Same Script, Different Cast: How Social Networking Can Learn From E-mail
[Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared in the June 12 issue of eM+C Weekly, an e-letter produced by FundRaising Success sister publication eM+C. It’s written for for-profit e-marketers, but the information is equally applicable to nonprofits. To subscribe to eM+C Weekly, go to www.emarketingandcommerce.com]
Social networking is still in its infancy, but already we have seen rapid evolution in the way that consumers and marketers alike are using the new channel. One of the things I can’t help but notice is the similarity between the way social networking is evolving and how e-mail evolved. While there are some things that are different and/or better this time around, there are many aspects that are the same. It’s like watching the remake of a movie when you’ve seen the original. The actors are all different, but the basic story is the same.
Just before e-mail really opened up, we had a number of separate, proprietary networks that looked a lot like the social networks of today. There was America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy. (OK, let’s not forget eWorld.)
Each service was a walled garden — users of the same service could send e-mails to each other but not across different providers. Each service had similar but slightly different capabilities. For example, some allowed the sender to “withdraw” a message after sending it as long as the recipient had not viewed it yet. Others had pictures or styled text.
Then, slowly they opened up and allowed their members to send messages outside their service. This was a huge win for users, even though they had to give up some of their fancy features in favor of the “lowest common denominator” solution.
Jump forward 20 years, and we see striking similarities between the e-mail of then and the social networks of now. Now it’s Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn instead of AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy. Originally closed networks, all three have opened up more and more to messaging with outside users.