Let us take it back. Forget about Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Back to before I was born.
The NASA Pathfinder has just landed on Mars, “I Believe I Can Fly” is bumping on each corner, and The Titanic is leading as the top-grossing movie of the year. But what else is new? The foundation for social media.
1997 in New York City, Six degrees goes live.
This was the first known social media, using real names, connecting people, and allowing posting on bulletin boards. Most importantly, the site allowed users to establish their online networks. The site emerged from creator and starter Andrew Weinreich.
Andrew Weinreich, the University of Pennsylvania grad and continuing entrepreneur has now “ sold 2 businesses, including Xtify to IBM, while advising 5 tech startups”(Weinreich, 2018). Along with launching and selling multiple digital service companies, he is the holder of a patent that covers the premise of social media. While Bulletin Boards were created in 1978, Weinreich’s platform added the social aspect.
#6,175,831 - The Six Degrees Patent. The cash cow. The idea consists of connecting users through mutual online, streaming all the information through a single database. This allowed users to track who knows who and see the separation of the people they may want to know. This patent has since been sold for $700,000 to YouthStream Media Networks in 2001 along with the Six Degrees site(Riordan, 2003). Now, companies like LinkedIn and Tribe use this same patent on their sites.
The social sites now use something similar, but understanding the mutual friend relationship is not the same. While it is easy to add someone on LinkedIn, having a relationship with them is different. The profiles that now come up on your feed have been funneled to the users you interact with most. This pushed the Six Degrees relationship principle out of date.
Why Six Degrees?
In 1994, Kevin Bacon once proclaimed that he has worked with everyone in Hollywood or someone who has worked with them. This idea claims two degrees of separation. The site, using the same principle of knowing someone who knows someone, created the name Six Degrees. Facebook has now challenged this and found their research to say everyone is separated by 3.5 degrees. “Technology has squeezed this distance from person to person”(Fischer, 2018). After the study, they have found the mean to be slowly decreasing in a time where the population is increasing proving social media is pulling us all together.
Establishing the Norm:
The history of Six Degrees lives through all of the prevalent social media sites today.
- Functionality: Six Degrees failed for many reasons but one was functionality. The site was oversimplified and only let you add and invite others. At one point, Six Degrees had 3,500,000 users. Then after being sold, the site began to lose popularity. Sites take this example of a hot start but then molding to the needs of the customer base. Similar to Reels on Instagram competing with TikTok, ideas are generated then adapted. Facebook would not have molded and adapted to the company it is today without its predecessors like Six Degrees. Platforms now understand they will need to adapt and change to retain audiences and keep them energized.
- A working model: Six Degrees was originally based on the Web of Contacts model of social networking. This allowed users to track friends of friends and find connections/mutual friends all via the internet. Establishing the norm for what social media is today, Six Degrees pioneered the services that drive the world today. Like above, sites needed a norm to adapt from.
Where is it going?
Well, Six Degrees is still live. It now allows previous users to remain on the site but isn’t open to anyone. If someone is invited, they will be allowed on which helps endure exclusivity.
Weinreich, A. (2018, November 07). About Andrew Weinreich. Retrieved September 06, 2020, from https://www.andrewsroadmaps.com/about-andrew
Riordan, T. (2003, December 01). Idea for Online Networking Brings Two Entrepreneurs Together. Retrieved September 06, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/01/technology/technology-media-patents-idea-for-online-networking-brings-two-entrepreneurs.html
Evolution of Social Networking. (2013, January 2). Retrieved September 06, 2020, from https://ethw.org/Evolution_of_Social_Networking
Bhagat, B., Bhagat, S., Burke, M., Diuk, C., & Filiz, I. (2017, January 14). Three and a half degrees of separation. Retrieved September 06, 2020, from https://research.fb.com/blog/2016/02/three-and-a-half-degrees-of-separation/