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What came first, Social Media or The Internet?


Social Media has become a phrase that we use all too often nowadays; and it’s no surprise when you consider how it has become intrinsically linked with our day-to-day lives. Like any lasting technological innovation, the concept of Social Media came from humble beginnings – way before the Internet boom of the 1990s.

According to information provided by the Global Web Index at the beginning of 2015, the average user now spends around 1.72 hours on social media every day – accounting for almost 30% of our daily Internet activity. That number has almost certainly grown over the year.

Facebook is now the biggest social networking site, but social media definitely didn’t start there. It all began way back in the early ‘70s and early ‘80s when computers weren’t the readily available commodities that they are now. In many ways we owe our global-communication addiction to the earliest computer geeks. Nerds of the past – we salute you.

To understand where Social Media started we have to look back to before the World Wide Web was a thing…

BBS – Bulletin Board Systems

In some ways Bulletin Board Systems can be seen as one of the earliest precursors to Social Media. They were computer servers that ran software allowing users to connect using terminals. Users were then able to perform a number of tasks such as viewing news bulletins, message other users via email or use message boards, and upload/download data. BBS were essentially online meeting places which used coding to allow users to interact, share information, play games and generally be social over telephone lines, via a modem. Sound familiar?

The first BBS was created in 1978 by Ward Christensen and Randy Suess. Known as CBBS (Computerised Bulletin Board System), it was the first “non-military computer-based community, other than timesharing systems.” ( From it sparked tens of thousands of localised equivalents across the world, all with their own theming.


Although BBS were certainly an important early precursor to what we now deem to be Social Media, other services such as CompuServe were undoubtedly as important. CompuServe gave users the ability to interact and communicate with other users using email, access news and events updates, contribute to discussions on forums and share files. CompuServe paved the way for today’s most-loved forum sites.


It is undeniable how much social networks of today owe to AOL, or America Online as it was then known. The most notable features, and ones that you will no doubt be able to find modern day equivalents too, was the searchable ‘Member Profiles’ and communities.

Modern Social Media

Countless innovations came after, but they all relied on the Internet boom of the 1990s. Those are the subject of later articles as each had their own intricacies, features and brought with them new and exciting possibilities. No doubt what we are experiencing today is a mere footnote in the social networks of the future. Millennials are in the fascinating position of being able to watch the early growth of what is a defining technological advancement in communication.

It makes you wonder how the geeks of the past feel about the development of social media. Would they be disheartened by how mainstream it has all become? We can only hope not. We owe our online-lives to them and we should take it upon ourselves to do them proud.

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