The Evolution of the Social Networking Site

The Evolution of the Social Networking Site

By: Andrea Cole

In the beginning there was the Internet, a vast and lonely space occupied only by computer science majors and Trekkies.  Then came IRC, ICQ, instant messaging, and email. And AOL saw that it was good. But man and woman were lonely and needed to interact and the dating site was created. And saw that it was good. Then the emotional teenagers needed a place to vent and complain about parents, boys, and lame teachers and the blogosphere was created.  And LiveJournal saw that it was good.  And then someone decided to share his music and got his friends to as well. And Napster saw that it was good.  But the US Government disagreed.  The US Government won.  And soon the teenagers went to college and one day a sophomore in his Harvard dorm room hacked the network, probably swindled his friends out of millions of dollars, and created what is now one of the top three websites on the planet.  And Facebook saw that it was good.  And Goldman Sachs saw dollar signs.

And so the Social Networking Site is here for good.

Ok, so that was a bit simplistic and rather droll, but you get the idea.

The Internet has been used for networking since its inception. Its purpose is to send communications between computers and servers and spread information to the far corners of the world.  So what does this mean for us? It means that the social networks we use right now are a part logical evolution of the Internet.  Humans are naturally social creatures and enjoy the company of others and while our lives have become increasingly technology-based and some would say socially isolated, we are reaching out to others using technology-based means such as text messages, IMs, email, and social networking sites.  Some bemoan the loss of traditional forms of interaction, but I say that the pendulum of social communication swings both ways and will eventually find a sweet spot.  As long as we don’t end up as Borg, things will be fine.

So let’s go through a more traditional timeline of the history of the Internet and the Social Networking Site, shall we?

1957 – USSR launches Sputnik, first artificial earth satellite and the start of global telecommunications. In response, the US forms the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish US lead in science and technology applicable to the military.

1969 – Birth of the Internet, ARPANET commissioned by DoD for research into networking . The first node at UCLA (Los Angeles) is closely followed by nodes at Stanford Research Institute, UCSB (Santa Barbara) and U of Utah (4 Nodes).

1971 – Michael Hart begins Project Gutenberg to make copyright-free works electronically available. The first is the US declaration of independence.

1972 – Bolt Beranek and Newman computer engineer Ray Tomlinson invents email by adapting an internal messaging program and extending it to use the ARPANET to send messages between sites. Within a year, three quarters of ARPANET traffic is email.

1978 – Gary Thuerk sends what is widely considered to be the first spam message, promoting DEC.

1982 – Scott Fahlman kick-starts smiley-culture by suggesting using the 🙂 and 😦 smileys to convey emotions in emails.

1984 – Apple releases the Macintosh, the first commercially successful personal computeraol-logo

1985 – AOL is founded and grows its modest Internet connection business into one of the world’s biggest media companies.

1989 – Tim Berners-Lee and the team at CERN invent the World Wide Web to make publishing and accessing information easier on the Internet.

1994 – Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web is renamed Yahoo! and receives100,000 visitors. In 1995, it begins displaying advertisements.

1995 – Search engine Alta Vista is launched by Digital Equipment Corporation, which it claims can store and index the HTML from every Internet page. The first multilingual search is introduced.

1995 – Jeff Bezos launches, an online bookseller that pioneers e-commerce.

1995 – eBay is launched to enable Internet users to trade with each other.

1996 – The browser wars begin. Microsoft sees the Internet as a threat and integrates Internet Explorer with Windows. Netscape and Microsoft go head-to-head, intensively developing and releasing upgrades to their browsers.

1996 – Macromedia Flash 1.0 launches to add interactive animation to webpages. Early adopters include Disneyaimicon and MSN.

1997 – AOL introduces AIM. The decline of chat rooms become imminent.

1998 – Google debuts, pioneering a ranking system that uses links to assess a website’s popularity. Google’s distinguishes itself by maintaining a clean design compared to its competitors.

1999 – Shawn Fanning launches Napster. The peer-to-peer software enables Internet users to swap MP3 music files stored on their computers and to find each other through a central directory.

1999 – LiveJournal is launched, enabling users to post public or private journal entries as well as create user groups based around specific topics.  It reaches 14 million accounts in October of 2007.


2000 – The dot-com bust.

2001 – The merger of AOL and Time Warner is approved by US regulators. Shareholders of AOL own 55% of the new company.

2003 – MySpace is launched, allowing people to share information about themselves, and grows to 100 million accounts in August 2006.


2004 – As broadband increases in popularity, media companies start selling music and video online. Napster relaunches as a paid music download store and competes against Apple’s iTunes.

2004 – Mark Zuckerberg launches Facebook at Harvard University. Within three years, the social networking site has 30 million members. By January 2011, Facebook boasts of over 600 million active users (those who logged in within the last 30 days).

2004 – Photo sharing website Flickr is launched, coinciding with the rise in digital photography.

2005 – Television and telephone companies feel threatened by the Internet. YouTube is launched to enable people to easily post videos online. Within a year, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion despite owning its own video site. Phone companies are threatened by free Internet-based phone calls, specifically Skype, which has 53 million users. eBay acquires Skype for $2.6 billion, although it eventually fails to successfully incorporate Skype into its core business.

2005 – Older media has been slow to catch up with new media. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp responds by buying Intermix Media, owner of, for $580 million.

2005 – Reddit launches.


2006 – Twitter is launched. Contrasting sharply to the multitude of lengthy blog posts, Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters.


2008 – Google turns ten. The company now dominates online advertising and has a leading presence in online mapping, webmail and online document collaboration. Google’s search engine indexes 1 trillion unique URLs and there are several billion new web pages published every day. Google encroaches on Microsoft with the launch of the Google Chrome browser.

2008 – The mobile web reaches critical mass for advertising, according to Nielsen Mobile. In the US, there are 95 million mobile Internet subscribers and 40 million active users. US mobile penetration is 15.6%, compared to 12.9% in the UK. Mobile Internet generated $1.7 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2008.

2009 – Actor Ashton Kutcher becomes the first person on Twitter to have a million followers subscribing to his ‘tweets’ and winning a friendly competition with CNN. “I found it astonishing that one person can actually have as big of a voice online as what an entire media company can on Twitter,” Kutcher stated.

2010 – In February, Facebook announces it has 400 million active members. That’s larger than the population of the US and UK combined.  It has since grown to 600 million users by January of

2010 – Pinterest launches. Weddings, crafts, foods, and blogs are changed forever. It eventually grows to become one of the best search engines on the Web.

2011 – Google+ launches and becomes the fastest growing social network on record. However, its success is short lived as people move back to Facebook.

2012 – Facebook reaches a billion users.

2013 – Twitter reaches 500 million users.

2013 – Apple’s customers have downloaded over 50 billion apps.

So that was a quick overview of what has been happening for the last fifty-odd years.  Things are only going to get wilder from here on out and it’s best to be prepared to a whole lot flux.  Which social networks do you or have you used? How connected do you like to be?