posted: 2014-08-22 by Steven Grinberg

In the beginning, there was no light. Wait, no, that's not it. There are theories that try to explain what existed before the big bang. Nope, that's not it either... A long time ago in a galaxy far away. Ok, ok that's enough. Social media, a quick recap. Here we go!...

Social Media History Timeline

The first "social" aspects of the internet were introduced with Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), which, in the late 1970s, were computers running software that allowed users to connect and log in. Once in, users were able to post their own data and read data posted by others. Even here, in the early stages of the internet, we already see the basic elements of social connectivity.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) was introduced in the late 1980s and it allowed users to quickly create usernames and chat with individuals or groups. It was used to report the 1991 Soviet coup d'etat attempt during a media blackout and, similarly, during the Gulf War. This also can be related to our current usage of social media to ensure society is kept informed regardless of communication channels available.

GeoCities was founded in 1994 and acquired by Yahoo in 1999. It was a web hosting service that allowed individuals to create customized web pages that were categorized into "cities." GeoCities offered its users a custom URL, chat, bulletin boards, and other "community" options to help foster rapid growth. By the end of 1995, they were signing up thousands of new users per day.

Who would have thought that a company that started in 1983 as Control Video Corporation, a game purchasing service for the Atari video game console, would become known as America Online in 1989? AOL is considered by some to be the original, mainstream social network. It was the one to introduce private and public chat rooms to the masses in the mid-1990s and it also offered ways of sharing digital media, such as mp3s and videos. AOL was so popular at that time and through the late 1990s that people were paying for their AOL service on top of their internet service provider fees. Having an email address back then was almost considered relatively prestigious by some.

A New Social Networking Site is Born

Friendster was one of the first modern day social networking sites, which actually gained huge popularity. Started in 2002, it allowed users to create a list of contacts and share online content with those contacts directly on the site. It was also used for dating, discovering events, bands, and hobbies. It has been relaunched as a gaming platform in 2011 and has more than 115 million registered users today with over 90% of its traffic coming from Asia.

MySpace was started in 2003 by several eUniverse employees with Friendster accounts. They saw Friendster's potential and decided to mimic some of its more popular features. From 2005 to 2008, MySpace was the most visited SNS in the world, even surpassing Google as the most visited website in the US in June 2006. It became strongly emphasized in music promotion, but had seen a major decline in its user-base since 2008, when Facebook overtook it in terms of worldwide visitors. One unattractive aspect of MySpace during its heyday was that it allowed users to completely customize the look of their MySpace page. While the users were savvy enough to make changes, it often ended up in very unattractive, cluttered pages, which made the site inconsistent as a whole and sometimes even removed the MySpace branding.

LinkedIn was founded in December 2002 by Reid Hoffman, an original board member and then COO of PayPal, and launched in May 2003. The service has seen incredible success, which can be attributed to the very large niche it serves. Its purpose was to apply social media concepts to professional networking. It currently has over 300 million users worldwide and has a 15.6% market share of the SNS industry.

Facebook, currently the leader in SNS market share with 68.5%, was originally launched in January 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard student at the time, as "TheFacebook." Membership was initially restricted only to Harvard students, then Columbia, Yale, and Stanford. Later it opened to all Ivy League schools, and gradually to all universities in the US. In mid-2004, it received its first investment from PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel, who was introduced to Zuckerberg by Reid Hoffman. The company dropped "the" from its name after purchasing the domain name,, for $200,000 in 2005 and it has been growing ever since. The services offered to end-users by Facebook are comparable to those offered by MySpace and Friendster in their early days. With over 1.2 billion registered users, it processes, stores, and categorizes an incredible amount of data, which makes it highly desirable to marketers. So desirable that 89% of its $7.87 billion global revenue was from advertising alone in 2013.

During a "daylong brainstorming session" at Odeo, a RSS solutions company, Jack Dorsey, a NYU undergrad at the time, introduced the idea of an SMS-based social networking site, limiting posts to 140 characters. It wasn't until the 2007 South by Southwest Interactive conference that Twitter saw its tipping point, seeing its usage jump from 20,000 daily tweets to 60,000 tweets. It is now popularly known as a micro-blogging site, having a 12.2% market share and over 645 million registered users today.

And We're All Caught Up... For the most part.

So, we've seen an incredible expansion in functions, features and accessibility followed by the introduction of a severe limitation, which has also been successful. Large companies have made great achievements only to be taken down later by imitators and innovators. The internet itself is nothing more than an unfathomably large collection of networked computers used for communication. Each one of the companies we've covered here provided a new filter through which we understand and communicate via the internet.

The question that remains to be answered is: what was different? Decide for yourself what might be different tomorrow in terms of user needs or the environment in order to estimate where social media will be then.

We'll do some of those estimations for you in the following sections, but we need to first examine the current status. Let's take a look at quantitative facts about the industry and its major players as they stand today.