise $1.8 billion in private equity that year. In 2017, you could view a snap for an unlimited amount of time, but they would be removed at the end of the viewing time. 2017 also saw links in chats and given the popularity of other graphical tools, we got backgrounds. We also got custom stories which let people make stories by combining images. They bought Zenly in 2017. 2018 gave us the Snap Camera and Snapchat lenses which allow for those silly bunny filters video chat and live streaming services such as Skype, Twitch, YouTube, and Zoom. Seeing that they would like to foster a spirit of integration, Snapchat also released an integration platform known as Snap Kit, which allows for OAuth logins with OMG bitmoji avatars. They also released a new interface in 2018. One that Kylie Jenner dissed, supposedly causing the company to drop over a billion in market cap. Pretty sure that drop lasted less time than how long people will actually know who Kylie is. 2019 mostly just gave us Snapchat employees spying on other people using an internal tool called SnapLion. Pretty sure that’s not SOC2 compliant. Also pretty sure there will be law suits. It’s crap like that that can stifle the growth of a company. Instagram added similar features and investors later sued Snap for not disclosing how substantial a threat Instagram ended up being. This with dropping over a billion dollars a year to keep gaining that marketshare. Becoming a big name on Snapchat and Insta can skyrocket people to stardom and open the floodgates for an entire new career: influencer. People long thought Apple would buy Snapchat. They have enough cash on hand to do so and they’ve tried for a long time to build social networks to no avail. But Apple builds frameworks others use for Augmented Reality, not Augmented Reality worlds. Others thought Amazon would acquire the company to further build out the Snapchat camera and further promotional options to a younger audience. Snapchat also has better visual searching options than Amazon. Tencent owned 17 percent of the Class A shares of Snap in 2018 who has a market cap of over ten billion dollars. I believe they call that a decacorn. People keep trying to say Snapchat can’t stand alone forever. They sure burn through a lot of cash. But Facebook has tried to buy Snapchat and failed, just as Friendster tried to buy Facebook once upon a time. Special aint it. A lot of these tech empires are built by buying up smaller scrappier companies. What’s a couple hundred million here and there? The fact that Snapchat has managed to stand alone should be an inspiration. Until they become the company gobbling up everyone else. My daughter, who’s my Super BFF, sends me tons of snaps. It’s become one of her favorite things to do I think. It’s sweet. I don’t get snaps from anyone else. But then, I’m also a different generation. Which is both good and bad. She also chats me up a plenty in Instagram. Personally, I just want to see it all in one place and don’t care which place that is. So if you wanna’ hit me up listeners, you can find me at krypted dot com. And I’d be happy to take any feedback on the podcast that you might have. Or at Snapchat. Or at Twitter. Or… Well, you get the point. And thank you for tuning into another episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We’re lucky to have you. Have a great day!
Today we are dipping back into the deep and complex history of the proto-internet. We are going to be looking at Minitel, a France-Wide-Web that was built in the 1980s as a way to help the country stay relevant in the digital age.
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Important dates in this episode:
1980: Minitel Program Networks France
In this episode, I set out to explain the creation of the teletype, because it happens right around this time, in the 1920’s. It’s a huge development in the way devices talk to each other, and a jump toward the modem and networking.
In this episode, we solve the problem of calculating from inaccurate tables, learn about NYU Art Professor and inventor of the first electrical language: Samuel Morse, and we discover how the Tabulating Machine company got its start and made one man very rich (and the census a lot easier). Tune in!
One of the great things about the modern Internet is the wide range of services and content available on it. You have news, email, games, even podcasts. And in each category you have a wide range of choices. This wide diversity makes the Internet so compelling and fun to explore. But what happens when you take away that freedom of choice? What would a network look like if there was only one news site, or one place to get eamil? Look no further than THE SOURCE. Formed in 1979 and marketed as the information utility for the information age, THE SOURCE looked remarkably like the Internet in a more closed-off format. The key word here is: looked.
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