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Social Networks That Failed (gizmodo.com)
125 points by kjhughes on Oct 14, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 103 comments

Conspicuously missing, as it always is from these sorts of articles: Livejournal. A quieter, more thoughtful sort of social media, built around long posts, the occasional essay, threaded comments, and much more sophisticated privacy management than most modern sites ever touch, which was happily used by GenX non-techies.

Sold to a succession of owners, it ended up in the hands of Russians after it established a strong audience there. I still have an account there but it’s dormant because I never agreed to the new terms and conditions that forbid discussion of LGBTQ issues.

I'll add sixdegrees.com to the "missing" list, which may have been the first social media site.


> Livejournal

The last time someone brought up livejournal, there was discussion about a code fork of LiveJournal called Dreamwidth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamwidth You might want to take a look there if you haven't already.

> Dreamwidth is an online journal service based on the LiveJournal codebase. It is a code fork of the original service, set up by ex-LiveJournal staff[2] Denise Paolucci and Mark Smith, born out of a desire for a new community based on open access, transparency, freedom and respect.[3]

That Last 50 images posted to Live Journal website was my /r/pics.

LiveJournal has not failed yet. It is still a fairly large network in Russia. It did fail in the American market and was eventually bought out by a Russian company.

I think the biggest reason why none of Googles social products worked out is they did not port data. I was a fairly regular user of orkut. I used buzz for a little bit of time. I really liked Wave. But every time I had to start at the beginning. When google launched buzz, then wave, and then Google+ it did not bother moving my data from orkut to subsequent products. So every time they launched a new product, I was far less excited about using it. I used Google+ for just cross promoting my then startup. This is the same reason I dont use picasa or google photos anymore. It became google photos and all the old links broke. So photos that were shared with my, I dont have access to them anymore. Where as facebook, all the content I created on it over the years was available with out any issues. Though I deleted my account a year ago for privacy reasons, I admired the fact that facebook understood how to treat user and their content far better than most companies.

Ironic, given that Buzz was essentially killed on day one by the decision to auto-follow your most frequently emailed contacts, like the person you're having an affair with, or your ex-wife, or your lawyer.

Tribe was great. Everything was ironic and fun and weird. There was a tribe for enthusiasts of "brown foods", for "paranoia" (in which we would post the truly most paranoid thoughts we could muster), for "evil geniuses" (tips on lairs, knowlege sharing on death rays), a tribe called "silence" wherein people would just post "ssssh". Another where we planned a dadaist amusement park. Another called "things on top of things" which were entirely photos of things that were on top of other things. Another for enthusiasts of Abercrombie & Fitch. Another called Extreme Honesty for people who wanted honest advice. Another called Bad Advice where people would out-compete each other for giving the worst possible advice on any topic. On and on.

There were definitely tribes where people would try to out do each other with warped and disturbing posts. Digging through tribe.net archives will find posts bragging about murder, pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, what-have-you. In that context they were intended as entertainment, rather like horror fiction, but in today's social media climate such a free wheeling context is incomprehensible.

Sounds a bit like modern-day Reddit.

> enthusiasts of Abercrombie & Fitch

What a bunch of weirdos...

I think Facebook did something accidentally right at the beginning. Their first 6 million users, their connections, age and lifestyle was the important part.

Facebook started as Harvard only, then to all Ivy League and Boston-area schools, then other colleges and Oxford and Cambridge in UK. The speed of growth and direction of growth was just right. People wanted to join before they were able to join.

Other have started with limited invites, but they were more random.

100% agree. Facebook's restricted access was a huge driver of their early success.

> People wanted to join before they were able to join.

I'd argue the more important factor was that because the early audience was so limited people felt comfortable sharing a lot more personal content than they would on the open internet - even just simple things like their real name and photo. That created much more interesting content for other people to look at, driving engagement. In the early days, when there were maybe two or three dozen schools on FB, it felt like a like a pretty small high-trust community. All of your friends from high school were on it, and their college friends, who maybe you met once or twice, but that was it - no parents, no employers, no randos. It was a very different vibe than most other social networks. I also don't think anyone thought it would be around very long. It felt like a new social network popped up as the cool new thing every few months.

