On The History Of Social Media

EniacAre you sick of hearing about “social media” yet? Maybe you are, maybe you aren’t, but social media is definitely being talked about, probably now more than ever. The bitter irony here is that social media is as old as the Internet. I mean that very literally.

Consider the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

Social media is information content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies that is intended to facilitate communications, influence and interaction with peers and with public audiences, typically via the Internet and mobile communications networks.

I highly recommend reading the rest of the entry. Unfortunately, the perception of the existence of “social media” isn’t much older than the popularity of the term itself. If you ask Amy Nut, she thinks social media began with MySpace:

As the Internet began to permeate into every home, teenagers found a new way of expression via the Internet. One way teens found of sharing common interests with other like-minded teenagers was through MySpace.

MySpace launched in 2003. Sure, 5 years feels like an eternity in our rapidly evolving world of the Internet. However, I’d like to take a moment to introduce potential users to some of what existed before there was MySpace.

Forums: Forums have long been online social gathering points for small and large crowds. Still popular all over the Internet, forums have been around since 1996. That’s a full 7 years before MySpace even existed

Wikis: Today, Wikipedia is one of the most well known successes in social media. Much to many a social media marketer’s demise, there’s no room for promotion. However, for the record, the first Wiki went live in 1995, making it 8 years older than MySpace.

IRC: The ultimate grandpa of Internet chat has to be IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The technical difference, from a user perspective, between IRC and Twitter really boils down to the minor variation between having a “chat room” and a “follow list”. Dating back to 1988, IRC is 15 years older than MySpace. (and 18 years older than Twitter)

Usenet: In the very early days of the Internet, a system known as Usenet came online. This system was the inspiration behind the before mentioned Forums. The system was hugely popular and still exists today. The system went online in 1979, making it 24 years older than MySpace. Admittedly, there were relatively few Internet users back then.

BBS: The BBS (Bulletin Board System) scene was popular before the wide spread adoption of the Internet. A BBS ran on a host computer and a user’s computer connected directly via a modem. While the precursor of the BBS systems came online in 1972 (before I was born), the first true BBS cropped up in 1978. That’s a whopping 25 years before MySpace.

Finger: Born in 1977, the Finger protocol is pretty old. It wasn’t until id Software‘s used the protocal that it suddenly became popular – at least within the gaming scene in the mid to late 90’s. All but dead now, replaced by blogs, the technology was born 26 years before MySpace and 32 years before I the writing of this post (on WordPress).

The concept of social media, unlike the buzzword itself, is not new. It’s not even close. In fact, the Internet was designed to exchange data. In a way, the Internet has always been social.

The same way old fashion becomes new again, technology concepts keep being reborn with new terminology. Trends pick up and everyone gets this feeling that things have somehow changed. Perhaps they have. However, before you get excited and anxious, take time to consider how far back the path goes.

In 1996, I started composing weekly updates about a game I was working on. It was my Web based progress log filled with bits of personal chatter. I may not have known it, but it was, basically, a blog.

Everything old is new again; and the world keeps spinning. Remember where we came from.