Social Networks History: When Was Social Media Invented?

Last Updated: November 5, 2021

Jason Wise

Jason Wise

Before we dive into the history of social media, we need to talk a little bit about what social media actually is.
Social Networks History: When Was Social Media Invented?
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If you were born within the last couple of decades, then you probably don’t remember a time where social media didn’t exist.

Believe it or not, there was a time before social media when people didn’t rely on social networks to keep up with their friends and families.

We know that it sounds pretty strange, because these days, it is difficult to imagine life without social media.

While social media is still a relatively new phenomenon, it has suddenly taken the world by storm, and we don’t see any sign of it slowing down.

Before we dive into the history of social media, we need to talk a little bit about what social media actually is.

Social media as a term refers to applications and websites that allow users to share content with their friends and family that they have created.

It also makes it really easy for you to communicate with your friends and family through things like chats, interactions on that content, and direct messages.

Everyone has a profile on that website, and you can update that profile with personal information, including your work position, education level, and relationship status.

When Was Social Media Invented?

Social Media

What’s really interesting about social media is that just like everything else that has eventually become popular, in the beginning, it wasn’t all that popular. With the creation of the Internet in the 20th century, social media also became a thing.

Almost immediately, humans saw the Internet as a chance to communicate with others. The first email was sent back in 1971 by a man named Ray Tomlinson.

He said that the message itself wasn’t very creative, and likely just said “qwertyuiop”, but this is a far cry from the landscape of email these days, where we have things like email marketing, and more than 300 billion emails are sent out every day.

So, thinking beyond email, social media found its way into the world just seven years later, in 1978. This was called bulletin board system.

The creators of bulletin board system wanted to find a way for users to share information including meeting times, and to be able to download files.

You could access this over the telephone line using a modem. Back in the day, this was nothing but pure magic.

What Was the First Social Media?

Usenet

A year later, the very first social media was created, and it was called Usenet. It was similar an application to bulletin board system, because users could post articles, messages, and information that fell into all kinds of different categories, which were known back then as newsgroups.

Usenet was kind of a combination of social media and email.

Fast forward 10 years, and in 1988, the world saw the development of Internet Relay Chat. This allowed users to exchange text messages in real time with people around the world.

This is when chatting first got started.

Now, Social Networks are Starting to Form

You might think that this is going back to ancient times, but what’s really interesting is that the history of social media only starts with the first ever social networking site.

All the way back in 1994, John Rezner and David Bohnett came up with Geocities. This was a web hosting service, and you could build your own website within the platform.

They decided on cities where you could place your personal pages and each city carried the name of a real place.

Websites were allocated to cities based on topic. For example, educational websites were placed under the Athens category, while fashion websites were placed under the Fashion Ave category.

Yahoo acquired Geocities in 1999, and by 2009, it was shut down. Another social network was developed in 1997, and this was called 6 Degrees.

As you can probably guess already, the name was thought up because of the theory that there is 6 degrees of separation between each person.

This whole concept claims that everyone on the planet is either six or even fewer social connections away from one another.

This brand-new social media sites let users create profiles, add their friends and family to the site, and invite new people to join their network.

You could post things on bulletin boards, and you could also see your connection to others on their website. Unfortunately, the lifespan of 6 degrees was pretty short, and it was down by 2000.

1997 saw another social media-related software take off, in the form of AOL instant messenger. This wasn’t technically a social network, but it still tried to give users a presence online.

The idea was that users could exchange text messages in real time.

The Rise of Social Media as We Know it

So, going beyond the 20th century, the 21st century is when social media really started to take off. In 2002, Friendster gained some traction.

This was the first network that let its users share videos and photos. It also let you comment on other users’ posts for the first time.

As you can imagine, this concept spread really quickly. In just the first three months, it had managed to gain more than 3 million users, and this number would eventually grow to more than 115 million.

However, it was bought out and quickly developed as a gaming website, and because of tough competition, in 2015 it shut its doors.

Now, we have reached the peak of social media. Who do you think is next on the list? LinkedIn. You might be surprised to hear this, but LinkedIn is actually one of the oldest social media platforms.

It was developed in 2003. And unlike other social media platforms, it was completely focused on work-related topics.

It let people connect with colleagues, and discover school contacts. Companies could create their own pages, and recruit people through the social media website.

When Did Myspace Start?

Myspace

Again, if you were born in the last two or three decades, you’re probably asking the question, when did Myspace get it start? The answer to this is the very same year.

What’s interesting is that Myspace was actually primarily used by musicians in the beginning, but within two years, it had become the largest social media platform, and it maintained this title until 2009.

It was incredibly popular among younger users, because it allowed a lot of freedom when it came to customization.

You could adjust the appearance of your Myspace page really easily, and you could include music playing every time someone visited your profile, as well as ever-changing backgrounds.

Then, Facebook entered the picture. In 2004, Facebook completely rewrote the history of social media.

Mark Zuckerberg, along with a few other college peers, developed the platform that shut down a lot of old social media networks. To this day, Facebook is easily the biggest social media platform.

Initially, Facebook was intended to be a social media platform, and it was intended to be exclusive to Harvard students.

However, the idea behind it spread like wildfire, and eventually, it grew to become a worldwide phenomenon.

The thing about Facebook is that you enter your real name, and you post real photos of yourself as well as authentic information.

Of course, there are exceptions to these, but these are irrelevant to what we’re talking about.

As children, most of us were told by our parents not to post anything personal on the Internet. Facebook turned this all upside down.

Facebook users can easily share anything to do with their personal life, not only with their friends, but sometimes with complete strangers. Also, any updates to do with their friends would show up directly in their feed.

The Facebook feed was actually one of the most revolutionary features that other social media sites hadn’t had up until that point. Another key element to consider about Facebook is that it is always changing.

