Social Media – A brief history

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The Neth
The Neth
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Joined: 9:11 pm - Mon Aug 06, 2018
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Social Media – A brief history

Post by Laneth » 10:27 pm - Fri Aug 17, 2018


In the beginning…

The year is 1999 and the term “Social Media” is a good few years from being a ‘thing’; LiveJournal has only just been founded and is taking the online world by storm.

Image – The TRUE grandfather of the social web

It fills an apparent hole in the WWW where previously there was no stable service for people to write all their thoughts online in a diary-esque manner, as well as combining the ability to comment, socialise, subscribe to others’ blogs, create community blogs and even blogs dedicated to / run by bands and celebrities.

Prior to this the only option people had was to build their own websites or to make use of services like (Yahoo!) GeoCities and the free plugins that came with them to build their communities / write their journals.

The GeoCities logo from 1998 when I started using the site.

LiveJournal sought to streamline all these dissociated features into one website, free to all users in the beginning and eventually adding extra features for minimal costs to help curtail the growing costs of maintaining their service.

To say it was a HUGE success would be a massive understatement, and I personally feel that the history of the web, and social media in particular, has neglected to acknowledge and pay tribute to LJ for its invaluable contributions to what would become an incredible decade of change and growth online.

Prior to Web 2.0, prior to the the exponential growth of ‘social sites’ after MySpace and Facebook’s incredibly successful launch, prior to even the “granddaddy of social sites” Friendster, was this titan that is still active today.

LiveJournal, arguably, was the precursor to two major industries that exploded in late 2000, early 2001: blogging and what would quickly become known as “social media”.

Blogging became a profitable industry in the early 00s, and entire companies were being formed and dedicated to creating websites that were more than just a website – they were crafting experiences; immersive, collaborative, social web communities that would grow to shape and change global cultures more than we could have ever guessed.

But I digress.

I’m meant to be talking about the history and climate of Social Media, and how it’s entirely different today than it was back then. (I guess my digression could be justified in that I painted a vivid picture of the early days, even if it does read a bit like a love letter to LiveJournal…)

So, “Social Media”. From what I’ve been able to find out, there’s a bit of contention over who actually coined the term. There’s some evidence to suggest that it stretches as far back as the birthing of AOL Instant Messenger, back in the early 90s, but I personally would argue that while that is indeed a valid member of the “social media family”, the term doesn’t specifically relate to how we use it today.

Nor does the term relate exactly to what Tina Sharkey claims to have used it for, being, “Well, it’s not like service media, and it’s not quite informational media — it’s social media!” (This in relation to the work she was doing at iVillage in community building.)

The definition of Social Media, as defined in several dictionaries, is:
noun (usually used with a plural verb) Digital Technology.
  1. websites and other online means of communication that are used by large groups of people to share information and to develop social and professional contacts:
    Many businesses are utilizing social media to generate sales.
noun, plural in form but singular or plural in construction
forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)
Oxford Dictionary
NOUN treated as singular or plural
Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.
‘In a February 2009 article for Businessweek Online, social media expert, BL Ochman debunked six media myths surrounding social media.’
But probably the most interesting definition comes from
Primarily internet or cellular phone based applications and tools to share information among people. Social media includes popular networking websites, like Facebook and Twitter; as well as bookmarking sites like Reddit. It involves blogging and forums and any aspect of an interactive presence which allows individuals the ability to engage in conversations with one another, often as a discussion over a particular blog post, news article, or event.
The general consensus is that Social Media is a form of mass social communication and collaboration in the creation, curation, sharing, and consumption of various forms of information, with specific emphasis on the creation aspect being primarily in the control of society and not the traditional purveyors of various media, like news outlets, music labels, tv stations, etc.

