While it’s hard to recall, there was a time in history when social media didn’t exist. In those days, people didn’t have the opportunity to connect with friends, family, nor business prospects.
Hard to imagine in today’s world, right?
We truly can’t imagine our lives without social media. It’s actually a pretty new development, but it’s become a global phenomenon. How did it all begin?
Let’s take a look— we’re going to find out all about where social media began.
Before we do that, let’s talk about what social media really is. The word social media refers to websites and apps that allow users to create accounts to share and interact with content. They offer many possibilities to communicate with each other through comments, likes, chats, and more.
Our profiles on social media sites allow us to update our personal information, including things like current location, education level, positions and career information, relationship status, and more.
When Was Social Media Invented?
As with most other things that have become popular, social media wasn’t widely accepted at first. Now, as of last year, people spent an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes on social media networks.
Social media became popular in the 20th century with the rise of the internet as humans began to figure out that it was one of the best ways to network and communicate with people from near and far.
The first email was sent in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson; while he said it wasn’t anything groundbreaking or creative in content, it paved the way for a world of communication that people never had before.
Now, email is used for email marketing and over 306 billion emails are sent on a daily basis.
Even though email isn’t necessarily social media, it was on its way following the first email. The first type of social media ever used was presented in 1978 and it was called Bulletin Board System, known as BBS.
The creators, Ward Christensen and Randy Suess, aimed to provide users the opportunity to share information for business (like meeting times) as well as the chance to download files. It was accessible via telephone lines with a modem.
The following year, the first social media network was created, called Usenet. Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis used a similar format as BBS, allowing users to post messages, articles, and information to different categories that were called newsgroups.
This is reminiscent of the modern-day forum or Reddit-style social media network.
While development was slow for the next 10 years, in 1988 Internet Relay Chat (IRC) rose to popularity, created by Jarkko Oikarinen. Text messages could be exchanged with people all around the world in real time. This is what we now see today as chatting.
Powering into the 90s, social media developed even more and took a shape closer to what we know today.
Actual Social Networks Start to Form
In 1994, GeoCities was created, which was a web hosting service where users could build their own pages within the platform. David Bohnett and John Rezner created GeoCities, and each ‘city’ was where personal pages were located.
All of the ‘cities’ were names of real places, and they were tied to different categories where pages of the same type would be located. For instance, fashion ones would be placed into ‘Fashion Avenue,’ and educational pages were placed into ‘Athens.’
Yahoo acquired GeoCities in 1999, and it held strong for 10 years until it was finally shut down in 2009.
Only 3 years after GeoCities was created, in 1997 Andrew Weinreich developed the social network called SixDegrees. This stems from the theory of six degrees of separation— all people are only 6 or fewer social connections apart from one another.
Via this platform, users were able to create profiles, add friends and relatives, as well as invite new people to join the network if they so pleased.
There were bulletin boards available for users to post whatever stuff they’d like, and they were also able to see how they were connected to other users on the site.
SixDegrees wasn’t a very successful platform, however; in only 3 short years, it was shut down. RIP SixDegrees, 1997-2000.
1997 was also a pretty important year for messaging, as the world-renowned AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was created in this year. Cue the nostalgia and flashback for our millennial readers.
Even though AIM wasn’t a social media network as we know them today, its goal was to give users an online presence and make connections with others. As IRC did, AIM allowed users to chat and exchange text message streams in real time.
You could also create fun screen names and have quirky AIM bios and away messages that would broadcast to anyone who messaged you when you were away from the chat box.
The Rise of Social Media as We Know It Today
The real social media boom came in the 21st century, and it’s only gone upwards from there.
In the year 2002, Friendster was launched, which was the first social media network that allowed users to share both photos and videos. In addition, it was the first platform that allowed users to comment on other’s posts for the first time in history.
Friendster became wildly possible and within the first three months it had gained over 3 million users. The total user count of Friendster eventually reached over 115 million, making it the most successful platform.
AIM was said to have had roughly 36 million users worldwide.
MOL Global eventually bought Friendster and it became a gaming website, carrying on for years until its demise in 2015 due to tight competition.
