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A History of the Social Web

This is a draft of a chapter and not a finished essay. Citations will be added. The slides of two presentations about this material are available: part 1, part 2. You can also download a .pdf of a linear time line (zoom in).

Please send corrections or comments to trebor@thing.net
(updated last:  October 23, 2007)

This is a cross-cultural, critical history of social life on the Internet. It captures technical, cultural, and political events that influenced the evolution of computer-assisted person-to-person communication via the net. In difference to other historical accounts, this essay acknowledges the role of grassroots movements and does not solely focus on mainstream culture with all its mergers, acquisitions, sales and markets, and the (mostly male) geeks, engineers, scientists, and garage entrepreneurs who implemented their dreams in hardware and software. This is a critical history as it traces the changing nature of labor and typologies of those who create value online as much as it searches for changing approaches toward control, privacy, and intellectual property. It shows strategies for direct social change based on the technologies and practices which already exist.

Emphasizing the role of women whenever possible, this history shows that the interests of those who used the Net as social platform shaped it in the interplay of military, scientific, entrepreneurial, activist, artistic, and altruistic agendas. The evolution of the Social Web was driven by fear, desire (to be with others), and fandom. By no means exclusively an American story, it shows instances in which users succeeded when striving for open access, jointly negotiating with corporate platform-providers.

Networked sociality did, of course, not start with the Internet. Tom Standage in "The Victorian Internet" compares the history of the telegraph to that of the net by talking about geographically distributed telegraph operators who were dating each other after hours. With a telegraph cable connecting the United States and Europe, communication across the Atlantic was easy, people believed in the end of all wars. Standage describes the information overload and widespread euphoria that were associated with the Internet, already occurring with the implementation of the telegraph.
Neither the telegraph nor the telephone were the only means of networked communication leading up to
computer-assisted person-to-person communication via the net but this pre-history is extensively covered in the literature on the history of communication.

This essay now "fastforwards" through history, tracing main ideas that were crucial in the evolution of networked sociality online. Famously, in 1945 the American computing pioneer Vannevar Bush outlined the idea of hyperlinked pages and the “Memex,” (knowledge on call), which were fundamental for the World Wide Web. Bush conceived of the "Memex" as "an enlarged intimate supplement to [man's] memory." Four years later, in his novel Heliopolis, the German author Ernst Jünger dreams up the communication medium "Phonophor," which he describes as connecting everybody to everybody else, enabling a permanent, technically facilitated forum that also replaces the newspaper, library, and encyclopedia.

Such anticipation of interaction and participatory cultures were also present in the arts. John Cage's three-movement piece 4'33" premiered in 1952, given by David Tudor at Woodstock in upstate New York. This widely known and often cited piece, performed for four minutes and thirty three seconds was related to Cage's experience at Harvard University's isolation chamber where he was able to listen to the sound of the blood in his body circulating. It is widely known that Cage considered the quotidian sounds, the sounds that surround us, as music. The audience in performances of 4'33" is activated and unintentionally becomes part of the piece in so far as the noises that they themselves are making become part of the work. In 1957 Allan Kaprow first coined the term "happening" and referred to it as a performance, event or situation. Happenings were meant to be art, often lacked a narrative, could take place anywhere and sought to involve the audience. Wikipedia cites Kaprow’s piece 18 Happenings in 6 Parts as the first happening. According to the art historian Claire Bishop

"[A]ctivation; authorship; community -- are the most frequently cited motivations for almost all artistic attempts to encourage participation in art since the 1960s."
Also in 1957 an event took place that sent shock waves through the United States administration and its effect on the American psyche can be compared to Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, or the attacks of September 11, 2001. On October 4th, the USSR launched Sputnik (a 180-pound aluminum ball) the world's first artificial satellite. The US American public feared annihilation through a military strike from a Soviet satellite and the government promptly set up the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) at the Pentagon.

At DARPA, J.C.R. Licklider, called "Lick" by his colleagues, provided the vision for networking that would lead to the development of ARPANET, the forerunner of the modern Internet. In his essay The Computer as Communication Device, Licklider anticipated real-time interactivity:
"We believe that we are entering into a technological age, in which we will be able to interact with the richness of living information -- not merely in the passive way that we have become accustomed to using books and libraries, but as  active participants in an ongoing process, bringing something to it through our interaction with it, and not simply receiving something from it by our connection to it."
The concept of the hyperlink, originated by Vannevar Bush, was technically implemented in 1960 by visionary Ted Nelson who proposed Xanadu, a global network and a place for literary memory. Occupied with the need for a communication system that could withstand a projected large-scale (possibly nuclear) attack by the Soviet Union, Paul Baran, proposed a distributed network in his essay “On Distributed Communication Networks” (1964). In this document Baran demonstrated that sections of a distributed network could be destroyed while the message would still reach its destination. His "distributed network" and Leonard Kleinrock's essay on packet switching (1960), were key stepping stones on the way to the invention of the Internet. In 1962, Baran describes packet switching: "all the nodes in the network would be equal in status to all other nodes, each node with its own authority to originate, pass, and receive messages." The messages themselves would be divided into packets, each packet separately addressed. If there is a traffic jam at one point in the network, it can be re-routed. The mathematician Kleinrock pointed out (somewhat jokingly) that he can guarantee that an email message, for example, would reach its destination but he cannot promise that it will be read. While the distributed network called for an expensive hardware system infrastructure, it was the way to go. 

