It may seem strange to be writing a Throwback Thursday feature on social media. After all, it’s a relatively recent development and very much alive and kicking – in fact, it’s probably more central to our lives than many of us are willing to admit. Every aspect of our lives has a social media outlet, professional and personal, from Facebook to LinkedIn; more than ever, we use social media to define ourselves. Privacy conscious? Ello. Budding photographer? Instagram. Techy? Diaspora.

Social media has been perhaps the most definitive aspect of Internet culture over the past decade, but its origins go back much further than you might imagine. The very function of the Internet itself, and progenitors such as ARPANET, has always been communication: at first it was between institutions and academics, and then businesses, and then the public at large. The web has to some extent always been about social media.

The first email was sent in 1971, and whilst not necessarily conforming to what we might think of as social media today, it was the first step on a long road. The next stage consisted of relatively small, closed bulletin boards; static and minimal compared to what we use today, but also the first open forums on the web. At this point, the Internet as we know it didn’t exist, with Tim Berners-Lee still developing it at CERN. In 1993, the research laboratory donated the technology to the world at large, heralding the beginning of the digital era we inhabit today.

It didn’t take long for the inherently social nature of humanity to make itself known in cyberspace. In 1994, the website Geocities was founded, allowing users to create websites modelled after urban areas. It passed the one million members mark in 1997, the same year that blogging began and AOL Instant Messenger was introduced. The first true social networking site, however, with user profiles, personal messaging and search functions, was Friends Reunited, a site set up in 1999 to connect old school friends.

Fast forward past the founding of Wikipedia in 2001 and the end of the dot-com bubble to 2003, with the inception of LinkedIn and MySpace. Facebook followed a year later, then YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006, also the year Facebook opened its membership to anyone over thirteen. In hindsight, this spate of new sites can be considered the true genesis of social media as we know it – ten years ago now.

It is now estimated that 85% of the world has access to the Internet, and that a quarter of the globe’s population use social media. Astronauts tweet from the International Space Station, and Twitter itself was instrumental in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011; more recently, social media has been helping to combat the Ebola crisis in Africa. For a medium that many of us consider relatively trivial, social media has indisputably changed the course of human history.

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