Wow, seeing that in writing seems strange. But, as practically anyone alive knows, every now and then it’s time to shake things up, and now is that time for me.
Even though I’ve been preparing to write this last column for about a month, what to do with it has been a head-scratcher. So this morning, I did what many a tapped-out columnist, at a loss for more words, would do: I went back to the beginning, my very first Social Media Insider column, written on Feb. 20, 2008.
To put that time in perspective, MySpace was still the biggest social network, though clearly waning, Facebook was still the young upstart with 100 million users; today it has about 1.4 billion. Twitter was just under two years old, with about one million users; today the company reports 284 million monthly active users. Instagram? It would be more than two years until its first photo was uploaded, by co-founder Kevin Systrom.
It really is astonishing to see how teensy-weensy social networking was in 2008. At that time, I had a moribund MySpace profile, had joined Facebook about eight months earlier -- because I was writing a story about it, not because any friends were there -- and was a pretty active Twitter user. Yeah, I guess that would qualify as cutting-edge back then, but anyone who has been in the Internet business for nigh on 20 years dabbles in new platforms. It’s second nature.
But getting back to that column, here’s the part that jumped off the page at me. It’s when I wrote, “In ways that I haven't learned to articulate yet, social networking has enhanced my virtual world of professional contacts in ways even previous digital communications revolutions, like IMing and emailing, have not. What it hasn't done -- yet -- is come even close to mirroring my offline life as I assume it does for people who are, well, younger than me and in a different phase of life. They are not fortysomething suburban soccer Moms. That's where my skepticism comes in: Is the lack of interest in social networking from my non-digerati friends a sign that it just hasn't reached certain demographics yet, or is it that it's of limited utility beyond certain demographics?”
Now that everyone and their grandmother belong to a social network, we all know the answer was the former. And it’s been transforming. We all could recount dozens of anecdotes of how this is so. The latest I have is from the other day, when I went to my favorite local Facebook group asking about SAT prep for my son. Thirty-two comments later, I now have a plan – and saved $100 on the tutoring service because of getting a referral from a real-world and virtual friend. Yeah!
You’ve heard stories like that before, I know. In fact, what is special about that story is that it’s not special at all. Social media has not only changed how we interact with one another, it’s changed how we go about, well, life. The transformation will never be done, but with social networking at ubiquity, it’s a good time to go out, at least until I have something new to say.
Not surprisingly, I also woke up this morning wondering what I had learned by writing all these columns. The biggest thing I can point to is that when you’re trying to gauge what’s really happening in social media, look at the people around you -- not your co-workers, and not the pundits. By doing that, it’s been relatively easy to “call“ the stagnation of Twitter and downward spiral of Myspace; to predict the demographic evolution of Facebook to older people; to classify Foursquare as a fad, and to realize the real, growing appeal of Instagram.
I honestly don’t know what I’ll do without this platform. Maybe I’ll transition to tweeting more in a desperate plea for recognition, or start talking to my cat about YouTube monetization strategies. I’m sure he’ll like that.
I do know I’ll miss all of you who’ve read, retweeted and commented on my columns all these years. And I’ll miss the MediaPost crew, who let me write whatever I wanted, week after month after year. Thanks, all!