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8 social-media changes since the 2008 elections

A week after the 2012 elections, here's a look at some of the changes in the social- and digital-media landscape in the U.S. since 2008.

This tweet by @BarackObama is an example of how Twitter has become a part of the political mainstream.

In social media, as in politics, four years is an eternity.

That's an example of a tweetable thought -- pithy and likely to be shared -- that you find sprinkled throughout social media these days.

The mild pressure to come up with re-tweetable posts is just one of the ways things have changed for me social-media-wise since the 2008 election, the first U.S. presidential election where social media was part of the equation.

Here are eight developments worth noting:

1. Facebook: 2008 was, indeed, a long time ago. At the end of that August, Mark Zuckerberg announced that his service had crossed 100 million users, a far cry from the billion milestone it would hit within four years:

We hit a big milestone today -- 100 million people around the world are now using Facebook. This is a really gratifying moment for us because it means a lot that you have decided that Facebook is a good, trusted place for you to share your lives with your friends. So we just wanted to take this moment to say, "thanks."

Facebook has grown, not just in terms of user numbers, but also in terms of influence and global reach. In these four years, it's also become a place for business, playing a central role in the marketing and outreach strategies of consumer-oriented companies and brands around the world. Figuring out what works on Facebook has become an obsession in some quarters, as we see in this October post by a so-called social-media expert.

Thanks to the launch of Facebook's Timeline feature, it's much easier to go back in time to specific milestones in your Facebook history, so I took a look at my posts on Election Day 2008. Facebook had only dropped the mandatory "is" in status updates several months earlier, so you can see that I was still dancing around that kind of usage. Until the change, all status posts began with "Sree Sreenivasan is..."

What my Facebook profile looked like the evening of the 2008 presidential election.

Other ways Facebook has changed:

  • The Like Button: A few hours after Obama's 2008 victory, I posted a Facebook Note about witnessing history. It got 43 comments, but zero Likes. Why no Likes? Because the Like button wasn't unleashed on an unsuspecting world until February 2009. Since then, there have been 1.3 trillion Likes (that and much more stat and demographic info can be found in this compelling infographic).
  • Facebook Connect: Facebook launched its Connect product in July 2008, as a way to allow users to log-in to some third-party sites using Facebook's authentication system. By December 2008, 40 sites were using Facebook connect. By May 2012, almost a quarter of the world's top 10,000 sites were using some form of official Facebook integration. Before Connect, all sites tried to collect and keep user identity information. Since then, the idea of using Facebook authentication has helped make the Web more social, with concepts like "frictionless sharing" (and all its pros and cons) now part of publishers' vocabulary.
  • Length of Facebook status updates:As you can see from the image below, the length allowed for Facebook posts has gone from 160 characters to 420 characters in 2009 to 60,000 characters in November 2011 (which also explains why almost no one uses the Notes feature anymore).
A graphic from Facebook + Journalists group shows how many more characters Facebook now allows in its status updates.

2. Twitter: Twitter was launched in March 2006 (by this Jack Dorsey - @jack - tweet), so it had been around for about two years when the 2008 election season rolled around. By Election Day 2008, it was something that had started to gain serious traction among journalists, politicos and political junkies. Fast-forward four years and Twitter has been a critical component of candidate communication strategies in races big and small. As you can see from the @BarackObama tweet (top of this post) used by the president to announce his re-election at the top of this post (sent at 11:15 p.m. on election night), tweeting your news is pretty commonplace these days.

The account's next tweet, a minute later, was a photo taken earlier of him hugging Michelle Obama. That photo became the most retweeted message in Twitter history, with 815,000 retweets and counting. That photo was also posted on his Facebook page, becoming the most liked item in Facebook history, with 4.4 million Likes and counting (topping Zuckerberg's wedding photo, with its 1.6 million Likes).

In 2008, I was reluctantly dragged kicking-and-screaming onto Twitter by my then-student Franz Strasser (@FranzStrasser, now of the BBC). Since then, Twitter has become my main social-media platform and most-often-checked news source. It took Twitter three years to hit its first billion tweets, but now it hits a billion tweets every two days (we know that after CEO Dick Costolo revealed that the service is processing half a billion tweets a day.

