A Look Back at the History of Social Media

I’m a social media butterfly, fluttering between all the coolest platforms from Instagram and Twitter to Facebook and Medium. I follow the big wigs of finance, keep up with the latest news and create social strategies for clients too. I’m also a 90’s girl so I’m old enough to remember when there was no social media, through to it’s inception and takeover. So, with Social Media Day set to be celebrated on June 30, I thought it both timely and appropriate to look back at an outlet that’s impacted business and my own personal life considerably. Here’s a look back at the history of social media.

The age of curiosity

Once upon a time, people wrote their private thoughts in diaries. They called friends using a landline phone and prioritised verbal conversation over messaging services, which were (quite frankly) poor at best during the mid to late nineties. But as the internet became more accessible and capabilities improved, a revolution took hold that changed the world considerably.

Even during the days of alien landing-style dial ups, the world was dying to connect. Abbreviations such as ‘asl’ (age, sex, location) were thrown around dodgy chat rooms by individuals riddled with curiosity as the idea of having an online profile and presence became a tangible reality. And as fascination grew, so did business opportunities and the chance to develop your very own personal network.

The very first social sites

  • Six Degrees

Think back. Way back to 1997. Titanic hit the big screens, Harry Potter was published, Hanson released their smash hit “mmmbop” and Six Degrees started to make headway as a social site which is now credited as being the very first of its kind. Named after the idea that people are six or fewer social connections apart, Six Degrees made it easy to create profiles and add connections. Its users peaked at 3.5 million before doors finally closed in 2001 due to a lack of people connected to the internet.

  • Friendster

Still get that famous Rembrandts theme song stuck in your head? I hear you. Well, Friendster was another early social network that managed to engage the mainstream. I know right! You’ve probably never even heard of it or it’s such a distant memory that you hadn’t remembered until now! Launched in 2002, Friendster introduced the idea of talking to strangers and opened up a potential new way to meet love interests. It was one of the first online dating avenues if you wish, setting the path for the likes of OKCupid, Tinder, Plenty of Fish and so on… sigh!

So why aren’t we raving about it today? Well, unfortunately Friendster couldn’t keep up with demand and experienced many technical hiccups causing frustrated users to quickly turn to MySpace which reared its head in 2003!

  • MySpace

Are we in more comfortable territory yet? Most older millennials have heard of this platform which by 2006 had 61+ million registered users with 21+ million unique visitors. The site attracted 220,000 new registrants daily and provided the perfect way for teenagers and young adults (the demographic being between 16 and 34) to share personal information and view that of others. It was fresh, exciting and if you didn’t have it, you simply weren’t cool. When YouTube was founded in 2005, MySpace even gave people the option to embed video and share music they liked.

Interesting fact! MySpace’s popularity soared when Tila Tequila, one of the first online celeb influencers, moved to the platform after being kicked off Friendster for inappropriate behaviour. At one point, Tequila had around 1.5 million MySpace friends which was pretty impressive at the time – although not comparable to Kim Kardashian’s 141 million Instagram followers in 2019. MySpace became the most popular website in 2006 and was valued at $12 billion in 2007.

The Facebook Takeover

MySpace was purchased by News Corporation, a powerhouse media company. It was given professional managers to help guide its future as well as all the resources it ever wanted to support its growth. This governance, however, has been dubbed as one of the reasons the Facebook takeover was allowed to occur. While MySpace was using professional management to decide the platform’s future, the bunch of college grads running Facebook let the marketplace decide.

With no cement plans, no rules and seemingly no limit regarding technical prowess as the time, Facebook continued to impress while MySpace stagnated. Users drove advances such as Farmville and were constantly listened to. On the subject of Farmville… how did I find the time to sow crops and water trees every single day? Anyway, Facebook did not have first-move advantage, yet somehow it managed to take the world by storm trumping unique worldwide MySpace visitors in 2008. Timing is everything. And with rising broadband availability, Facebook was in the spotlight at the right moment attracting a wider demographic than previous social sites – whole families in fact, across numerous generations.

Facebook also learnt from failed sites before it, taking into account the importance of steady and controlled growth to avoid burning out like Friendster and co. What initially started as a Harvard-only site gradually expanded to other universities, high schools and then corporate users where a specific email address was needed. Only in September 2006 did it open its doors to anyone aged 13 and over.

Facebook today has 2.38 billion monthly active users!

The Rise of Twitter

Twitter launched in 2006 at a time when Facebook was expanding at a rapid rate. Social media was very much in the spotlight and people were welcoming change. But Twitter had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, approaching social from a different angle gave users something else to be interested in with the micro blogging idea and instant access to breaking news making Twitter a great place to get the gossip. The idea you could follow who you want without them following you back was also of instant appeal and helped Twitter get to where it is, today enjoying over 320 million active monthly users. 500 million tweets are sent every 24-hours with 100 million people taking to the platform daily. Incidentally, Twitter was and still is my favourite social media platform. You can follow me @Charli_Says

Let’s not forget Instagram

Instagram has been bubbling away since 2010, but its recent surge in popularity can’t be ignored. After Facebook purchased Insta for $1 billion in 2012, monthly users soared to 80 million and by the start of 2014, there were 150 million users. The option to tag photos and add links breathed fresh air into the platform which continued to grow thanks to constant updates such as filters and Insta stories with go live functionality which have attracted everyone from celebs to corporate businesses.

Today, Instagram has over 500 million daily users.

Professional networking

It’s vital to make connections and grow in your area of expertise and this is exactly what LinkedIn has focused on since its 2003 conception. What began as a platform to post CVs online quickly became a professional networking site adding new features such as hiring solutions for employees. Today, LinkedIn has 500 million active members with 260 million logging in each month.

Social media continues to grow and evolve. It has been surging forward since the nineties and promises to keep delivering surprise after surprise. So, happy #SocialMediaDay to all my followers and social media connections- I’m grateful for all of you. For strategy and social media management please send me a message. 

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