Look back: Social Media moments & milestones to remember from 2007

There are dozens, maybe hundreds of lists of things that happened in tech in 2007— Tech Crunch has multiples, read/write web has some. My interest here isn‘t in replicating lists of product releases, acquisitions, or deal flow, but in sharing thoughts on what some of the meaningful milestones were in 2007 in terms of moving social media and user-focused tools (what I insist is the heart of the Web 2.0 stuff) forward. With that, moments to note, in order of importance, of course.
1. Facebook developer API release, May 2007
It’s no accident that I can recite the date that Facebook made the big announcement of its completed API and first set of developer deals—this release was the true tipping point for the mainstream media and business sectors to see the amazing power and opportunity in both widgets and social media. Developing FB as an ecosystem where tools could be imported was a brilliant strategy, and the fact data could get in, but couldn‘t necessarily get out wasn‘t obvious to most developers till they’d put there apps up-And of course, the businesses that benefit the most, like Slide and Rock You, had nothing but upside (and server costs) from the get go. And let’s not forget to mention the thousands of over-35 digerati and techies that poured onto FB, eventually dragging a huge chunk of the rest of the knowledge class with them.
2. Knight Foundation awards over $8MM in grants to fund citizen journalism and social media open source and participatory projects
Tech-driven tools are fabulous, and Facebook is amazing, but those of us in the Valley sometimes forget that for lots of people widgets are “miscellaneous thingamajigs” and Facebook is a preppy web site none of their friends belong to, and why would they? That’s why the Knight Foundation’s development of this new funded program and their first disbursement of over $8MM to a host of developers and services is so important.
Knight awarded $1MM to Adrian Holovaty, someone with a proven track record of innovation and consumer adoption at chicagocrime.org, the Lawrence, Kansas newspaper and community web sites (think college town), and the always striving to be first Washington Post web site, to develop hyper local community tools that normal people can use to share information literally block by block—and gave even more money to a set of universities– Arizona State (which went off and hired Dan Gillmor), Medill/Northwestern, MIT, and several more—to develop programs to fast forward the integration of digital media and technology literacy. Plus, they gave smaller grants to services like Placeblogger to build out their services and tools.
This is funding of impactful people to do things that will make a difference—without worrying about proprietary code, flipping companies, or pleasing the board. (Disclosure: I have an affiliation with Knight.)
3. Womens‘ networks—get big, big, big
Sugar Publishing says they hit 3.5 million unique users in April 2007; Glam claimed 19.1 million unique users in June 2007 (which Arrington disputed); Hearst bought Kaboodle in August 2008 to create its own network, presumably, and Blogher, the most bootstrapped of the bunch ($5 mil in funding reportedly) made its way into Technorati‘s top 100 starting this summer.
Given that “women” is one of those amorphous categories that cover everything from mommyblogging to finance, seeing interest in this segment skyrocket—fueled of course by advertiser’s interest in the reach these networks can deliver—it’s exciting to see how ad-targeting is fueling revenue growth in these sectors—and how the competition to permanently take this space away from NBC- iVillage just keeps piling on—and interesting to wonder if advertisers are looking to top blogs like Lifehacker and Engadget to direct ads to, as well.
4. Flickr spawns an ecosystem: ffffound! And Winer‘s flickrfan shows that FB ain‘t the only ecosystem social media game in town (and it’s not a roach motel)
Visitors to Dave Winer‘s house have long been able to see some of the ingenious cams and image streams he’s created for his own interests, but flickrfan—which launched just a few days ago– takes the concept that an image stream can be impactful and interesting and turns it into a platform of sorts that anyone with a Mac and a High Def TV—or other digital projection device—can set up and savor. Ffffound! a still in beta image sourcing service, allows users to view streams of images, many *curated* from Flickr, and save the ones they like, presumably as a way to then find others/demonstrate affinity through image selection.
For me, these are momentous tools because they take user generated content distribution one step further—maybe many steps further—and make it into an art.
5. Fair and appropriate use becomes a bigger issue