The Early Days

Social Media in its infancy was a complete free-for-all, when anyone and their dog could slap together some clever javascript and launch a database-driven membership site that allowed users to create their own little space of the web where they could share whatever they wanted to however big an audience they could attract (mostly family and friends, unless they were some form of celebrity, or gained some early ‘virality’)

Blogging was still not really a professional industry, though there were quite a number of people experimenting with different ways to grow a community around a topic or topics, or were simply writing about their own personal passions and eventually gained the attention of publishers or television networks and landed book deals or signed rights to adaptations of their blog contents. (See Julie and Julia, or Darren Rowse of ProBlogger fame for references.)

Also, to see how the early days of what we now consider to be the Social Media Timeline, check out a site entitled just that, thanks to

It shows that one of the earliest sites in the modern Social Media Timeline is Wikipedia – the encyclopedia that is edited and maintained by the general public.

As surprising as that might seem, it definitely rates up there was a social media site. There’s a huge community of people that are dedicated to the collection, collation, and presentation of true information, history, and facts of our world in a concise, stylised way that has eventually allowed it to become a legitimate reference source for school and university assignments.

Fast forward to now

These days, Social Media is arguably one of the world’s largest industries. Without countless practical implementations in our daily lives, social media websites and services are used both actively and passively, and can be something as engaging as writing a blog, to tracking one’s fitness and automatically logging the results via something like a FitBit.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the company Buffer, a social media tool that allows you to schedule and track your social media posts across numerous major networks.

Buffer – A better way to share on social media

The company itself is more than just a group of people that build and maintain the product / app, and look after their clientbase via their social sites. They are a company that have gathered together some 80+ (at the time of writing) incredible individuals from all over the world and have redefined what it means to be a truly global company.

With the team being located in over 50 cities across 6 continents, they have had to create a company culture from the start that supports not only remote working abilities, but the personal responsibilities and work-life balance to allow their employees to get the most out of both their lives and their jobs.

One of the ways they’ve done this is by running the company completely transparently, including the divulgence of their salaries and where every dollar going into the company goes. It’s truly fascinating to witness this company grow, especially in a world where such a business model is frowned upon by traditional businesses.

The staff have really embraced this as well, taking it on into their own lives and other professional ventures as well. I don’t think I’ve encountered an entirely happy company like I have with Buffer before, and that’s both amazing and sad. To think that there’s such a relatively simple way for companies to operate and things like greed, paranoia, fear, and other such negative emotions get in the way of the “bosses” having a more successful business.

Anyway, moving on from my little fanboy moment, I wanted to highlight a particular part of social media that I have never personally taken part in, really. I’ve tried to subscribe and follow them before, but I’ve just never found one engaging enough to really stick to. Podcasts.


Buffer have changed the whole game for me, with their new podcast called Buffer CultureLab. It’s a free podcast that can be listened to on most major services (I’ve linked to iTunes, but you can read more about it here) and is going to cover a lot of relevant topics, related to podcasting, but also related to their industry and how their clients and community can learn and grow from their experiences.

The first three episodes are up and available now, with several more having been recorded and are set to be released.

Buffer’s blog is a goldmine of information any day of the week, I highly suggest getting that into your RSS reader or visiting their site each day to catch something new and interesting.

The reason I finished this post on Buffer is simply because, in my opinion, they and their community are leaders in providing up-to-date information, tips and tricks, and links to people, products, services, and businesses that are relevant and worthwhile in getting to know across and incredible range of non-social industries. It’s certainly an invaluable group to be involved with.

Having been out of touch with the business side of Social Media since 2013 when I had to step away from my socmed management role, I have found some solace and accelerated re-education through being part of the Buffer community. It has reawoken in me the desire to get back into administrative social media work, probably something in the customer service and brand management side of things. It’s where I’ve thrived in the past and where I think I’d love to be in the very near future.

So…if you know of anything going that could do with a admin whiz and customer service guru, feel free to pass my name along 😉 haha
Laneth Sffarlenn

“As a spirit schooled to power, his perception stems from one absolute. Universal harmony begins with recognition that the life in an ordinary pebble is as sacred as conscious selfhood.” ― Janny Wurts, The Curse of the Mistwraith