In the late 1990’s, there was one constant in America, an item you could find just about anywhere: from grocery stores to Barnes and Noble, from the back of cereal boxes to attached to steaks. Over one billion America Online CD’s littered every aspect of our lives in the early days of the internet.
It’s hard to imagine or remember what those early days of the internet looked like. (For the nostalgic, you can make any modern website resemble a GeoCities site.) But if you were a child of the 1990’s, you might recall that after signing on to the internet, with a series of random beeps and bops signaling your phone life was connecting, your journey didn’t begin on what we now think of as the internet. You didn’t start with a browser where you could enter any web address. Instead, you started in the all-encompassing world of AOL.
On that AOL homepage, free from any www. addresses, you could click any number of boxes which would take you to chat rooms, e-mails, instant messenger, a marketplace, newsfeed, and more. It was an all-encompassing platform before you even ventured outside of it to explore the broader world that we now know of as the internet.
This week, Twitter announced their future plans for the platform. They were adding a newsletter function, a subscriber based ‘Super Follower’ option where you could pay or tip creators, an audio based discussion option called Spaces, and a group membership called Community.
Basically, Twitter saw what was going on in Clubhouse, Facebook, Instagram, Patreon, and Substack and said, we’re just going to copy all of that and stick it all in one spot, on our platform.
When AOL started, it was a one stop shop. We expanded to specialization, where you explored different sites for specific needs. But now, the goal of massive social media companies seems to be to bring us back to the one stop shop model, an updated version of what we had in 1996’s America Online.
What’s old is new again. Everything works in cycles. In the running world you can count on the key to training being high intensity workouts for a few years before swinging to long slow distance. In strength and conditioning, we cycle between Olympic lifts and functional strength. And in the most controversial topic in history—diet—we move from Atkins to low-fat to Paleo and then back all in a decade or two.
If you want to know where we’re going, and where the next innovations are likely to occur, it may help to look behind you. Eventually, the pendulum is going to lose momentum and start swinging back in the other direction.