You see, as I was doing my due diligence for my crazy new venture, I jotted down some notes on the history of digital social networks leading up to the Facebook era and I thought why not share them with you here.
Most of the following is based on
to the level of theft in no small part, verbatim quotations from the book “The Facebook Effect” by David Kirkpatric (@davidkirkpatric) and some tidbits from Wikipedia, Google and my own faulty memory.
And, yes – it is heavily biased towards the US and Europe since I did not have much good source material on say, e.g. Chinese, Korean and Japanese social networks. Feel free to fill me in.
I highly recommend the book if you are interested in a different (albeit rosier) perspective of the story behind Mark Zuckerberg‘s (@finkd) Facebook than the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich and the film version “The Social Network” by David Fincher. Preview the book in Google Books, buy the paper version at Amazon, or as a eBook from the Kindle store or as an audiobook from Audible.
I claim Fair Use, as in the “Please don’t sue. That wouldn’t be fair.” kind. The following content is meant for educational purposes only . If you want to use or republish, please make sure to credit and attribute David Kirkpatric and Wikipedia. Commercial (re)use would probably be bad for your karma.
Here we go – A Brief History of Social Networks:
“you will not send a letter or a telegram – you will simply identify the people who’s files should be linked to yours”
Community Memory started. A notable precursor to the public Bulletin Board System.
Community Memory was the first public computerized bulletin board system. Established in 1973 in Berkeley, California, it used an SDS 940 timesharing system in San Francisco connected via a 110 baud link to a teletype at a record store in Berkeley to let users enter and retrieve messages.
While initially conceived as an information and resource sharing network linking a variety of counter-cultural economic, educational, and social organizations with each other and the public, Community Memory was soon generalized to be an information flea market . Once the system became available, the users demonstrated that it was a general communications medium that could be used for art, literature, journalism, commerce, and social chatter.
The first public dial-up Bulletin Board System (BBS) was developed by Ward Christensen (@WardXmodem). According to an early interview, while he was snowed in during the Great Blizzard of 1978 in Chicago, Christensen along with fellow hobbyist Randy Suess, began preliminary work on the Computerized Bulletin Board System, or CBBS. CBBS went online on February 16, 1978
Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis conceived the idea in 1979 and it was established in 1980. Users read and post messages (called articles or posts, and collectively termed news) to one or more categories, known as newsgroups. Usenet resembles a bulletin board system (BBS) in many respects, and is the precursor to the various Internet forums that are widely used today. Usenet can be superficially regarded as a hybrid between email and web forums. Discussions are threaded, with modern news reader software, as with web forums and BBSes, though posts are stored on the server sequentially.
A side note, from Wikipedia:
The German “Bildschirmtext” (BTX) is almost as old as Minitel and technically very similar, but it was largely unsuccessful because consumers had to buy expensive decoders to use it. The German postal service held a monopoly on the decoders that prevented competition and lower prices. Few people bought the boxes, so there was little incentive for companies to post content, which in turn did nothing to further box sales. When the monopoly was loosened, it was too late because PC-based online services had started to appear.
America Online starts (albeit under another name; Quantum Computer Services, Inc.)
Anonymous users, pseudonyms were the norm on these online services.
1991 – 1994
The World Wide Web, abbreviated as WWW and commonly known as the Web, is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet. With a web browser, one can viewweb pages that may contain text, images, videos, and other multimedia and navigate between them via hyperlinks.
In the early days of the World Wide Web the notion of an online community advanced a little further, enabling users to set up a personal homepage that could in some cases link to pages created by other members.with services like Tripod started in 1992 with two Williams College classmates, Bo Peabody (@bopeabody) and Brett Hershey, along with Dick Sabot, an economics professor at the school, theglobe.com founded in 1994 by Cornell students Stephan Paternot (@stephanpaternot) and Todd Krizelman and GeoCities originally founded by David Bohnett (@dcbohnett) and John Rezner in late 1994.
Check out David Carlson’s Online Timeline for more information about the world coming online 1990 – 1994.
match.com started by Gary Kremen as a proof of concept for Electric Classifieds which aimed to provide classified advertising systems for newspapers launches, filled with personal information for a highly specific purpose.
The first Internet Forums (or Message Boards) start to emerge.
PlanetAll a social networking, calendaring, and address book site launches in November 1996. It was founded by a group of Harvard Business School and MIT graduates including Warren Adams. (A big thanks to James Currier for pointing out that I had missed PlanetAll!).
PlanetAll was possibly the first social networking site on the Internet. The site had more than 100,000 groups, organized around real-world counterparts such as academic institutions and employers. When the user entered the name of his or her university, the service would list the user’s classmates who were also members of the service. Users could exchange authorization to access the each others’ contacts. Many sites at the time offered web-based address books and calendars, but PlanetAll.com combined the two: when a user entered travel plans into the calendar, the service would cross-reference the destination with the address book, as well as the user’s contacts’ travel plans; the site would then notify users when they would cross paths with their contacts.
sixdegrees.com founded by Andrew Weinreich launches, takes social networks further. A breakthrough in use of real names. The first Rolodex in the cloud. Invitation only. At the time revolutionary. “Network me” feature for matching you with users that met your quality criteria. Failed due to operating costs, licensing costs, development and maintenance costs and users only having dialup Internet at the time (e.g. the service lacked photos due to bandwidth concerns). Bought out for 120 million. Shut down in late 2000. Weinreich was granted a broad reaching social network patent.
