The history of social media may be relatively short, but the technology has certainly managed to come a long way in that time. In this guide, we'll look at the roots of online social networks, and how we got from there to the sites and apps we use today.

Social Media - A Timeline

Year Event
1973 A computer-based bulletin board called Community Memory is created
1979 Usenet is released, allowing people to communicate and share files
1991 The World Wide Web becomes widely available
1995 is launched, allowing people to connect with old friends
1997 The site SixDegrees is created, allowing users to customize their profiles
2002 Friendster is released and becomes the first social media platform to achieve mainstream success
2003 Employees of an Internet marketing company create a highly customizable platform called MySpace
2004 Mark Zuckerberg launches Facebook for students at Harvard University
2006 Facebook is opened up to the general public
2006 Microblogging site Twitter is released
2007 Twitter user Chris Messina creates the hashtag
2010s Smartphones become increasingly popular, causing social media platforms to launch mobile app versions of their sites
2010 Instagram is launched exclusively on iOS
2011 Stanford University alumni create Snapchat, a mobile messaging app

What Are Different Social Media Platforms For?

  1. Facebook: Connecting with friends and family
  2. Twitter: Sharing short thoughts & opinions
  3. Instagram: Posting photos and videos
  4. Pinterest: Ideas for crafts and DIY projects
  5. LinkedIn: Business connections and job applications

How Social Media Shapes Identity

More Information

Social media is a broad term that's commonly used to refer to the services and applications that allow people to connect and communicate with others online. More specifically, these tools allow users to create and share content with one another through the internet. While modern social media originated from websites created in the early 2000s, the concept of networking and sharing information through digital means dates back to the 1970s.

Before the internet, one of the earliest known social networking systems, Community Memory, was created in 1973. It was a computer-based bulletin board system that could be accessed using coin-operated terminals found throughout California. Community Memory allowed people to create forums and leave messages for a small price, or just read through them for free.

In 1979, computer scientists Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis created Usenet, a system that let people communicate with one another and share files through groups called "newsgroups." Around that time, Ward Christensen and Randy Suess also created the "Computerized Bulletin Board System," or "CBBS" for short, which was similar in concept to Community Memory but distributed on a much wider scale.

Throughout the 80s and the early 90s, the social networking scene was dominated by BBSes and communities hosted on services such as CompuServe. During that time, IRCs, which allowed people to talk to each other online via chat rooms, also started becoming popular.

In 1995, a website called Classmates was launched. Considered by some to be the very first social networking site, it was created to help Canadian and American users find their classmates from kindergarten all the way to college. Classmates' early iterations lacked a lot of features present in modern social media sites though, such as the ability to create profiles.

Two years later, an entrepreneur named Andrew Weinreich founded SixDegrees, one of the first social media websites that allowed its users to customize their profiles and connect with others by adding people to their "friends" list. The site managed to attract a few million users before shutting down in 2001.

The early 2000s was when social media started to become popular worldwide. In 2002, a Canadian programmer named Jonathan Abrams launched Friendster, the first modern social media platform to achieve mainstream success. Within only a few months of its release, the site had gained millions of users. Its design was similar to that of a dating site, except it mainly focused on letting one expand their network by sharing their profile to people all across the world.

In 2003, employees of eUniverse, an internet marketing company based in America, created MySpace. It was essentially a Friendster clone with more customization options. MySpace allowed users to embed music and videos in their profiles, and people with basic knowledge of HTML coding could deeply personalize their own pages.

MySpace was the most popular social media platform in the early 2000s. Over time, they started adding more features to the site, such as an instant messaging client that let users chat with each other in real-time.

In that same year, an entrepreneur named Reid Hoffman founded LinkedIn, a social media platform designed specifically for professionals and businesses. Over the years, LinkedIn grew to become one of the most well-known professional-oriented social networking sites on the internet. As their popularity continued to grow, they added more features to the site, such as giving users the ability to apply for job listings using their LinkedIn profiles.

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, a student directory created for Harvard University. It expanded to other schools throughout 2005, and by September 2006, the website was opened to the general public.

Over the years, it dethroned MySpace as the most popular social media platform on the internet. Most of its success can be attributed to a set of tools called the "Facebook Platform," which was released in 2007. It allowed developers to create their own Facebook-integrated applications, which led to the addition of features such as the Marketplace and the site's own native video platform.

In 2006, a group of programmers and entrepreneurs created Twitter, a microblogging site designed for quick status updates between friends and followers. Its popularity rapidly grew throughout the next few years, mostly due to how the platform was used as a way to quickly spread breaking news.

In 2007, a Twitter user named Chris Messina suggested that people should start using the pound sign to group tweets that talk about the same thing. This was an idea borrowed from IRCs, where the names of chat channels are always prefixed with the pound symbol. A few days later, a blogger named Stowe Boyd expressed his approval of Messina's idea, coining the term "hashtag" to refer to this method of grouping.

In 2009, Twitter started hyperlinking hashtags, which redirects users to the site's search results for the tagged word they clicked on. This made it easier for people to look for content that they're interested in, and it allowed Twitter to feature the topics that are currently trending on the site. Over the next few years, other services, including Facebook and Google+, also started adopting the use of hashtags.

With the smartphone boom in the 2010s, established social media platforms started launching their own mobile apps. Around this time, image and video sharing apps such as Instagram and Snapchat were also released. Throughout the decade, more and more people started using these platforms as marketing tools, especially with the rise of social media influencers.

As a marketing platform, academics also started using social media to promote their research. This helps them both spread awareness of their work and gives them the opportunity to connect with people in the same field. Academic social networking sites that let people publish their work, such as Academia and ResearchGate, also started getting popular throughout the 2010s.

Over the years, established platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat continued to dominate the scene. New sites and apps continue to launch and grow over time, and nobody knows for sure how social media will continue to evolve in the future.

Please note that is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.