I'm sure there was some aspect of pent up demand due to exclusivity, but I think the community and openness created by that exclusivity was a much bigger drover of its success.

Don't forget that during the initial college high growth period they were completely separate networks per school. This was huge as far as building trust between users. Even if the per-school limitation was actually a tech limitation on Facebook's part.

Yeah, with G+ I always held back on posting since no one was on it anyway (and everyone's on FB anyway!).

I'm guessing the "Harvard only"-ness made it cool - and at a certain point, essential - to join, lest you be left out of the "Harvard scene". And it went from there...

If Google had made G+ big for some set of people, others migh've been clambering to join. I guess it did become the social media account to have for people with a voice in tech, but that meant only "nerds" were on it.

Imagine if they got Hollywood stars to use it first. But I guess that's what's happened to Twitter.

FriendsReunited was big at some time in the UK, it’s schtick was around reconnecting people who had gone to school together. It died because once everyone had assured themselves that they were doing better than people they hated, or the person they used to fancy is fat now, it served no purpose.

On a serious side though - they had quite solid dataset of the population across the entire Anglosphere and of their associations with POIs like schools, universities (early Facebook anyone?), and workplaces (LinkedIn anyone?). They reached the peak of their popularity while charging 7.5 GBP per month to use their website (imagine!). The ASP .NET + AJAX Control Toolkit might had not been the most fortunate tech stack to create engaging and snappy social network experience. A complex case study, overall.

Disclaimer - I worked there.

I don’t remember ever paying for it but that’s quite a lot of money, comparable to some dating sites. I suppose some people did use it for that.

You only paid if you wanted to contact people.

ITV bought it and, even at the time it was obvious, had no idea what to do with it.

It seemed like a lot of those early 2000s British tech businesses, like Jungle.com, where there could’ve been something really huge but the lack of investment culture meant they got outpaced by better funded rivals from overseas.

The early 2000s Brit tech scene seemed like such an interesting place, but that was based mostly on what I was reading from Need to Know (ntk.net).

Remember that one for “uniformed” people (soldiers, police, nurses etc.) or those that are interested in them? Now that was a chin scratcher

That one actually was a dating site wasn’t it? Makes sense I guess, if you wanted a partner who also worked shifts.

Or if you wanted a database of people who wear uniforms ...

Indeed. It’s obvious now, of course, but all these companies start from the database they want to sell and work backwards from there to build a product to gather it.

I think knowing what we know now about various rogue states it’s fair to imagine this may have been something yet more insidious ... if you had called it at the time you would have been handed a tinfoil hat!

Google Reader was a nearly perfect 'social network' for me. It offered an RSS feed with the ability to share news and articles with friends and a comments system to discuss the topics with a small group of people. Google killed it off for what? Google+, presumably. No one in my friend group moved on to Google+, though.

There are so many comments like this about Google Reader that it's hard to understand why someone hasn't built a replacement. Even just a feature-for-feature clone. Hasn't anyone tried? If they have, why didn't it work?

Feedly is still pretty much a feature-for-feature clone of reader.

After the end of Reader was announced, Feedly allowed you to sign in with Google and automatically import everything in Reader.

The transition was basically seamless, and I haven't missed Reader since.

The Old Reader is incredibly similar. Unsure if the social features are as up to snuff on it as I never used them on either.

I'm still so sad about vine. I really enjoyed the app at the time, and thought their UI was astounding, especially clicking anywhere on the screen to record the 6 second video.

I think it also spawned all kinds of comedy and culture and while the meme-like aspect of most of them could be considered cringy, there's still a lot to be said of the impact that app had.

Agree on missing Vine - there was a high level of quality there and people did some amazing things with the constraints.

I don't think there's been something that's really had the same base features outside of TikTok? (and lord knows I'm not installing a piece of Chinese-based software =|)

I'm still convinced the failure of Google+ was due to the throttling of people's ability to join the site.

FFS, it's a SOCIAL NETWORK. A social network is worthless if your friends can't get on it. There were so many memes at the time of people getting excited to get an invite to join Google+ only to find that out of there 50+ Facebook friends, only a couple of them were on Google+. And if your friends aren't on the network you don't get into the habit of checking your feed, and then eventually you just forget about it entirely.

