Updated · Jan 27, 2023
foLegend says there used to be times when social media didn’t exist. Back then, people didn’t rely on social networks to keep in touch with friends and families.
Sounds weird, doesn’t it?
These days we can’t imagine life without social media. Although a relatively new phenomenon, they’ve taken the world by storm. But where did it all start?
Gather round, children, today’s story is about social networks history.
But first, let us define what social media actually is. The term ‘social media’ references websites and applications that allow users to create and share content. They also allow us to communicate with each other, via comments, likes, and chats.
Finally, we have profiles on those websites, which we can update with personal information - education level, work position, and relationship status.
When Was Social Media Invented?
Well, as with every other thing that has ever become popular, at the beginning social media wasn’t that loved. Last year people spent an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes on social networks.
Once upon a time...
Social media history is born with the creation of the internet in the 20th century. Humans almost immediately figured a way to use it to communicate. Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971. He said the message wasn’t very creative and it most probably said something like ‘qwertyuiop’. Today we have email marketing and more than 306 billion emails are sent every day.
The first creation, resembling social media, found its way into the world seven years later, in 1978. It was called Bulletin Board System, BBS for short.
Ward Christensen and Randy Suess - the creators - wanted to allow users to share information, such as meeting times, and to download files. One could access it over the telephone lines using a modem. That surely sounds magical to some.
The next year, the first social media, Usenet was born, thanks to Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis. It had a similar idea to BBS. Users could post messages, articles, and information of all sorts to categories, known as ‘newsgroups’. Usenet was a hybrid of sorts between email and modern-day forums.
10 years later, in 1988, the world saw the rise of IRC - Internet Relay Chat, created by Jarkko Oikarinen. It allowed users to exchange text messages in real-time with people all over the world. That was the birth of chatting.
Actual Social Networks Begins To Form
Still, the actual history of social media only begins with the first-ever social networking site. Back in 1994, David Bohnett and John Rezner created GeoCities. It was a web hosting service and users could build their own sites within the platform.
They chose ‘cities’ where to place their personal pages, with every ‘city’ carrying the name of a real place. Sites were allocated to ‘cities’ by topic. For example, educational sites were in ‘Athens’ and the fashion ones on ‘Fashion Avenue’. GeoCities was acquired by Yahoo in 1999 and got shut down in 2009.
In 1997, the social network SixDegrees was born. The name was derived from the six degrees of separation theory. You’ve probably heard about it because of Kevin Bacon.
What does Kevin Bacon have to do with it?
Absolutely nothing. The concept claims that all people on the planet are six or even fewer social connections away from each other. It all started from a silly game, called ‘Six degrees of Kevin Bacon’. The players had to connect any actor to Kevin Bacon using the six degrees theory.
We can thank Andrew Weinreich for 'Six degrees'. It allowed users to create profiles, add friends and relatives, and invite new people to join the network. Everyone could also post stuff on their bulletin boards and see their connection to other users on the site.
Unfortunately, SixDegrees’ lifespan was pretty short - it was shut down in 2000.
1997 was also the birth year of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). While not a social network per se, it still aimed to give users an online presence. Just like IRC before it, AIM’s idea was for users to exchange text messages in real time.
The Rise of Social Media
The 21st century is seeing something we like to call the social media boom.
In 2002, Friendster launched. It was the first network to allow sharing of photos and videos. Friendster also allowed comments on other users’ posts for the first time.
Friendster spread like wildfire. For the first three months, it had acquired over 3 million users and that number eventually grew to over 115 million.
However, MOL Global bought it and Friendster became a gaming website.
In 2015 it shut down, due to tough competition.
Now we have finally reached the boiling point of social networks history.
Guess who’s turn it is?
That’s right, LinkedIn is one of the oldest social media platforms around. It was ‘born’ in 2003. It was founded by Reid Hoffman, Allen Blue, Konstantin Guericke, Eric Ly and Jean-Luc Vaillant.
Unlike the other social media platforms, LinkedIn was (and is) entirely work-oriented. It allowed people to connect with colleagues and find school contacts. Companies could create their own pages, post job offers and recruit people.
