Complete History of Social Media: Then And Now

history of social media

Interacting with friends and family across long distances has been a concern of humans for centuries. As social animals, people have always relied on communication to strengthen their relationships. When face-to-face discussions are impossible or inconvenient, humans have dreamed up plenty of creative solutions. Avalaunch Media recently unveiled their Interactive Infographic entitled, “The Complete History of Social Media.”

History of Social Media: Then And Now

The roots of social media stretch far deeper than you might imagine. Although it seems like a new trend, sites like Facebook are the natural outcome of many centuries of social media development.

Social Media Before 1900

history of social media2

The earliest methods of communicating across great distances used written correspondence delivered by hand from one person to another. In other words, letters. The earliest form of postal service dates back to 550 B.C., and this primitive delivery system would become more widespread and streamlined in future centuries.

In 1792, the telegraph was invented. This allowed messages to be delivered over a long distance far faster than a horse and rider could carry them. Although telegraph messages were short, they were a revolutionary way to convey news and information.

Although no longer popular outside of drive-through banking, the pneumatic post, developed in 1865, created another way for letters to be delivered quickly between recipients. A pneumatic post utilizes underground pressurized air tubes to carry capsules from one area to another.

Two important discoveries happened in the last decade of the 1800s: The telephone in 1890 and the radio in 1891.

Both technologies are still in use today, although the modern versions are much more sophisticated than their predecessors. Telephone lines and radio signals enabled people to communicate across great distances instantaneously, something that mankind had never experienced before.

Social Media in the 20th Century

history of social media3

Technology began to change very rapidly in the 20th Century. After the first super computers were created in the 1940s, scientists and engineers began to develop ways to create networks between those computers, and this would later lead to the birth of the Internet.

The earliest forms of the Internet, such as CompuServe, were developed in the 1960s. Primitive forms of email were also developed during this time. By the 70s, networking technology had improved, and 1979’s UseNet allowed users to communicate through a virtual newsletter.

By the 1980s, home computers were becoming more common and social media was becoming more sophisticated. Internet relay chats, or IRCs, were first used in 1988 and continued to be popular well into the 1990’s.

The first recognizable social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997. It enabled users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. In 1999, the first blogging sites became popular, creating a social media sensation that’s still popular today.

Social Media Today

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After the invention of blogging, social media began to explode in popularity. Sites like MySpace and LinkedIn gained prominence in the early 2000s, and sites like Photobucket and Flickr facilitated online photo sharing. YouTube came out in 2005, creating an entirely new way for people to communicate and share with each other across great distances.

By 2006, Facebook and Twitter both became available to users throughout the world. These sites remain some of the most popular social networks on the Internet. Other sites like Tumblr, Spotify, Foursquare and Pinterest began popping up to fill specific social networking niches.

Today, there is a tremendous variety of social networking sites, and many of them can be linked to allow cross-posting. This creates an environment where users can reach the maximum number of people without sacrificing the intimacy of person-to-person communication. We can only speculate about what the future of social networking may look in the next decade or even 100 years from now, but it seems clear that it will exist in some form for as long as humans are alive.


Drew Hendricks Drew Hendricks is a tech, social media and environmental addict. He writes for many major publications such as National Geographic, Technorati and The Huffington Post.

55 Reactions
  1. Woah, this has changed my definition of social media.

  2. I was using this timeline as a rough basis for a research paper and double checked many of the years posted on here and many of these are wrong.

    • Hi AJD, perhaps you could enlighten us as to exactly what you think is wrong about this? I’d be interested to see which of the years you believe are incorrect.

      Thank you,

      • Hi Anita

        I have found 1 that is wrong and it is the release date of Facebook was 04/02/2004. I am sure that this is the only date that looks wrong to me, I have checked the others for a paper I am writing and they seem to be okay.

        Thank you

      • Thank you, Laura.

        Just a follow-up point of clarification: the article says “by 2006” not “in 2006” to refer to Facebook.

        In the case of Facebook, the site was launched under its current name and domain,, in 2005. A previous iteration of Facebook had been launched under a different name as early as 2004.