It'd be nice if Facebook would implement something similar to Google+'s "Circles" feature. I'd love to be able to post some programming humor and have it only get displayed to my fellow technical friends and not clog my grandma's feed. Facebook has a way to do this, but you have to check individual people, and do it for every post.

Agree. Limiting access to G+ was lethally counterproductive. And why? Afraid of the traffic?

I had hoped to see Ping from Apple [1] on the list. There’s an interesting question between having “social features” and being a “social network”. As I recall though, this was during the MySpace-is-for-music decline and Apple didn’t want to outsource it to Twitter or Facebook, so I believe Apple felt it was a real possibility for a niche-community network.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITunes_Ping

Indeed - Apple’s Ping came to my mind right away. It’s right up there with “slofies” in terms of instant-cringe-factor. They euthanised it pretty quickly, though I suspect some of its hellspawn lives on in Apple Music’s recommendation algorithms and curiously all-or-nothing ‘love’ (in lieu of iTunes’ more nuanced five-star ratings system).

I don't think any of them failed, they were all relevant for a period of time, and users moved to a different network. That is happening with Facebook, will happen with Instagram, and is just part of the cycle.

Bebo founder is selling his house in SF for $39 million [1], that doesn't seem like a failure to me.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/tech-couple-list-their-eclectic...

>> That is happening with Facebook, will happen with Instagram

Even if FB loses 200 million users, they still have over 800 active million users. Same with Insta.

Most of the platforms listed had a few million users when they ran into issues and collapsed. When you think about all the blatant privacy issues FB has been caught red handed doing and they still they boast over a billion active users?

At this point, I can't imagine anything sans a government intervention via a breakup that would put a dent in the FB user base.

I’d say the fall of facebook will be like the fall of Rome. It’ll peter along for a while dysfunctionally and then there will be a rapid decline when something in the model gives way. There’ll still be vestiges of it across the Internet for many years to come though.

Friendster bombed hard due to high growth and bad code.

I'm surprised Diaspora isn't on this list.

At the time, they were poised to step into the fray when FB was fumbling with users privacy. Their unabashed attitude of collecting and selling users data was just starting to leak out into the media and users were not happy.

Diaspora had the opportunity to seize on user dissatisfaction and take a huge chunk of their user base. They couldn't get their app to market soon enough and the window closed on them. A co-founder suicide and an ultra quiet release followed and put the final nails in their coffin.

Interestingly enough, I've gone back to Diaspora and I'm currently in the process of hosting my own pod. I was also an early adopter of Ello and after a few years of a dormant account, have started using it again. I now enjoy using both and have found stable, engaging communities with both.

One could argue that Diaspora did not really fail, so it has no place on this list.

The network is chugging along nicely, albeit outside of any limelight. Hundreds, if not thousands of people communicate there daily. There are no real dramas, so it goes unnoticed by the big media.

There's a really good biography of Diaspora and the team that I recommend: https://www.amazon.com/More-Awesome-Than-Money-Chronicle/dp/...

There was probably about 100 pre-facebook social networking sites not mentioned in this article. Even Yahoo.com had profiles and was sorta proto-social networking.

I always thought Friendster was the interesting one, because they had cornered the SF hipster market at least. Friendster died because it was too popular and they couldn't get it to scale, so when people couldn't login or get their profile to load, they stopped using it. I think with competent technology it could have been Facebook.

I had a Malaysian girlfriend at the time and she was “way into” Friendster, as were all of her friends - and she very much pestered me to ‘participate’.

I remember noticing how her ‘friends’ included non-singular entities... like a ‘friend’ which was actually a proxy for her school’s alumni, which all her former schoolmates were ‘friends’ of. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it then, but what it was alluding to was the lack of a notion of communities or (in Facebookish) ‘Groups’.

What you saw as a positive feature, I saw as the death of Friendster. My friend added "The Burning Man" as her friend, and I suddenly had thousands of friends neither of us had ever actually met. The activity of this pool completely swamped the output of any of the 'friends' I would actually meet up with. I had a HUGE network, but no friends on Friendster.

This wasn't entirely bad to meet up with people outside of your circles, but you needed some way to control the firehose. And, you know, I think that's still not a solved problem. I think I would be more keen on social networks filtering me feed if I had more control over those filters.