This is where we get to the turning point and you start to really recognize some of these social media giants that are even more popular than ever today. Ready for it?
Yes, you read that right. LinkedIn is one of the oldest social media platforms in existence today. It was in development in 2002 and went live in 2003, founded by Reid Hoffman, Allen Blue, Konstantin Guericke, Eric Ly, and Jean-Luc Vaillant.
It was born in the living room of co-founder Reid Hoffman, and it was completely geared towards professional connections and work. It created a platform for people to connect with colleagues as well as find university and high school contacts.
Companies could also partake in the platform, creating their own pages, posting job offers, and engaging in recruitment efforts.
This is exactly what LinkedIn continues to do today, and it now has a user base of over 800 million global users in more than 200 countries.
You may be wondering, “what about Myspace? Where does it come into play?”
Don’t worry— we couldn’t forget about one of the most prominent social media platforms to ever exist. Myspace came into existence in 2003 as well, founded by Chris DeWolfe, Tom Anderson, and John Hart.
The primary user base of Myspace at first was musicians. Just two short years later, it was the biggest social media phenomenon in existence at that time. It reigned supreme from 2005 to roughly 2009.
It was very popular among the younger generation, and provided everyone many options in terms of customization— you could add music, create custom CSS and HTML, as well as arrange your current friends on your “Top 8” for all to see.
You could change your cursor, implement changing backgrounds, post bulletins, comment on people’s pages, and so many more features.
Myspace was really at the top of its game. But who knocked it off of the throne?
Hold onto your hats.
Facebook Is Born
In 2004, the course of social media would change forever and at the time, we didn’t even know it.
On February 4th, Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollom, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes gave us the platform that would stomp out many older social media networks. Facebook was and remains today the largest social media platform.
It was created with the intention of connecting university students at Harvard only, but the idea quickly caught on and opened up to other universities.
Yes, you previously needed to attend a school to be able to use Facebook. This stayed in place until 2006, when people with corporate emails could join, and by September of the same year, anyone over 13 could join.
This is really when it was clear that Facebook was the new giant of social media and that there was no turning back. Facebook was a global sensation.
Facebook allowed people the chance to enter their real information, create a profile, post photos of themselves, and connect with others all around the world.
While people were skeptical about sharing information at first, especially parental concerns about their kids, Facebook began to shift that train of thought.
Facebook let its users share whatever they wanted with whoever they decided to— friends, only certain people, or even total strangers with the global setting.
The Facebook wall was created in 2004, and the newsfeed was launched in 2006, which completely revolutionized social media forever. It continues to introduce new features to date, with some recent ones being shopping features, Facebook stories, and more.
Social Media Evolution Continues
After Facebook was going strong in 2006, Twitter came into the picture in that same year. The creators, Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams offered a microblogging platform where people could share short snips of information and status updates.
These are called tweets, and until 2017, there was a tweet character limit of 140 characters. There is still a limit today, but it’s now double— 280 characters. The character limit has always been an identifying characteristic of Twitter.
Twitter is popular among diverse groups of users, including actors, musicians, hosts, politicians, authors, news stations, and even everyday people like to stay up-to-date with trending topics on the platform.
This is one of the main reasons why Twitter has remained so popular. While you can now add photos and videos to tweets, the main focus of the platform has always been to share ideas and focus on text.
Hashtags were also born on Twitter in 2007 to categorize content into relevant feeds and change the way that people search for and discover new content. This feature changed social media forever as well, and we still use hashtags today.
The “Trending” section also comes from Twitter. With hashtags and “trending” topics, news and information spread around the globe faster than ever, further solidifying the power of social media and how people may use it to access news.
Microblogging wasn’t just for Twitter, though— another big success story was Tumblr.
Tumblr is a mix of microblogging and social media, founded in 2007 by David Karp. Users were able to create personal blogs and post content with multimedia or texts on those blogs.
It’s relatively similar to Facebook in terms of its dashboard, but Tumblr became a stronghold for a more unique audience and many groups of fans of all different types of pop culture came together to connect and enjoy their love for TV, games, movies, and more.