In the early 1960's PLATO, a crucial system in the development of pre-Internet networked communication was developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana. More than ten years later, Doug Brown wrote a software program called Talkomatic, which supported chat among PLATO users.

Email, Standardization, and Protocols
In 1965,
Fernando José Corbató and his colleagues at MIT developed a program to allowed individual users to swap messages on one single computer. This was the first email but it was not sent via the Internet. In 1968, ARPA asked for a quotation to build a network of four Interface Message Processors. Instead of the major communication companies like IBM or AT&T, it was the brave people at the Boston-based company BBN who lived up to the challenge in nine months.

Vint Cerf (today
Vice President of Google) and Bob Kahn, one of the BBN researchers, wrote and helped establish TCP/IP as the protocol on which the Internet runs in 1968. The campaigns related to the establishment of protocols that run on the Internet were intense. The US government, for example, preferred another protocol but TCP/IP was non-proprietary and public domain and thus spread anarchically like a wild fire across small networks and in the end it would have been to expensive to switch to another standard.

TCP, or "Transmission Control Protocol," converts messages into streams of packets at the source and then reassembles them back into messages at the destination while IP, or "Internet Protocol," handles the addressing, seeing to it that packets are routed across multiple nodes and even across multiple networks with multiple standards. The establishment of an overarching standard for the Internet was crucial. The Net would have been defunct if machines would have attempted to communicate with each other in different languages. It is similar to a fax machine that obviously cannot communicate with another location if the person there does not own a fax machine herself. In 1993, the science fiction author Bruce Sterling talked about the Internet's "anarchy" saying that “It's rather like the 'anarchy' of the English language. Nobody rents English, and nobody owns English. As an English-speaking person, it's up to you to learn how to speak English properly and make whatever use you please of it...” TCP/IP offered such a common standard (not unlike the English language) that would allow different networks to connect and form one big network: the Inter-net.

Tools to the People-- The Birth of the Net
In 1969 ARPA commissions research into networking and the first node of ARPANET went live at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), which was one of the networks that led to today's Internet. At a time when hippies dominated the campus, the first machine arrived at UCLA in a military, fridge-sized container, moveable by helicopter. This first Los Angeles node was then connected to UC Santa Barbara, Stanford University and then the University of Utah. Many universities were apparently not too exited about the ability of sharing material. ("They had their own fish to fry.") This event of connecting these four nodes is commonly credited as the birth of today's Internet.
Kleinrock was so moved by this moment that he wrote a poem about it.
"We cautiously connected and the bits began to flow. The pieces really functioned just why I still don't know.  Messages are moving pretty well by Wednesday morn. All the rest is history, packet switching had been born."
In the meantime there had been attempts to create networks similar to ARPANET, for example the Cyclades project in France, but none of succeeded in the long run.

In 1969, the Whole Earth Catalog was first published by a group of founders, most notably
Stewart Brand, with the idea of bringing tools to people to build a better society, which was seen as an alternative to joining the crusade to help a big cause; a strategy, which had failed according to one of the Whole Earth Catalog editors, Howard Rheingold

The First Wireless Network
Norm Abramson, a passionate surfer and professor at the University of Hawaii, was keen to know what the waves were like on the other islands. Therefore he developed a radio network that would allow for communication, using a protocol telling the computers how to share the airwaves. Launched in 1970, using radio waves rather than telephone lines to network computers,
ALOHANET was the first wireless network involving computers. ALOHANET and many other small networks were later linked up to ARPANET. 
Such wireless networks are an inexpensive and fast way to connect to the Internet in countries and geographic regions with a poor communication infrastructure (e.g., most of the economic developing world).

In 1971, Ray Tomlinson (b. 1941) also at BBN, wrote a piece of software that allowed messages to be sent between computers and one year later he sent the first email via the Internet. To separate the user from his or her machine in the email address he introduced the @ sign. While Samuel Morse' first telegraph message read “What Hath God Wrought,” Ray Tomlinson's first email said something like "QWERTYIOP."
 
In the same year Michael Hart founded Project Gutenberg (PG), the "oldest digital library built on volunteer efforts to digitize, archive, and distribute cultural works." The project is the largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks, online. Projects like this show that already the beginnings of the Internet were marked by military and academic research agendas as well as personal conversations via email and altruistic initiatives like Hart's Project Gutenberg.    

By 1975 most of what happened on ARPANET was email, which was really not in sync with ARPANET's explicit research focus but it demonstrated the desire of people, given the opportunity, to be social, to talk to each other.

Mailing Lists!
Two years later, the first mailing list, called MsgGroup, was created for ARPANET. Ethan Zuckerman reports that the second email on that list was an apology by the system's administrator for doing such a lousy job in keeping up with everybody's requests.

