Social networks and their one-liners
A friend recently showed me a spiffy site called Wayback Machine – basically it’s an internet database that archives old web pages starting from 1996 onward. They have so much stored from all over the web… I started searching some popular websites to see what past versions looked like. (Apparently YouTube in 2005 had a thick, dark grey border and web 2.0 style tabbing. Visually, I kind of prefer it to the current design.)
Naturally, I also had to search Twitter to see how their pages have changed since their massive jump in popularity in the past year or so. Especially since their most recent homepage updates were released just this past summer in July. Wayback Machine archived the first Twitter page version in 2001 and as expected it was very simple – no cute logo and no bird. (Actually the Twitter bird mascot didn’t show up on pages until recently, really.) Looking through the Twitter page archives, I realized that Twitter used a tagline in their old homepage that I never noticed (or never realized was their tagline). This tagline/question appeared in almost all their old versions: “What are you doing?”
It was even on the last version of the Twitter homepage before their summer face-lift. However for some reason, now that Twitter is all the rage it has decided to drop this quick and easy tagline and opt for something more flowery and optimistic: “Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.”
I enjoy checking out taglines since it’s a bite-sized pitch of what a company, social network, whatever does and helps me decide very quickly whether I want to use something or not. It’s interesting to see that Twitter decided to drop their original, “What are you doing?” question that they had been using for years in past archived homepage versions. The original blurb on their old homepage is more like an introduction to the service (useful since it was just picking up steam) and really focused on the fact that it was a social network to connect with people you already know in real life.
Versus it seems like the latest version of the Twitter page leans more towards establishing itself as a network for connecting with people you know and people you don’t. It gives a more “open” vibe – a large part of the feel has to do with the fact that the homepage uses a real-time search engine so users can see what anyone is saying about a topic, right now.
Changing taglines is an example of how a social network’s purpose sometimes changes from what the developers originally envision. (Wayback Machine helps you see the progression.) Ultimately it’s we, the people, who determine how they’ll be used and what they’ll be used for. In the case of Twitter, users decided that yes, they want to keep up with what their friends, family and acquaintances are doing, but they’re also oh-so-interested in what others are up to as well. (Primarily Ashton Kutcher and Ellen.)
Facebook experienced a similar shift – originally it was meant to be an online medium where people can connect with their real life friends and acquaintances around them (hence the authentication requirement). It was not necessarily a social network so much as a facilitator of online communication. Now, Facebook is a more open social network where you can share with anyone in your life, both friends who you know offline and online.
One last thought on the note of taglines – Does anyone recall MySpace‘s? I remember it used to say, “A place for friends” on their homepage but I looked and I can’t find it written anywhere on the homepage now. It’s probably for the best since a statement like that makes me feel like I’m 13 all over again. Probably a smart move for MySpace to get rid of it… wonder what they’ll come up with next?