Some online fandoms of Tumblr include Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Manga, Taylor Swift, and many more. Fan art, fanfiction stories, clips, and opinions or theories were the most popular types of content.
Everyday people and celebrities could be found on the platform. Tumblr was incredibly popular for a while, but because some (a lot, actually) of the content was of explicit nature, many countries banned it, including China, Iran, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan.
Tumblr was acquired by Verizon Media in 2017 which effectively created a censorship campaign that blocked explicit sexual content on Tumblr, effectively tumbling its popularity among many of its users.
Now that we’ve got the microblogging platforms out of the way, it’s time to turn our attention to the next decade of social media and all of the images and videos it’s now brought us. Ready for Snapchat and Instagram?
Do It for The Gram
Instagram hasn’t only changed the way that we use social media, but it’s even changed the way that we use the word Instagram— it can be a noun, a verb, or even an adjective. Anything can be Instagrammable!
The popular catch phrase, “do it for the ‘gram,” also surfaced due to the incredible popularity and the desire of users to capture all types of things in their everyday life to share on Instagram.
Instagram launched in 2010 by its creators Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. It’s now known as one of the top three social media platforms, among the likes of Facebook and YouTube.
The basic premise of Instagram was to provide users with a place to share visual content with followers on the platform, and that’s what it remains today. What was unique about Instagram is that there was (and still is) the option to use filters and different tools and captions to make the photos more interesting.
Instagram was acquired by Facebook in 2012, and it’s become a heavily debated topic about social media monopoly and how much control Facebook (now called Meta) has over online content.
Even though Instagram has been a part of Facebook for almost 10 years now, the platforms still remain quite separate and have a completely different interface and set of features.
Instagram uses hashtags as well to categorize content and help people discover things they’d like to view on the platform. You can like and comment on other users’ posts; you can even save them or share them with friends.
Following the footsteps of Facebook, Instagram also offers users a feed in which they can view posts from the accounts they follow. In addition, standout features like direct messages, Instagram shoppable posts, Instagram video content, as well as Instagram stories have set Instagram apart as one of the best overall platforms for everyday users as well as for brands, businesses, and marketers.
Instagram isn’t the only platform with the story-style content feature, though. Enter: Snapchat.
Snapchat could be described as a multimedia messaging app that was created and launched in 2001 by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown.
The idea of Snapchat is a story-sharing app that also implements chatting, but is based around sharing photos and videos. When you send a video or photo (or even text message) to a user on Snapchat, it will display for a short period before it disappears forever.
Snapchat also allows you to post Snapchat stories, which get broadcast to your followers and friends and stay active for viewing for 24 hours.
Filters also made Snapchat one of the most popular social media networks of the decade, and the idea spread to Instagram as well. Using these filters has changed the way people take selfies and how they see themselves on social media.
With all of the popularity and buzz surrounding these social media networks, Google decided it was time to get into the game, and that’s when Google+ came onto the scene.
Google+, And Why It Failed
Created by Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz, Google+ launched in 2011 with the expectation that it would be social media’s next big thing.
Sorry, Google. That never happened.
Not all endeavors can be successful, and this one certainly wasn’t.
This may be due to the fact that Google+ was eerily similar to Facebook; there were “circles” on the platform, and you could select which circle to share info or content with. This is basically the same thing as your Facebook friend list.
What’s more, Google+ never offered users an app right off the bat. Facebook and Twitter have very smooth and seamless mobile apps that most people use (and prefer) to view and spend time on the platform.
While Google+ did eventually release an app, it couldn’t compete.
There were also low usage numbers of the platform compared to other social networks. Facebook currently has over 2 billion monthly active users, while Google+ barely reached 200 million active users.
It was around for about 7 years, with Google trying to reach its goals for the platform. It was shut down in 2018 for good and reportedly suffered a “security breach,” which caused its demise in addition to low usage and lacking results.
Google is still doing just fine, though.