In 1979 Kevin MacKenzie e-mailed his fellow subscribers at MsgGroup, with a suggestion to put some emotion back into the dry text medium of e-mail. He proposed "emoticons" starting with -) MacKenzie's proposal caused widespread outrage but emoticons caught on. The eyes were added years later by a professor at Carnegie Mellon University :--)

In 1977, the term 'groupware' was coined and while the Internet was still mainly a research network, Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw created the first MUD (Multi-User Dungeon), later leading to MMORPGs (e.g., Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games like World of Warcraft). MUDs are
multi-player computer game that combine features of role-playing games with chat rooms.

January 1978 is legendary for Chicago's Great Blizzard that buried the city under snow for weeks. Stuck in his house, it was then and there that Ward Christensen wrote the first BBS, called CBBS. At that time, many people did not have access to the Internet. Instead, they dialed in to CBBS directly via a modem. 
According to Wikipedia, a "BBS is a computer system running software that allows users to dial into the system over a phone line (or Telnet) and, using a terminal program, perform functions such as downloading software and data, uploading data, reading news, and exchanging messages with other users." Users had to take turns accessing the system, each hanging up when done to let someone else have access. Nevertheless, the system was seen as very useful and ran for many years. It also inspired the creation of many other bulletin board systems and soon, the first ASCii art appeared on BBSs and also porn could be purchased on BBS's like Rusty n Edie's. In the early 1980s The Fido Network of Bulletin Board Systems started up, which allowed users to post to a network of linked up BBS's. Messages were sent from one BBS to the next once a day.

For the Internet to become popular it still needed Douglas Engelbart to invent the computer mouse and there needed to be PCs in people's homes. Without that, the Internet would have remained a network solely connecting supercomputers at big research centers. It also needed a common standard that would allow the many small networks to talk to each other. If you call up somebody in Brazil and you have a perfect connection, it is still useless unless you speak Portuguese (or the person on the other end speaks English).

In 1978, two Duke University graduates and one student from the University of North Carolina created USENET newsgroups, a system that copies files between computers without central control. These message sharing systems that exchanged emails electronically around the world were the precursors of peer-to-peer applications like Gnutella or discussion boards such as GoogleGroups. Early  mailing lists and newsgroups, often organized by topic, constituted first networked publics.   

In 1980 the L'Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland, hired the independent British researcher and programmer Tim Berners-Lee on a six-month contract. All three references that Berners-Lee provided to CERN, described him as "intense, efficient, and creative." Tim Berners-Lee proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext that would facilitate the sharing and updating of information among researchers. In many ways, CERN was an unlikely host for such a project. It was a place where scientists were known to do incomprehensible things with tiny bits of matter, with labs specializing in the most esoteric form of research imaginable. There was no corporate research agenda but the philosophy of CERN was research out of pure curiosity, which according to CERN, led to all great inventions throughout human history.

Establishing User Expectations
In 1981 the first IBM personal computer shipped with a computer mouse. Throughout the 1980s PCs entered the homes in the United States and computer manufacturers pushed proprietary protocols but this ill-advised effort failed quickly. In the same year BITNET was released as a collaboration between Ira Fuchs at the City University of New York and Greydon Freeman at Yale University. BITNET's main features were email and listserv but most importantly BITNET set expectations for free access and openness. BITNET, which initially stood for "Because It's There" and later for "Because It's Time," charged by bandwidth, which meant that once you paid for a line, how much you use it was up to you. Others tried to establish a pay by byte system.

In 1983 the American National Science Foundation (NSF) constructed a university network backbone. A year later, the term Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) was established in the context of a workshop and out of it was a spirit of collaboration that led Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant to found The Well, one of the first community bulletin boards in
1985. The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (The Well) is one of the oldest virtual communities in continuous operation. To postto The Well, Brand used a networked PC on his houseboat in Sasalito (CA), claiming that he founded The Well in order to experience communal living without actually having to move into a community. Well members started many discussion boards but the most popular one was dedicated to The Grateful Dead. Some "dead heads" bought computers just to be on The Well. In his book "Virtual Community. Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier" (1993) Howard Rheingold uses The Well as a prime example of a "virtual community'' where people meet, collaborate, argue, and support each other emotionally.

Experiments in Collaboration and the
Monetization of Virtual Communities
In 1984 the French philosopher Francois Lyotard and Thierry Chaput became the cultural context-providers for the exhibition "Les Immateriaux” at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. They invited thirty artists to collaboratively respond to fifty terms related the topic of the "immaterial." First, the invited cultural producers, mostly authors, were ask to write a few, brief definitions of the provided words on paper to be collected and saved on a "text saving system" that was given to them. The authors were then networked with each other through these devices, which are not further specified in the documentation. The participants could now decide at free will to contradict, add, or change the existing definitions. Lyotard and Chaput pointed out that they were mainly interested in the way, in which this collaborative writing changed the experience of the act of writing itself. This could be seen as precursor to many collaborative writing projects but it also relates to the writing process on today's free encyclopedia Wikipedia.
 
In 1987 Lucas Film's Habitat launched for the Commodore 64 computer as an early and technologically influential online role-playing game and the first attempt to monetize a large-scale virtual community by aiming to profit from charging for its messaging services. In the same year Robert Johansen published his book "Groupware: Computer Support for Business Teams," which popularized the term groupware, which, just like Habitat, demonstrates the emergence of networked sociality.