You’re probably asking yourselves: “But wait, when did Myspace start then?”
The very same year, actually. It was founded by Chris DeWolfe, Tom Anderson, and Jon Hart. At first, it was used mainly by musicians.
Two years later, Myspace became the largest social media platform and it held that title until 2009. It was especially popular among younger users. It allowed huge freedom when it came to customization.
You could use a lot of funky features on your personal page. You could include music playing every time a user visited your profile, cool cursors, changing backgrounds, etc.
But who stole Myspace’s crown?
Facebook Enters the Game
In 2004, the history of social media was being rewritten and we were yet to realize it.
On the 4th of February Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollom, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes launched the platform that shut many old social networks down. Facebook is to this day the biggest social media platform.
It was initially intended as a social media platform, exclusive to Harvard students. But the idea behind it spread like wildfire. Facebook eventually grew to become a worldwide phenomenon.
The thing with Facebook is that users enter their real names, post actual photos of themselves and provide authentic information. There are of course exceptions, but those are beside the point.
As children, adults always warned us against posting personal information on the internet. Now we have Facebook, turning the world upside-down.
Facebook users can share anything from their personal life with their friends and in some cases, well, total strangers. Also, any updates from their friends show up directly on their newsfeed. Actually, the newsfeed was one of Facebook’s revolutionary features.
Another key element - Facebook is always changing. The people behind it are updating it ofter, in an effort to keep up with the latest social media demands.
The Evolution of Social Media Continues
Enter 2006 and the birth of Twitter, thanks to Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams.
Twitter is a microblogging platform, where users post short status updates, known as ‘tweets’. Up until 2017, the limit for a tweet was 140 characters. Now it’s double - at 280. This character limit is Twitter’s trademark trait.
People love Twitter. Actors, musicians, TV hosts, politicians, and authors all seem to take full advantage of their accounts. Before this social media platform, interacting with your favorite celebrities in such a way was unheard of. This option is part of what makes Twitter shine. Twitter is also used as an online news platform. This is where hashtags and the ‘Trending’ section, which indicates the most tweeted hashtags worldwide, come into play. Thanks to Twitter’s hashtags, news spread around the globe faster than TV and newspapers can ever get a hold of them. In fact, these days most news channels get theirs from Twitter and likewise social media platforms.
Social networks leave a footprint in the news channels' history too.
Speaking of microblogging, we can’t just pass Tumblr.
Tumblr is the perfect mix of a microblogging platform and a social network. David Karp founded it in 2007. It allowed users to create personal blogs and post multimedia content or texts on it. Aside from the pronounced blogger’s vibe that Tumblr exudes, its dashboard is actually quite similar to that of Facebook.
It quickly became the meeting place for people from different fandoms. Fandoms are mini online societies, that consist of fans of different pop culture phenomenon, such as Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Taylor Swift, etc. On Tumblr, they can share fan art, fanfiction stories, fan clips - and express their opinions and theories freely.
Among Tumblr users, one can find A-list celebrities, like Taylor Swift herself or famous authors, like Neil Gaiman. The platform attracts people from all walks of life.
Because of the vast amount (and variety) of erotic content on Tumblr, the platform has been banned in China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, and Iran. Quite the record in the history of social media.
After Verizon Media acquired Tumblr in 2017, they have started a censorship campaign, banning explicit sexual images and GIFs.
Social media really does offer everything, huh?
And now that we’ve mentioned images, it’s time to introduce Instagram and Snapchat to our walk down social networks history.
It's an Instagrammable World
It’s not often that the name of a social media becomes an adjective, used in everyday life. But Instagram managed to achieve that.
Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger created it and it launched in 2010. Ever since its popularity has been growing steadily. It has now become one of the Big Three of social networks history - standing proudly alongside Facebook and Twitter.
Although Facebook bought it in 2012, no one really sees them as one whole. Besides, they don’t really serve the same purpose.
Instagram’s idea is simple. Users share photos and videos on their personal profiles. Nothing new here so far.