        By 2006, people were using Facebook. That part is correct — by that date Facebook was available and people were using it.

        – Anita

  3. And lets not forget the premium and custom plugins, which aren’t listed in the repository.

  4. This creates an environment where users can reach the maximum number of people without sacrificing the intimacy of person-to-person communication.

  5. YouTube came out in 2005, creating an entirely new way for people to communicate and share with each other across great distances.

  6. While CompuServe was a form of computer networking it was not a part of the Internet, at least initially. It was really a glorified BBS.

  7. As a communication historian who studies the history of networked personal computing, I feel obligated to note that there are many errors in this explanation of social media history. If high school or college students are considering citing this in an academic paper, I encourage them to find a different source.

    The problems? A few are listed below.

    1) CompuServe was not part of the Internet.
    2) The Internet began as a network to link research institutions in 1969, and it was called ARPANET.
    3) USENET was not a virtual newsletter. It was a protocol that enabled the creation of distributed discussion groups (conferences). It was also used to distribute binary files that had been encoded into ASCII text.
    4) The system Community Memory (1972 – 1973) was one of the very first forerunners of social media.
    5) Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) offered much of the same functionality that we associate with social media.

    I am posting these comments because many students have been citing this page as a credible source and it is flat out *wrong*.

    • Also wrong is the fact that this synopsis of social media paints it in a positive light when it has contributed to more isolation and negativity throughout the globe than any other “innovation” (what an absolutely ironic designation for it BTW– “SOCIAL” media– when there’s nothing social about it.) The internet in and of itself was a fantastic technological evolutionary step, too bad it led to this.

      • we’re talking about the history and how it developed since it came out , you’re completely right when you said it only made us isolated and negative, but that is not the point here, because most people that come here to check out this blog is probably they’re doing research . I just had to let you know tho, all love steve.


    • As a high school student, I thank you for the advice on avoiding this website as a source. Was wondering if you could recommend another source like this one, however with the correct information? Will be much appreciated

    • then what source should we use?

  8. Where is HI5 and QQ? They where established in 2004 and 1996

  9. Correction. The first online social media website:

    Put it into the Wayback machine.

  10. I am confused of when did really social media started. ’cause I need it for my paper. Would you mind to help me? Thank you

    • Pauline of Forestville, MD

      Mariel suse, I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now since I’m just seeing this article. Although I feel that the commenter, Ben, and several others expressed their concern for ‘article accuracy’ in such a mean-spirited tone, I do agree that there is indeed need for correction. Mariel, and anyone else who have a need for truth of information, please use the only accurate source – The Library of Congress. You see when one goes to the internet and just google anyone’s article on a subject, know that much of the information is either incomplete, only partially true, and/or contain many spelling and grammar errors; neither of which someone preparing a paper want to be a part. Therefore, use a reliable source for accurate data.

  11. This is one of the laziest articles ever. Did your English teacher even require you to cite sources? Not even 1 fact is provided for “today’s.” If I were your boss, I’d fire you. And least make you re-write this articles s provide something useful. I hope I wasted as much of your time as you did mine. I’ll go do real research now…..pathetic excuse for an author

    • @ben jamin , I think you should try writing an article like this and see how many horrible comments you will get

  12. When i was a small, A new social media platform was launched, which make the world to communicate with each others through videos. It was a huge success for Jawed Karim, Chad Hurley, and Steve Chen.

  13. Very informative post. I was unaware of the facts and historic points about the social media channel mentioned by you.

  14. Truly social media has come a long way and this article provides great insight. For a lot of businesses social media is one of the top channel to acquire customers. Loved the article! some great insights! Want more of these.

  15. Wow! This is very interesting. Now I know.

  16. Your article is truly informative. More than that, it’s engaging, compelling, and well-written. I would desire to see even more of these types of great writing.


  17. Can anyone list the custom plugins that are recommended ??
    And please don’t forget about the the premium, which aren’t listed in the repository.

  18. Advantages of social media? You reach a large number of audiences. You have a direct connection with your audience. If you know how to use social media 🙂

  19. Wow! This is very interesting. Now I know.

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