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A look at the history of social networking

So you’ve heard about all this social media 'stuff', and rumour has it that it’s going to be big!

So you’ve heard about all this social media ‘stuff’, and rumour has it that it’s going to be big! You tweet; you like posts; and you comment on videos … but where did this all come from?

That’s a funny story seeing as social media isn’t actually a new concept – and no, Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Digital social technology actually dates back to the 1970’s! In 1978, two friends invented the computerized bulletin board system – a system that was used for sharing news and updates amongst friends and peers. It wasn’t exactly the user friendly platforms that we have today and it certainly wasn’t as pretty, but it is widely recognised as the first, primitive social network.

Skipping forward to the 1990’s, we see the birth of platforms that are now recognised as the forefathers of todays social media titans.

Choose your city

Meet GeoCities. Those lucky enough to have had internet access in the mid- and late 90’s will remember its brightly coloured websites that were always littered with pixelated images and excessive use of obscure fonts. GeoCites was a web hosting platform that allowed users to create simple web pages. GeoCities had a unique system for sorting its pages as it allowed users to place their web page within categories named “cities”. Some of these “cities” included categories such as: Area 51 for science fiction; Broadway for performing arts; Colosseum for athletics and so on. In 1999 GeoCities was bought out by Yahoo! and in 2009 Yahoo! announced that it would be closing down all GeoCities servers, except for Japan.

The original social network

Friendster is often referred to as the “original social network”. While this may not be entirely true, Friendster can definitely be credited with laying the base for today’s social networking platforms. In 2002, when Friendster was launched, it centered around a very basic concept – to allow real-world friends to connect with each other in a digital space.

The platform was one of the first to ever reach over a million users, and hit the three million benchmark within its first three months of being live! Friendster’s rapid adoption and ease of use earned it a lot of press and, as a result, it quickly became a world-wide phenomenon. After turning down numerous purchase offers, Friendster began seeing a rapid decline in its users around 2008. The reason for the decline is often attributed to the rise of Facebook – which many claim was based on Friendster’s “social circles” system. In 2011 Friendster was repositioned no longer as a social network, but rather as an online social gaming platform.

The first clone

In 2003, a group of a employees working for the eUniverse company saw the potential behind social networking sites and decided to clone the Friendster concept, mimicking its positive features and improving on the negative – and MySpace was born! MySpace’s strength lay not in its features but in its audience. The platform was rapidly adopted by teens and young adults, allowing it to differentiate itself from the majority of its contemporaries. Overtime the platform found itself nesting into a niche, becoming a platform for fans to connect with musicians; and one of the primary sources for music discovery. Up until 2008 MySpace was considered the most successful social network of all time! After 2008 however, MySpace saw a rapid decline in its user base due to the platform’s lack of innovation and the increase in popularity amongst platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Lessons from the forefathers

While these three social networks may have laid the way for today’s social media titans (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc), it is important to realise that at their prime, these networks were considered the titans of their time! Like all things involved in the digital and technological sphere, change is inevitable  – companies come and go, consumer’s loyalty shifts and competitors are always on the rise. In ten years time will someone be writing about Facebook in retrospect?


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