They can, however, can edit content with various filters. People organize photos via locations and hashtags. You can then use those hashtags to find similar content as well.
Instagram has also taken care of the basics. Users can like and comment on others’ profiles, as well as send private messages. They can follow each other so that others’ content shows up on their feed. The feed is - you guessed it - Instagram’s version of Facebook’s newsfeed.
Instagram also launched stories, which allow users to post photos and videos, that disappear after 24 hours. The feature was launched as an answer to Instagram's competitor, Snapchat.
What is Snapchat?
The best way to describe Snapchat would be “multimedia messaging app”. The creators Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown launched it in 2011.
It’s like a chat app but exclusively with photos and videos. They show up for a short period of time, before disappearing forever. Snapchat also has ‘Stories’, which unlike the other content, stay up for the impressive 24 hours.
It also has filters, the most famous one being the one with the dog ears. You've probably seen it everywhere - it’s a definite users’ favorite.
Seeing the craze around social media, Google decided to take matters in their own hands.
Thus, Google+ was born.
Google+ and Why It Failed
Google+ was created by Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz and it launched in 2011. People expected it to be the next big thing in social media.
The history of social media has also witnessed failures and this was one of them.
Maybe the problem was it was too similar to Facebook. On Google+, you had the so-called circles and you could choose which circle to share particular information with. Pretty much the same as Facebook’s friend lists.
Maybe it was the lack of a mobile app. Both Facebook and Twitter have apps that allow a smooth mobile experience. Google did, in fact, launch an app for Google+ at some point, but it just couldn’t compete with Facebook.
Or maybe it was the fact that no one actually used it. People already had Facebook and they had it for free, why would they go for a rip-off?
The platform has now shut down due to a ‘security breach’. It also failed to accomplish the goals the company had set for it.
That was quite the journey, wasn’t it? From BBS to Facebook, quite a lot has changed.
This timeline shows that, undeniably, social media has slowly become a fundamental part of our lives.
Social Media in Everyday Life
Nowadays, a world without social media is unimaginable.
They are like diaries anyone can access. People share their dilemmas, take photos of their lunches and post videos of their cats almost every day. They constantly chat with their friends and families. It’s a brilliant way to both keep in touch and update others about your life.
Social networks have also turned into news channels. The younger generation especially gets most of their information from social media.
Social media has even become the heart of marketing strategies for many marketers.
Social Media in Marketing Strategies
It’s the age of influencers. Influencers are the people with large social media following, that everyone else likes and trusts. Their recommendation provides brands with a lot of exposure and more sales.
Apparently, people also tend to research products and services on social media, before investing in them. People like following brands on social media and a pleasant social media experience can convince them to become clients. That’s why a lot of big and small businesses have a profile on at least one social media platform.
Social networks have become a gold mine for gaining exposure and reach - as well as raising awareness. Modern-day marketers are aware of that and are perfectly willing to exploit the opportunity and there's a ton of tools that can help them.
Social media has evolved a lot for the relatively short time that it has existed.
Most of us are first-hand witnesses of social networks history being written.
It’s been a wild journey ever since 1978 and BBS. In this time, social networks have gone through some huge transformations. It all started from online bulletin boards information and now we’re witnessing the world domination of the Big Three.
From emailing to real-time chats. From anonymity to tweeting every single step of your day. From pure entertainment to marketing strategies.
We’ve sure come a long way.
And with that, this chapter of our story ends. We’re saying “this chapter” because social media is evolving daily and social networks history is still being written.
Hope you found this information as fascinating as we did. Till next time!
What was there before Facebook?
Who discovered social media?
How long has social media been around?
Teodora devoted her whole life to words – reading, writing and trying to be original on social media. She got certified in digital marketing but still feels she’s not cool enough to be an influencer. (We all disagree – she influences the team pretty well.) She finished a master’s degree focused in Literature, Publishing, Mass Media. Her hobbies include traveling, and reading. Teddy hopes that yoga will be the thing to finally teach her some patience and show her the path toward world domination. Maybe modern tech can also help her with that.
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