Before the dawn of history, a few cavemen got together and decided to cooperate for their mutual benefit and safety from the dangers the world held for them. In this crude and unplanned form social networking began. As time passed these groups became tribes, then villages, states and countries – all with the same aim of benefiting from their association. Along the way, people with more closely aligned interests formed guilds, brotherhoods and unions to enhance their personal aims and today they exist as Freemasons, Rotarians and other such groups.
Even until the late 20th century, these social networks were limited by the need to be in physical proximity to each other – a need that disappeared when the internet arrived. Social networking, as we understand it today, came into being at the beginning of the 1980s with the advent of the Bulletin Board Service or BBS. These BBS were operated by hobbyists who used them to promote their own interests and agendas. The bulletin boards were, by modern standards, very basic – only text could be up loaded – and very slow because communication was limited to modems and dial up connections.
Soon after the BBS came a service that was created to allow businesses to share information and access the news – CompuServe. CompuServe had one great innovation – it allowed users to send electronic messages to one another – the beginnings of easily accessed email. These facilities meant that the demand for CompuServe grew and it soon became part of the public domain – accessible to anyone with a modem. CompuServe was followed by America Online, or AOL as we know it today, which took the next step of offering members the facilities to create their own communities as well as member profiles that were searchable.
AOL was followed by Yahoo and even more user friendly features but it was Classmates.com (still in existence) that set up the first social network site as we have come to understand the term. Classmates.com allowed for not just communities, but for locating long lost school friends and establishing online contact with them. This concept was picked up by others and soon demographic dedicated sites offering networking opportunities to specific population groups came into being – 1997’s AsianAvenues.com, a site dedicated to promoting networking among people of Asian origin being just one of them.
It was not long before the first completely open social networking sites appeared – sites that offered anyone the options of searching for and linking up with old friends and finding new ones online. The advent of Twitter that allows instantaneous online communications between those who ‘tweet’ and their ‘followers’ is only the latest development in social networking history and what may be around the cornet could surprise us all.