Social networks covering large distances have existed for more than one thousand years. In the late Middle Ages, itinerant monks went from one abbey to the next, exchanging hand-written books. During the Renaissance, many scientists organized networks by mail throughout Europe ; the first universities grew from these men of science using their epistolary networks.

1st generation social networks (from 2005)

The first-generation social networks have experienced an extraordinary boom around 2010 because of the combination of four elements:

• the emergence of the multi-touch interface of the iPhone (2007) and the iPad (2010), which sparked new consumer markets and brought in new customers;
• the strong customization current that is replacing the one of massification (around 2010);
• the craze for smartphones by teenagers who adopted them en masse because adults were absent from these networks;
• the rule that attributed all profits to the first companies that develop certain service sectors.

Facebook is where you lie to your friends,
Twitter where you tell the truth to strangers.

Essentially, this new type of public communication network uses algorithms that allow a company to analyze the tastes of the public (see diagram below); This allows the enterprise to develop a customer database that helps to refine various strategies and sell online advertising space. In turn, this createds a capitalization that allows the enterprise to buy or out-bid competitors and to take up residence on the Stock Exchange:

Various technologies are used: blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, podcasts, exchanges of texts, photos, videos, forums, chats, etc.

This type of network is garnering enormous profits now because of the complacency of the users who provide their personal data for free, thus creating a contribution economy favoring companies.

The dark side of today’s social networks

• They carry a lot of misinformation (up to 30% according to some experts): a lot of lies, rumors, alternative facts, etc. (hence the recent appearance of the concept that we live in a post-factual society, that is to say, post-trash);
• some information may endanger democracy (in some elections, for example);
• they are media of the immediate; the surfer only lives in the here and now where he feels he is living in an emergency space;
• They rob private life by allowing these companies to engage in political espionage (Échelon-NSA-Snowden);
• they are narcissistic, that is to say, focused exclusively on the JE;
• because they rely only on statistical analyzes of their clients’ tastes, their answers are culturally false;
• they practice tax evasion. Etc.

2nd generation social networks
(After 2020)

Because they deify the I and not the US, they are effective in debunking power, but unable to participate in a collective construction: 1st generation networks are a dictatorship of emotion. They are starting to fall out of favor (from the work of Nicholas Carr, 2005-2008).

A second generation begins to develop around a communication in search of consensus between interest groups. These new networks already pose various questions to researchers. For example, Dunbar’s theory that a group can not exceed 140 members, or the fact that the chains between participants do not generally exceed more than six people, etc.

Thus, we will develop a third type of communication will emerge and develop: narrowcasting. Three types of communication are developing: media mass in public spaces, private space in personal spaces and community space in private spaces (Chapter 4, No. 9). They have developed over time, that is, to meet specific needs that have emerged at a given moment in history. Each offers a particular cultural approach: infospectacles, individual exchanges and content for the niches:

These are three different models of communication that coexist from now on; their use can change the way we think (see McLuhan):

The empowerment embedded in these transitions

In the past, there have been three stages of empowering citizens. In this context, empowerment means gaining more control over events that directly affect the people :

1st generation : 1980

The arrival of personal computers coincides with the political empowerment movement (Alinsky, Etzioni and Rubin, circa 1968) (See also May 68 in France and 70 in Quebec). Several computer-based emancipation experiences emerge : Whole Earth Catalog, The Well, etc. simultaneously generating Flower People of the West Coast. Microcomputers create the first networks of evangelists and Apple clubs, BBS and a culture of « doing » (chapter 3, no 6).

2nd generation : 1995

The emergence of the Internet and Web triggers the appropriation of digital tools by new groups of users. This coincides with the organization of various militant movements (feminists, gays, Native Americans, environmentalists, etc.) and further increases the political empowerment of citizens.

3rd generation : 2005

Both the soft and the bloody revolutions (Arab, anti-Wall Street, etc.) use several tools : mobile devices, mass media, organizations, etc. which are met with equally sophisticated digital tools and the politicization of police (SNA, etc.)

This empowerment is only the beginning of a struggle to win back a range of political and economic powers ?