The people behind it are constantly updating its features, because they are constantly trying to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of social media.

The Evolution Continues

So, go forward a couple of years to 2006 and you’ve got the birth of Twitter, thanks to Jack Dorsey and a few of his peers.

Twitter was a microblogging platform where users could post short status updates, which are known around the world as tweets.

Up until 2017, you were only allowed to enter 140 characters with your tweets. These days, it is twice this, sitting at 280.

You will probably know just how popular Twitter is amongst many different demographics, including politicians, musicians, TV hosts, actors, and more.

Before Twitter, interacting with your favorite celebrities was impossible. This is a feature of Twitter that has made it stand out from other social media sites.

Twitter is also commonly used as a news platform online. This is thanks to the trending section, as well as hashtags, which helps news to spread around the world faster than newspapers and TV.

In fact, what’s interesting is that these days most news channels get their information from Twitter.

If We’re Going to Talk About Micro Blogging, Then We Definitely Can’t Go Past Tumblr

Tumblr

Tumblr is another microblogging platform that was started in 2007, and it let its users create personal blogs as well as post multimedia content onto the platform.

What’s interesting is that Tumblr’s dashboard is actually pretty similar to Facebook. At fast became a meeting place for people from all different kinds of fandoms.

These are people who were passionate about everything from Taylor Swift to Harry Potter, where they could share fan fiction stories, fan art, and more.

What’s interesting about Tumblr is that like Twitter you can find a list of celebrities, including Taylor Swift herself.

This means that the platform is good at attracting people from all kinds of corners of the world.

What’s interesting about Tumblr is that because of how much erotic content it has on it, it has been banned in Iran, China, and Indonesia.

Verizon acquired Tumblr in 2017, which started a censorship campaign. Now that we’re talking about images, it’s time to talk about Snapchat and Instagram.

The Rise of Instagram

Instagram

Instagram first got its start back in 2010. Ever since then, it has growing quickly in popularity. It is now one of the big three social media networks, along with Twitter and Facebook.

Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, but nobody really sees them as one. The other thing here is that they don’t actually serve the same purpose.

The idea behind Instagram is really simple. Users can share videos and photos on their personal profile pages. They can also edit their content with a number of different filters.

People can organize photos through hashtags and locations, and then you can use these hashtags to find similar content.

Instagram also takes care of the basics. This means that you can like and comment on other people’s profiles, as well as send them direct messages.

You can follow other people’s profiles so that their content comes up in your feed, and within the last few years, Instagram has also launched Instagram stories, which lets you post videos and photos that disappear after 24 hours.

Instagram decided to launch this feature as an answer to one of its biggest competitors, Snapchat.

Snapchat is a multimedia messaging app that was created back in 2011. It is kind of like a chat app, but just for videos and photos.

They turn up for a short amount of time, and then they disappear forever. Snapchat has also incorporated stories, which last for 24 hours.

It also includes filters, and it was seen as such a threat that Google decided to produce something that it could rival, which is where Google+ came into the picture.

Why Google+ Failed

Google+ closed

Google+ was created back in 2011, and people were pretty excited about it in general, expecting it to be the next big thing. However, it wasn’t meant to be.

Just like any other industry, the social media industry has seen its fair share of failures, and this is one of them. One of the issues with Google+ is that it was just too similar to Facebook.

With Google+, you had circles and you could choose which circle that you shared information with. This is pretty much the same as having a friend list on Facebook.

Maybe it was due to the fact that Google+ didn’t develop a mobile app. The thing about Twitter and Facebook is that they both have apps, which allow for a smooth mobile experience.

Google did end up eventually launching an app for Google+, but it was too late. Nobody was interested in it, because they already had Facebook, and they didn’t have to pay for it.

The platform has now been shut down as a result of a security breach. Our suspicions are that it simply couldn’t compete with the social media giants that stand today, just like so many others have come and gone and attempted to do this.

Social Media in Everyday Life

These days, it is difficult to imagine a world without social media. Social media is like a diary that anyone can access. You can share your issues, take a photo of your breakfast, and even post videos of your cat.

You can constantly keep up with your friends and family, meaning that is a really good way to keep in touch and update others about what’s going on in your life.

As you can see from the likes of Twitter, social networks have also transformed into news channels. A lot of the younger generation gets a lot of the information from social media.

Social media has even become a place for marketing, thanks to the rise of social media marketing and brands catching on.

Social Media and Marketing Strategies

Social Media Marketing

We are now living in the age of influencers. Influencers are people that have a huge following on social media, that everyone trusts and likes.

When they recommend a product or service, they are likely to increase the sales around that product or service, because their audience trusts them to recommend things that they would use themselves.

More and more people are also choosing to research products and services on social media, before they choose to invest in them.

People like following brands on social media and if they have a good experience with them on that social media platform, they are more likely to become a customer.

This is why there are a lot of companies out there both big and small that have a presence on at least one social media website.

As a result, social media networks are a goldmine when it comes to gaining reach and exposure for your brand, as well as raising awareness around your product.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, social media has evolved a lot, considering how young it still is. In fact, the majority of us these days are firsthand witnesses to history around social media being written.

It has been a pretty wild journey ever since 1978, and in this short amount of time, social media networks have gone through some massive transformations.

Looking forward, we believe that the social media trend is only going to continue on and get more and more popular.

It is difficult to read the writing on the wall when it comes to who’s going to be the next big thing in social media, but we believe that with Facebook’s controversies, someone will eventually supersede that, and become the next social media giant.

Watch this space!

Written by Jason Wise

Hi! I’m Jason. I tend to gravitate towards business and technology topics, with a deep interest in social media, privacy and crypto. I enjoy testing and reviewing products, so you’ll see a lot of that by me here on EarthWeb.