When people talk about social media, most of us think of Facebook. The site has gone from a curiosity to a regular part of our lives, all thanks to pushing the right buttons in our brains. Facebook became so powerful so quickly that it’s easy to forget that the concept was tried a couple of times before. While it’s the most popular, Facebook is definitely not the first social media platform!
When Did Social Media Go Mainstream?
As the story goes, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook out of his Harvard dorm room in January 2004. The site was open to members of elite American universities, but two years later it opened up to anyone with an email address. By 2009 Facebook had become the social media site with the most users in the world.
While Facebook’s simple design made social media accessible to average Internet users, it wasn’t the first of its type. Before Facebook became the largest social media site, MySpace owned the title. This platform had multimedia capabilities, making it popular with young people. As all things do with young people, though, it fell out of favour and it fell hard. Where once MySpace could have acquired Facebook for the low, low price of $75 million, the site is now an afterthought. Only a fraction of its once billion-plus user base still logs on each month.
We often think of social media as a trend that began when the internet became ubiquitous in our lives. This isn’t the case! The reason behind the internet was to help us keep in touch with one another, like the telephone, the telegraph, and the printing press before it. But it took some time to advance from small chatrooms to sites that let you reach new people, share stories, and advertise and sell things. While we can thank Facebook and Twitter for popularizing social media, we can trace its beginning to 1997 and the now-defunct Six Degrees.
Six Degrees: The First Social Media Site
While it went out of business only four years after its founding, SixDegrees.com was a prototype of social media as we know it today. The founders started with the idea that everyone is separated by only six social connections, or “six degrees of separation.” Users could list how they knew people and ask both their fellow users and friends and family not on the platform to confirm these relationships. This way, users could see how many degrees separated them from everyone else on the site. They could also send messages and post items on a “bulletin board” (not unlike a Facebook wall) that only their first, second, and third-degree friends could see.
It was an interesting concept that never took off. It didn’t help that people who confirmed their relationship with a Six Degrees user, but did not register themselves, continued to receive email updates (“spam” having been coined several years earlier). The site ended up with roughly 3.5 million users at its peak, which wasn’t great considering that a third of the planet is now on Facebook. While Six Degrees was forward-thinking – Google used the “six degrees” idea to spread the beta version of Gmail – it came at the wrong time. Social media now combines what Six Degrees did with the next advancement in internet communities: blogging.
Blogging And Beyond
In 1998, blogging became mainstream with the launch of Open Diary. This site was the first blogging “community,” allowing readers to leave comments on other writers’ entries. Blogging sites like Open Diary, LiveJournal, and Blogger gave users a more passive form of social interaction, and this innovation wasn’t lost on Facebook or Twitter.
“Blogging” is now something users can do now on Facebook. Many people also seem to prefer microblogging on sites like Twitter to full, lengthy entries. It’s because, on the internet at least, everything seems to come full circle. Facebook began as FaceMash, a social site for Harvard students that came to campus attention as Mark Zuckerburg blogged its creation on LiveJournal.
A decade and a half later, his late-night coding became one of the most valuable marketing tools for small businesses. The next big social media innovation could start as a Facebook post!