Since the dawn of our species, the way we communicate has drastically changed. During these hundreds of thousands of years, we made a lot of effort to get information from one place to another as fast and as efficiently as possible. The time of curriers, pigeon posting and the telegram has long passed and as TV and radio has seen a sudden decline in recent years, we have slowly adopted a whole other form of communication, which is the use of social media.
We no longer have to buy birthday cards for our friends and family. All we have to do is post “Happy Birthday!” to their timeline and they’ll know that we thought about them. While holding on to a physical object would be nicer than posting texts to each other, the facts show that an incredibly large number of gift card shops have closed all around the world as social media got more popular.
What we call social networking continues to evolve with each day that passes and has had its own fair share of development over the past 10-15 years. Today, the word Facebook and YouTube has found its way to every corner of the world. For many of us, the phenomenon of social networking and these new terms have found their way into our lives in an explosive manner. Many of us didn’t even have time or didn’t take the effort to catch up with what’s happening on the Internet.
It’s smart or at least fun to dive deeper into the history of social media, although it is a short one. To be able to completely appreciate its roots, we have to look back to a point where the Internet wasn’t as popular and as well-developed as it is today.
Out of the embers, a magnificent fire started to burn with flames that were hard to comprehend.
We’ll take you through the most significant steps that social media took along with the development of the Internet during these years. You’ll be able to see every stage of development that social networking has gone through, along with certain technological advancements that led to it.
We won’t go back all the way to the stone-age, rather start off from the 90’s, where the ‘high-speed’ Internet connection we have come to know and love today hasn’t come to existence yet.
The First Stage (1997-2004)
Even in the late 90s, “high-speed” Internet still hasn’t reached sunlight. We used dial-up modems or nothing else, so websites in this age were built for these incredibly slow connection speeds.
Web sites were mostly composed of texts and links and didn’t really have a “design layout”. Only later versions of HTML allowed more complex designs but even these were extremely basic. They were mostly composed of tags for headers, links and paragraphs. Visual elements such as imagery, typography and navigation came later in the future.
At this time, there were more than 17 million computers connected to the Internet, which gave a lot of opportunities for people to develop social networking.
The first social networking functions and sites
During this period, we were already able to chat on the Internet, share links, files and basically keep in touch online when we wanted to. ICQ, a famous chat program, multiplayer games and popular abbreviations such as “BRB” and “LOL” have also become a thing.
Among the precursors to social media was the Usernet Systems. It was created in 1979 by Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott, as a system that lets its users post articles to newsgroups. It gave way to the development of newsreader clients and RSS feed reading, which is a common way to follow blogs and news websites today. Big sites such as Google and Yahoo! use a lot of what has been established in the Usernet system.
Once we became more adept in creating different websites and web based services for different purposes, we soon gave birth to the first social media site in 1997. Its name was Six Degrees, which got its name after the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory. It lived a short lifespan, from 1997 to 2001.
Six Degrees gave users the ability to create their profile and connect with other users. Even those who didn’t register could confirm friendships. Many people were connected this way and it gave way to the idea of social networking and more ideas.
In 2002, social media took a big step forward with Friendster, MySpace, LinkedIn and Facebook hitting the Internet. It was time for social media to grow up, having numerous websites that offered the ability for users to have their “circle of friends online” and create a rich online community.
A very good example among these is Friendster, which had more than three million users in its first year of launch, which also attracted a ton of investment interest. This number grew exponentially and reached more than 100 million users at its peak. Sadly, Friendster soon saw its decline as MySpace took over in page views. This made Friendster disappear into the mists of the Internet pretty fast.
MySpace is a clone of Friendster, which was released not long after and revolutionized social media and the music industry as well. It allowed users to edit their profiles, had dedicated spaces for advertisements and bands to showcase their music and gain their fans through a breakthrough form of marketing.
In 2003, a lot of other social sites have seen the sunlight such as LinkedIn (a network for professionals), Flickr (an image hosting website) and various podcasts.
In 2004 the social network that everyone is well aware of today, Facebook has been launched.
