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The Past, Present and Future of Social Media

  • Written By Livie
  • Posted June 29, 2018
  • 7 minutes Read Time

Let’s talk about social media! As let’s face it it’s kind of a big deal.

World Social Media is here! (June 30th) So what better way to celebrate than taking a trip down memory lane and take a closer look at its evolution. Humans are naturally very social creatures, we thrive on it and it’s said that social interactions are what is needed in order to help maintain a healthy life and mind. You might be thinking this isn’t you and you can cope just fine without others, you may even find social events annoying but imagine living without any kind of social interactions for months on end or even years, it would end up getting pretty lonely So, it’s then no surprise that social media sites and apps are as popular as they are today.

It was also only a matter of time before businesses took notice of the growing trend. The savvy entrepreneurs were the first to jump on the wagon in order to help promote themselves and their products or services and you can’t really blame them as looking back now it makes complete business sense. Businesses and private individuals have seen the importance and the reach social media has, and some have even managed to use it in order to make a pretty decent living out of it.

So, What is Social Media Exactly?

The term social media is typically defined as:

‘Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.’ – Oxford Dictionaries

But some may disagree that this is an accurate definition? It could be argued that social media is nothing new and that it’s just long distance communication. Yes, in this modern world it has since moved online and become far more rapid and sophisticated over the last couple decades, but when you think about it, but is there really a difference? So, these modern ages social media sites are simply a natural progression on an age-old media.

Antiquity to WWII

So, let’s take it back, way back. Communication across long distances has been accomplished since antiquity via the written word. Tenuous you might be thinking, but what is social media other than just a means of long-distance communication between people? This changed very little until the advent of the telegraph back in 1792. These enabled a “faster than horse” method of communication over long distances and was pretty revolutionary at the time.

When telephone and radio finally hit the scene in the 1800’s it changed pretty much everything. With their new ability to provide more or less instant communication, the world would never go back to the way it was before.

Post-WWII

The technological explosion is seen in computing after the 1940’s pretty much paved the way for the social media world we see and are living in today. Now, obviously, this was not its primary goal. Initially humble in scale, with localised computer networks, Computers came into our lives in the 1960’s. With the internet, as we know it, was not too far behind. Primitive emails then first appeared in 1966. The 70’s then further refined and developed in sophistication. By 1979 we saw the advent of UserNet which allowed people to communicate through virtual newsletters, articles or posts to newsgroups.

The history of social media then stepped up a gear during the 80’s. This decade saw the introduction of home computers with social media, that we would recognise today, developing soon after. It’s now 1985 and we then saw the introduction of GENie (General Electric Network for Information Exchange) was an online service created for GE. This was a critical moment in the history of social media in business and in general and believe it or not, it was still used well into the late 1990’s. At its peak, it had around 350,000 users but was later made redundant by the World Wide Web (WWW).

1994: The Birth Of Chat Rooms

1994 saw the introduction of The Palace. The idea behind this was to allow users to interact with one another on a graphical chat room server, in which they termed as palaces. Each user would have their own graphical avatar overlaid on a backdrop. Amazingly it is still in operation, so if you fancy a bit of nostalgia or just interested at seeing a moment in the history of today’s social media websites then you can try it out here.

The very first recognisable social media site SixDegrees.com was launched in 1997. It was a site which allowed users to upload profile pictures and connect with others. Six Degrees also let users make friends with each other and expand their social groups. Amazingly in 2000 it was actually purchased for $125 million but was later shut down in 2001 (Whoops). Users were also able to send messages, post bulletin board items to peeps in the first, second and even third degree connections. Sound familiar? Imitation is most definitely the sincerest form of flattery!

Just before the turn of the millennium, the first blogging sites started to become popular, a media that is still very relevant today. LiveJournal, for example, was founded in 1999. This is a social network built entirely around constantly updating blog posts. It encourages users to follow one another.

2000: “Proper” Social Media Is Born

The turn into the new millennium was a real “opening of the floodgates” moment in the history of social media. In 2000, LunarStorm was launched. This was one of the first commercial advertisement-financed social networking websites. A strategy that would increase more important as the decade progressed. It was primarily aimed at teenagers and by 2007 it had grown to a rather impressive 1.2 million members, 70% of which were between the ages of 12 and 17. However, the site was later shut down in 2010.

Photo sharing started to become mainstream when the likes of Photobucket and Flickr appeared, amongst others appeared in 2003. Jumping a couple of years on to 2005 we see the first appearance of YouTube. This opened an entirely new method of communication. The ability to create and share media over very long distances was an incredible game changer for the social media world. Other notable launches that launched this year included Yahoo!360, Bebo and Reddit.

2006: The Two Big Ones Are Unleashed.

Facebook and Twitter were both unleashed in this year, as they both remain the most popular social media networks on the internet to date. Facebook alone has had a staggering growth since it’s release and its now the 3rd most visited site on the web.

Twitter has attained an almost “cult-like” status since inception. Its ability to allow users to interact directly with celebrities also on the platform was pretty much unheard of previously. It can be argued that it could play a vital role in the future of politics too. Tumblr and FriendFeed also joined the party in 2007. Tumblr has grown in popularity with microblogging and social networking features and has over 350 million blogs alone.

2008 – Present: Businesses Start To Wake Up

It was around this time that businesses started to wake up and smell that social media scented coffee and really took notice of it, this was mainly due to its power for advertising. Businesses started to open accounts and have links to them on their own sites and other media, this where icons started to appear all over the place.

2010 was also the birth of the top photo-sharing site Instagram along with Pinterest, both of these have grown in popularity and are social media giants in their own right.

The Future…

Today, there is a mind-boggling variety of social media networking sites to choose from, many of which allow for sharing between each other. This has enabled this type of media to allow maximum exposure for users without sacrificing interpersonal communication, and when you think about it, it’s all pretty amazing. We are all so deep in the social media game that businesses and individuals can’t imagine a world without it, it has certainly changed our world and is on course to make traditional media such as printed newspapers extinct.

Unfortunately, no one can tell the future, so who knows that is set to happen over the next few decades, given the explosion and variation saw thus far? In 100 years will it all even still exist? Who knows. Perhaps there will be a reaction against it all in favour of actually talking and meeting people in person again, but given its addictive properties, we are probably stuck with it for some time to come.