On The History Of Social Media

EniacAre you sick of hearing about “social media” yet? Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t, but social media is definitely being talked about, probably now more than ever. The bitter irony here is that social media is as old as the Internet. I mean that very literally.

Consider the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

Social media is information content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies that is intended to facilitate communications, influence and interaction with peers and with public audiences, typically via the Internet and mobile communications networks.

I highly recommend reading the rest of the entry. Unfortunately, the perception of the existence of “social media” isn’t much older than the popularity of the term itself. If you ask Amy Nut, she thinks social media began with MySpace:

As the Internet began to permeate into every home, teenagers found a new way of expression via the Internet. One way teens found of sharing common interests with other like-minded teenagers was through MySpace.

MySpace launched in 2003. Sure, 5 years feels like an eternity in our rapidly evolving world of the Internet. However, I’d like to take a moment to introduce potential users to some of what existed before there was MySpace.

Forums: Forums have long been online social gathering points for small and large crowds. Still popular all over the Internet, forums have been around since 1996. That’s a full 7 years before MySpace even existed

Wikis: Today, Wikipedia is one of the most well known successes in social media. Much to many a social media marketer’s demise, there’s no room for promotion. However, for the record, the first Wiki went live in 1995, making it 8 years older than MySpace.

IRC: The ultimate grandpa of Internet chat has to be IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The technical difference, from a user perspective, between IRC and Twitter really boils down to the minor variation between having a “chat room” and a “follow list”. Dating back to 1988, IRC is 15 years older than MySpace. (and 18 years older than Twitter)

Usenet: In the very early days of the Internet, a system known as Usenet came online. This system was the inspiration behind the before mentioned Forums. The system was hugely popular and still exists today. The system went online in 1979, making it 24 years older than MySpace. Admittedly, there were relatively few Internet users back then.

BBS: The BBS (Bulletin Board System) scene was popular before the wide spread adoption of the Internet. A BBS ran on a host computer and a user’s computer connected directly via a modem. While the precursor of the BBS systems came online in 1972 (before I was born), the first true BBS cropped up in 1978. That’s a whopping 25 years before MySpace.

Finger: Born in 1977, the Finger protocol is pretty old. It wasn’t until id Software‘s used the protocal that it suddenly became popular – at least within the gaming scene in the mid to late 90’s. All but dead now, replaced by blogs, the technology was born 26 years before MySpace and 32 years before I the writing of this post (on WordPress).

The concept of social media, unlike the buzzword itself, is not new. It’s not even close. In fact, the Internet was designed to exchange data. In a way, the Internet has always been social.

The same way old fashion becomes new again, technology concepts keep being reborn with new terminology. Trends pick up and everyone gets this feeling that things have somehow changed. Perhaps they have. However, before you get excited and anxious, take time to consider how far back the path goes.

In 1996, I started composing weekly updates about a game I was working on. It was my Web based progress log filled with bits of personal chatter. I may not have known it, but it was, basically, a blog.

Everything old is new again; and the world keeps spinning. Remember where we came from.

First Backside 180 (Sorta)

A few weeks ago I was at A-Basin with Nino and decided to troll through the park. I didn’t hit any of the big terrain, but I was knocking around on lips and edges a bit. I came up on a toe-edge jump and the felt good for a backside 180 attempt. Probably because I didn’t have time to think about it, I came off pretty clean. I landed before I got around so I finished it off on the ground. To that extent, you might not really call it a 180. However, it’s still the first time I’ve been in the air rotating with my back facing down the mountain. I tried it a couple of more times and found it to be pretty easy. However, I haven’t managed to pull one off on a flat jump. The toe-edge really makes a difference.

In other news, I haven’t been getting out nearly enough. I had to take a business trip to Dundee last week. It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I’ve been on the snow and it’s making me sad. Not sure if I’ve blogged about it before, but I’ve just come out of a stint of “self employment” and am once again “working for the man”…. This whole 40 hours a week in the office thing gets in the way of my play time. Not cool.

