The Rise and Fall of Social Media Platforms
Since its inception, the internet has played a pivotal role in connecting people across the globe, including in remote locations.
While the foundational need for human connection hasn’t changed, platforms and technology continue to evolve, even today. Faster internet connections and mobile devices have made social networks a ubiquitous part of our lives, with the time spent on social media each day creeping ever upward.
The Scoreboard Today
Over the last 15 years, billions of people around the world have jumped onto the social media bandwagon – and platforms have battled for our attention spans by inventing (and sometimes flat-out stealing) features to keep people engaged.
Here’s a snapshot of where things stand today:
|Global Rank||Social Platform||Parent Company||Monthly Active Users|
|3||Qzone||🇨🇳 Tencent||528 million|
|4||🇨🇳 Sina Corp||528 million|
|5||TikTok||🇨🇳 ByteDance||524 million|
|8||Snapchat||🇺🇸 Snap Inc||302 million|
|9||🇺🇸 Microsoft||260 million|
Today’s entertaining video, from the Data is Beautiful YouTube channel, is a look back at the rise and fall of social media platforms – and possibly a glimpse at the future of social media as well.
Below we respond to some key questions and observations raised by this video overview.
Points of Interest
1. What is QZone?
Qzone is China’s largest social network. The platform originally evolved as a sort of blogging service that sprang from QQ, China’s seminal instant messaging service. While Qzone is still one of the world’s largest social media sites – it still attracts around half a billion users per month – WeChat is now the service of choice for almost everyone in China with a smartphone.
2. LinkedIn has been around for a long time.
It’s true. LinkedIn, which hasn’t left the top 10 list since 2003, is a textbook example of a slow and steady growth strategy paying off.
While some networks experience swings in their user base or show a boom and bust growth pattern, LinkedIn has grown every single year since it was launched. Surprisingly, that growth is still clocking in at impressive rates. In 2019, for example, LinkedIn reported a 24% increase in sessions on their platform.
3. Will Facebook ever lose its top spot?
Never say never, but not anytime soon. Since 2008, Facebook has been far and away the most popular social network on the planet. If you include Facebook’s bundled services, over 2 billion people use their network each day. The company has used acquisitions and aggressive feature implementation to keep the company at the forefront of the battle for attention. Facebook itself is under a lot of scrutiny due to growing privacy concerns, but Instagram and WhatsApp are more popular than ever.
4. What Happened to Snapchat?
In 2016, Snapchat had thoroughly conquered the Gen Z demographic and was on a trajectory to becoming one of the top social networks. Facebook, sensing their position being challenged by this upstart company, took the bold step of cloning Snapchat’s features and integrating them into Instagram (even lifting the name “stories” in the process). The move paid off for Facebook and the video above shows Instagram’s user base taking off in 2016, fueled by these new features.
Even though Facebook took some of the wind out of Snapchat’s sails, the company never stopped growing. Earlier this year, Snapchat announced modest growth as its base of daily active users rose to 190 million. For advertisers looking to reach the 18-35 age demographic, Snapchat could still be a compelling option.
5. Why is TikTok so popular now?
The simple answer is that short-form video is extremely popular right now, and TikTok has features that make sharing fun. The average user of TikTok (and its Chinese counterpart, DouYin) spends a staggering 52 minutes per day on the app.
Also propelling its growth is the company’s massive marketing budget. TikTok spent $1 billon last year on advertising in the U.S., and is currently burning through around $3 million per day to get people onto their platform. One looming question for the China-based company is not whether Facebook will co-opt their features, but when.
How Big Tech Revenue and Profit Breaks Down, by Company
How do the big tech giants make their money? This series of graphics shows a breakdown of big tech revenue, using Q2 2022 income statements.
In the media and public discourse, companies like Alphabet, Apple, and Microsoft are often lumped together into the same “Big Tech” category. After all, they constitute the world’s largest companies by market capitalization.
And because of this, it’s easy to assume they’re in direct competition with each other, fiercely battling for a bigger piece of the “Big Tech” pie. But while there is certainly competition between the world’s tech giants, it’s a lot less drastic than you might imagine.
This is apparent when you look into their various revenue streams, and this series of graphics by Truman Du provides a revenue breakdown of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft.
How Big Tech Companies Generate Revenue
So how does each big tech firm make money? Let’s explore using data from each company’s June 2022 quarterly income statements.
