The History of Social Media

Back in the day

There used to be a world without social media infiltrating every moment of our lives. Remember that?! It seems so long ago that we weren’t spending our days sharing selfies, memes and funny cat pictures but in the grand scheme of things, we’re only getting started.

The History of Social Media
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In this blog we’re taking it all the way back to celebrate what once was the future: The history of social media. Enjoy this whistle-stop tour of the evolution of social media from the very first social networking site to recent happenings.

1997 – The first social media site was born

Who remembers Based upon the Six degrees of separation theory, this was one of the first websites that allowed you to set up a personal profile and create a list of connections. Users could also send messages and post bulletin board items to people in their first, second, and third degrees and see their connection to any other user on the site.

SixDegrees amassed around one million users before it was subsequently bought out then shuttered at the turn on the millennium.

This social-circles online networking model was revolutionary for its time and became the launchpad for other social media sites such as Myspace, LinkedIn, XING and, of course, Facebook.

2000 – Social media becomes hot … or not?

Ah yes, the social network that nurtured all your teenage insecurities!

Hot or Not was a website that invited users to submit images of themselves so others could rate their attractiveness. Users who’s rating fell below a seven were deleted from the website. Harsh!

Revolutionary and yet rather cruel at the same time, Hot or Not was a significant influence for the creators of Facebook and YouTube. The site was preceded by many imitators and integrated with a wide variety of dating systems since its beginning. Would we have Tinder if it wasn’t for AmIHotOrNot? Who knows!

2002 – Your new BFF, Friendster

Friendster launched in 2002 and invited users to create a profile, update their “status” and message their online friends. It started out as a dating site idea but users felt it was a better platform for building platonic relationships.

The site became extremely popular but crumbled under the weight of its own success. The surprise spike in users meant its servers failed to cope and users because increasingly frustrated so looked to connect elsewhere.

The Malaysian company was even offered $30million by Google to buy it but they turned it down. After years of attempting to gain funding and even repositioning itself as a gaming site rather than a social network, Friendster logged off indefinitely in 2015.

2003 – Myspace Tom to the rescue

Unsatisfied Friendster users looking for their new online hub found retreat in Myspace, the new kid on the block and the go-to space for trendy teens.

Myspace offered something that previous social networks didn’t; every profile was fully customisable and could feature full albums of images, videos and even music. These profiles were also completely public to any web users, unlike the likes of Friendster whose profiles were only visible to registered users.

Myspace allowing the upload of music meant that many popstars got their big break on the platform including Adele, Arctic Monkeys, Kate Nash & Lily Allen.

At one point, Myspace was the fifth most popular website in the USA and had approximately 25 million users – the only way is up! However, the infamous Myspace Tom sold his site to NewsCorp in 2005 and with that saw a rapid decline in users. The once hip and trendy website became tragic and tacky, it was time to find something new.

2003 – LinkedIn is also born

Dubbed “Myspace for adults”, LinkedIn was an invite-only platform for businesspeople wanting to increase their opportunities and seek new work.

The first website in this timeline that has stood the test of time, LinkedIn is now used by over 500 million users and is wholly owned by Microsoft.

2005 – Tidal wave of new social networking sites

Around the same time Myspace and LinkedIn were establishing themselves in the world of social media, a young Harvard first year called Mark Zuckerberg (you may’ve heard of him?) launched a website called Facemash – his university’s answer to Hot Or Not. After a bit of swapping and changing of the formula, in 2004 TheFacebook, as it was known then, registered its millionth user.

After buying the domain for $200,000, Facebook dropped its ‘The’ and became what we know today, sort of. With this came other social media giants bursting into our consciousness. As digital cameras became a must-have to everyone, so did photosharing sites such as Photobucket and Flickr.

Youtube launched in 2005 after its creators wanted a place online to watch Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at her Superbowl performance.

Additionally, blogging started to gain traction so we saw social bookmarking site del.ici.ous and our old pal WordPress coming into existence.

Reddit was also birthed in 2005. A very busy year for social media!

2006 – Twitter hatched

Originally envisioned as a text message-based tool, twittr (they added the ‘e’ a bit later) was for sending updates between friends and raking up some rather pricy SMS bills in the meantime.

The first tweet ever, posted by co-founder @Jack Dorsey on March 21, 2006, read: “just setting up my twttr.”

Some of twittr’s other exhilarating first updates included things like “cleaning my apartment” and “Hungry.” Yawn! How we’re glad times have changed and the platform is just a little bit more exciting.

Due to its SMS beginnings, Twitter offered a strict 140 characters limit to its updates known as Tweets, something a bit different to set them apart from the other social network sites floating around at the time.

2007 – Hashtag microblogging!

As these Harvard graduates and Silicon Valley experts were developing their social media platforms further, a seventeen-year-old David Karp was in his bedroom at his mother’s house and created his own called Tumblr: the network described as “Twitter meets Youtube meets WordPress”.

With Tumblr and Twitter alike, the term micro-blogging was penned and became widely used when users exchanged small elements of content such as short sentences, individual images, or video links.