The hardest part is seeing the snow reports lately. This season has lacked snowfall. It was only recently that I started seeing 6 & 8 inch overnight reports. With as few powder days as we’ve had this season, I hate to miss one. Luckily, next weekend will bring 3 much needed days of riding down in Wolf Creek. Hooray!

The attached photo was snapped on a hike at Walker Ranch. There was a bit of snow covering some of the tails, but overall it was warm. I wore shorts and took my hoodie off from time to time. There were a number of mountain bikes out on the trails. It’s definitely a sign that the weather is unseasonably warm here. I may have to move further north. I hear good things about Whistler.

Now, I say that… but the idea of switching to surfing keeps poking at the back of my mind. I keep digging through photos of Sayulita and dreaming of living near the beach for a while. I could give up snowboarding for a few seasons if I could surf in my back yard. In terms of snowboarding, I feel myself getting closer to reaching a plateau. I’d like to master the 360 and get some deep powder / back country experience under my belt. Beyond that, I don’t expect to progress much further. However, I’m so extremely new to surfing that I’ve got everything left to learn. All I’ve done is catch a few rollers on a longboard.

Either way, I hope to spend less time in an office soon.

Why to NEVER spam! – A Lesson From a 2001 Startup

What We Did

Near the end of the first bubble, I joined a cool idea for a startup company. We had a subscription based product to sell online and I was hired as the Director of Web Development. I was stoked; but it didn’t take things long to fall apart. Even if the bubble hadn’t popped, our gig was doomed to fail. I’ll now share with the world one of our biggest mistakes – spamming.

We were getting exactly the subscription rates I expected; but we weren’t seeing nearly the rates that marketing wanted. To solve this, marketing purchased a list with millions of e-mail addresses. This list cost us a whopping $50. Then, they put one of our programmers on the task of building some quick spamming software. Once it was ready, they fired it up and sent out an unsolicited bulk e-mail to millions of unsuspecting folks. What was the content of this e-mail? It was a promise to donate a percentage of all new subscriptions to a Sept. 11th victim fund… then it linked directly to our site. While I didn’t really agree with the ethics of the message, that is an issue for another blog post entirely.

As you might have guessed – I NEVER KNEW about the spam machine. There was no doubt, I never would have agreed to it. Marketing was wise enough to do the whole thing behind my back.

Up until this point, I had been working various promotional techniques to build site traffic. I was working to gain better search engine indexing. I was finding ways to get online communities talking about us. I was doing link exchanges. All the while, I was putting in late hours trying to get the backend parts of our website coded… And for some reason, and I didn’t think to ask why, our other Web programmer was busy on some secret project.

What Happened

It started off like any other day, I started by checking my e-mail. I noticed a flood of unsubscribe requests. I was a bit surprised. I started asking questions, and then found out about the spam machine, the $50 list, and what had been set in motion in meetings behind closed doors.

unsubscribe emails in my inbox

By the time I found out, it was too late – the damage was done. Still, we were just starting to know the damage. Aside from damaging our brand’s image, we’d pissed off enough of the right people to put a real hurt on our business.

First, our mail server was configured to send overflow e-mail to the ISP’s main mail system. Our flood of messages, and the returning flood of bounces and unsubscribe requests completely flooded our system and then the ISP’s system. We took their mail server completely offline. All of their customers were without email, thanks to us. We didn’t even make a scratch on our $50 list of e-mail addresses before the system collapsed. One of our guys – the one who hooked us up with the ISP to begin with – spent his next couple of days cleaning up the aftermath and getting all the servers cleaned up and online. A lot of legit e-mail belonging to innocent people got lost.

