Will These Social Media Relics Rise Again?

We rely on the modern Web to host our websites, entertain and inform us, and provide an endless stream of social media distractions and interactions. The history of the commercial Internet only stretches back to the mid-’90s, but in that short time, it’s managed to accrue quite a number of extinct memes, technologies, and, of course, social media websites. With Facebook, Twitter and other sites dominating the modern social Internet, is there any room for old has-beens to “return from the grave,” or are they gone for good?

Whether by ignoring the needs of their users, failing to scale properly as they grew in popularity, or even running afoul of the authorities, once-mighty social media titans such as Xanga and Six Degrees have gone from household names to increasingly obscure fossils in less than a decade. Others, like Google’s second-tier social media endeavor Orkut, linger on as slowly-crumbling shadows of their former selves, their market share and user base under constant assault by their more popular successors.

And while it’s true that some social media sites have definitely gone the way of the dodo, others are making some surprisingly ambitious comebacks. Friendster, MySpace, and Digg are all staging second acts. These reanimated networks are accruing millions of followers and carving some new niches in cyberspace by shifting their focus and enhancing their features with new tech.

Having cemented their grip on the 24/7 social media sphere that characterizes the modern Internet, it might seem unfair to compare current favorites like Facebook and Twitter to their unfortunate predecessors. Yet with Gen X-ers growing weary of living an “always on” existence, and teens chasing new tech like Vine and Snapchat for their social media fix, there may come a time in the not-too-distant future when social networks are, as some would have it, dead.

But in a world where just about anyone can pull a virtual Lazarus, it may be true that nothing ever really dies once it’s achieved immortality on the Internet.

Social Media Relics

Will These Social Media Relics Rise Again?

Since the 1990s, social networking sites have come and gone faster than you can name the next reality TV show. Although Facebook is still going strong and services like Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine have become exponentially popular, not all sites make it. Let’s pay homage to the sites that were once dubbed as “for the cool kids” and their valiant attempts at resurrecting themselves.

Friendster

2002 – 2009

The once beloved pioneering social networking site.

Survived By: Loyal followers in southeast Asia that kept the site afloat from 2006-2009. 

Cause of Death: Scalability issues throughout time, culminating to a site redesign flawed with hosting and uptime problems, ultimately falling flat compared to U.S. competitors Myspace and Facebook.

The site was not built to properly handle large amounts of traffic, causing it to become slow as it gained popularity.

According to the New York Times, at one point the site took 40 seconds to load.

In early 2004, all of the software was rewritten from Java into PHP, which was not done well, inefficient, and a huge mistake, according to Friendster Founder Jonathan Abrams. 

A PCMag.com article claims that Friendster’s primary downfall was its lack of a news feed. Once you were done with your profile, there wasn’t much to do in comparison to MySpace or Facebook.

Did You Know?

The site had 3 million users within 3 months of launch.

Its rapid success inspired a generation of niche social networking websites including Dogster and Elfster.

Google wanted to buy Friendster for $30 million in 2003, but they decided to remain private — one of the biggest blunders in Silicon Valley as cited by Associated Press.

Burdened by technical glitches, it was pretty much dead in the U.S. by 2006.

In 2008, Friendster was the most-visited website in the Philippines and Indonesia, and the second most-visited site in Malaysia and Singapore, according to Alexa rankings.

The popularity among Asia’s population has been accredited to the company moving headquarters to San Francisco, CA “the most Asian of U.S. cities,” said then Friendster president Kent Lindstrom.

In 2009, it was acquired for $26.4 million by MOL Global, one of Asia’s biggest Internet companies.

Friendster’s Second Chance

Friendster relaunched itself as a gaming site in 2011 and has since gained more than 115 million registered users.

Leading the Resurgence: Korea and the Philippines with over 90% of traffic from Asia.

MySpace

2003 – 2011

The once widely popular digital hangout spot.

Survived By: Music lovers and artists everywhere.

Cause of Death: Unprotected content and security concerns.

When MySpace doubled the ads on their site after a 2006 deal with Google, the site began to look cluttered, move slowly, and filter spam badly.

The site failed to keep up with the changing needs and wants of its users, rarely making innovations and ultimately losing to its rival, Facebook.

Did You Know?

MySpace had 1 million users within its first year and was seeing 75 million monthly users by 2009 (only 37.5% of Facebook’s 200 million). Monthly visits dropped to 34.8 million in 2011.

In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission charged MySpace with violating federal law by sharing users’ personal information with advertising companies in years past, including their web browsing habits.

It was bought by News Corporation for $580 million in 2005, then sold in 2011 to current owners, advertising network Specific Media and musician/actor Justin Timberlake, for roughly $35 million.

Myspace’s New Life

Under its new owners, the site has rebranded as a social music-discovery service and launched with a $20 million advertising campaign introducing the “new Myspace” in June 2013.

The new site includes a free iPhone app equipped with an ad-supported radio service called My Radio that allows users to stream user-generated playlists.

Another feature on the site allows users to create their own GIFs, a service currently not very accessible to the public.

Leading the Resurgence: Justin Timberlake

Odds of Success: Fairly Likely

With mixed reviews, it’s a bit too soon to really tell. Picking a focus (music) was a smart move, but the company is up against some heavyweight competition including Spotify, Rdio, and Last.FM.

We think that if Myspace works to become a major digital news outlet for music (think Pitcfork.com or RollingStone.com) and markets itself that way, it stands a chance for survival.

Orkut

2004 – ??

Google’s quiet social network tool.

Survived By: Fans in Brazil looking to stay connected to old friends and meet new people.