I must’ve been unclear, and so I apologise: I didn’t see it as a positive feature; I saw it as a shortcoming users had found a hacky workaround for.

Right, for those who never used Friendster, you could only see friends-of-friends (to a certain degree of separation). So people would friend the profiles of bars and etc to see more people.

It's not a site but I always think of ICQ as one of the original social networks.

I didnt use it that much, but ICQ was great

Friendster is the only platform I can think of that failed primarily due to scaling problems. They were in the right place at the right time, had a great set of features and an audience that wanted to use them. Engineering killed them, pure and simple. I honestly can't think of another case like it.

They miss out Mixi which for a time (mid 2000s) was huge in Japan. Mixi was another social network which killed itself - by introducing a very restrictive registration policy, and then kind of letting the technology stack slide so it became slower and clunkier in relation to other sites, and missing mobile altogether.

The real news is that MySpace has 393 employees still. I wonder what they do?

Google+ in particular was a spectacular failure, entering the world stillborn. At least some of the others on this list had their glory days.

I feel like Myspace really messed up at some point. Sure, Facebook beat it out by, in my opinion, just being a better website, but Myspace could have clung to users in the mid-to-late aughts by remaining a great place to discover music.

It used to be great for that. You used Facebook to do your normal social networking, and still had a Myspace account so you could go down the rabbit hole of discovering bands from the local to the international level.

What happened to it? I don't even remember. They should have shaped it into a music-oriented social network. If they invested a lot of money into it, maybe they could draw people back from Facebook and even compete with them.

The final nail in the coffin for myspace was when they changed the way bands were allowed to list shows, and at the same time deleted previous show history.

Myspace is the only time on the internet there was a standard place to list shows that everyone was onboard with. The reason was because it was so easy to do so. Except for the date, city and genre all the fields were just text and you could put whatever you wanted. This meant that even bass players could figure out how to list a show.

When facebook first got the clear lead, most people still signed onto myspace at least once a week, especially everyone I knew in a band. The minute they made the change, they all stopped.

I always thought MySpace ruined itself by allowing so much customization.

Too many people I knew had profiles with white text on a yellow background and autoplaying music. It was just horrible visiting their profiles.

>I always thought MySpace ruined itself by allowing so much customization.

I've always viewed this as MySpace's top feature and the direction away from this is why MySpace failed. The name even implied it was a users space of personal creation. Tumblr sort-of did well with similar ideas, but to a lesser extent.

Absolutely! What this allowed to flourish was also an organic eco-system of sites dedicated to customization's followed by the great widget movement and lead to companies like PageFlakes and SplashCast. MySpace was a highly influential driver to the today's internet.

It was a great feature that could have been awesome. Instead they basically allowed any CSS a user could imagine and it just made clicking a MySpace not worth doing.

MySpace failed to scale with their user base and the site at its peak became horribly slow and felt broken. They didn't get good technical folks to fix the architecture in time, and then combined with the failure to innovate and add more "addictive" features such as a news feed ultimately led it to die a slow death.

IIRC they tried exactly what you said

When it came out, Google+ addressed many of the complaints I had with Facebook (already dominant).

No annoying app/game spam which was a major annoyance on FB back then--I didn't want to grant god-knows-who access to my profile just to play a game or take some stupid quiz. And gee, look what happened with Cambridge Analytica and friends?

The other one was lack of a simple way to post to specific sets of contacts. Silly irreverent posts, photos, links, etc. went to friends. Daily life/bloggy type stuff went to friends and family. Things I wanted to share with the world went to public. Facebook never made that easy.

Plus I was already using their IM platform as GChat-cum-Hangouts on phone and desktop so no need to dick around with Facebook's IM app.

But regardless of how good or bad any feature of G+ (or any other challenger) was, the issue was the same: unless all of your contacts actively moved over, you were shouting into the wind.

The days of choosing your favorite webmail provider allowed competition in that space because they all did basically the same thing. Nobody else had to do anything differently. You just pick the one you like and maybe set up a forwarding address at your old one.

With closed social networking sites, you can argue that the only thing that matters is size of userbase. And if Facebook was the first to get not only the kids and the techies, but your mom, your neighbors, your barber, and your bartender, how many of those do you think will care enough about a cleaner UI or better photo hosting to cross-post or pull up stakes?