The Web as an Altruistic Contribution to Society
In 1988 Internet Relay Chat (IRC) was invented, allowing for seamless real-time exchanges. One year later, Tim Berners-Lee and the Belgian Robert Cailliau, while working at CERN, conceptualized the World Wide Web by submitting "WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project." Berners-Lee contributed the pillars of the Web: HTML (HyperText Markup Language), URL (Uniform Resource Locator), and HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). Had Tim Berners Lee not provided HTTP as a free and open standard, it is unlikely that the Web would exist in its current form today. This unifying interface of the World Wide Web made it considerably easier for people to form groups on the Internet. At this point in time, Berners-Lee described the World Wide Web "as an altruistic, non-proprietary, vendor-neutral contribution to society."

In the late 1980s networking took first steps outside academia and LambdaMOO became a popular online community. It is the oldest and most active MOO, still in operation in 2007. (A MOO is a text-based online virtual reality system to which multiple users are connected at the same time.)

Tom Grundner, an assistant professor for family medicine worked on making community health information public and consequently became the founder of the Cleveland Free-Net, which was influential in the development of community-oriented free-nets, which were
censorship-resistant networks.

The early 1990s were marked by the increasing use of the term "social software" in expert circles. At the same time, the number of European Internet sites grew from 30,000 in 1990 to 500,000 only two years later.

By 1990 ARPANET was closed down and transferred to NSFNET (National Science Foundation) and Vint Cerf wrote a long “Requiem for the ARPANET” which ended with
“It was the first, and being the first, as best,
But now we lay it down to ever rest.”
At the same time, the libertarian, retired Wyoming cattle rancher and member of The Well, John Perry Barlow, together with John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor, founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a US-American non-profit advocacy and legal organization dedicated to preserving free speech in the context of today's digital age. In 2004, the EFF took on the Tor project, which is a free software system enabling its users to communicate anonymously on the Internet. Tor is used in authoritarian regimes such as China to help bloggers and human rights activists to anonymize their web browsing and publishing as well as instant messaging.  

In 1991, The University of Minnesota launched Gopher, the "infoserver that can deliver text, graphics, audio, and multimedia to clients," which became rapidly popular. While it is unclear how "multimedia" could have been in range for gopher, its goal was to function as an improved form of anonymous FTP, with features similar to that of the World Wide Web. Now that the Web as overarching interface was established, Internet enthusiasts started to believe in a world without borders. In this context Benjamin Anderson's book "Imagined Communities" became influential. He describes the nation state as an imagined community that is mainly constructed by print media. This world without borders later turned out to be, for the very most part, an illusion. Many social networking sites that will emerge later, will be bound to the nation state. Sites like Orkut or Fotolog will be very specific to a particular country and age group and gender. The Internet is everything but borderless.

For a brief period, gopher and the World Wide Web (WWW) were competing systems. In 1993, however, CERN projected that the World Wide Web would be without fees: free for anyone to use. Two months later, gopher announced that it was no longer free to use, which pushed users away from gopher to the World Wide Web. The WWW was public domain, which was an additional reason for its success. But the popularization of the Web was sealed on 1993. In 1992 Marc Andreessen (b. 1971), a local 6’4” undergraduate student at the University of Illinois, working on minimum wage at night, used the protocols for the WWW from CERN to create a more "human interface for the World Wide Web." Together with other students, Andreessen created the Mosaic browser, which was launched in 1993. The browser made the Web accessible to the non-technical person. This was the single, most significant milestone in the popularization of the Web. In 1993, the WWW experienced a 350 percent growth rate, mainly in United States.

In 1994 Andreessen, after leaving the University of Illinois, was surprised to find out that the university did not approve off a commercial spin-off of the former student project. Therefore the small student team founded Netscape, and re-wrote the Mosaic code to market their browser. A year and a half later, Mosaic had 1.5 million users. Early versions of Mosaic had a collaboration feature that allowed annotations, which could be shared with a well-defined team of collaborators.

Experiments with Internet Freedom
It must have been the utopian dreams that were attached to the Internet that made Peter Lamborn Wilson's book Temporary Autonomous Zone, published in 1991, so widely read. Wilson (a.k.a. Hakim Bey, b. 1945) used historical examples to describe the tactic of shaping temporary spaces that elude formal structures of control. The essay inspired Internet pioneers to experiment with the freedoms afforded by Internet.

In 1991, the NSF allowed commercial use of the Internet, opening the gates for a big bang.  Among its first users was the porn industry with first typed interactions with models like "Hello baby." Quiet geek utopia slowly turned into place of ecstatic market (investment) euphoria, which also led to a wave of amateur users who used email and accessed web pages.  In 1995, NSF decommissioned the backbone, leaving the Internet a self-supporting system. The one of the earliest Internet entrepreneurs was the San Francisco-based activist and digital librarian Brewster Kahle (b. 1960) who was part of the company WAIS in 1992.  “I wanted to prove that you could make an Internet company,” he said. After selling WAIS to AOL in May 1995 for $15 million, Kahle and co-founder Gilliat founded the Internet Archive and then Alexa. The temporary wealth created by the dotcom bubble was responsible for several altruistic projects later. Kahle’s Archive.org is only one example. Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar as well as Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos have both launched several large-scale altruistic projects. But there is an additional positive effect of the dotcom bubble. For a short period, a section of the techno-workforce experienced a new kind of work conditions, which were mostly favorable in the sense that the hierarchies in a dotcom company were less pronounced and the work environment was more casual. While many of these knowledge workers lost their job, they took this experience with them when entering the job market again.
 
