Remember the 90s? Many of you reading this blog were likely adolescents during that period. So you won’t remember the ubiquity of AOL in the adult world during the Clinton era.
Suffice it to say that if you weren’t a technogeek, AOL was the internet for you. It had email, it had chat, chat rooms and all sorts of branded rooms where you could (oh so slowly) find out the weather, check sports scores and the like. You didn’t have “friends” but you did have much of your social graph on your chat list.
But it’s that first point that makes Facebook the twenty-first century AOL. Millions of people (literally) have joined Facebook in the past six months. People whose main exposure to the internet is checking email and visiting the occasional website. Facebook is, like AOL, a walled garden, where people can feel safe exploring all the new toys of the internet, surrounded by people just like themselves, people who aren’t the least bit technologically savvy.
These are people who don’t know what “social media” means. Or why anyone would want to be on Twitter (on the off chance they’ve even heard of it.) But here they are, and like AOL in the 90s, Facebook is now providing a near universal experience, defining a moment in time and bringing the next generation of internet, that thing we call Web 2.0 to the masses.
I have no idea if Facebook will be able to avoid AOL’s mistakes and remain relevant. If they’ll wind up blanketing the US with useless sign-up CDs (hat tip to Adam Kmiec for reminding me of that one). Or if we’ll slowly but steadily move on to the next new thing, following the hip crowd now that Facebook’s become too mainstream.
Time will tell.