Today, social media is a term that everyone knows. Even the most remote areas of the world have at least heard of Facebook and Twitter, and are probably using them on a regular basis. But it wasn’t always that way. Social media, in its present form, has been around a relatively short term and even though you probably can’t imagine living without it now, except for the last few decades, everyone did.
Of course, how you define social media can determine where you actually start the history of the medium.
For example: some people define communication by letters via the postal service as social media, but most people define it as the ability to use the internet to share and communicate instantly with others, even across great distances. That means, that social media can be traced back to one website in particular – and no, it wasn’t Facebook.
1997: The Birth of Social Media
The first social media site that everyone can agree actually was social media was a website called Six Degrees. It was named after the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory and lasted from 1997 to 2001. Six Degrees allowed users to create a profile and then friend other users. Six Degrees even allowed those who didn’t register as users to confirm friendships and connected quite a few people this way.
From Six Degrees, the internet moved into the era of blogging and instant messaging. Although blogging may not seem like social media precisely, the term fits because people were suddenly able to communicate with a blog other instantly as well as other readers. The term “blog” is a form of the phrase “Weblog” which was coined by Jorn Barger, an early blogger that was the editor of the site “Robot Wisdom.”
From there, ICQ was born and most members of Generation X remember ICQ and the service that was created shortly thereafter, America Online, with AOL’s instant messenger especially prominent in the social media lineup.
2000: The Internet is Everywhere
By the year 2000, around 100 million people had access to the internet, and it became quite common for people to be engaged socially online. Of course, then it was looked at as an odd hobby at best. Still, more and more people began to utilize chat rooms for making friends, dating and discussing topics that they wanted to talk about. But the huge boom of social media was still to come.
2003: The First Social Media Surge
Although the younger generation of today might not know about it, back in the early 2000’s the website MySpace was the popular place to set up a profile and make friends. MySpace was the original social media profile website, leading into and inspiring websites like Facebook.
But even though MySpace has a very small user base today compared to Facebook and Twitter, there are musicians who have used MySpace to promote their music and even be heard by record producers and other artists. Colbie Caillat is an example.
Another website that was one of the beginning social media websites was LinkedIn, still a social media website today, geared specifically towards professionals who want to network with each other.
In fact, most of the social media websites we have today are similar to LinkedIn, in that they are specifically about one particular thing, or they have some kind of unique quality that has made them popular. While MySpace was a general social media site, LinkedIn was, and is still is, meant for professional businesspeople to connect with each other to network, find jobs and socialize.
2005: Facebook and Twitter
In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched what would soon become the social media giant that would set the bar for all other social media services. Facebook is the number one social media website today and it currently boasts over a billion users.
However, back in 2004, Facebook (TheFacebook.com then) was launched just for Harvard students. Zuckerberg saw the potential and released the service to the world at the website facebook.com.
In 2006, the popularity of text messaging or SMS inspired Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Evan Williams to create Twitter, a service that had the unique distinction of allowing users to send “tweets” of 140 characters or less. Today, Twitter has over 500 million users.
Around 2010: The Rest of the Pack
Before long, there were dozens of other websites providing social media services of some kind. Flickr was one of the earliest and still is one of themost popular photo sharing sites, but others include Photobucket and Instagram, with Instagram gaining popularity today as one of the top social media sites to include on business cards and other media.
Tumblr, a microblogging website started in 2007by David Karp and now owned by Yahoo, is one of the sites that could be seen sprouting up in the late 2000s. Foursquare was quite a popular website for a while, particularly with smartphones being used so extensively, and then there is Pinterest, Spotify, and many others. Some of the most popular social media platforms in the late 2000’s included: Google Buzz, Loopt, Blippy, and Groupon.
One of the things that started happening right in this time period is that social media not only became widely used, it also became widespread in business.
Websites were starting to list their social media addresses, businesses would include Facebook and Twitter addresses on their television commercials and many tools were being built to include social media on websites – for example: WordPress plugins that would allow users to include not only links to their social media websites, but also to include their latest social media posts directly on their websites.
Social media icons were seen everywhere and it became almost unusual to see businesses or brands without them.
In addition, social media began to be one of the ways in which internet marketers and website owners would boost the visibility of their websites. The benefits of social media marketing for business began to become quite clear to business owners large and small. Social media bookmarking became quite popular and there were services that would bookmark a post or a website across dozens or even hundreds of social media services.
Social Media Today
Social media today consists of thousands of social media platforms, all serving the same – but slightly different purpose. Of course, some social media platforms are more popular than others, but even the smaller ones get used by a portion of the population because each one caters to a very different type of person.
For example: Instagram caters to the kind of person that communicates through photographs best, and other platforms such as Twitter are perfect for those who communicate in short bursts of information. As mentioned, businesses are using social media to promote their products and services in a brand new way and so each form of social media serves a purpose that the others available may not.
The Future of Social Media
Although it is impossible to know what the future of social media holds, it is clear that it will continue. Humans are social animals and the more ability to communicate with each other on the level that each person likes best, the more prevalent social media will become. With new and exciting technologies just around the corner, social media will be interesting to see in the coming decades.
By Keith Merrell