The Woodstock of the Web
In 1994 one could order pizza online and the World Wide Web had an explosive almost 350,000 percent expansion rate that year. CERN decides to convene the first web conference in Geneva that year and it was so well attended that not even CERN employees could get in. The conference was later called the Woodstock of the Web and Tim Berners-Lee became a kind of rock star. He mainly outlined a long list of problems that need to be addressed so that "a year or two from we don't have to announce that starting next Tuesday you have to put a 7 in front of the URL." However, despite this success Berners-Lee could not get sufficient funding from CERN and Europe is administratively too divided to quickly address issues of standardization and commit the necessary funds rapidly. This led Berners-Lee, after much trying, to move the W3 Consortium to MIT in Boston (with a strong emphasis, however, on the establishment of an European branch of it). 

In 1993 De Digitale Stad launched as a project by De Balie and XS4ALL. Its goal was the creation of a publicly accessible (free-net) system that would bring politics and citizens together in an online community. Dutch media critic Geert Lovink referred to De Digitale Stad ("The Digital City") as “a social experiment in Internet freedom.“ It was the attempt of staying independent in an increasingly commercial environment.

In the same year, 1993, Peter Steiner published a cartoon in The New Yorker that would be quoted from then on. "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The popularity of this cartoon shows a widespread interest in identity issues in relation to the Internet at the time.
A year later, Justin Hall (b. 1974 in Chicago), is an American freelance journalist, then a Swarthmore College student, who started a web-based diary called Justin's Links from the Underground, which offered link highlighting (not unlike BoingBoing) and excentric, journaling (e.g., his exploration of "sexuality as a sacred place"). This web-based diary is often cited as the first weblog. Here, based on the feeling of an unlimited right to reveal, Justin wrote about his most intimate experiences, which frequently included delicate details about his (girl)friends, which made many people uncomfortable. They felt that he intruded upon their privacy.

Ego Surfing

These early years of the Web established it as a site of self-exploration ("I want to feel what it's like to have a web page of my own.") and the discovery of new channels of social connection. The Web was a novel site where one could expose oneself completely while still being very safe. But this was also the moment that ego surfing and concerns about computer addiction emerged and new concepts of (disembodied) friendship were problematized. Some of these issues will remain relevant even a decade later but digital identity will be far more evolved, leaving far fewer "dogs" unrecognized on the Net.


In the same year Amazon.com was founded, spurred by what Jeff Bezos "refers to as his 'regret minimization framework,' i.e. his effort to fend off late-in-life regret for not staking a claim in the Internet gold rush.” Amazon's online launch took place a year later, offering users the ability to write reviews and consumer guides.
The artist Douglas Davis who created the The World’s First Collaborative Sentence in 1994 used a similar interface for web-based self-publishing. Through simple online submission, users could add to an ongoing sentence but were not allowed to end it.

In 1995 one fifth of all Internet traffic is caused by WWW, taking over ftp’s leading role. Microsoft woke up to the Internet that year with Bill gates talking about the "title wave of the Internet." Coming in late, Microsoft decided to "give away" its Internet Explorer (IE) for "free," which led to anti-trust law suits for anti-competitive behavior. But "free," already then was not cost free as users had to have
Windows, Microsoft's platform, to run IE.

The searchable user classifieds site Craigslist and the auction site eBay started up that year. Craigslist stated on their site: "Ultimately, the information you submit to Craigslist belongs to you. You own your own words." "[I]n every case Craig [of abuse] will contact the abusive party and ask them to cease." (Dec 29, 1999) This is one of the first statements of an online service showing an awareness of ownership issues related to user-generated content.  

The Rise of Social Networking Websites
In 1994, the dating site Match.com launched and social search site Classmates.com started in order to link up schoolmates, work colleagues and military personnel alike. While the American Classmates.com is often referred to as first social networking site, it was only months later before the Swedish social networking site
Lunarstorm launched (under a different name). Lunarstorm has 1,2 million users in 2007. This is only one example that shows that the history of the Social Web is by no means an all American story.

In 1994, the mailing list <Nettime> was created in the "effort to formulate an international, networked discourse that neither promotes a dominant euphoria (to sell products) nor continues the cynical pessimism." This suggested balance between utopia and dystopia is no less relevant today than it was back then. In addition, The Thing (TT), an Internet Service Provider and media center started up in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The New York "branch" of TT was spearheaded by Wolfgang Staehle and the BBS of
The Thing, attracted an early cultural community discussing emerging net art as well as politics. Staehle generously supported the work of many artists with free server space. In 2007 TT, NYC moved its servers to Berlin.  
 
Also in 1994 Ward Cunningham started developing WikiWikiWeb and installed it on the Internet a year later, "clearing the way" for Wikipedia down the road. The core idea of WikiWikiWeb was that many users could collaboratively edit a webpage. The name WikiWiki ("fast, fast") was inspired by the sign on an express bus to the international airport in Honolulu.