3. Instagram: Didn't exist in 2008. Now it's not just a billion-dollar startup, but also an important way in which millions of people, share their experiences -- including during hurricanes and on Election Day (though posting your ballot on the service may not be a good idea).

4. Foursquare: Didn't exist. Now it's has more than 25 million members and more than 2.5 billion check-ins. I joined the service in December 2010 and wrote a piece about 10 things I'd learned in two months on the service. Among the lessons: "Foursquare is more than a game; it's business." Geolocation services and data are going to continue to grow and be part of the digital culture.

5. Pinterest: Didn't exist. Now it has more than 25 million monthly visitors and is a major driver of traffic in some areas. In March 2012, I wrote a CNET News post, Six Things I Learned from Six Days on Pinterest (should have said as the only man on Pinterest, which isn't quite true, but not far off). The service, and others like it, have taken the ability to curate online collections and made the social Web more focused on design than ever before.

6. Tumblr: Tumblr was launched by David Karp in April 2007, so it was definitely around during the 2008 elections, but hadn't become the big player it is now. Its emphasis on easy-to-create, photo-themed blogs struck a nerve among creative types who wanted more room to express themselves than what Facebook and Twitter offered. And, of course, it as that easy-to-create factor that resulted in the "Binders Full of Women" Tumblr that helped give a certain Mitt Romney gaffe a life of its own.

Before we move on from social media, I should also mention two other, major social media platforms, LinkedIn and Google+. LinkedIn has been around since 2003, so was very much part of the landscape in 2008. In these four years, it has crossed 175 million users and a market capitalization of $10 billion. But the way I use it hasn't changed much (except for its terrific iPhone app) - it's still a place to build and maintain your professional network.

Google+, of course, didn't exist in 2008, having been released in June 2011, as Google's last social-media stand after Orkut, Buzz and Wave came and went. While I know folks who are addicted to it and swear by its ability to attention to their content, I am still finding my way around it, trying to learn how best to use it and make it fit within my social-media processes. Just today, I went looking for tips and tricks in this piece, 5 Easy Tips to Bake the Perfect Google+ Post. All your tips welcome. One thing which Google+ has completely changed is how easy it now is to do a multi-person video chat using Google Hangouts. I don't think Google gets enough credit for that.

7. Mobile: The biggest change of all is how the world of mobile has changed. Sure, there were smartphones around in 2008. (The iPhone was launched in June 2007 and the first consumer Android phone, the HTC Dream, went on sale in late October 2008.) But the rise of iPhone, Android, iPad and other tablets has completely changed the way social media -- and all media -- is consumed. Services like Flipboard, which aggregate social-media postings and make them more readable and accessible, have thrived in the mobile space, as have the major social media platforms.

In the months ahead, we are going to see even more of an emphasis on mobile apps and consumption of news and information as more products flood the market from Apple, Google, Amazon, and a newly resurgent Microsoft.

In the meantime, another change has been how millions of people use their smartphones and tablets -- reaching for them in bed as soon as they wake up and ending with a final glance before they fall asleep. And consumption of digital content in the evenings and on weekends is much, much higher than it was just four years ago.

8. The Web: All the attention paid to mobile, social, and e-readers has meant that many pundits have written off the Web itself, downplaying its importance. While the Web is no longer the only way to experience the Internet, it's still a critical piece of the world's digital reading, learning and doing infrastructure.

I mean how else could all those folks who create animated gifs do their deeds as fast and as easily.

Animated gifs have been around since the 1990s, but it's only this year that they became a popular way to capture the essence of serious and not-so-serious items in the news. Here, for example, is the of last Sunday's NFL games, told through animated gifs -- a sort of poor man's ESPN SportsCenter.

All the noise around those silent gifs turned the verb version into Oxford American Dictionary's 2012 Word of the Year. For anyone interested in learning how to join the gif revolution, this post by Ann Friedman (@AnnFriedman) is a must-read.

One final note on gifs. There's a debate about the right pronunciation - soft G or hard G. Either way is fine with me, but it's always good to remember the oldish saying, "Beware of geeks bearing gifs."

What changes did you notice about social and digital media since the 2008 elections? Share your thoughts in the comments below an example of another development: the ability to easily tell people you voted on Election Day.

A service that allows you to tell your friends and connections that you voted - and perhaps put some subtle pressure on them to do so as well.