I don't even care about Google+ per se. I am bummed about some of the groups I was in who had to find a new platform, but mainly I just wish there was some way to accomplish the same thing while allowing people to choose their preferred service.


that gave us Tornado - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tornado_(web_server)

I seriously owe most of my life to the community FriendFeed gathered. If anyone from that team is reading this, thank you.

It was an amazing social network in every way. It had great UX and minimal UI, it was fast, had power features but was still simple to use and the idea of lifestream meets social feed still makes perfect sense.

The community it gathered allowed me to jumpstart at my career at the age of ~14. I even discovered HN on FF. It’s been nearly 10 years after I first signed up and I still meet people IRL that I’ve followed on FF. It’s always like meeting your countrymen in a foreign country. We talk about the old country before Zuckerberg bought it.

I'm pretty sure i remember your name from Friendfeed era.

I was in college around when Yikyak came to be. At the time my classes needed a lot of projects created and specced out. The idea behind Yikyak went from being used by one group in everyone of those projects to not being used as the site became popular. It's interesting to me how many people thought of the very idea of Yikyak over the years.

Man yikyak was really popular in my university. It was great and people could express anonymous opinions, have discussions, have in group memes, jokes, etc. Then they had the genius idea of forcing names on everyone and it literally died overnight.

Let’s not forget Tagged, which was a pretty big social network back when I was in Mexico a decade ago. Tagged was an interesting combination of a traditional social networking site as well as a Tinder-style dating site: You looked at someone’s photo. You clicked “Yes” or “No”. If you got a mutual “Yes”, you could connect and then see the person’s profile, photos, and friends. All of this half a decade before Tinder existed.

It was a great way to meet people. By the mid-2010s, the place was dead, infested with fake profile spam bots.

Facebook should be on this list. It didn’t fail as a business obviously. But in terms of delivering on its vision of social networking as a force for good it‘s a raging dumpster fire.

The one I find is missing is Multiply.com ( https://web.archive.org/web/20060615192232/http://multiply.c... ) . I used it around 2004 to share stuff with friends and family when I left my home country do to my PhD. I liked that it was more "content" based.

I remember Bolt.com from the late 90s. It was quite literally 10 years ahead of its time. Think Facebook with a before Facebook. User profiles, chat rooms, "blog" spaces, friending.

I spent hours late into the early morning on it. I don't do that any more, be it from age or what online alternatives are currently available, but Bolt has a place in heart and mind for me.

> Sixteen years ago, the sun set on Web 1.0, and we embarked by the light of our smartphones to 24/7 connectivity...

Our 2003 smartphones? Blackberry actually did have a few models with an integrated phone at that time, but they stretch the definition of "smartphone", and most people didn't have them.

The future was a fun place to be in 2003. I didn't have a landline and was in college, going to football games on campus and checking other football game scores from the stands on a Sony Ericsson phone with a WAP browser. :)

Hell, it wasn't yet unusual to only have a landline in 2003.

I had a Nokia 3650 when it was released sometime in mid-2003, and it was a bona fide, if utterly hideous, Symbian-running smartphone. I remember writing a custom plugin for Apple’s iSync utility to make it inter operate with my PowerBook G4.

Yeah it was google that gave birth to web 2.0 with Gmail and liberal use of the XHttpRequest - the while smartphones thing was another 5 years really

Wasn't it Microsoft and Outloook OWA that started XHttpRequest?

Yes but utterly failed to capitalise on it

Lots of intranet stuff used it, or anywhere they could mandate IE.

Look, I was there. In 2003 post dot-com the web was still very static and very transactional. It had become uncool and was perceived as being quite stale. Microsoft had implemented this proprietary extension that was mimicked in other browsers but nobody was using it. Dynamic HTML as it was known back then wasn’t catching on precisely because there were so many incompatible variants. Google was the first large company for some years to start pursuing talent purely on technical merit, they put these in a room together and the opportunities were recognised. Up to that point XMLHttpRequest was an unknown proprietary browser extension. Google used it to inject dynamism into gmail in a way that was never evident in Outlook. This was the genesis of Web 2.0 and everybody started scrambling to use the browser as a platform again. The web was cool again.

