Nowadays, one can no longer imagine how to catch up with friends and contacts without social networking. Social networking helped us become closer to our friends, even when they are a thousand miles away. Through the World Wide Web, we are able to connect with people from around the world, making it easy to keep in touch with friends and family. Social networking now is a billion dollar industry, but we can barely remember when it didn’t exist.
Let’s take a trip back in time and discover the history of social networking, and how it grew, one step at a time.
Social Networking as we know it today
Today, social networking is an essential part of life for people from around the world. Social networking is a form of social media, used for either interactive, educational, informational or entertaining purposes. Social media comes in many forms, but all of them are related: blogs, forums, podcasts, photo sharing, social bookmarking, widgets, video, just to name a few.
Today, social networking websites allow users to make profiles, upload photos and videos, and interact with friends and family. Social networking is a tool to join groups, learn about latest news and events, play games, chat and to share music and video. The top social networking sites of today are: MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
Image by Svilen001
People always want to communicate with other people. People used to just visit the people they wanted to see. The longer the distance, the harder it is to communicate. Throughout history, people came up with various ways of communicating: through post, pigeons, telegraph, light signals and telephone. Getting responses a few hundred years ago meant waiting for months or a year. Thankfully humans never stopped looking for a faster method to communication. The 21st century brought us the internet.
Social networking was born one day in 1971, when the first email was sent. The two computers were sitting right next to each other. The message said “qwertyuiop’.
In 1978, the BBS–or Bulletin Board System, was created. The BBS hosted on personal computers, where users need to dial in via the modem of a host computer, and exchanging data through phone lines to other users. The BBS was the first system that lets users interact with one another through the internet. It was slow, but it was a good start, and only one user could log in at a time.
Later that year, the very first web browsers were distributed using Usenet, the earliest online bulletin board of the time. Usenet was created by Jim Ellis & Tom Truscott, where users posted news, articles and funny posts. Unlike the BBS and forums, Usenet did not have a ‘central server’. This concept soon inspired the ‘Groups’ feature we know today; such as Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups and Facebook Groups.The first ever version of instant messaging was around 1988, called IRC or Internet Relay Chat. IRC was Unix-based then, and thus exclusive only to a few people. IRC was used for communications, as well as link and fire sharing. Soon the earliest copies of web browsers were distributed via Usenet.
The First Social Networking Site
In 1994, the first social networking site was created, Geocities. Geocities allowed the users to create and customize their own web sites, grouping them into different ‘cities’ based on the site’s content. The following year, TheGlobe.com launched to public, giving users the ability to interact with people who have the same hobbies and interests, and to publish their own content.
A few years later, AOL Instant Messenger and SixDegrees.com launched in 1997. Instant messaging was born, giving users the freedom to chat with friends, and create a profile. AOL was probably the true precursor to today’s social networking sites. The member profiles allowed its users to write a biography and share details about themselves. The profiles were searchable so people could look your profile up. It was the most innovative feature at that time.
Other sites followed suit, creating social networking sites such as Classmates, Friendzy, Hi-5, just to name a few. Many were dating sites, while some were more niche driven. For example, Classmates allowed users to reconnect with old classmates, pals, bullies and crushes. It was a hit immediately, and today Classmates still has some 40,000,000 registered users.
SixDegrees.com is one of the earliest social networking sites, but did not gain the same success. The idea is based on the theory that people are separated by no more than six degrees from one another. It also allowed users to create profiles, make groups, search and invite friends. However, they encouraged members to invite more people to the site and had too many membership drives. Many people complained that the membership invitations were spam, filling up their websites with junk. It was sold in 2001 for $125 million but completely shut down the year after.
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Other niche-driven sites are AsianAvenue–established in 1997. By 1999, BlackPlanet was established and in 2000, MiGente.com for Hispanic servers. In the mid-1990s, the internet was at its full force. Yahoo! was established and Amazon had begun selling books. Every household was getting a PC. The World Wide Web showed no signs of slowing down.
New Millenium: New Era in Social Networking
The first modern social networking site that we define today is Friendster. It also uses the degree of separation concept similar to SixDegrees, but dubbed it ‘Circle of Friends’. Friendster was basically a dating site that wasn’t all about dating. In the first 3 months, Friendster was able to amass 3,000,000 users. This means 1 in 126 web users were Friendster members at the time.
Soon MySpace followed suit, who cloned Friendster. It was launched after only 10 days of coding. It soon became more popular than Friendster. MySpace gave users more freedom than Friendster when it came to customization; with music, videos and a hipper online environment. It garnered 90 million registered users–and even if it is no longer the top networking site in the world, it is still a favorite in the USA. The glory days of Friendster have passed, and its popularity is now surpassed by MySpace and Facebook. Today most of Friendster’s traffic comes from Asia, especially Indonesia and the Philippines.
Another site with considerable success is LinkedIn. It was established in 2003, and took a more professional and business approach to social networking. Other sites focused on getting dates, having friends, and reuniting with old classmates, but LinkedIn focused on building business contacts and professionals. Today LinkedIn has 30 million registered members.
Facebook came into the social networking scene a little bit later. It was launched in 2004, and the primary intent was to connect US college students. Facebook first began with Mark Zuckerberg’s alma mater Harvard. At first it was exclusive, and you could only join in if you had been invited by a member of Facebook. The ‘exclusive’ feature proved to be a success, and in its first month, over half of the 19,500 Harvard students signed up. Two years later, the campus-only networking site became open to the public. In 2008, Facebook surpassed MySpace and Friendster as the leading social networking site. It now has over 150 million members around the globe.
The Future of Social Networking
Many people are still speculating about the future of social networking. Will it be the ultimate communication tool of the future? Or just like the dot-com crash, will it crash and burn eventually?
The economic crisis was bad, closing down many small and large businesses and leaving many people jobless. Nonetheless, it still didn’t stop users from using the internet, and new sites are still launched today. But how about the people’s interests? It is true that most networking sites may seem promising and fun at first, but soon the fad cools down and people start to get bored.
Today’s social networking sites are like yesterday’s front page headlines. Most of us now get news and information through the internet–especially the younger generation. Social networking has become very mobile, from our PCs to our smart phones. Thus social networking has become more ‘intrusive’. Do we really want to know what your office mate had for breakfast at Subway or your third degree cousin just lost her car keys?
Will Facebook still be the king of social networking? That, we cannot be sure of. Just last year Google made efforts with making its own social networking site, which became very boring and very empty. As of this writing Facebook already has over 600 million active users. But many people suggest that social networking is more of a fad, something that we will get tired of, and will soon switch to a newer site soon enough. In five years time, Facebook might be replaced by a newer web site–or it might be the only one. The thing is, the future is very hard to predict, especially for social media. The scope and environment of social networking is highly unpredictable, determined by users’ online actions and behaviors.