The List: Landmarks in social networking

As Facebook’s valuation climbs by the day, and Twitter broadcasts the thoughts of everyone from Stephen Fry to Tunisian revolutionaries, social networking is revolutionising the way we communicate. Yet the phenomenon has a history dating back to the 1970s. Here are the top five landmarks in social networking.

1. Community Memory, 1973

At a record store in Berkeley, California, Lee Felsenstein and fellow enthusiasts from a project called Community Memory installed a computer terminal and invited passers-by to type in a message. Soon, they had built an online bulletin board where musicians swapped information about gigs, a poet promoted his verses, and others discussed where to get the best bagels. Community Memory survived for a decade, and has a claim to be the first social network.

2. San Francisco earthquake, 1989

In the late 1980s an online community called the Well attracted hippies, hackers and writers from across the San Francisco Bay area. When an earthquake struck in 1989, they used it to check up on friends and direct help: “Like 9/11, like every other significant thing I’ve done since going online,” remembers one user, the writer Howard Rheingold, “practically the first thing I did was to go online and talk to people about who was okay.”

3. Six Degrees, 1997

The web changed social networking from a geeky pastime into a mainstream obsession. In 1997 Andrew Weinreich, a New York technology lawyer, had an idea: “I quit my job. I bought the domain sixdegrees,” he says. “I thought it captured the idea that everyone in the world is connected, if only you knew how.” His network grew despite the lack of a feature its members demanded – photo sharing. Four years later Six Degrees, which had 3.5m members, sold for $125m. That makes Weinreich one of a rare breed: those who made real money from social networking.

4. Zuckerberg starts a network, 2004

Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg, 19, had been working on a site designed to connect people across the campus, while neglecting a (somewhat) similar project he had been commissioned to design by twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. When he switched on, the reaction was instant. “Within a couple of weeks two- thirds of the school was using it and people from other colleges were writing in and asking for it,” he remembers. Zuckerberg and a couple of friends then thought: “Why don’t we take this to everyone?” And they did ...

5. The miracle on the Hudson, 2009

In January 2009, Janis Krums was on a New York ferry when a plane made an emergency landing in the Hudson river. He took a picture on his iPhone, uploaded it and tweeted: “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.” His photo was the first image of what came to be called the “miracle on the Hudson”. It was also the moment that showed social networking was a platform to tell the world about breaking news – as well as informing friends that you had just had a nice cappuccino.

Rory Cellan-Jones is the BBC’s technology correspondent and presents ‘The Secret History of Social Networking’, Radio 4, 11am, January 26

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