In 1995 the sheer ecstasy of the emerging dotcom industry pushed the development of new services forward while simultaneously creating a group of exuberant dot-commers. Several authors commented on that moment. Arthur Kroker and Michael Weinstein, for example, publish "Datatrash" in which they claim that the digital communications arena is no longer democratic and that it has been taken over by a virtual class. In the same year Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron describe what they call the Californian Ideology as
"a new faith [that] has emerged from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley." "Promoted in magazines, books, TV programs, Web sites, newsgroups and Net conferences, the Californian Ideology promiscuously combines the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies."
The Californian Ideology simultaneously reflects "the disciplines of market economics and the freedoms of hippie artisanship." This ideology is alive and well still today.

 

Social Bookmarking
List.com, the first shared online bookmarking system started up and ICQ (Instant Messaging Computer Program) was released and Brewster Kahle launches the non-profit organization The Internet Archive. Also in 1995, the Asian American community site AsianAvenue.com kicked off (without social networking features at the time) and Yahoo!Personals started as online dating service. In the same year, Pattie Maes (MIT), together with engineers at her Lab, builds one of the first music recommendation systems called HOMR (or Helpful Online Music Recommendation Service), one of the first collaborative music filtering and referral systems preceding services like Last.fm, Jango or Pandora. In 1996, Rhizome.org was founded with the goal to “provide a platform for the global new media art community.” The ArtBase is Rhizome's rich online archive, predominantly of net art projects.

Also in 1996 Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive started the Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine originally referred to a machine from the cartoon The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show in which Mr. Peabody and Sherman would be taken back in time. The Wayback Machine is used to visit web pages from 1996 to the a few months ago that may no longer be available. By 2007, 85 billion web pages are archived.

In 1996 Manuel Castells (b. 1942) publishes the first volume in the trilogy Information Age, titled The Rise of the Information Society. Castells writes that the

“most decisive historical factor accelerating, channeling and shaping the information technology paradigm, and inducing its associated social forms, was/is the process of capitalist restructuring undertaken since the 1980s, so that the new techno-economic system can be adequately characterized as informational capitalism” (p18).

 He argued that in contemporary society dominant functions and processes are increasingly organized around networks.

Only one year later Rob Malda (a.k.a CmdrTaco, b. 1976) launched Slashdot, the first weblog allowing readers to comment and the term "weblog" was coined the American blogger Jorn Barger. Barger (b. 1952) ultimately complains that coining this term did not lead to personal financial gain for him. The lack of commercial promise that blogs offered at the time was the reason that they did not get much initial mainstream attention.

The University of Ottawa professor Pierre Levy published his book Collective Intelligence, which investigated the affordances of networked sociality, describing an intelligence that emerges from the collaboration, competition of many individuals working on one task.

The massive scaling-up of online sociality and the emergence participatory cultures made this a consequential book. In 1997, David Garcia and Geert Lovink defined Tactical Media as "what happens when the cheap ‘do it yourself’ media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet) are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture." By 2002 Tactical Media Labs had been started in Amsterdam, Sydney, Cluj, Barcelona, Delhi, New York, Singapore, Birmingham, Nova Scotia, Berlin, Chicago, Portsmouth, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Dubrovnik, and Zanzibar. In 2004 the Mídia Tática group in Sao Paolo (Tatiana Wells and Ricardo Rosas) established several AutoLabs in this context trying to help the urban poor to use the new resources of the Internet for their own ends.

In 1998 the business-centered social networking site Ecademy starts up and Evite launches as a website for creating, sending, and managing online invitations. Also at this early point, the Indian social networking site Sulekha was set into motion. Playahead, a large Internet community mainly for Swedish teenagers, was founded in Helsingborg, Sweden in 1998 and claims to have 1 million members in 2007. ECrush, today the 10th largest dating site in the United States, was launched in 1999 pre-dating the social networking sites like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook. Sulekha and Playahead show that the early history of social networking was not solely an American affair.

In the same year DMOZ, also known as The Open Directory Project, is founded under the name GnuHoo. Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation objected to the usage of Gnu because GnuHoo was a commercial enterprise founded by two SunMicroSystems employees. Consequently, the name GnuHoo was changed to NewHoo. NewHoo/DMOZ/Open Directory Project involves geographically distributed individuals to evaluate websites, creating a user-powered search engine. In October 1999 the number of URLs indexed by ODP reached one million (about 1.6 million by 2000 and four million by 2003). By March 2007 75,151 editors have contributed. The project is later bought by Netscape, which was then acquired by AOL. Volunteer editors lived through "a short-lived attempt by the company at moderation of the ODP Editor Forums, but this effort was abandoned as being the antithesis of the egalitarian principles on which the ODP community was supposed to be based." There are several example in which editors who questioned editing guidelines had their editing privileges removed by paid staff.

The French curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud published Relational Aesthetics engaging with the possibility of "relational art" based on the practices of artists who became visible during the 1990s. Concurrently, the German researcher Peter Hoschka introduced the term Social Web.