View the full-size infographic
In Q2 2022, about 72% of Alphabet’s revenue came from search advertising. This makes sense considering Google and YouTube get a lot of eyeballs. Google dominates the search market—about 90% of all internet searches are done on Google platforms.
View the full-size infographic
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Amazon’s biggest revenue driver is e-commerce. However, as the graphic above shows, the costs of e-commerce are so steep, that it actually reported a net loss in Q2 2022.
As it often is, Amazon Web Services (AWS) was the company’s main profit-earner this quarter.
View the full-size infographic
Apple’s biggest revenue driver is consumer electronics sales, particularly from the iPhone which accounts for nearly half of overall revenue. iPhones are particularly popular in the U.S., where they make up around 50% of smartphone sales across the country.
Besides devices, services like Apple Music, Apple Pay, and Apple TV+ also generate revenue for the company. But in Q2 2022, Apple’s services branch accounted for only 24% of the company’s overall revenue.
View the full-size infographic
Microsoft has a fairly even split between its various revenue sources, but similarly to Amazon its biggest revenue driver is its cloud services platform, Azure.
After AWS, Azure is the second largest cloud server in the world, capturing 21% of the global cloud infrastructure market.
Animation: The Most Popular Websites by Web Traffic (1993-2022)
This video shows the evolution of the internet, highlighting the most popular websites from 1993 until 2022.
The Most Popular Websites Since 1993
Over the last three decades, the internet has grown at a mind-bending pace.
In 1993, there were fewer than 200 websites available on the World Wide Web. Fast forward to 2022, and that figure has grown to 2 billion.
This animated graphic by James Eagle provides a historical look at the evolution of the internet, showing the most popular websites over the years from 1993 to 2022.
The 90s to Early 2000s: Dial-Up Internet
It was possible to go on the proto-internet as early as the 1970s, but the more user-centric and widely accessible version we think of today didn’t really materialize until the early 1990s using dial-up modems.
Dial-up gave users access to the web through a modem that was connected to an active telephone line. There were several different portals in the 1990s for internet use, such as Prodigy and CompuServe, but AOL quickly became the most popular.
AOL held its top spot as the most visited website for nearly a decade. By June 2000, the online portal was getting over 400 million monthly visits. For context, there were about 413 million internet users around the world at that time.
|Rank||Website||Monthly Visits (May 2000)|
But when broadband internet hit the market and made dial-up obsolete, AOL lost its footing, and a new website took the top spot—Yahoo.
The Mid 2000s: Yahoo vs. Google
Founded in 1994, Yahoo started off as a web directory that was originally called “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.”
When the company started to pick up steam, its name changed to Yahoo, which became a backronym that stands for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.”
Yahoo grew fast and by the early 2000s, it became the most popular website on the internet. It held its top spot for several years—by April 2004, Yahoo was receiving 5.6 billion monthly visits.
|Rank||Website||Monthly Visits (April 2004)|
But Google was close on its heels. Founded in 1998, Google started out as a simpler and more efficient search engine, and the website quickly gained traction.
Funny enough, Google was actually Yahoo’s default search engine in the early 2000s until Yahoo dropped Google so it could use its own search engine technology in 2004.
For the next few years, Google and Yahoo competed fiercely, and both names took turns at the top of the most popular websites list. Then, in the 2010s, Yahoo’s trajectory started to head south after a series of missed opportunities and unsuccessful moves.
This cemented Google’s place at the top, and the website is still the most popular website as of January 2022.
The Late 2000s, Early 2010s: Social Media Enters the Chat
While Google has held its spot at the top for nearly two decades, it’s worth highlighting the emergence of social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook.
YouTube and Facebook certainly weren’t the first social media platforms to gain traction. MySpace had a successful run back in 2007—at one point, it was the third most popular website on the World Wide Web.
|Rank||Website||Monthly Visits (Jan 2007)|
But YouTube and Facebook marked a new era for social media platforms, partly because of their impeccable timing. Both platforms entered the scene around the same time that smartphone innovations were turning the mobile phone industry on its head. The iPhone’s design, and the introduction of the App store in 2008, made it easier than ever to access the internet via your mobile device.
As of January 2022, YouTube and Facebook are still the second and third most visited websites on the internet.
The 2020s: Google is Now Synonymous With the Internet
Google is the leading search engine by far, making up about 90% of all web, mobile, and in-app searches.
What will the most popular websites be in a few years? Will Google continue to hold the top spot? There are no signs of the internet giant slowing down anytime soon, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that things change. And no one should get too comfortable at the top.
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