Cause of Death (in the U.S.): Legal issues relating to pornographic images, slow speeds, spam, and rising prominence in Brazil, which spurred a relocation of headquarters.

The site was not built to handle its quick adoption rate in the U.S. — several million users in the first few days — with slow speeds turning many users off.

  • However, its Brazilian users didn’t mind the slow speed.

The legal issues spurred when the site began allowing advertising without proper filtering. In response, they added a human layer to review every photo added to the site.

Did You Know?

The site is named after its original programmer and Google employee, Orkut Buyukkokten.

In 2011, Brazilians logged onto their Orkut account more times per month than the average viewer logged onto Facebook worldwide, according to Forbes.com. 

According to Search Engine Journal, the site’s popularity in Brazil has been attributed to:

  • the community-oriented culture of the country,
  • the fact that Orkut is easy to pronounce in Portuguese, and
  • the site’s lack of advertising which is refreshing to Brazilians, among other reasons.

According to Mashable, Facebook didn’t overtake Orkut as Brazil’s most popular social network until December 2011.

Orkut Discovers Where It Belongs

Now fully managed and operated by Google Brazil, the site boasts 66 million users.

Leading the Resurgence: Brazilians with 56.7% of users from Brazil, 22.4% from India, and 3.9% from the U.S., according to Alexa rankings.

Digg

2004 – 2010

One of the first social news websites allowing users to rank content.

Survived By: Reddit users everywhere.

Cause of Death: Massive site overhaul plagued with bugs and removal of the most popular features.

Digg Founder Kevin Rose admitted on The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog that the site was slow to respond to criticism of the redesign that caused its demise.

He also said Digg made a mistake by cloning the features of other websites like Twitter and Facebook.

  • “We did a lot of things that went against the DNA of our product.”

Those sites were also easier to use and share information on, as Digg requires 8 steps to post a story at the time.

Did You Know?

The site had 236 million users by 2008.

Google came close to buying Digg in 2008 for $200 million but decided against the purchase.

On July 12, 2012, Digg was sold in three parts:

  1. The Digg brand, website, and technology were sold to Betaworks for an estimated $500,000.
  2. 15 staff were transferred to the Washington Post’s SocialCode for a reported $12 million.
  3. A suite of patents were sold to LinkedIn for about $4 million.

Digg Seeks New Purpose

In 2013, the site was relaunched as a news aggregator after being built on fresh code featuring more images and stories selected by editors.

It’s free from ads with more space for bigger stories and a new personalized recommendation features to make the site more relevant and social for users.

An iPhone app is available with the ability to save stories to read later.

They released an RSS reader shortly after Google announced the discontinuation of Google Reader. 

Digg is also launching an API “so that members of the development community can build all the products that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

Leading the Resurgence: Current owner Betaworks and users of Digg’s mobile app looking for a new, clean, and easy-to-use news aggregator on the go.

Odds of Success: Stands a Fighting Chance

Its sleeker design and easier to use interface, as well as a well-designed iPhone app make Digg a valuable tool for people looking to replace Google Reader.

There’s competition out there, but Digg stands a chance. They’ll just have to work hard to keep bugs out and stay ahead of evolving consumer expectations.

Xanga

1999 – 2013

A popular blogging service among teens in the 2000s.

Survived By: The blogging millennials who’ve turned to WordPress, Tumblr, and Blogger, among others in their adulthood.

Cause of Death: Increased popularity of more modern, open-source competitors with sleeker designs.

A $1 million civil penalty against Xanga for allegedly violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in 2006 probably didn’t help either.

Did You Know?

Xanga launched in 1999 as a service that allowed users to share book and movie reviews, morphing into a full-blown blogging platform most popular among teens.

At its height in 2006, it reached 27 million users as the 3rd biggest social network in the U.S. behind Facebook (No. 2) and MySpace (No. 1).

Xanga Catches Up with the Times

The site faced shutting down for good unless it raised $60,000 by July 15th, 2013.

With $50,000 raised, Xanga CEO John Hiler agreed to pay the remaining $10,000 to launch Xanga 2.0.

The site will be converted into an open source format on WordPress and will require a monthly subscription from users to host their blogs, but will be free of ads.

Members will still get to subscribe to and read blogs free of charge.

Since Xanga 2.0 has yet to launch it’s too soon to know if it will survive, but with so many competitors out there it could be a difficult journey.

Leading the Resurgence: John Hiler, the Xanga team, and millennials looking to relive their nostalgic teen angst.

Odds of Success: Not Likely

With so many free and easy-to-use competitors out there like WordPress and Tumblr, we don’t see Xanga 2.0 making it very far, but we hope them the best!

SixDegrees.com

1997 – 2001

The “forefather” of social media.

Survived By: Today’s mainstream social networking sites such as Facebook and the new Myspace.

Cause of Death: Spam problems and revenue issues.

The site was probably created before its time with online advertising still in its infancy.

Launched during the time of dial up and AOL, accessing the Internet was not as quick and easy as it became with the introduction of broadband.

Did You Know?

The site’s concept was based on the popular theory that everyone in the world could be connected to each other by just six degrees of separation.

SixDegrees was the first to combine personal profiles, instant messaging, friends’ lists, and the ability to search other members’ friends’ lists.

At its peak around 1999, the site had 2.5 million members (1 million fully registered) and partnered with New America Digital Publishing (NADP), the digital publishing arm of News Corporation.

The site was bought by YouthStream Media Networks in 2000 for $125 million.

Attempted Rebirth

In 2010, people with existing SixDegrees memberships were invited back with hopes of recreating the network, but the site fell flat.

Sources

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