Also created in 2007 was the use of hashtags to group content and this really defined Twitter’s significance in this digital age. This small symbol became so much more than a way of grouping content, but a unique online dialect to allow users to express ideas and emotions.

Chris Messina was the first person to ever use a hashtag for its current purpose and Twitter integrated them into their platform in 2009. With the hashtag brought new users and invigorated the site.

You can read our blog on hashtags here

2008-2009 – The social media revolution

At this point in our timeline, new social media apps and websites are popping up all over the place, and they’re beginning to merge with one another. The likes of Whatsapp, Spotify, Foursquare and Ping are joining the market and proposing new offers that previous social networks haven’t before.

Facebook integrated gaming into their platform and suddenly we were snowed under by Candy Crush and Farmville requests from school friends you haven’t seen in years and your Auntie Christine who lives in Australia. These addictive social games even made TIME magazine’s list of the world’s worst inventions.

During this time, Grindr is the world’s first geosocial networking app for dating and it focuses towards gay and bisexual men, helping them to meet other men nearby. For better or worse, the instant hookup was revolutionised by Grindr which has opened the floodgates for many others like it including Tinder, Bumble and

2010 – Instagram enters the fold

By 2010, our smartphones have the best cameras integrated into them to date. We can take pictures better than ever before, yet we flock to an app that adds a vintage-style filter to make the image quality worse? Seems crazy but it worked.

Instagram was the new kid on the block and is to blame for our inability to go a day without seeing a heavily filtered picture with Polaroid corners on our feed. In the age of the selfie, Instagram became popular amongst the masses and gathered users very quickly.

This app seriously gave Facebook some tough competition and eventually was bought out by Facebook Inc in 2012.

2011 – Snap happy

Originally launching as a rival to Instagram saw a website called Picaboo arrived on the scene. As quickly as it came, it had gone as there was a lawsuit by a photobook company with the same name. Picaboo did the right thing and rebranded to what we now know as Snapchat.

The success of Snapchat skyrocketed as it tapped into the short-lived nature of life’s moments as they happen. Users posted content that disappeared after 10 seconds to friends, and after that it had gone forever. No screenshots. No trace.

This art of disappearing snaps appealed to the teen demographic as online behaviours from the past were starting to be held against people. This was a place for young people to be free and post what they want with little consequence.

Snapchat also provided the perfect alternative for young people wanting to flee from where their family hung out – on Facebook.

2011 – Google enters the game

Throughout our timeline so far, what I’ve failed to mention so far is Google’s failed attempt at wanting in on the social media party. After their offer being rejected by Friendster in the early 2000s they also attempted to launch both Google Buzz and Okurt. Remember them? Of course you don’t.

Then in 2011, Google+ was launched with an invitation-only system. They tried to distance from the Facebook model by introducing their ‘circles’ for organising friends, colleagues and acquaintances by what type of uploaded content you want each circle to see.

The huge demand for Google+ meant that they had to suspend the invitation-only idea and when they integrated other Google services such as Gmail, Hangouts and Youtube their number of users soared. However, they failed to offer something different to other platforms and audiences weren’t captivated. Google+ finally pulled the plug on the platform in 2019.

2012 – Facebook reaches one billion users

Only eight years after launch in his Harvard dorm room, Mark Zuckerberg announced a very important milestone – his platform now has one billion users. That’s almost the population of India.

Since then, Facebook has now doubled that number to two billion and has accumulated three other billion-user platforms – Instagram, Whatsapp and Messenger.

2017 – Got more to say? Take it to Twitter

In a bid to attract more users, Twitter doubles its character limit from 140 to 280. This divided users with some saying it took away the uniqueness of the platform and others saying it added a breath of fresh air, but most agreed that they wished Donald Trump wouldn’t find out!

The first 240-character tweet was sent by founder and CEO Jack Dorsey himself:

According to TechCruch, Twitter’s decision to double its character count from 140 to 280 characters hasn’t dramatically changed the length of Twitter posts. Twitter is still a place for briefer thoughts, with only 1% of tweets hitting the 280-character limit, and only 12% of tweets longer than 140 characters.

2018 – The Cambridge Analytica Scandal

It was revealed that Facebook allowed a company called Cambridge Analytica to harvest data from 87 million users without their consent to influence their voting decisions on the likes of Brexit and Trump’s presidential campaign.

To gain access to the data, Cambridge Analytica arranged an informed consent process for research in which several hundred thousand Facebook users would agree to complete a survey only for academic use. However, Facebook’s design allowed this app not only to collect the personal information of people who agreed to take the survey, but also the personal information of all the people in those users’ Facebook social network.

After facing pressure to address data privacy issues, Mark Zuckerberg participated in five days of hearings before the U.S. Congress. During this time there was a campaign to #DeleteFacebook as a protest by users to remove their accounts, however Facebook’s user numbers continued to grow and as of 2019 it continues to be the third most popular website in the world.

Which begs the question… what will exactly it take for people to turn away from social media? And what does the future hold for the platforms we know and love now? Only time will tell.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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