A Short History of Social Media

Our collective pool of memories of the year 1971 conjures up many familiar images: bell-bottomed trousers, platform shoes and huge collars; Rod Stewart singing Maggie Mae on the radio and The Partridge Family on TV; in Britain, we saw the introduction of decimal currency and the average house price was under £6000; Edward Heath was the Prime Minister in the UK and Richard Nixon was the US President; and who can forget Ryan O’Neill and Barbara Streisand in Love Story...  It all seems like a very long while ago, doesn’t it… far removed from today and today’s technology.

It might interest you to know, however, that 1971 was also the year that social media was born.  An email was sent for the very first time between two computers sitting side by side.  Nobody realised then, not even Ray Tomlinson who sent that historic message, that this was the dawning of the Age of Social Media.

Social media was something of a slow developer.  In the days before the Internet had sent its relentless, invasive tendrils into homes and offices around the globe, social networking was limited to bulletin board systems (BBS) that users had to dial into using a modem.  Owing to the cost of long-distance calls,  BBS groups tended to live within a small radius of each other.  However, as the computing world developed, so did BBSs and they reached the height of their popularity in 1996, by which time groups of users were not just from around the neighbourhood but from around the world.

The advent of the Internet the same year paved the way for a whole new era of social networking.

A number of internet-based social networking sites appeared from the mid Nineties to the mid ‘Naughties’ – sites such as Geocities, theglobe.com, sixdegrees.com, Friendster and MySpace which, between them, allowed users to create websites, share experiences, play games and even become friends online.

But then two newcomers appeared who were to becmoe the giants of the social networking world – Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006.  The speed with which these two Titans grew is simply astonishing.  Twitter now has over 140 million users worldwide with Facebook boasting nearly 900 million.  The number of social networking sites also continues to grow with LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest to name but a few.

With such enormous numbers of users, it is little wonder that business owners have seized upon social media as a means of promoting their products or services.  These days, the business that doesn’t involve itself in social media marketing is missing a huge opportunity.

So next time you hear the words ‘social media’ and you have that familiar pang of anxiety that your knowledge of the subject is limited, remember this short history and it will make you smile to think that social media first began in the same era as spacehoppers and the Rubik’s cube.  Remember also that mastering the art of social media is really quite simple: hire a virtual social media expert who can take on that task for you.

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