In 1999, Rusty Foster creates kuro5hin (pronounced "corrosion"), a weblog where users vote for the content that goes onto the front page. The computer programmer Shawn Fanning (b. 1980) writes Napster at Northeastern University with his friend Sean Parker. Users of Napster could download the free program to search the hard disks of other users for Mp3 files, which could then be downloaded directly from those peers. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued Napster in December 1999, which was followed by the heavy metal band Metallica filing a lawsuit against the company in 2000. During the last months of Napster’s operation in 2001, several other file-sharing programs emerged including Kazaa and Gnutella, which allowed users to continue to share music files. Napster was important as it established expectations-- information wants to be free. It demonstrated the power of peer-to-peer systems (i.e., in August 2001 alone, 3.1 billion files were exchanged via Napster).

In the same year Pyra Labs start Blogger.com, and social networking sites including Tribe, Xanga, Blackplanet launch. By 2007 the latter will have 16 million users, mainly African Americans.

The DotCom Crash and Massive Offshoring
Throughout the 1990s, California became the center of the biggest economic boom since the gold rush of 1848 that brought some 300,000 people from all over the world. In the 1990s many highly skilled Indian programmers started to work for dotcom companies twelve thousand miles away from Silicon Valley, in Bangalore. Silicon Valley weas responsible for 13% of the new American jobs created between 1996 and 2000. In 1995, the cross-platform software language JAVA, a "building material" for software, was written at SunMicro Systems, named after coffee, Silicon Valley's favorite beverage.

All of this happened against the backdrop of a starting backlash of technology stocks in the financial markets, which indicated what later became known as the Dotcom Crash. The flashy WebbyAwards exemplify the “dotcom bubble”. Since 1995, it brought together thousands of people in costumes, with hired faux-paparazzi to make people feel important. The Internet was predicted to be the quick replacement of the post office, the fast way to cash in on markets all over the world. The perceptions of the evolution of markets on the Web were exaggerated. Venture capitalists (VC) poured millions into companies that had given up traditional business models, which led to some spectacular failures. For two years, 2001 and 2002, investment in startups was at a minimum. In 2003 Accel, a leading venture capital started funding startup businesses again. Accel's president James Breyer demanded that Accel companies need to have at least half of their workers based overseas. He said:

"If a company is not actively investing in China and India, they need to provide a very compelling case to board members as to why they are not."

In the years after the dotcom crash, the parking lots of Silicon Valley were empty and programmers took jobs with much lower wages in the non-profit area, creating open source software.  

The Rise of Citizen Media

IndyMedia launched during the protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle in November 1999. The motivation for its creation was the realization that the media would not accurately report demonstrations of the pro-democratic globalization movement. Indymedia made a difference by allowing anyone to write the news. It became an early example of participatory citizen media, offering an alternative to corporate media. Today, Indymedia sites all over the world use Mir, a JAVA-based open-source content management system. Consequently it became clear that the Internet was a valuable tool for organizing, fundraising, lobbying, and community building.

Also in 1999, the RTMark site kicked off. “RTMark is itself a registered corporation which brings together activists who plan projects with donors who fund them. It thus operates outside the laws governing human individuals, and benefits from the much looser laws governing corporations.” RTMark was participatory in the sense that it functions as matchmaker between anti-corporate activists and anti-corporate donors leading to projects such as the Barbie Liberation Organization.

In 2000, the international online artistic community DeviantArt, the social networking site Faceparty, and IRC-Galleria launched. The latter will become the largest web-based virtual community in Finland. Faceparty, which has 5.9 million users in 2007, mainly focuses on British teens and 20-somethings. The peer-to-peer file sharing application Kazaa was created that year and the South Korean social news site OhMyNews launches. Despite the international accessibility of social networking sites like Faceparty, their actual user-group is often very specific to a geographic region and even age group. 

In December, the private, non-commercial working group RSS-Dev Group released its RSS 1.0 specification, allowing users to "feed" or "aggregate" websites in a so called RSS aggregator, a piece of software allowing them to follow changes such as new posts on many websites at once without actually having to visit them.   

In 2001, the MIT Sociable Media Group was formed and several vital mailing lists launched including SPECTRE ("an unmoderated mailing list for media art and culture in Deep Europe") and the list of The Association of Internet Researchers.

The terrorist suicide attacks of September 11, 2001 led to a widespread change in approaches of the US government to privacy, including the installation of the FBI's email surveillance system known as "Carnivore” on many Internet Service Providers.

A dropout of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Bram Cohen (b. 1975) later developed the peer-to-peer file sharing communications protocol BitTorrent, which is first implemented on July 2, 2001. Cohen designed BitTorrent to be able to speed up the download time, especially for users with fast download and upload speeds. The more popular a file is, the faster a user will be able to download it. In 2007, according to Cohen, BitTorrent has 135 million installs and accounts for 55 percent of all Internet traffic.

The Amateur/Expert

Concurrently, social networking sites like Cyworld Sites, DeadJournal, Frühstückstreff, Passado, and Ryze are created. Former editor-in-chief of Nupedia and Citizendium founder Larry Sanger (b. 1968) and the American Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales (b. 1966) create Wikipedia in 2000/2001. Wikipedia's spectular success demonstrates the power of collective intelligence and also took away a certain amount of power from established experts who are not the sole authorities anymore.