In 2006, Google acquired YouTube, which is now the second-most popular social media network around the globe, with over 2 billion monthly active users and almost $19.77 billion dollars made in ad spend in 2020. This is just one of their endeavors.
Social media is an integral part of our lives in many ways, and there are different platforms for all of our needs.
Social Media in Everyday Life
We truly can’t picture everyday life without social media anymore.
Social media gives us a place to share our personal troubles and conflicts, a place to celebrate successes, a place to discover new products and services we need, and a place to connect with loved ones whenever we please.
Social networks also allow people to access pop culture and global news. It’s been shown that a third of Americans get their news from Facebook, and younger generations are using it as well to access information about what is happening around the world.
It’s not just powerful for news— it’s taken business marketing efforts to new heights.
Social Media for Marketing Strategy
Social media is a powerhouse for marketing and reaching new clients. As of 2018, the typical internet user had roughly 8.5 social media accounts, which means there’s tons of potential to use it as a way to organically generate interest in products, services, and more.
Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and more make billions every year on ad spend from marketers, and marketers aren’t backing down anytime soon. 73% of marketers believe that social media marketing is either ‘somewhat effective’ or ‘very effective.’
It’s also been shown that 54% of social browsers use social media for product research, and Instagram itself notes that 2 out of 3 users agree the platform helps them to interact with brands, and that 50% of those users are more interested in a product after seeing an ad for it on Instagram.
Influencer marketing is also a big deal. Influencers are social media users with large, dedicated followings that trust what this figure says; marketers partner with these influencers to generate more interest in their products and boost revenue.
49% of consumers trust influencer recommendations on social media for making purchasing decisions, and marketers know it. 90% of marketers plan to increase influencer marketing budgets, and ad spend for influencer marketing is set to hit $15 billion by 2022.
Social media is a huge component of content marketing and if you haven’t started using it to your advantage yet, don’t waste another second!
Final Thoughts: Social Networks History and Where It’s Headed
As you can see, social media has had quite the evolution in under a half a century. It’s become not only a staple of everyday life, but also a beacon for brands, businesses, public figures, and creators to market their endeavors and gain public support.
Most of us have seen first hand how social media has changed and the influence it’s gained over the course of its history.
Since BBS in 1978, it’s been quite a ride. Social networks have expanded and evolved, transforming into true icons of culture, news, and business. Starting from simple online bulletin boards to global domination of Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, its story is far from written.
Social media will continue to play a huge role in our lives, and where it’s headed next is anyone’s guess. There’s no doubt it will continue to maintain its stronghold in the area of marketing and business, and it’s not going to be ending anytime soon.
We hope you found social networks history as interesting as we did! If you’re looking to expand your reach on Instagram, Growthoid has exactly what you need. Get started with your free trial today!
Still curious about social media? Here are four common questions about social networks history.
What Social Media Was There Before Facebook?
There were plenty of predecessors to Facebook, although many people may not be too familiar with them due to the reign that Facebook has had for over 10 years now. Social media truly began in 1979 with the Usenet platform— a hybrid that fused email and web forums. Then, the first social network that was similar to what we know today was called SixDegrees, coming into existence in 1997. After that, we were introduced to Friendster, LinkedIn, and Myspace. It was in 2004 when Facebook was introduced and began to slowly change everything.
How Long Has Social Media Been Around?
Social media has been around for roughly 42 years since Usenet launched in 1979. It’s still going strong and by no means is it ending here. We’re excited to see what the future of social media holds!
Who Invented Social Media?
Social media is a broad term that has gone through a lot of evolution over the past decades. While each platform has made its own unique contributions, we could credit the initial invention of social media to the creators of Usenet, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis. The Usenet platform was the first creation that resembled what we now know today as social media.
Was Myspace the First Social Media Network?
Myspace undoubtedly had a huge impact on social connection and the way we use the internet. Before Myspace, there were networks like Friendster and LinkedIn, but Myspace transformed everything into a more casual and interactive way to use a platform to connect with others. It wasn’t the first social network per se, but it was one of the most influential, eventually leading to the creation of Facebook which dismantled the popularity of Myspace and changed the landscape of social media forever.