A brief history of social media

Are you older than the very first social media network?

We think of social media as a relatively new phenomenon, so you might be surprised to see just how early our social media timeline starts.

Brief history of social media

Where the social media timeline starts really depends on which definition of ‘social media’ you want to use. We’re going to start with the initial Bulletin Board System (BBS) that allowed users to share information with their chosen social ‘networks’

  • 1979 – BBS: These were the first pre-internet online forums that meant users could message each other and exchange, upload and download files via a central system accesses via modem.
  • 1980 – Usenet: Functioning in much the same way as BBS, Usenet relied on a constantly changing conglomeration of servers that shared messages in ‘newsfeeds’ Usenet is at the start of our timeline also because it was Usenet that was the social media channel where common terms such as ‘FAQ’, ‘spam’ and ‘flame’ were first used.
  • 1981 – CompuServe: While this service started life back in the 1970s as a mainframe computer communication system, it expanded into the public domain over the1980s, allowing users to create and access online forums, share files, chat and message each other using internet-based email addresses.
  • 1985 – AOL: More recognised for its role in spreading the popularity of the internet than as a social networking website, it was AOL that started member-created communities and a searchable member profile database.
  • 1995 – was the first social media site where searching for long-lost contacts was really the name of the game. is still operating and is home to some 57 million profiles.
  • 1997 – A lot happened in the 1990s, but for social media it was a site called, based on the theory that everyone is only six connections away from everyone else that progressed the social media concept.
  • 2002 – Friendster: This website was really just a more popular, refined version of It is no longer classed as social media but still exists as an online gaming network.
  • 2003 – LinkedIn: Starting to recognise some of these names? LinkedIn is still going strong as any one of the 467 million members will tell you. By carving a very strong niche in the business community, LinkedIn has managed to not only stay afloat for over 10 years, but flourish.
  • 2003 – MySpace: For a while, this website was the definition of social media, with over 1 million people signing up to the site in its first month. The downfall of MySpace saw one of the most popular websites in the world become virtually extinct.
  • 2004 – Facebook: The history of Facebook is well documented, chances are you’re on Facebook and like the other 1.79 billion active users, can’t get through the day without scrolling through your newsfeed of the world’s number 1 social network. Facebook is also credited as the pioneer of social media marketing for business.
  • 2006 – Twitter: Initially Twitter competed with Facebook for global domination, but it’s always had a more restricted audience thanks to its 140 character limit. Today, the microblogging service has an estimated 320 million users.
  • 2005 – YouTube: It’s hard to image life without YouTube and harder still to remember what you were watching back in 2005. The video-based social media site was purchased by Google a year after it was founded and today competes with mainstream media.
  • 2010 – Flickr: This was one of the first photo sharing websites and is still one of the most popular, despite the continued rise of our next timeline star…
  • 2010 – Instagram: This social channel has changed the way the world takes photos. Instagram’s filters and hashtags has propelled this social media channel firmly into the favourites list of it’s more than 600 million monthly users.
  • 2010 – Pinterest: Combining the visual beauty of Instagram with the ability to scroll through feeds and create virtual pin boards, Pinterest has continued to grow beyond its first big fans from the crafting and decorating communities. Together with Instagram, Pinterest in the latest battleground of social media marketing.
  • 2011 – Google+: The internet giant is determined to crack social media and Google+ was the follow-up to its first failure, Google Buzz. The network is home to over millions of active users, but shows no signs of providing Facebook with any competition for the top spot on the social media ladder.
  • 2011 – Snapchat: Huge with the cool kids, Snapchat’s USP is that images or ‘snaps’ are auto-deleted. It has also used facial recognition technology to create its popular ‘lenses’ feature that allows users to take photos of themselves with puppy ears, blowing bubbles, dressed as Harry Potter, etc.  It’s user base continues to grow with the company claiming to have over 160 million daily active users
  • 2015 – Periscope: This is where we’ll leave our timeline, with Twitter’s livestreaming app. It’s not as popular as Facebook Live, but it did get to market first and live video streaming is currently where the action is across the social media landscape.

What next?

That’s the multi-billion dollar question. No-one could have predicted the meteoric rise of Facebook or the global market domination this social network now has. What’s not in dispute is that social media is here to stay and has become an increasingly cost-effective way to engage with potential customers. No digital strategy is complete without considering the reach of social media.

iFactory manages social media and digital marketing for a diverse range of clients across a variety of industries. For more information about how your business can benefit from the power of social media, contact us today.

Read more insights