If you asked some random person on the street what social networking was, they’d likely have some kind of definition for it, and can name some examples of social media sites and apps that people use today. If you asked some random person back in 1970 what social media or social networking was, and they’d just scratch their head and make up something.
Today we just envision social networking as using Facebook or Twitter to interact with people, but back in the 60’s and early 70’s, it was known as computer networking. Computer networking was a system that wasn’t used by ordinary people, at least at first; it was initially a way for a military to communicate within it’s ranks on a secure platform.
Before long, though, people started to see the potential of a system like this, and nerds in small pockets of the world started to set up systems of connected computers to communicate with each other. Although in a rather rudimentary form, social networking was born.
The OG of social networks as we know them today was the Bulletin Board System, or BBS, which was a local system where users could chat about their interests. These networks were slower than molasses, but no one cared at the time; they were all too hyped to have friends and the ability to communicate with people around the world.
Another early entry into the social networking game was CompuServe, which sprung up in the 70’s as a computer mainframe solution for business. After more than a decade, though, CompuServe started to look a little like the networking sites we know today; you could use it to get updates on what was going around the world, and it even had this one thing called “e-mail”, which allowed you to send a message to a friend!
If you were a nerd in the 70’s and 80’s you were so pumped to be alive (other than the whole nerd thing and lack of interest from women).
Let’s move on to the 90’s, folks.
If you ask some random American what the first social network was, they might mention America Online (AOL). It might not have been the first social network in the true sense, but it can be considered to be the first modern one, as it truly brought America online.
On AOL you got to create your profile and get to share information about yourself; you also could message someone instantly, whenever you wanted. Social networking as we know it was born.
While AOL saw major success, hundreds, if not thousands of other social networking sites popped up on the internet, and pretty much all of them sucked. They may have been exciting to some niche users, but everyone was running towards AOL, ready to connect with the world.
The 80’s was for messaging that one guy in South Dakota who liked aliens too, while the 90’s was for connecting with as many people as you could, in true social networking form. The 1980’s saw the connection of small pockets of people, while the 1990’s saw the connection of the entire world.
The planet only got smaller from there.
The new millennium saw the birth of a few networks you may have heard of, and some are still around today. In between 2002-2003, Friendster, Myspace, and even LinkedIn all launched their sites, hoping to redefine, or at least take control of, social networking.
Friendster was the place where you (obviously) found friends online, and it hoped to link people who have similar interests. Friendster was the like a dating site for friends, but in the more than a decade since it’s premier, it’s seen much better days; now the site is “taking a break”, or rather, ceasing to function on the internet as it intended.
Premiering in 2003, Myspace aimed to connect the younger generations that hadn’t yet been hooked onto AOL. Myspace was a great way for teens and young people to interact and communicate; wasn’t it fun to create your top friends list?
The ability to customize your profile and even add music was revolutionary, and Myspace was the hub for every kid in the US. Myspace wasn’t just a social network; it was the cool social network.
A year later, a social networking site that would pulverize Myspace into pulp was launched, named Facebook. Created by Mark Zuckerberg, this nerdy Harvard dropout created the site with the intention of linking college students together in a network only they could access.
Facebook was remarkably different from Myspace; it wasn’t as hip or fun to use, but it’s simple look was all the mattered for it’s users. College students just wanted a place to share pics, make funny posts, and share other college-kid activities online without any lame adults seeing it.
Facebook was an online haven for college students, but after two years and remarkable growth, Facebook became available to anyone with a computer and internet connection. This site was the social network that truly linked the world, not just a nation or small community.
Social media had been evolving over the last three decades, and through many iterations, mostly terrible and few reasonably good, we finally have the true form of social networking. Anyone with a smartphone or computer can interact with anyone else who is online, and it’s something that has revolutionized the way we communicate, the way we do business, and much, much more.
Social networking started out as a way for introverts and geeks to communicate with each other without having to leave their bedrooms, but now it’s a tool that people use each day to meet people, find information, and even business entities use it on a daily basis.
Social networking used to be a way for the military to send orders quickly down the pipeline, and it wasn’t readily accessible to anyone for use beyond that. Today, billions of people have online profiles and connect with each other hundreds of billions of times each day; it’s a tool that has linked the world in ways no one could have envisioned back in the BBS days.
The history of social networking is an interesting and surprising story, and one that can evolve in ways we might not anticipate, just like how it was for people thirty or forty years ago. Technology in general is moving at Formula 1 speeds, and who knows what the future will bring; just like in the past, the end result could very well be unforeseen and incredibly revolutionary.
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