Accusations of teenage murder, pleas of innocence and heartfelt imploring for a girl to leave the teacher she had run away with. Very private dramas were played out in public in 2007 via social network site profiles.
I think we forget about the remarkable run of Tall Dwarfs EPs through the early 1980s. Early experiments with a Teac 4 track recorder lead to increasingly sophisticated technical knowhow and an overflow of creative output produced an astonishing collection of material that influenced many. Early period Tall Dwarfs reached it’s finest expression on the Slugbucket EP from which ”The Brain That Wouldn’t Die” was one of many highlights. - Roger Shepherd
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Track of the Year by Records
The mainstream media had been warning us for a couple of years of the dangers of overexposing ourselves online. In 2007, a rash of incidents gave them the opportunity to gloat – and gloat they did with headlines trumpeting every misstep we took on social networks during the year.
Some New Zealanders had been using social network sites of various forms since the early-2000s, while others were still staying well clear in 2007. An unfortunate few rushed on without reading the safety signs in the mid-2000s and quickly became headline fodder.
A worker at The Warehouse was fired for posting about her workplace on Bebo saying, "work sux" and that working until midnight was "gay like the management". They weren't the first or the last Kiwi to be fired for having a loud mouth online.
If not winning points for political correctness, we were bucking world trends in 2007 with Bebo as our most popular social network. The rest of the world’s favourite was MySpace, which came in in just second place locally. Facebook, set to dominate here just two years later, didn’t even win the bronze in 2007, taking fourth place behind local site Old Friends.
Old Friends had actually been launched well before any of its international rivals. In March 2002, Trade Me unleashed the site to “reunite Kiwis with lost friends from school, university, work…”, with no plans to charge for access, simply hoping that it would send some traffic to its main site.
By February 2003, the site was ready to announce its 100,000th member, making it the fastest growing local site of any type at the time. It stayed one of our most popular social sites until the rise of MySpace… then Bebo… then Facebook.
Statistics New Zealand reports an 18.5 percent growth in broadband uptake for the six months up to March 2007 taking total subscribers to 724,600. This is still a long way off the two million needed to hit the Government’s 2010 broadband target.
Early in their development, there was some confusion over what a social network site actually was. In NetGuide’s 2007 awards, the winning site in the category was NZ Dating, ahead of MySpace and Bebo. Dating sites were indeed social networking sites – just ones with a very defined purpose and as with so many technologies (VHS, DVD, Pay TV…), sex was the first adoption driver.
Old Friends wasn’t Trade Me or New Zealand’s first foray into social networking. Find Someone debuted in 2001 and when the site started ‘dating’ Trade Me later that year, despite starting to charge for access, it reached the 10,000 user milestone by the end of the year. They hoped that by the end of 2007 it would be a temporary home for more than 200,000 Kiwis looking for someone.
NZ Dating dates from even earlier and would win awards throughout the early-2000s. By 2002 it already had 80,000 registrations – but then, like most dating focused social network sites, membership leveled off while general-purpose social networks blossomed.
Various sites had incorporated ‘social’ features since the Web’s earliest days. The first true social network site however, was Sixdegrees.com that was launched in 1997, the name riffing off the idea that everyone in the world was connected by six degrees of separation. The site died in the dotcom crash of 2000. It seems we might all be connected offline, but at that time there just weren’t enough of us online for the connections to be made via the Internet.
LiveJournal, ostensibly a personal blogging site, launched in 1999 as many Kiwi’s first social network experience. It offered users the ability to befriend other blog writers and follow their updates in a stream in the same way that Facebook or Twitter do today.
Friendster, that actually launched after our own Old Friends, was the first mainstream social network to launch after the first bubble and was relatively popular with bolder online Kiwis – the name making it seem less threatening and more like a dating site.
Seven years later, at least among younger netizens, social networking didn’t need a friendly name to give it appeal. Bebo had 768,000 unique Kiwi visitors in August of 2007 alone and MySpace a third of that, with the also-rans in the low hundreds of thousands.
Some two-thirds of secondary school children were estimated to have a Bebo page and a comprehensive AUT study on Kiwi Internet usage suggested that 16% of us participated in one or more social network sites. With 81% of us online at this point, that was a lot of Kiwis connecting. But it also showed that there was a wide gap in behaviours online between youth and adults. The comfort with which young Internet users took to the technology, having been raised with it always around, led to them being termed "Digital Natives" - the rest of us were mere "Digital Immigrants".
Living their lives online this new generation would require changes in the way they were taught to get the most out of them.
“ HERD FORM SO MANY PPLSKEES THAT IS WAS U...??”Some of those connections were deemed unsafe – while others actually were. According to the police in 2007, teenage girls were offering sex for drugs on Bebo, a scare story that was hard to qualify – unlike the case of a man accused on the site of murdering an Auckland grammar student. Public posts on his wall included blatant accusations from peers such as, “I HERD FORM SO MANY PPLSKEES THAT IS WAS U...??”. More actual police work was required to sort the truth from the grammar. But it was him.
Hype and high-profile incidents aside, 2007 was definitely the year that social networks and youthful exuberance collided. Taking advantage of the massive popularity of Bebo with young netizens, NetSafe started a Bebo page to educate them on the topics of cyber bullying and social network scams. Founded in 1998, the organisation had spent a decade trying to keep kids safe online through education programmes distributed via schools and online.
All this focus on youth on social networks would keep many older Kiwis away from them until 2009 when we poured onto Facebook. In an attempt to make social networking more adult-friendly, local start-up iYomu (‘I, you, me, us’) tried to merge the making of personal connections and the sharing of files. It also tried to promote itself with a cheating-riddled million-dollar giveaway that attracted initial attention but failed to deliver a sustainable business. The site shut down in May 2008.
With all of these negative stories one could be forgiven, from the outside, of thinking social networking sites were nothing but trouble. But some charitable organisations were starting to harness networks for good, such as Givealittle that launched in 2008.
There was one form of naked emerging online in 2007 that even the most conservative New Zealander could get behind – Naked DSL. The holy grail for the true net-head who felt that they no longer had a need for a landline at all, pressure on Telecom would make it possible in some areas by 2008 for us to get broadband without paying for a regular phone too.
The decade was looking to wind up with us scoring nothing but net.
Tomorrow: In 2008 if you didn’t have plenty of Facebook friends your opinion wasn’t worth listening to. “Just putting that out there…”