Benchmarks (content)

1968 Whole Earth Catalog (heralding the arrival of counterculture
and cyberculture)
1969 Compuserve
1971 First email (on Arpanet)
1978 Bulletin Board System
1978 First instances of spam
1979 Usenet
1980 Teletext : Minitel in France, Telidon in Canada
1985 The Well (first virtual community)
1986 Listserv (mailing list)
1988 Instant Relay Chat
1991 Web
1993 Mosaic
1994 Blog
1994 World of Warcraft (online group games)
1995 Wiki, Geocities,
1997 Hotmail, AOL,
1998 Google
1999 Blogger
1999 Napster
2001 Wikipedia, iPod,
2002 Friendster
2003 Web 2.0 (Participatory Web)
2003 Linkedin, Delicious, WorldPress, MySpace, SecondLife
2003 Second Life (3D virtual world)
2004 Facebook
2004 Podcast broadcast, Flickr, Digg, Vimeo,
2005 YouTube
2008 Twitter
2008 iPhone
2009 iPad
2010 Pinterest
2012 Massive Online Courses
2012 Portable Objects (wearables), Internet of Things)

The wave starting in 2000 (the first generation of social networks) is more oriented to individual interaction. Many analysts suggest this wave is too narcissistic :

2001 Wikipedia : Collaborative project
2003 My Space : a content sharing platform
2003 Second Life : 3D virtual world
2004 Facebook : social networking
2005 YouTube : a content exchange community
2006 Twitter : microblogs

The emergence of Facebook : Social Graph-it i:

(The Economist, October 20, 2007)

Social actors on the Web

The six levels of sociability, in ascending order according to Forrester Research Technographics, 2008 :

  • The audience (69% in the US)
    They read blogs, consult the various opinions and watch the videos of other users.
  • The participants (35%)
    They are members of social networks like Facebook or MySpace.
  • The collectors (19%)
    They organize content for their use using automatic updates, bookmarks, etc.
  • The critics (37%)
    They comment on productions or services, and are active participants in blogs and forums.
  • The creators (21%)
    They create content, publish blogs or personal web pages, and disseminate their work.

A new business model

With user-generated content, social networking offers developers a unique business model wherein the user provides personal information at his or her own expense. The users also provide photos and videos, royalty free, to these same developers. This is an economy of disguised contribution.

In fact, social networks feed on people’s privacy ; monitoring their private details and ideas only serves to developed highly-targeted advertising to specific audiences. Social data become the main staple of digital marketing ; This data then become the raw material for marketers.

They act as vampires on our lives, for resale to advertisers,
Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The intersection of social media and Big Data :

The current landscape of social networks (2012)

It is no longer information networks, but networks of opinions which makes the content and its impact very emotional (chapter 1, no 8). The content available on the networks reveal the opinion of a section of the population at some point by allowing citizens to promote their opinion.

Landscape of social networks in the United States :

(Based on the work of Brian Solis, The Conversation Prism, 2008) :

Content creation

  • Music : Pandora, Rhapsody, SoundCloud. Shazam, RDIA, Mog, etc.
  • Images : Flickr, Instagram, Picasa, Shutterfly, Hipstamatic, etc.
  • Video : Vimeo, TED, Vine, Vevo, Metacafe, Viddy, Break, Dalymation, etc.
  • Visual : Prezi, Scrib, Edoor, SlideShare, etc.

Networking activities

  • Networking : Guru, Freelancer, DesignCrowd, Crowdspring 99 designg, etc.
  • Social : Facebook, MySpace, Google+, Tagged, Hi5, Soci, etc.
  • Forums : Google, Facebook, 4Chan, Lingia, Bigboards, etc.
  • Places pub. : Groupon, KickStarter, Copious, Scoutmob, Living Sound, etc.
  • Groups : Reddit, Digg, BuzzFeed, NowPublic, NewsVine, Starify, Prismatic, etc.
  • Niches: Care 2, Wiser, Diaspora, cafemom, GoodReads, Path, Miso, etc.
  • Companies: chat, StatusNet, NewsGator, Yammer, SocialCast, etc.
  • Business: Linkedin, Viadeo, BranchOut, Identified, etc.
  • Rating : Amazon.com, Epinions, AnglesList, Glassdoor, Yelp, etc.
  • Curation: Pinterest, Feedly, Fancy, Zite, Scoop, Alltop, RebelMouse, etc.
  • Events : MeetUp, Plancast, EventBrite, Zevents, etc.
  • Q & A : Yahoo, AllExperts, WildAnswers, AnswersCorp. Quora, etc.

