The BBC have launched a new podcast called the Secret History of Social Media. The first episode of the three-part series aired last Wednesday and was extremely interesting.
Our guide, Rory Cellan-Jones begins with an example of today’s use of social media; a wedding where the bride and groom used Facebook to send the wedding invites and both Facebook and Twitter to keep their guests up to date on all the wedding preparations.
A somewhat extreme example of social media usage, but it is increasingly common for us all to live our lives online; keeping friends regularly updated on the day-to-day activities of our lives, as well as bigger events like weddings, christenings, new jobs and so on.
Most of us think that Social Media really only started in the last 10 years or so, but the BBC takes us all the way back to Berkeley in 1973 where Leopold’s Records set up the world’s first computer based social community, by placing a computer terminal beside the musician’s bulletin board and inviting visitors to the store to post messages. Several more computer terminals appeared in other locations around the San Francisco bay area and locals soon used them to arrange parties, gigs and leave messages for friends.
Not only was the online social community a first, but letting people use a computer was rare, as this was a time where only a handful of people, usually those studying science, had access to a computer.
In the 1980s another online community was born as a result of a helicopter crash. Dr. Larry Brilliant, who was working for the World Health Organisation, was in Nepal conducting a survey on blindness when a helicopter went down and a replacement part was needed to fix it. Dr. Brilliant had an acoustic modem, given to him by friend Steve Jobs, which he manged to network in and organise the spare part to be donated by Aerospatiale, for Pan Am to fly the part to Kathmandu and for the RAF to transport it overland.
Dr. Brilliant turned the experience into a company, and so the Well (or Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) was born, and brought together people who conversed on a miriade of topics.
The Well gained popularity after fans of the Grateful Dead, or Deadheads as they’re known, began using it as a meeting place, and the band responded in kind by posting playlists and announcing gigs.
During the 1989 San Francisco earthquake the Well was used by the community to help identify those in trouble and get help to them – something we often see Twitter used for nowadays.
Online communication expanded with the UK’s Prestel and France’s Minitel giving millions of telephone users access, and in other places the Bulletin Board System gained popularity allowing even more people a taste of online based communities.
And all this happened before the world wide web!
Are you familiar with any other pre-millennium online communities? Please share your stories in the comments section below.
To listen to Wednesday’s podcast and subscribe for the final two installments go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/shsn.