Running List of the Five Eras of The Social Web

This week’s post on the Future of the Social Web has created a tremendous amount of discussion –and I’m thankful for all the voices that chimed in. I’m going to create this post to track the eras as they appear, obviously this is going to take a few years, but hey, I’m not going anywhere.

Keep in mind that there’s a difference between an era starting, vs becoming mature, so read how I denote the differences below.

Running List of the Five Eras of The Social Web
For details on this report, access the high level blog post, or if you’re a client, access the full report on the Forrester site.

Era of Social Relationships (started 1995, matured in 2003-2007)
This era is mature.

  • AOL, 1995
  • eCircles, 2001
  • MySpace, Facebook, Twitter

Era of Social Functionality (started 2007, matures in 2010-2012)
These are prelimnary examples, but are not examples of maturity, as we’ve not seen true useful utilities to improve business.

Era of Social Colonization (started 2009, matures in 2011)
These are prelimnary examples, but are not examples of maturity when your entire digital experience is social.

Era of Social Context (starts in 2010, matures in 2012)
This era is certainly not in maturity, but we can see some early examples of demographic scraping.

  • There are no current examples

Era of Social Commerce (starts in 2011, matures in 2013)
These are prelimnary examples, such as Techcrunch’s crunchpad, but it’s not a true example of a crowd created, spec’d product.

  • There are no current examples

As you see examples, please leave a comment, describe why you think it belongs and which era, I’ll credit you as appropriate.

22 Replies to “Running List of the Five Eras of The Social Web”

  1. I really enjoy following your work, kind of become a Jeremiah fan over night 🙂

    The shift in consumer power and influence you are describing in your article has been the focus of my work the last year. The biggest challenge right now for me as an consultant, is to make managers realize that the change is happening and that social media is much more than facebook, and that facebook is much more than a bunch of teenagers having fun. Referring to Forrester and researchers like you really helps to get some eyes open. I have (or we in my company) have referred to this change as a shift form traditional b2b and b2c view to b2u (business to user). I am as much Eirik regardless of being in a professional or private setting.

    Keep up the good work Jeremiha – I will follow.

  2. I totally agree with the overall analysis, and the era naming is fairly on point. However, I wouldn’t say that emergence is something that will take place at a point in time. Digital social commerce has been around since geocities, and early advocates in listserves and then aol chat rooms. Everything has been in place since the start, it’s a question of when and how each behavior reaches mature viability.

  3. Matt,

    Doh! I slapped my large forehead for that oversight. I even did a blog post on it. I updated era of colonization and credited you.

    Jon, thanks. I have a specific use case in mind for social commerce, see my previous post for the details. It’s not just ‘social recommendations’ it’s really when communities start to act like companies on their own.

  4. Great thinking (again). I am most intrigued in the social commerce area that you outlined here. Is it this era that you might put models such as (

    I feel like their t-shirts are products that are created by, voted up and bought, all by end-users. The definition of product I could also foresee evolving through this “era” or type of social process.
    Curious on your thoughts.

    Thanks, Alex

  5. It will be interesting to see how social media progresses. I wonder if Facebook will be able to turn the next corner or will something else pass it by, like it has seemed to do with MySpace.

  6. I’d argue that Wet Seal’s Community component is an early example of social commerce, although it approaches it from a slightly different standpoint than your premise of group specs. Wet Seal’s members validate (or invalidate) product appeal by developing clothing ensembles using multiple products. Other community members rate the ensembles, which of course are available for sale. In this model, the community is not only helping Wet Seal understand what’s hot, they’re also helping Wet Seal understand how to bundle their products. In a way, they’re specc’ing outfits from individual components.

    Wet Seal has benefits from this already. They gained a quick 10% bump in sales after launching the community and their average ticket for orders that originate within the community is 10% higher.

    They’ve also been piloting a program to take the community-created ensembles into the brick and mortar stores. The idea is a kiosk would let you scan an item in your hand and see all the ensembles that include that item, thus taking the wisdom and creativity of the online crowd, and bringing it in store.

  7. To those of you who mentioned examples of social commerce led by fashion (threadless, Wet Seal) I suggest a look at two ongoing EU research projects, Leapfrog ( and Servive ( When they will be completed, and applications released in the marketplace, I am convinced we will see true examples of Social Commerce and the previous eras combined. Jeremiah, congratulations on your work!