Facebook was created at Harvard College and was known to the students as their own Friendster. Although it was only available for Harvard students, its creator, Mark Zuckerberg saw its potential and opened Facebook up for the whole world in 2006. Shortly after this, Twitter was released and social networking started to spread and develop more rapidly.
The Leap of Social Networking (2006-2010)
Facebook and Twitter have become the most popular social networking websites during these years.
Facebook became the biggest social networking site for a good reason. It wasn’t just about Zuckerberg’s timing, as Facebook had brought many innovative features to their platform that we didn’t see before. These features were the key to its success.
Its open API made it possible for developers to create various applications that can be launched within Facebook itself. Soon, hundreds and thousands of applications have been built into Facebook, so it was the prime time to launch the Facebook App Store. It was the place where all the apps were organized and displayed. During this period, Twitter also created its own API and enjoyed a large scale success as well.
The ubiquitous ‘Like’ button was also a major contributor to the site’s success and it quickly became known all around the Internet and even outside of the Internet. Today you’re able to ‘like’ or ‘tweet’ just about anything you find on the Internet.
When the power of social networking became obvious, Google launched its own social networking platform Google+ in 2007. It was different from Twitter and Facebook as it wasn’t a standalone social networking site. It added social functions to the already well-known Google services, creating a social layer over them.
Google had its own unique Hangouts feature which gathered a lot of attention and it led to Facebook launching its own video chat feature as well.
While Google+ got more than 25 million page views and more than 540 active users each month in 2014, Facebook still had much bigger success.
As the world saw the importance and benefits of social media, businesses quickly adopted, sharing their advertisements on social media sites and their social media addresses on their own websites. Soon, social media icons were seen everywhere around the Internet and businesses shared their websites content on social media as well. This was the start of a whole different kind of marketing approach, which is called social media marketing. Social media has established itself as a key component of any good marketing strategy.
Other social media platforms such as YouTube, Tumblr, Vine and Pheed are also worth mentioning, but there are thousands of niche specific social media sites out there today.
The Rise of Mobile
With smartphones and tablets entering our lives, the way we communicate was drastically changed. They enabled us to have functionality in our hands that were only available on our desktop computers a few years ago. The rise of mobile computing also benefited the popular social media platforms we used, as they leveraged the many capabilities of our smartphones.
These capabilities soon gave way to Photo and Video sharing platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat. Instagram alone has gathered 20 billion images since its launch in October 2010.
Such mobile based platforms have a completely different approach on social networking than what we’re used to on web-based applications. Each of these applications specializes in specific kind of services and interaction, for the sake of simplicity. For example, Instagram and Snapchat specializes in sharing images, Tinder specializes in matchmaking and so on.
Social Media Today
There are thousands of niche specific social media platforms that basically serve the same as the above mentioned ones, but have a slightly different purpose. Some are more popular than others, but even smaller sites are being used by a portion of the population or specific groups of people. What kind of social media people prefer differs from person to person. Each of these platforms are centered on different things, like Instagram is centered on which photograph is the best.
With so many social media platforms available, our accounts can be linked together and we can cross-post, putting out content on multiple sites at once. Their designs are also more modern and we can see a proliferation of minimalism among them. Flat graphics and simple interfaces dominate the most popular platforms which appeal to a much wider audience.
Finally, popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have integrated the streaming video feature. It enables users to have their own live broadcasts at any time. You can have the unique benefit of sharing things “in the moment” with other users.
Social media still holds some untold possibilities for everyone around the world and continues to develop even as we speak.
The Future of Social Media
At this point, it’s hard to figure out what the Future holds for social media but it is obvious that it will continue.
With the development of virtual reality and the Oculus rift, social media will launch to a whole new level pretty soon. Facebook VR will be released pretty soon and it will enable users to interact, play games, and visit famous sites inside a virtual environment. It will sure take social media closer to a sci-fi like experience.
This concludes our story about the evolution of social media. We will soon see what kind of twists and thrills it will bring in the future.
I hope that you liked reading through this article and that we’ll see you soon in the upcoming ones. Remember to stay tuned for more interesting technology related goodies!
You might also want to check out our other summary on The Evolution of Web Design.