How Did Social Media Start?

How Did Social Media Start?

There’s a social media app for almost every area of our lives these days. Share what you ate for breakfast on Instagram. Talk about politics on Facebook. Did you watch the Grammy Awards? Tweet about it!

Maybe you saw the latest episode of Doctor Who? Reblog gifs and talk about your favorite moments with fellow fans on Tumblr. Cool pieces of art go to DeviantArt. Gamers go to Steam. Prospective job hunters scour LinkedIn.

How did we ever get along without these various sites? How did we get to where we are with them? How did social media start?

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Humble Beginnings

It mostly began in 1969 with a site called CompuServe. This was in the days of the space race, afros and disco and dialup. Computers were a rare commodity owned only by schools and large businesses.

It allowed businesses to share files and view news and events. It offered true interaction. By 1971, you could send your colleague a direct message through e-mail.

There were discussion forums to be joined and these forums paved the way for their later, younger counterparts that we know and love today.

In the 1980s, CompuServe expanded from being a business-only venture into the public domain.

After CompuServe came BBS in the early 1980’s. BBS, or “Bulletin Board System” was the true precursor for the social media sites we know and love.

These sites were basically hunks of coding where users could interact, chat, and share files. It was more of a material-sharing site than anything else. Users could share files and games (sometimes these were pirated).

The whole system relied on the telephone cable and BBSes were run by technology fanatics. Long distance calling rates applied for people trying to use a BBS out of town, so these were usual local affairs.


In 1985 an organization called AOL, or “America Online” was founded. AOL was a game-changer. It came complete with searchable user profiles, a chat feature with some of the first emoticons.

Users could list pertinent details about themselves and could communicate for hours with their friends.


Throughout the 1990’s, the internet continued to barrel along in innovations in leaps and bounds. In 1997, the first blogging platforms were set up.

Yahoo opened and began offering its services, mostly in email and news, and Amazon began selling books. Everyone wanted a computer in their home, and there was no stopping it.

Social Media

Modern social media as we know it really began in 2002 with a newfangled site called Friendster. Friendster used many of the same methods that an online dating site would in order to find compatible people to be friends.

It operated under the premises that only people who had similar interests could form a meaningful online connection. Within its first year, it had over three million users.

It was quite popular for several years, but poor management and budgeting caused it to drop dramatically in popularity. It briefly popped up in Indonesia, but now exists only as a gaming site.

How Did Social Media Start?

A year after Friendster was founded, two new sites that still remain fairly popular today were launched: Myspace and LinkedIn.

Like CompuServe before it, LinkedIn was focused on a serious approach to social media: a way for business colleagues and associates to network and make connections.

These days, it’s one of many sites that continue to be a driving force in the job search. MySpace attracted young people.

It focused on creating a place for new music, funny videos, and other media to be shared between peers and classmates.

With the rise of other sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s certainly fallen by the wayside in recent years, but it still remains as a networking platform for musicians.

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Mark Zuckerberg

2004 was a game-changing year. This was the year of the all-important Facebook launch. This was originally a Harvard-only experiment by Mark Zuckerberg and a group of classmates, a way for Harvard classmates to find each other and make friends.

It remained strictly campus-only until 2006 where it opened up to the public.

Since 2006 and 2007, more and more changes have taken place in the social media industry. Email is now being thrown out in favor of platforms like Skype that offer instant messaging and video chats.

Google Hangouts introduced the idea of group video chats, and Facebook has since rushed to keep up with the innovation.

Much of social media has moved to mobile computing. Apps like Instagram and Snapchat focus more on sharing snapshot moments rather than a full, meaningful connection between two people.

Twitter has a staccato rhythm of short, witty thoughts. It’s become a platform that’s popular among celebrities and news sites as a way to advertise their brand.

How Did Social Media Start?

Social media has seen quite a change from its humble roots in the 1970’s. Now, it closely resembles something out of an early science fiction TV show.

We can chat in real-time, face to face on our computer screens with loved ones and strangers across the world. Now, an entire nation can discuss an episode of a TV show at the same time, like on collective hive mind.

We’re all connected, for better or for worse. Only time can tell where the future of social media will take us.

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10 comments on “How Did Social Media Start?

  1. Hi there Chris,

    Great to be back on your site again and this time, learning about the birth of social media.

    Yup, I remember 2004 alright. I was working part time then and during lunch break session, I saw the nurses hovering and giggling in front of the computer screen. I was curious so I asked.

    “Have you not heard of Facebook?? You get updates from your friends like every single minute. Isn’t that cool?” I remembered one of them said.

    And yes, I did get hook up with the Facebook fever for several years but I’ve now retired from it because I feel the need to have some private life for myself as well as for my friends.

    I would use it for business marketing for sure but I am drawing a line when it comes to personal life.

  2. This was interesting. I actually learned a lot about social media’s beginning. I am in the process of trying to find an online business that is not a scam and I found your site while I was looking. Glad I did as you have a recommendation that I am going to look into. Do you use social media for promoting your business?

  3. Hi Chris, guess what, if some body had to ask me which social media site first went operational, my answer would be Facebook. What a shame!, just because its so popular.

    Anyway, i am glad to have this opportunity to learn about the origin of social media from you.

    Concerning the future of social media, i believe there is much more positivity than negativity to expect.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Vallery, thanks for stopping by – glad you enjoyed the article (Facebook was also my first guess!)

  4. Hello,

    I didn’t know social media went back to the 70’s. I remember when AOL was the thing to use, and then myspace, and later facebook. I was a young kid when AOL was popular, used it on dial-up internet. I enjoyed reading your post. It was engaging and I learned some new information.

  5. Hey Chris,

    I really enjoyed reading your article on the beginning of how social media began and the history of AOL and CompuServe. You certainly laid out a nice time line of all the happenings and learned something new in nearly every paragraph!

    Social media has definitely changed the way people live and connect with each other, mostly for the good and some for the bad.

    It’s the bad side of things we must zero in on though – social media has (and does) give a platform to idiot trolls who would be nothing more than bullies in real life!

    It gives them free range to take chunks out of people, whoever they want!

    I also have to wonder what will happen in the next 10, 20 or 30 years. It will be fun to find out. Hopefully a few more laws surrounding the use of social media and a stronger authority presence.

    Which way do you feel it is going to go next?

    Thanks for your informative information.


    1. Hi Angela,

      It’s really, really hard to guess where social media is going to go next…I haven’t got a clue really…but I bet the next billion dollar social company is already in construction!

      I certainly agree with you on the ‘bad’ side of social media – it simply gives assholes a platform to spill their hate…and a lot of kids get to see it…which is not cool at all!

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