  8. What about irc, MUDs or even newsgroups/usenet? IRC usage was on par with AOL’s chat room mania ‘back in the day’ and the same goes for newsgroups/usenet ( )! These (and even BBS’s to some extent) seem like the forgotten social media tools that helped mold the types of services we see today.

    Not to mention both irc + newsgroups are still used for discussing app/dev support, customer service and even as yet another medium to make money/promote brands (Best example is the channel #cakes on the freenode IRC network which is tied to – it has a eggdrop bot setup which announces all nickycakes activity: posts, tweets, diggs, etc.. activity which is all aimed at generating some sort of revenue for the site owner including through the use of affiliate links).

    People seemed to be amazed at the fury with which information could spread on twitter this past year, getting important news & stories out before major news sources like cnn or routers, this was all seen years ago with IRC! From the failed Soviet Coup attempt in 1991 (which broke through their ‘media blackout’) to news of the Oklahoma City Bombings and even to real-time updates from the warzone throughout the Gulf War. Some of the transcripts can be found on the archive (as well as in various other IRC log archival websites):

    MUDs may seem like somewhat of a stretch to fall under the “social media” category however I’ve always believed that they along with all the other MMORPG-type games fall under the social media sphere… especially seeing how some even have their own form of a “virtual economy”, for a timeline of multi-user gaming check this reference out:
    As early as 1980 you could find a MUD online (well, via ARPANet) – AOL didn’t go online until around 1983 if wikipedia is correct

    I don’t know if you were trying to keep the list of networks short for a reason or if you weren’t fully aware of other types of online communication systems that have had and still continue to have a vital role in connecting users/thoughts/consumers/brands with each-other on a massive public scale?

  9. To make SNS business model really works, Era of Social Commerce is very important. Without commerce, business can not make money, social network can not make money either. So the question is, when will this era come? will it ever come? There is no doubt that brands are trying to talk with us on the social media. Do we want to really want to talk with them while we are socializing with our friends?

    When will Social Commerce Era come? to some extent, it is coming or has already come, we are already commenting a product or service on twitter and blog. The question is, there are not many companies acively participating social commerce. Most companies are just experimenting. It is a new media, and fast changing. It is just like when phone was invented, no body is expected to sell product through phone.

  10. Crowdfunded products are true, no-contest examples of social commerce. Sites like (t-shirts), Sellaband (albums) and others. Local Motors is also an example of social commerce, as Kirill mentioned. Car lovers, designers and engineers get together via to participate in the designing and developing of vehicles purposed for specific regions. The community has a large hand in choosing which vehicles make it to market. Product development is an adventure and an inspiring experience at the social commerce stage.

  11. Hello Jeremiah,

    Thanks for your very interesting approach to map the fture of social web.
    A few more examples for your list :

    Social Colonization : the first phase was browser based, with all the social browsers (Flock, Yoono, Stickis, Blogrovr, …) including social filters of some sorts, personalizing your web experience based on your social network. Early attemps of site centric approches where in a way MyBlogLog and Alenty’s Who’s Hot, enabling real-time comment filtering based on social authority on a given topic). The incorporation of Ning in a website could probably also be seen as a way to colonize socially.

    Social Commerce : in a way it is close to open source communities, organizing themselves to produce a product adequate to their own needs. In this respect open source hardware (such as Arduino) would count, but you have also countless “hack” sites that allow to build on a hackable device (built open, as a web service) to enrich the spectrum of functionalities, like the Sheeva Plug. Enriched feedback functionalities (such as GetSatisfaction) allow for communities to voice and express their needs in a structured way. Then of course you have the “traditional” social commerce websites such as Etsy and Threadless, that enable individual designers to offer and sell their wares, even getting feedback for new stuff, operating more as market places for designers, sellers and buyers. But most of them do not have collaborative design and manufacturing functionalities yet, such as you can see in the aerospace and automotive sectors. And last but not all, crowdsourcing and open innovation websites such as CrowdSpirit (cited by Fred Cavazza during the last ParisTweetup), offering interfaces to different slots in the innovation value chain.

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