History of Social Networks: Summary and Characteristics

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We tell you the history of social networks, how they originated and their characteristics. Also, their evolution and the most popular networks.

Social networks are powerful instruments of advertising and propaganda.

History of social media

The history of social networks is the set of events, innovations and technological developments that resulted in the emergence of social networks. The networks are virtual communities that through the Internet allow the exchange of information, data and social contact between their users, or between them and the companies that advertise in these spaces.

In historical terms, social networks are a very recent tool. They are part of the new trends and opportunities that the Internet made possible, and that go beyond mere entertainment.

Social networks are powerful tools for advertising and propaganda, for measuring marketing trends, for managing social capital. On the other hand, they have been accused of serving as an instrument for disinformation and the expansion of so-called fake news or conspiracy theories.

Background on Social Networks

ARPANET was an early American computer network.

The history of social networks has important precursors, some as vital to the history of the Internet itself as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which would become the seed from which the World Wide Web was produced.

ARPANET was a primitive American computer network, connecting certain universities, colleges and military organizations. Its purpose was to defend the country from Soviet attacks during the Cold War, and to facilitate the flow of confidential scientific information.

Thanks to it, the first email was sent in 1971 and Project Gutenberg, the first free online digital library, was started in 1978. Finally, in 1991, this private exchange network became public and the Internet as we understand it today was initiated.

At that time, the flow of information and membership of online communities began, but vertically: there was an official page for a product, company or service, and people could sign up to receive notifications, advertising and offers. In some cases, they could provide some feedback through statistics, surveys or product evaluations.

The direct antecedent to social networks were GeoCities, Tripod and Future City services. These platforms offered the possibility of managing small and simple personalized web pages, organized in “neighborhoods” according to their content.

Origin of Social Networks

The discussion forums proposed a slower mode of written exchange.

One of the first social networking projects became known as 6 Degrees. It aimed to put into practice the supposed theory of the 6 Degrees of separation, which says that any person is related to another person on the planet in a maximum of six degrees of social bond, that is, counting six people in between.

This site was launched in 1997 and was a complete failure, partly because after connecting with acquaintances, there was nothing to do. However, those first community projects served as a basis for future proposals, such as miGente.com, AsianAvenue or Match.com, some focused on getting a partner, others on chat rooms or real-time socialization.

In Latin America the case of Latinchat (2000) was famous, and in the world that of Blogspot (1998). The latter allowed the emergence of blogs, around which communities and relationships were created.

Another important case was that of the debate and discussion forums, which proposed a slower mode of written exchange on various topics, but which encouraged a certain idea of belonging, of a society organized around its tastes and interests.

The Explosion of the New Millennium

With the arrival of the 21st century, the Internet proved to be successful as a socialization tool, as the first generation accustomed to its use in childhood had been born. The chats, blogs and pages to make friends like Friendster (2002) or Orkut (2004), allowed a change in the pattern of socialization.

In addition, instant messaging services were added, such as MSN Messenger (1999-2005). Together, these changes gave rise to the first virtual long or short distance relationships, dating on the web and even long-distance sex. A true revolution in intimacy.

The First Commercially Successful Social Network

MySpace reached its peak of popularity between 2000 and 2008.

The first social network that constituted a true commercial phenomenon was MySpace (2003). It allowed the creation of individualized and personalized profiles, which reflected the tastes and passions of each user, and also allowed the exchange of opinions and content.

The peak of popularity of this social network was reached between 2000 and 2008. Then the decline began, although by 2011 it added 33.1 million users in the United States alone, ranking 91st in traffic on the entire World Wide Web.

The decline of MySpace began when its competitors based on photographic or image profiles, such as MetroFLOG, Fotolog or similar began to corner the public, offering a more agile multimedia experience. Finally, in 2008, the arrival of Facebook to the global public buried MySpace’s popularity forever.

The Empire of Facebook

Facebook reached 1.65 billion active users in 2016.

Facebook was created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg. Initially it only involved young American college students, as it was an application to keep in touch with people, mixing instant communication with mini-personal pages and other similar services.

It was so successful that one year after its launch, it already had 2 million users in more than 500 American universities. It was opened to the public in 2006.

Its popularity reached stratospheric and unsuspected levels, and many companies saw in Facebook the opportunity to measure their audiences, reach new ones or promote themselves in a comfortable and focused way. This led the social network to be the most used in the world, reaching 1.65 billion active users in 2016, and continuing to grow.

With such success also came some problems, such as the severe accusations of betraying the confidentiality of user information, collaborating with third parties for citizen espionage and other claims that were not uncontroversial and led Zuckerberg himself to trial.

The Twitter Revolution

Today, Twitter users generate millions of “tweets” daily.

Another important case is represented by Twitter (2006), an innovation of the existing Odeo, owned by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone. It emerged as an internal messaging system for journalistic purposes, which allowed users to express themselves with 140 characters in a fast, vertiginous and constant way.

Twitter gained such popularity that today it has hundreds of millions of users who generate countless tweets daily. Its influence on other media such as radio or television is notorious, functioning as “the Internet’s SMS”, given its immediacy and fleeting nature.

The Incorporation to Cell Phones

Around 2007 the so-called Smartphones were the definitive push to social networks. They made it possible to consult them at any time through applications downloaded to phones equipped with Internet browsing capabilities.

In this way, the networks maximized their incorporation into everyday life. At the same time, the phones became tools of daily and constant consultation, at levels that many even accuse of being addictive.

Other Important Social Networks

Instagram gained popularity among users who share visual content.

Other important social networking cases are:

  • YouTube. A social network that consists of video broadcasts, from television, films, animations and amateur material, which allows you to make comments and register your own channel, with favorite broadcasts and subscriptions.
  • Instagram. A social network initially intended for photographers and visual artists, which gained popularity among all kinds of users who share visual content.
  • LinkedIn. Social network specialized in the labor field, which acts as an intermediary between its users and the companies that have job offers, allowing them to make an online CV.

Evolution of Social Networks

As they are incorporated into our daily lives, social networks have become more and more central in various fields, gaining in importance, multimedia resources and responsibility. Many people use them for information or to stay in touch with distant loved ones.

On the other hand, there are numerous interests involved in its operation. They have an important role in politics, economy and culture, which is still a matter of debate in the world.

Social Networking Timeline

  • 1997. Launch of 6 Degrees.
  • 1998. Launch of Blogspot and popularization of the blog.
  • 1999. Launch of MSN Messenger.
  • 2000. Latinchat appears, one of the most popular chat sites in Latin America.
  • 2002. Launch of Friendster.
  • 2003. Launch of hi5 and MySpace.
  • 2004. Launch of Orkut and Facebook.
  • 2006. Release of Facebook to the public and launch of Twitter.
  • 2008. Facebook becomes popular worldwide. Launch of Pinterest.
  • 2010. Instagram appears on the market.
  • 2011. Launch of Snapchat and Google+.

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