In a relatively short time, social media and networking sites have become ubiquitous. Chances are, they play some role in your live each day, by conversation, event, or just passive consumption of content. But, what may seem like a phenomenon is really just part of the boom and bust cycle of pop culture. While no one is arguing that social media is going to go completely bust, as a whole it will certainly will evolve.
Individually these sites will gain legacies — some already have, in fact. As we’re still in the middle of the revolution, perhaps the best way to understand these networks-in-progress is by analogy. For those of you lost in the maze social networks — Gen Xers and music enthusiasts especially — I’ve taken the liberty of providing context that you already know and love. A comparison which possesses the benefits of two decades’ hindsight.
Here, now, is social media explained through the lens of another seemingly overnight revolution, 90s-era grunge bands. Plus a few extras thrown in at the end. Enjoy, debate, and share.
MySpace – Nirvana
Seemingly dropped like a bomb into the middle of a burgeoning revolution. Meant more than any of its peers. At one time, the biggest thing on the planet and a force of nature that completely changed the rules of the game, only to implode as imitators sprung up everywhere, diluting the beauty of its ability to connect its legions of fans. Misunderstood by many its time. It’s identity almost completely wrapped up in a single person (Tom / Kurt Cobain). Tragic downfall, yet still strangely relevant.
Facebook – Pearl Jam
Significant initial following thanks to college campuses. For better or worse, has become the standard-bearer for the movement. Constantly fighting expectations (site redesigns / making music videos and dealing with Ticketmaster), to the initial chagrin of many, yet seems to grow stronger with age. Led by strange egomaniac (Mark Zuckerberg / Eddie Vedder). Despite a significant chorus of critics throughout its career, still churns out solid product and maintains a large following. While many yearn for the “glory days”, many of those same people still find it the best choice to waste a little time here and there. Those who love sports feel a special connection (photos from events / original name was Mookie Blaylock, plus bassist Jeff Ament played in an MTV Rock ‘N Jock basketball game).
LinkedIn – Stone Temple Pilots
THE business model for its respective endeavor. Slammed as imitators initially, everyone now appreciates its approach and craftmanship, along with its ability to cater to a lot of different groups. Doesn’t really seem to fit in with those it gets lumped in with, and is probably best described as the working man’s version of its thing. Not everyone is a believer, however, and “usage” problems dog its perceived “value” and state of its legacy.
Twitter – Soundgarden
Dense and relentless, what it lacks in accessibility, it more than makes up for occasional highpoints, which are as good if not better than those of any its peers. Gets the job done, even if ain’t pretty (information back hole / “Black Hole Sun” video”). While it has its share of posers and bandwagon fans by association in more recent times (celebrities / Audioslave), is also the go-to institution for enthusiasts and purists. In a sense, intended for the “thinking person.”
YouTube – Smashing Pumpkins
Unmatched in terms of ambition and sheer “volume” of work. Originality never a strong point, more a reflection of everything around it. Initially a love letter to yesteryear (old videos uploaded from VHS tapes / Gish), it morphed into a mainstream behemoth (cats and dogs / “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”). Perfect case of genuine intentions married to heavy-handed execution, delivered with flair via studio wizardry. Seems to piss everyone off at one time or another.
Flikr – Alice in Chains
If you had to pinpoint the perfect “look”, you couldn’t do any better – the most visually representative of the larger movement. Emotionally complex yet straightforward in tone, it agitates some and pleases others, but no honest person debates its quality. Most imitators never got it right. The benefactor of being in the right place at the right time (acquired by Yahoo! only 13 months after launching / appearance in “Singles”), its historical importance is safe, although not always appreciated to its full extent (censorship in Germany / 0 for 8 at the Grammys).
Foursquare – Hole
Following the ashes of another entity, got its chance in the spotlight. Its makeover from ugly and confusing to glamorous and confusing would be a success story if everyone weren’t so distracted by the fact that it basically sucks. Uncomfortable association with stalker problem (“look who else has checked-in” / Lesley Barber). Millions of followers and no one knows why exactly.
Instagram – Bush
Latecomer whose lone asset, if you can call it that, is “prettiness” (filters / Gavin Rossdale). Will never be confused with the true trailblazers and all things considered, doesn’t amount to much more than guilty pleasure. Connection to a long-gone fad (polaroids / No Doubt) is kind of silly.
LiveJournal – The Pixies
Largely a precursor to the revolution, many admire its charming minimalism/simplicity. Became a direct influence on those who broke later the movement wide open. While lifelong fans have never wavered on the merits of its genius, younger fans have discovered it either through later day work (“Oh No They Didn’t” / “Fight Club”) or its brief re-emergence in the headlines (ad controversies / touring). Coincidentally, frontman is named Frank (The Goat / Black).
Friendster – Mudhoney
Acknowledged as a forerunner to its more successful peers, but never gained traction outside of an initial arrival (numerous cover stories in ’02 / “Touch Me, I’m Sick”). Would not compromise its ideals (turned down buyout offer from Google / never went radio-friendly). Still plugging along (as a gaming site / putting out albums), even though most think its long gone. Never had that “quality” to make it big.
Pinterest – L7
Loved and hated, not much in the way of middle ground. Seemingly meant for women, but its appeal is too grating for many who just don’t get it. To this point, not a particularly profitable endeavor. If a version comes along that appeals more to men (say, Gentlemint, for instance), band comp would be The Melvins.
Google + – Seven Mary 3
Cashing in on a well-established formula (Facebook feed 3 years ago / manly voice plus heavy guitars), not much more than a blatant ripoff of already-successful peers, yet without any time spent in the “trenches.” It’s warm-weather origins (California / Florida) detracts from perceived authenticity somewhat. Successful, yet feels empty.
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OTHERS, non- “grunge”
Yelp – Phish
The ultimate “experiential” community. With every user, their backlog of work and comments on that work only grows more cumbersome every year. Strong, differing opinions throughout their catalog. May never stop touring, but most agree its usefulness lies in the experience when you’re there as opposed to the endless chatter about it online.
Classmates – Hootie & The Blowfish
By the numbers, incredibly popular (300 million users / 16 million copies of Cracked Rear View sold). Yet, impossible to find a fan on the street. Born out of the drunkeness of yesteryear, strictly about nostalgia and loss of innocence. For the high schooler turned frat/sorority kid who never really grew up.
MP3 – Gin Blossoms
Once hailed as the “next big thing,” and an alternative to the prevailing forces at play, well-known for its brief breakout, yet crumbled shortly thereafter. Some good stuff (Single largest IPO at the time / “Hey Jealousy”), but tremendous amount of filler overall. Even though it still technically exists, time has reduced it to either an ironic reference or an honest reflection, depending entirely on context. Unclear which is more embarrassing.
Odnoklassniki – Gorky Park
Americans fail to comprehend. Huge in Russia, virtually unknown anywhere else.
Mixi – Spinal Tap
Big in Japan. Seems like a joke. Even the name is funny.