2007 was the year when YouTube took down a Richter Scales video because photographer Lane Hartwell protested an uncredited, unapproved use of an image she took. A few months earlier, blogger Violet Blue raised a ruckus when Flickr removed a number of images from her photos stream without discussion. Both situations sparked huge discussion in the blogosphere and in the media and both had satisfactory resolutions, but what matters here is that even in the Creative Commons flavored, participatory media context that flickr images sometimes live in, issues of ownership, credit, permissioning, fair use and appropriatenessness stand front and central.
If anything, having sharing images (and music) are going to make our need to have standards, filters, and processes more acute than ever, since the amount of visual information we’re exposed to—along with our kids—becomes larger and more diverse by the second.
6. What is the measure of the social graph? becomes a question we debate.
There was some (strong) resistance when Facebook execs started using the term “social graph”, but when Brad Fitzpatrick published his essay on the social graph in August 2007, the term entered the digisphere—and stayed—there are 819,000 today references for “social graph” on Yahoo, and 307,000 on Google. Brad posited the problem as the need to map everyone in a centralized fashion, so data can be ported; the term also means those to whom you are connected-and want to maintain connections with, across sites.
Social Graph rolls up questions about Friend of a Friend (FOAF), OpenID, and social network fatigue in a way that urges developers to see solutions. Interestingly, Scott Karp has a post this week arguing that email is the next manifestation of the social graph, especially for people over 30 (how about 40, Scott?), and that the under 30 killer apps are not web based at all—they’re handheld communications such as SMS and phone calls—I think Scott is right, but the true question is data portability and interoperability—
Once we scale beyond the 150 or so people a high schooler might know, technology and standards become essential parts of the tool set and that’s the problem set no one has yet elegantly solved.
7. Social Network disillusionment manifests, aka Wikipedia rises and falls, along with digg, the wisdom of crowds and the longest long tail
There was the moment when the Wikipedia people said they might run out of money for servers.. Then there was the moment we all said digg was the new myspace, the cool place for people and data, and Netscape copied that before it shut down, and then there was the moment when we all realized that the long tail didn‘t really make anyone but Amazon a bunch of money.
Do I mean that we found out that the emperor has no clothes? No, I mean that we learned that as social media matures, we’re paying attention long enough so that we notice when the flaws and fallacies show, and we take a more measured view.
8. Ad networks become the new black—and the sure-est take over targets
In 2007, we saw the acquisition of Blue Lithium by Yahoo! and Doubleclick by Google. These were just two of the ad network acquisitions—in the world where ad targeting is nirvana and video is racing along—ad networks are the core thing—and 2007’s acquisition sheets reflected that.
9. 9. Unconferences, co-working, and barcamps soared to new heights
1,000 people at barcamp block in Palo Alto in Palo Alto in August, 185 people at Shes Geeky in October, all sorts of similar events around the country–we’ve turned the corner on what Winer dubbed an unconference in 2003.
10. People are still the OS, even if widgets are flavor of the moment.

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  1. Howard Greenstein says:

    Great post. I’m sure it’s not random that you used “150” as the number of people a high schooler might know. It’s considered the Dunbar number, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number : a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship.
    I’ve got 2x Dunbar number in Facebook and it is slowly driving me insane trying to remember who some of the less-strong contacts are. I’ve kept LinkedIn down but it’s creeping past 200.
    This is a difficult problem in that the systems we have aren’t providing good tools to create sub-groups. Facebook just came out with something called “friend lists” http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=7831767130
    but it’s really just list management.
    I hope 2008 sees a way for us to more clearly designate not just lists of friends, but contexts in which we want to communicate. I know some party folks I want to see pictures from, but I don’t care what bands they listen to, etc.
    Not a trivial problem.
    Let’s get together in 2008. We have a whole year…

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