Once we got the mail server up and running, we noticed that we were still having trouble getting e-mail messages pushed through. Why? Because we were blacklisted! We’d made enough noise to pop up on black lists all around the Internet. Our important, completely legit e-mails were being sucked into tiny blackholes all around the Internet – never to be read. Heads should have rolled, seriously. Our head of IT spent weeks begging to be removed from lists. It doesn’t end there, not just yet. There was a bit of a kicker.

our web traffic blocked

Because we were so blunt in our spamming techniques, it was easy to pin the source of the spam directly to our domain. So, our entire domain was blocked on routers all over the Internet. This meant that the normal traffic I’d worked so hard to build was suddenly blocked from our servers. No one could subscribe, even if they really really wanted to… because they couldn’t even reach our site!

How Did It End

Some people don’t learn. I did. I learned that some of the blokes I worked with didn’t have the sense God gave a turd. They modified the spamming software to send e-mails in bulk bursts as to not bring down the mail server, and they turned the spamming machine back on. After all, they still had the rest of the list to spam.

I was livid, and I expressed it. We started to tank and it wasn’t long before there was an initial round of layoffs. Guess who made the list? Yeah, me! When the operations fellow made the announcement to our group, he got a bit upset and stepped out of the room. Upon his exit, I actually shouted in joy and danced a little jig right there in the conference room. I got some funny looks for that one, some folks were really upset about loosing their jobs. I felt free. I felt blessed.

I’ve got to give them some credit, they fought to the bitter end. A few key employees setup shop in one guy’s house. They kept the company running as long as the remaining investment would allow – which wasn’t long. Ultimately, in just a few months, it was all just a bad memory.

The worst part is, the product itself was a great idea. It could have worked then, and it could still work today. I’m surprsied it’s not being done already.

The Ban Bin – How effective is a forum jail?

In June I made a post titled “A Few Good Forum Ideas” where I first mentioned the idea of putting a jail on the Gearbox Forums. I said I would discuss the results of the jail if we actually implemented it – and we did.

I’ll jump straight to the point – the jail, or “Ban Bin” as we call it, is very successful.

How it works…

Previously, when a forum user broke the rules, the user was banned. If the violation was small, the user was banned for 24 hours. If it was large or a repeat offence, the user was banned indefinitely. This created a problem; when users were banned, they received no direct feedback on why and were not given a chance to dispute the punishment. As a result, many of the users created new accounts. Furthermore, these users were often disgruntled and their behaviour was worse than before. The net result of our previous form of punishment was an overall increase in negativity on the forum.

Now, when a user breaks the rules, the user is confined to the Ban Bin forum. In that forum, the user will immediately find a new thread with the user’s screen name in the subject line. In the first post of the thread, the user will find a post from a forum moderator that clearly states what the user’s violation was. The user is free to post any comments to this thread.

The forum moderators keep a close eye on the ban bin, responding attentively to any posts a jailed user makes. If a jailed user shows adequate improvement in attitude, the user is allowed back into the community. If the jailed user continues to disrespect the forum rules, the user is banned from the forums. It takes a vote from at least two forum moderators to make a decision.

A master thread tracks when users are jailed. The last time I checked the thread, only two users had been jailed twice, and none more than twice.

Why it works…

The Ban Bin provides the offending user with ample attention. This is opposite of a ban, where the offending user is ignored. Often times, an offending user was not trying to create problems, but is merely upset over a social issue on the forums. The Ban Bin technique allows forum moderators to directly address these problems, instead of ignoring them. As a result, a rehabilitated user develops a closer bond with the forum moderators, strengthening the community as a whole.

Often times, a user falls in the Ban Bin for something as innocent as being unaware of the rule he or she broke. This type of case usually has a quick turn around. On occasion, the offending user simply needed time to vent frustration and cool off. Rarely is a user a completely lost cause – although it does happen and they do get banned.

The Ban Bin greatly reduces the number of fake accounts being created on the forums. This significantly reduces the amount of work involved in policing the forums. Thus, while giving offending users direct attention requires a bit of extra effort, the net result is less work for the mods.

The Ban Bin is ultimately less work with positive results.