Selling for US$580M in 2005 to News Corporation, Myspace put what we used to call ‘Web 2.0’ on the global corporate agenda. Social media had come of age. And with more users than most of the world’s countries have citizens, a little over a decade ago the world’s leading platform looked invincible.
Being able to rediscover and reconnect with people you had lost touch with was one of the key features of several mainstream social networks, such as Friends Reunited. It’s more than a little ironic, then, that so many of those early social media success stories have themselves now been forgotten about and left behind.
In the heady early days of social media, there seemed to be a new network launching every few months: Friends Reunited, Bebo, MySpace, Digg, Friendster, the list goes on. And while there’s a handful of names we’re all familiar with — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Weibo, WeChat — that dominate today’s social media landscape, plenty of yesterday’s heroes have disappeared from view. It might come as a surprise to learn that some of these early platforms are still with us, even if their focus has shifted.
Set up by Michael and Xochi Birch in 2005, UK-based Bebo had around 40 million users at its peak and was snapped up by AOL in 2008 for US$850M. But just two years later, AOL was talking about pulling any ongoing investment, and eventually sold Bebo for a reported US$10M. It was then bought back by Michael Birch for a mere US$1M. Having gone through several changes of ownership and identity, Bebo is no longer a social network in the way we’ve come to think of them, but is a platform that allows people to upload their content to the video streaming service Twitch.
Founded in 2003, Myspace was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for US$580M in 2009, but didn’t stay there long. In 2011 it was sold to Viant for US$35M, which boasted it could provide marketers with access to an audience of a staggering 1.2 billion people. But the heady days of high traffic and huge amounts of money are long gone. Although you can still visit Myspace to follow news on your favourite music and culture news — you’ll be prompted to sign in using your Facebook or Twitter credentials, if you want to join — there are few signs of active user engagement.
2010 was a busy time in the social media world. Keeping track of everyone was a challenge, as was making sure people knew who you were. When the personal profile service About Me launched, anyone who was anyone set up a page for themselves. The clamour was so great that during its beta phase, About Me pulled in 400,000 users, and less than a week after going fully live, it was acquired by AOL for an undisclosed sum. Two years later, it was reacquired by its founders. The service is still there, offering a single web page with additional features available at a price, including appointment scheduling and image galleries and has a focus on freelancers and the self-employed.
Digg has been described by some as the forerunner to Reddit — a collation of trending stories and content from around the internet. The more shares, likes and up-votes something was given by Digg users the more prominent it was. At one point it was valued at US$160M, but a combination of an unfavourably-received redesign and increased pressure from its rival Reddit, meant things soon went wrong, and it was eventually sold for just US$500,000. Then, in April of this year, the ad-tech platform BuySellAds bought a majority stake in Digg, which is still functioning as a one-stop-shop for a host of different online content.