Exchange techniques

  • Blogs: Blogger, WordPress, Tumbler, TypePad, MovableType, Squarespace, etc.
  • Tweets : Twitter, AOL, Echo, pheed, APRNET, etc.
  • Wiki : Wikipedia, Wikia, TWiki, Wikispaces, etc.
  • Social : Del.icio.us, Instapaper, PearlTrees, EverNote, Potluck, etc.
  • Livecasting : Livestream, Justin, Vokle, Qik, Ustream, etc.
  • Location : FourSquare, Intro, Highlight, Banjo, Dopple, etc.

Some statistics (Search Engine Journal, 2013) ;

Facebook, since 2004 1.15 billion users
Google+, 2010 1 billion
Twitter, 2006 554 million
Instagram, 2010 150 million
Pinterest, 2012 70 million

Current features

A medium of immediacy

Because blogs or tweets occur in near-real time, users don’t have time to verify what is broadcast – we live in the here and now. Living in the immediate-now gives the impression of living in a climate of urgency. In addition, activity on social networks produces surges of intense focus when a major incident occurs.

An emotional medium

Because the reactions in real time are emotional, users no longer reflect reason, but rather reactions to « hot » information (40% of daily exchanges are confidential self or relatives) (chapter 1, no 8). Social networks may be effective in debunking power, but they are unable to participate in building democratic consensus because they are now essentially dictatorships of emotion.

A lateral medium

The exchange of opinions between citizen groups seeking consensus should be encouraged. These opinions are essential to the development of participative democracy and require collective participation. However, this is a hypothesis that has not materialized to date. The activity on social networks today has primarily remained focused on individual activities.

A medium of volume

Users and advertisers are primarily concerned with the volume of clicks activated every minute : the domination of metrics. The rhythms of friendship have nothing to do with the virtual immediacy of Facebook and Twitter.

Eminem has 73 million followers on Facebook, Michael Jackson, 63 million, and Lady Gaga, 59 million; we’re not talking here about « friends» , but admirers.

Some preliminary thoughts

  • • You cannot blame social networks for their popularity. Before them, the telegraph, the telephone and the computer all experienced huge leaps in popularity as they settled into a commercial space.
  • • You can not blame the social networks for their immediacy or the dominance of short text messages. In the past, each invention has sought to reduce the time required to produce and disseminate content in a quest to improve the welfare of the people by quickly circulating more information at lower costs.
  • • Because social networks disrupt the communication model of elites accustomed to decisions that flow from top to bottom (top down), many leaders feel now attacked by the tools that seem to contradict the way they do things. Above all, this phenomenon has resulted in the current desire of some politicians to muzzle the Internet 2.
  • • After reading short text messages and profiles on Facebook, one wonders how so many people can entrust to others so many personal details in their environment. Does this, for many people, camouflage their immense solitude ?

After 2020 (?)

The appearance of social networks is only about ten years old and already many users, especially young people, are beginning to be critical with respect to the rampant narcissism that has been generated by their use.

After the current generation of technology, large social networks are likely to begin to decline, making way for more specialized networks (defined by sectors of interest and purpose). Customization creates niches. Many future users will instead use Arabic, Chinese or Indian (English is spoken by 33% of Web users).

After 5 years of continuous use, and thanks to the behavior of users, social networks are reaching their limits. All that is required is that teens find a way to communicate that is more cool and the current dominant networks are likely to begin collapsing. Moreover, young people leave social networks because too many seniors arrive and begin using those networks. After 2020 (?), because of cultural changes (new mobile devices and computers, the Internet 3, four Web, etc.) and after the discovery of government espionage (NSA), there will probably be a decline in the scope and use of social networks.