Anatomy of an Early Social Networking Site

Alan Dix1,2, Russell Beale3, Nadeem Shabir1 and Justin Leavesley1

1 Talis, Birmingham, UK
2 School of Computing and Communications, InfoLab21, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
3 School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK

Paper presented at HCI 2011, Newcastle, UK. 6-8 July 2011.

Download draft paper (PDF, 773K)


Social networking software is ubiquitous, from Facebook to Flickr, defining the internet for many users. However, this is a recent phenomenon. Is the timing due to socio-technical determinism, inspiration of individuals, or sheer chance? While much has been written about recent successful social networking sites, this paper takes a different approach and examines vfridge, a social networking application developed 10 years ago, well before the current explosion, which, despite a vision that now seems prescient, was unsuccessful. The reasons for failure are partly about timing and market conditions, but also yield valuable lessons for future innovative applications.

Keywords: social network, adoption, web2.0, web architecture


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Fig1. Facebook Growth 2004–2010 – millions of users (data from Facebook, 2011).
[zoom image]


1999first implementation – stand-alone Java app with bespoke server later first web version using applet crash but seed funding for
2002vfridge mothballed
2010‘facsimile’ version reproduced in PHP!

Fig 2. Timeline of vfridge.


Fig. 3: Market ecology – tracing the
network of influences between
different stakeholders


Figure 4: vfridge screenshot
[zoom image]


Fig. 5: Close up of notes on a fridge
[zoom image]


Fig. 6: Conferencer
[zoom image]


Fig. 7: 'List View' – multi-column layout


Fig. 8: List view close-up (three columns)
[zoom image]


Fig. 9: Seeheim for Web Applications
(from Dix, 2011)
[zoom image]


Alan Dix 6/5/2011