When Did Social Media Start?

Human beings are born social and are called social animals by Aristotle for a reason. We can’t survive alone. We need people around us. Aristotle said:

Man is by nature a social animal. An individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human… Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.

The very need of human beings to socialize and live with others gave birth to communication and inventions like the telephone, mobile phones, smartphones, and now social media.

If you think social media has started recently, you are wrong. It has evolved over time. Just like we now know that emojis we use today have been used by ancient Egyptians, social media has been there for years in different forms:

ancient emojis

Let’s take a dive into history and see when did social media start, why it started, and how it has evolved over the years?

When Did Social Media Start?

Phase 1

The first social media platform known as Talkomatic was developed in 1973 by Dave Woolley and Douglas Brown. It is a chat room application that lets users talk to different people online. Here is how it looks like:

 Talkomatic screenshot

In the same year, TERM-Talk instant messaging app was developed that is the first known instant messaging application. It allowed two individuals to send and receive text messages in real-time. PLATO Notes is the first bulletin board forum and conferencing app developed in 1973.

These three apps ran on the PLATO System that was developed by the University of Illinois to help its students access coursework and other study material. The three applications ran on the PLATO system and were, as such, part of a closed network.

Phase 2

Bulletin Board System (BSS) was developed in 1980 that is an application used to share files, read the news, direct chatting, and send messages to public boards. It was termed as one of the early forms of social media. In 1984, FidoNet came into existed that allowed users to exchange email on the BSS:

fidonet home page

mIRC was developed in 1995 which is one of the oldest chat utilities for Windows. It is still active today and used by a lot of people to chat, share, and communicate with their peers and friends:

mirc screenshot

In the same year, Classmates was founded that helps students in the USA to find their classmates and other students from their school or college. The app lets students contact each other online. It is still active today:

classmates home page

Phase 3

Then ICQ was developed in 1996 which is a cross-platform messenger, Bolt.com was launched in 1996 too that is the first social networking and video website, and SixDegrees was a milestone social media website launched in 1997. The website allowed users to add friends and invite users to join SixDegrees so they can connect and talk via messages. Users can post bulletin board messages that are visible to their friends:

six degrees screenshot

SixDegrees is known as the first well-known social media site that is still active today and was based on the same social media networking model that we’re using today (e.g. Facebook). It was an open and general social networking website with no restrictions. All the previous social media sites were developed for a specific group of people (e.g. university students) and were available for the general public.

Theoretically, social media started in 1973 but technically, it started in 1997 when the first social networking site was launched.

Early Days of Social Media

Social media in its early days (back in the 1990s) wasn’t user-friendly and graphically appealing as it is today. Back then, GUI wasn’t too common and neither easy to develop. SixDegrees, however, was an exception in the sense that it had a nice user interface and was easy-to-use.

After the launch of SixDegrees, several social media sites were launched on the same model including: 

  1. AOL in 1997
  2. Open Diary in 1998
  3. Yahoo and MSN Messengers in 1999
  4. LiveJournal in 1999
  5. Habbo in 2000
  6. Windows Messenger in 2001
  7. Friendster in 2002
  8. LinkedIn in 2003
  9. Hi5 in 2003
  10. Myspace in 2003
  11. Skype in 2003
  12. Facebook in 2004.

Facebook was one of the biggest milestones achieved in the history of social media. It laid the foundation of the modern social media model.

Most of the modern-age social networking sites like TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and others use the social-circles network model that was introduced by SixDegrees and later refined by Facebook. 

Social Media Predictions

A lot has changed recently in the social media world. Social media platforms are constantly evolving and adding new features to keep their users hooked.

Live Streaming

facebook live streaming

One of the most prominent additions is live streaming that has taken the social media networks by storm. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Twitch are the leading social media platforms that offer live streaming feature to their users. This is a new feature that wasn’t even possible to use in the early days of social media.

Social Shopping

We’re moving towards social shopping and it will become a norm. A lot of social media sites have introduced the shopping feature for their users including Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. Instagram, for instance, introduced Instagram Reels that lets businesses tag products that people can buy.

The feature was introduced in December 2020:

instagram reels tweet screenshot

It will become a standard soon and social media sites will start offering similar shopping features.

Wearable Technology

Virtual reality is reshaping social media. Facebook has announced Horizon which is a social platform where people can interact virtually using wearable technology (e.g. Facebook’s VR headset).

horizon homepage

Facebook has launched its virtual reality headset series with the name of Oculus which is the best-selling VR headset in 2020:

best selling vr headsets in 2020

People’s interest in social media VR headset shows how crucial virtual reality will become (sooner or later) for social media platforms. Virtual reality is the next big thing in the social media industry. 

Final Words

Social media started in 1997 with a bang. It is moving in the right direction. With half the world’s population having access to social media sites, it won’t be surprising if everyone in the world starts using social media.

Social media platforms have come a long way and there is still a long road ahead. 

Featured Image: Unsplash

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