Ethnic focused networks Black Planet founded by Omar Wasow (@owasow) and Asian Avenue co-founded by Benjamin Sun, Peter Chen, Grace Chang, Michael Montero, and Calvin Wong launches with limited social networking functions.
The daily jolt (R.I.P. April 6, 2010) launches as a campus bulletin board for 12 Schools.
Swedish teen community Lunar Storm (R.I.P. August 8th 2010) launches
Ordinary people begins using email. Again, using addresses that typically would not correspond to their real names.
Address books of emails maintained on and within the services. Members did not identify real-life friends or establish regular communication pathways with them. Later in the decade, Instant Messaging (IM) services like ICQ, PowWow and Ubique to hold the same way. People used pseudonyms for themselves, not their real names.
On August 4, 1998, Amazon.com announces that it has agreed to acquire PlanetAll. Under terms of the agreement, Amazon.com acquired 100 percent of PlanetAll in exchange for 800,000 shares.
Amazon.com shuts down PlanetAll.com on July 2, 2000, telling PlanetAll members, “We are pleased to announce that we have completed the integration of the key e-commerce related features of PlanetAll.com into our main site at Amazon.com… Although PlanetAll.com will be going away, you’ll still be able to enjoy some of the tools that help you keep in touch with like-minded folks.”
2001 – 2002 : Social Networking bug hits Silicon Valley and SF
Cyworld (huge in Korea) adds social networking capabilities
Plaxo launches by Napster co-founder Sean Parker (FB profile)(and later The Facebook CEO) and two Stanford engineering students, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring. Has a viral concept; One user leads to more users – It has a Network Effect.
“Network Effect” as explained by Wikipedia (excerpt):
In economics and business, a network effect (also called network externality) is the effect that one user of a good or service has on thevalue of that product to other people. When network effect is present, the value of a product or service increases as more people use it.
The classic example is the telephone. The more people own telephones, the more valuable the telephone is to each owner. This creates a positive externality because a user may purchase their phone without intending to create value for other users, but does so in any case.Online social networks work in the same way, with sites like Twitter and Facebook being more useful the more users join.
The expression “network effect” is applied most commonly to positive network externalities as in the case of the telephone. Negative network externalities can also occur, where more users make a product less valuable, but are more commonly referred to as “congestion” (as in traffic congestion or network congestion).
Friendster launches March 22nd by Jonathan Abrams (@ABRAMS), Peter Chin and Dave Lee. It gambles to lure users away from match.com. Uses real names and photos on profiles. You could search for friends near locations. Invitation only, befriend if you liked the photo. Cracked the code of the modern social network, defined basic structure. Problems; “Fakesters” – People with fake names, fake photos. Plagued by engineering misjudgments; did not scale, had major outages, performance issues. Mark Pincus (@markpinc)(later founder of Zynga) and Reid Hoffman (@quixotic) are investors.
Club Nexus launches by Stanford students Orkut Buyukkokten (@orkut) and Eytan Adar. Meant to connect Stanford students only. Complicated, too many features. (Bonus material: An analysis of Club Nexus by the founders.)
InCircle launches by Club Nexus founders. Alumni only.
Orkut Buyukkokten (@orkut) leaves for google. Programs a new social network prototype. Pitches it to google. orkut.com launches.
Tribe.net founded by Mark Pincus (@markpinc). A social network around specific interests. Burning Man, Alt Sex and connecting turned out to be what the users are more interested in instead of buying and selling things.
MySpace founded by Tom Anderson (@myspacetom) and Chris Dewolfe in frustration of Friendster’s failures and wanted to appeal to the fakesters. Hustled bands, artists and fans in Los Angeles to join. Music + Sex + Anonymity + Chaos seemed to be the recipe.
Collegster.com free usable services by students for students launched at UC Irwine Alumni.
House System launched at Harvard to buy and sell books, review courses. It invited students to upload their photos.
GaleStation at Yale. A dating site.
The Facebook launches. Limited to elite universities offering a stark contrast of an experience of that of MySpace
From the CrunchBase profile:
When Tagged launched in 2004 as a teen-only social network, security was a top priority. In October 2006 the site made a drastic change and went from being under-18 only, to allowing users of any age to join. This change has helped user registration skyrocket. In fact, Tagged was adding more users per day than MySpace in May of 2007.
Check out David Carlson’s Online Timeline for more information about the world coming online 2000 – 2004.
YouTube sold to Google in November for $1.65 billion.
Dana Boyd & Nichole Ellison write in a paper:
“The salient features of a true social network”: “A service where a user can construct a public or semi-public profile, articulate a list of other users which whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. You establish your position in a complex network of relationships. And your profile positions you in the context of these relationships. Usely in order to discover otherwise hidden points of common interest or connection.”
Orkut.com strangely occupied by nearly over 50% Brazilians and 20% Indians.
Amazon is awarded a social networking system patent based on its previous acquisition of PlanetAll.
twitter has over 190 million users.
Microsoft and Google still haven’t got a real answer to social networks.
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What is your take? Something missing? Tell me what you think in the comments below.