Social media is undoubtedly one of the most powerful forces on the planet in recent years. It aided and documented an entire revolution in Libya. It allows people to organize massive events with a few clicks of a button. It allows grandma to check in on her grandkids. But it began as a way to connect people, plain and simple. But how did it really start?
It all began with Bulletin Board System: essentially a small server accessed through a phone line that allowed people to post central messages or files for download by other users. Then there was CompuServe, a system through which people were able to e-mail, share files, and access news and events. There were discussion boards, similarly to BBSes.
But above all else, there was AOL: American Online.
AOL had member profiles, and became immensely popular as the internet began to boom.
In 2003, LinkedIn spawned into the market of social networking sites that existed like Friendster and Classmates.com. But LinkedIn decided to take on a more serious approach to social networks, aiming to be a place for connecting with colleagues and other business people. As of today, Linkedin in has almost 300 million registered users.
2003 also spawned MySpace, once the king of social networks. MySpace became so wildly popular because it allowed content that was decidedly more hip, like music, music videos, and lots of features. As the amount of active users began to decline, MySpace started to market itself as a platform mostly for musicians and bands.
In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, then known as “the Facebook,” as a Harvard-only service for students. It remained this way for two years before going completely public. It gained instant success, receiving massive investments from all around the world. The site currently has over 1.3 billion active users. The secret of Faebook’s success is a contentious debate, with no one agreeing on exactly why it is so popular.
Along came Google+, where Google tried to dethrone Facebook as the king of social media. Although garnering a lot of attention with their Hangouts feature, Google+ ultimately failed at its goal to rise as the new top dog of social media.
As mobile technology became much more sophisticated, social media began to migrate onto this new platform. Instagram, for instance, exists almost entirely on mobile, as well as Foursquare, Tinder, and Snapchat. People began to use these services in conjunction to create a comprehensive, digital identity.