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Perspecs Explains: A brief history of social media

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

The first bona fide social media website arrived in 1997 in the form of Six Degrees. The website, which ran between 1997 and 2001, was named after the 'six degrees of separation' theory. It allowed users to create a profile and then friend other users. According to the History Cooperative, it even allowed those who didn't register to confirm friendships, connecting them although they were not users. It peaked at around one million users.

At the same time, ICQ was born. It was an instant messaging client developed by the Israeli company Mirabilis, getting its name from the English phrase "I Seek You". It was sold to America Online in 1999 - or, it is more commonly known, AOL.

Social media also evolved from the blogging format. The first blogging websites started to become popular after the turn of the millennium. LiveJournal, which is still running today (albeit through Russian servers nowadays), was founded in 1999. It was a social network build around constantly updating blog posts, and it encouraged users to follow each other and to create groups to interact. These blogs were a precursor to Facebook's statuses.

"In terms of modern social media," Future Marketing writes, "Friendster was the very first proper social network." It was founded in 2002. This is where social networks developed from a network of people you already knew to discovering new people online. Friendster CEO Jonathan Abrams once referred to the website as "a dating site that isn’t about dating" - although it would also be used for that purpose, as well as being an event, band and hobby discovery service.

LinkedIn entered the scene in 2003, taking a serious approach to social networking. It provided a platform for users to post their CVs (or resumes), and interact with businesses and business-minded people through private messaging. In 2004, LinkedIn attracted around one million users. It broke the 500 million mark in 2017, attracting users from 200 countries.

MySpace launched in the same year as LinkedIn. It allowed more freedom for users to customise their profiles, including the ability to embed videos and post music. There was also a MySpace IM (instant messaging) option. It was a great platform for musicians, allowing them to be discovered or grow their fanbase. Calvin Harris was signed off the back of MySpace, admitting that it was "a bit tragic", Digital Spy reports. Arctic Monkeys and Panic! At The Disco also used it to attract new fans, with the latter finding their final band member via a post: "We are looking to get a full time keyboard player for sequencing/synth. Contact us."

In 2004, Facebook - or TheFacebook.com, as it was known back then - was launched exclusively for Harvard students by Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates. Facebook, as we know it, was unleashed onto the world, for better or for worse, two years later. Users were able to contact with their friends, share statuses, send messages, and give a thumbs-up in the form of a 'like'. The like was later joined by reactions, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Upset in 2016.

It has since grown into the biggest social media platform, with a staggering 2.27 billion monthly active users (in the third quarter of 2018). Facebook has a monopoly in the social media and tech world, taking over its later competitors WhatsApp and photo-sharing app, Instagram.

Blogging became micro-blogging when Twitter was born, limiting the posts to 140 characters. The popularity of text messaging or SMS inspired Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Evan Williams to create Twitter. They introduced us to the world of hashtags and followers. The platform doubled the number of characters in a tweet last year. It currently has more than 336 million monthly active users, including famous followers such as Donald Trump, Stephen Fry, Justin Bieber, and Kate Perry right at the top with 106,912,929 followers. There are 65 million tweets sent every day, at a rate of 750 tweets every second.

It has been a two-decade for social media from its early roots on Six Degrees to the monopolies of Facebook and Twitter. It has evolved from networks to a plethora of services, on your computer, phone or tablet. Social media has taken over, and it is showing no sign of slowing down.

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