EDIT - despite what they may have become, and despite the many ways that the web has been “broken” since, we have so much to thank google for.

EDIT - so hard to believe this all happened 15 years ago. It’s ancient history at this stage, but seems so recent to me.

I like this storyline, because it means myself and some other random webdev folks were a step ahead of Top Google Geniuses because we asked "is your intranet IE only? if so, we have some tricks."

Or more likely, AJAX techniques were being widely used to the point where Mozilla had to violate their whole ethic about not supporting proprietary IE extensions and even named their shit after an unrelated COM object. Then Google showed the public what could be done, but the truth was a lot of us were already doing it.

Sorry man its just how I remember things ... I do remember there we’re talented guys doing things, and I did some DHTML myself but “webmaster” was a tough niche at the time. Apart from some novel technology demonstrations I honestly can’t remember any significantly popular dynamic websites before that time ...

But yeah, Firefox had its big push around that time too so I guess that had a lot to so with thimgs as well ...

EDIT - 2004 of course was when gmail was released, but I specifically remember 2003 as the time they were becoming recognised as a fiersome heavyweight. Just 4 years earlier they were a plucky startup with a search engine that actually gave pretty decent results.

That's correct. It was on IE 4 I think

If you had to make a choice, how many social networks failed because of poor product versus poor management?

Jaiku was my favourite social network. Google bought them and predictably shut it down. I meet some great people on there, we all moved to twitter but it just wasn’t the same

Did nobody use hi5?

Someone sent me an invite to HI5 and I assumed it was a way to pointedly tell people they should get an updated STD test, given many people called HIV "high-five" at the time.

Didn't want to confirm any personal information, and tested clear anyway, so never responded.

It was a social network?

yep. Pretty popular one too ... or so I thought

I lived in Central America in the early 2000's volunteer teaching. Many of my students were on Hi5.

No mention of Piczo? This site was pretty popular and functioned like MySPACE with WYSIWYG controls.

I mean this sincerely: in the sense of not hurting people, wouldn’t Facebook, Twitter, etc., obviously also be on a list like this? It seems beyond dispute at this point that these services have failed entirely, except in a very narrow economic sense that only matters to a very tiny subset of the population and only when considered independently of harm caused.

They haven’t failed yet. Yet. At a billion or so users they’re still the go to venues.

Having watched social media sites fail since BBS days, clearly a critical mass of users are looking for alternatives, with a mass exodus once enough start going to the same new place (vs how G+ failed).

fm.ly (or "family") was also a bit ahead of its time in 2002:


Ryze was a big deal before LinkedIn.

Does anyone has a theory why would Google rename its social network after itself?

anyone remember plurk? it was amazing, tweets in a horizontal timeline view with you peers and click to dropdown comment thread

Friendster, Hyves, Tumblr all struggled with their feed technology. Twitter and Facebook also struggled but at least managed to fix it. My first startup, Fashiolista, also struggled with the feed technology as we grew to millions of users.

On the flip side, it was that experience that prompted me to start Stream. We power feeds for over 500 million end users these days (https://getstream.io/). Kinda cool how nowadays you can buy a scalable version of pretty much all tech off the shelve. Algolia for Search, Stripe for payments, Twilio for voice, emails etc.

This comment is beautiful content marketing.

1) Start with a comment relevant to the actual topic

2) Identify a problem that resonates with the key demographic

3) Betray a personal failing

4) Convert the failing into a point of strength

5) Expand on your newfound strength

6) Compare yourself with larger more well-known and successful companies

7) Include a link to your product

I don't get why it's been downvoted so much. I'd expect a much warmer reception from the HN crowd.

Well, do you think it adds to the discussion?

I do think it's almost, but not completely off-topic.

It introduces the feed feature as an integral part of a social network's success/failure, stemming from real domain experience. If GP included maybe one more sentence on how/why the feeds mentioned failed I think it would've been much better received. Sorry GP you didn't deserve it.

thanks :)

Since you seem plugged in - what do you think the next big advance in social media is going to be? Anyone with an interesting new concept that might get big?

Government run or "official" network/app that you need to join whether you like it or not in order to send payments, order stuff, get into school etc.

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