From the news-sharing Usenet system developed in 1979, to Facebook’s billion-user platform four decades later, social media has certainly come a long way. What began as a simple way for students of Duke University’s computer science department to share information has paved the way for hundreds (if not thousands) of communication platforms being used across the entire world.
The ways humans engage and interact with each other are ever-growing, though they had some pretty humble origins. To see where you’re going, it’s important to know where you’ve been. Let’s take a look at the evolution of some social media platforms through the ages.
Though the internet itself was created way back in 1967, the sort of ongoing social networking known as “social media” didn’t exist until much later. BBS, or “bulletin board system” was one of the first modes of ongoing communication to exist. Users with this software could post on message boards and send messages to other users, albeit at an extremely slow pace. The inspiration for the digital BBS came from its analog counterpart, the sort of bulletin boards you’d find in the supermarket or busy public spaces. But with BBS, groups of people were able to communicate without ever leaving their homes. By the end of the 1990s, the popularity of BBSes waned, and other, newer platforms edged into the spotlight.
In May 1997, the social networking site Six Degrees emerged. Through Six Degrees, users could curate profiles and lists of friends, similar to the organization of Facebook. Six Degrees had millions of registered users, but not many were particularly active, and sadly, like BBS, it quickly lost popularity and was overshadowed by other platforms. Despite this unfortunate decline, Six Degrees is still considered to be the very first social networking website.
Now with hundreds of millions of users, LinkedIn was introduced in 2003 as a more professional social networking site. While most of the others on the scene existed for the purpose of connecting people with their relatives, friends, or past classmates, LinkedIn took a more polished approach—connecting businesspeople with other businesspeople. It did away with the playful “friends” list and opted instead for the austere “connections” feature. Essentially, the user culture on LinkedIn exists to bolster professional relationships and connect potential business partners.
MySpace and Facebook
In 2003, a new platform emerged, attracting a user base through music and video-based content: MySpace. It appealed to mostly adolescents and young adults, but when Facebook launched just a year later, MySpace fell into the shadows like so many other platforms before it. Created for university students by university students, Facebook (first called “The Facebook”) came on the scene in 2004 and reached the rest of the public officially in 2006. It garnered millions of dollars in investments and has remained the farthest-reaching social media platform ever since. Today, Facebook has about 1.45 billion active users, more than any of its contemporaries.
The social network Twitter was launched in July of 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. First named ‘twttr,’ the platform was meant to be an SMS service for small groups to communicate with. The first-ever tweet was sent out on March 21st, 2006, by Dorsey, while the project was still in development.
In 2009, Ben Silbermann, Paul Sciarra and Evan Sharp began development on Pinterest, which was meant to be a “catalogue of ideas” rather than a network. Based around popular ideas like crafts, fashion, food, and more, Pinterest allows users to organize images related to their interests to ‘pinboards.’ As of September 2017, Pinterest had more than 200 million active users.
Some social media platforms exist almost completely for mobile devices. One major example is Instagram, the photo sharing app created in 2010. One week after its launch, the app had 100,000+ registered users. Investors rolled in and today it boasts more than 500 million active users, though the app underwent evolution after evolution, and now deviates greatly from its simple photo-exclusive origins.
Though Instagram is just one example, social media platforms nowadays are continually changing the experiences they offer their users. With the popularity of video content sweeping the globe, apps like Instagram are now incorporating long-form video viewing into their features in an effort to keep up with counterparts like YouTube and Snapchat.
Many platforms these days seem to be borrowing each other’s ideas in order to avoid becoming obsolete. The very things that made these apps unique are now being overshadowed by attempts to stay relevant.
But for better or worse, social media continues to grow and evolve. What started as a way to bridge the gap between friends and classmates now spans the whole world, connecting people to each other and endless forms of content. And with virtual and augmented reality on the rise, who knows what the next big thing will be. Surely the future holds many more interesting modes of communication—we can’t wait to sign up!