AOL giphy

Social media: the early days

With over 3 billion active internet users and 2 billion active social media accounts across the globe, we’re beginning to live our lives through a glass screen of contacts and emojis. So how did we get to this point?

Where it all began:

Before the days of hashtags and tweet quoting there were much simpler ways of communicating with one another. Tech-savvy pioneers would communicate using Bulletin Board Systems, or ‘BBS sites’ as they were better known. These were primarily used for file sharing, however they did also allow for primitive forms of communication through basic messaging services. Although seeing as BBS’ worked off a phone modem, if you actually wanted to connect with someone outside of your general area you’d have to pay some hefty international calling rates…which kind of took the fun out of long distance chats!

If you wanted a more complete way of communicating across the globe, without spending a fortune, the arrival of CompuServe was your best bet. Founded in 1969 the online service was the first to allow for ‘electronic-mailing’ between personal computers. This was understandably a huge step in the online communications timeline as without e-mail, how would everyone have sent funny cat pictures and inappropriate jokes to one another in the workplace? However CompuServe’s shelf life wasn’t as long as its owners may have hoped…

Like with any company, person or organisation, there’s always something that will surpass it. With CompuServe, it was AOL. Although CompuServe enabled users to email one another, amongst many other things on the service, it was the hourly charging rate that opened the door for its competitors to offer something better. Although AOL charged an hourly rate initially, it was the transition to a monthly subscription service that flooded the site with new users. Within three years AOL’s customer base grew to 10 million users and in 1996 the headquarters had to be moved to accommodate the companies growth. It was only a matter of time before the new kid on the block overtook the ageing dinosaur, and AOL purchased CompuServe in 1998, later dissolving the company in June 2009.

With this shift, AOL became the powerhouse of online communication, to the extent that during 1998 the company monopolised the entire world’s production of CD’s, just to produce AOL version 4.0. TRUE STORY! Not even Microsoft could get a look in during those few weeks, and that’s saying a lot! AOL also had success with their online messaging service, AIM, which became hugely popular in Northern America during the early 2000s. Meanwhile AOL’s video service provided professional video content, as well as allowing users to upload their own works of visual art. In hindsight AOL delivered many of the services that sites such as Twitter and Facebook provide now, but nothing they did is more memorable for AOL users than this…

Surprisingly, even now over 2 million AOL customers still hear that melodic tone when they connect to the internet, who would have thought that huh? However all the free CD’s in the world couldn’t prevent AOL’s inevitable sale, and earlier this year AOL was purchased by American based communications company Verizon for a cool $4.4 billion dollars!

Join us next time when we’ll be discussing the creation of the online communities we know and love, from pokes to quotes and all the friend requests in between!

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