In addition, the weblog publishing system Movable Type was released. Around the same time political scientist Robert D. Putnam publishes Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, describing the decline of social capital in the United States. In the US, he describes the decline in civic participation, religious participation (churches), civic participation, altruism, reciprocity, workplace participation (union membership declines), informal connections, and political participation (voting, running for office). While Putnam's definition of social capital is
problematic and his examples are old-fashioned, he does notice the mentioned decline of social capital but simultaneously describes a rapid growth of small niche communities and self-help groups.

Scott Heiferman (co-founder of the social networking site Meetup.com) traces the inspiration to create Meetup.com in 2002 back to Putnam's book. "The primary inspiration was the book Bowling Alone... We are providing a service that revitalizes the Internet for local communities." The site became especially know for its role in Howard Dean's presidential campaign. In 2005 Meetup.com requires organizers to pay for local groups leading to a drastic drop in local groups but in 2007 it still has two million users.

Also in 2002 social sites like Friendster and the Hungarian social networking site iWiW started. The social networking site Last.fm (based on music) set a positive standard for privacy and transparency by stating in their Terms of Service in 2002.

“We have a pretty simple privacy policy. We are reasonably sure this won't piss anyone off. We won't pass your email address on to anyone, not even Lars Ulrich at gunpoint. Your pseudonymous listening habit data will be available to other Last.fm users for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons license. ... We reserve the right to sell or license pseudonymous listening data for commercial use ...”
In the same year the blog search engine Technorati launched and the photo-sharing site Flickr was co-founded by Caterina Fake in Canada. It has a repository that in 2007 is quickly approaching 1 billion images. In January 2007, Flickr announced that the "Old Skool" members, those that pre-date the Yahoo acquisition in 2005, would be required to associate their account with a Yahoo ID. Users such as Jimmy Wales did not want to associate with Yahoo but were now forced to do so if they wanted to keep using Delicious. They criticized this move.

Also in 2002, the American economist and urban studies theorist Richard Florida published the controversial The Rise of the Creative Class. He writes:
“This young man had spiked multi-colored hair, full-body tattoos, and multiple piercings in his ears. An obvious slacker, I thought, probably in a band. 'So what is your story?' I asked. 'Hey man, I just signed on with these guys.' ... This young man and his lifestyle proclivities represent a profound new force in the economy and life of America. He is a member of what I call the creative class: a fast growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend. Members of the creative class do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of industries--from technology to entertainment, journalism to finance, high-end manufacturing to the arts. They do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit.”
Also in 2002 the -empyre-- list was launched by the Australian networked media artist, writer and curator Melinda Rackham. Empyre became an important forum for the discussion of media art. The information architect Thomas Vander Wal uses the term folksonomy to describe socially created taxonomies. Howard Rheingold published Smart Mobs while in November 2002 the American writer, consultant and teacher Clay Shirky organized the "Social Software Summit" further popularizing the term "social software."
The transnational Frassanito Network collaboratively authored an essay "The Precariat" in which they state that
“Precarious work refers to all possible shapes of unsure, not guaranteed, flexible exploitation: from illegalized, seasonal and temporary employment to homework, flex- and temp-work to subcontractors, freelancers or so called self employed persons.”
In the years to come the ideas surrounding the term of the precariat were applied to new labor conditions created by a networked lifestyle. Corporations increasingly realized that openness helps them to draw in users who then start to work for them either for free or for a minimum wage. In addition, and even more importantly, entrepreneurs appreciated that these thousands of users and producers were in no way organized (e.g., in a union). They work the net as kind of second job after hours.  

The Dutch media critic Geert Lovink published "Dark Fiber," in which he presents rare case studies of critical Internet culture such as Digitale Stad. Also in 2002 the US-based media-sharing site Fotolog is launched. It will gain a solid user base of over ten million users throughout South America (Chile, Argentina, Brazil). The approach of the site to content ownership shifted over the years of its existence. In 2005 the terms of service state: “It is Fotolog's policy to respect the privacy of Members. Therefore, Fotolog will not disclose to any third party Member's name or contact information. Fotolog will also not monitor, edit, or disclose the contents of a Member's information...” but just two years later this is modified to say: “All content posted by a member is the property of the member that posted such content.

Joshua Schachter (b. 1974), at the time a programmer for the financial service firm Morgan Stanley, develops the social bookmarking service Delicious in his spare time and launches it in 2003. A friend of Schachter referred to finding good links as “eating cherries” and that led to the "Delicious" metaphor. Yahoo will acquire it in 2005. By 2007, Delicious will have 3 million users and 10 million bookmarks.

In 2003 many social tools including social networking and dating and social bookmarking sites launched: SubEthaEdit, first released under the name Hydra (the collaborative real-time editor). SubEthaEdit offers collaboration-enhancing features that would have been extremely expensive in the past.

Concurrently, two professional networking sites (LinkedIn and OpenBC- later called XING) emerge. Linkedin will have 13 million users by 2007 but, strangely, it is  nearly impossible to remove one's profile from LinkedIn. There is no automated way; the official method is to file a customer support ticket. While LinkedIn is mainly used in North America, the German site Xing dominates in Europe and the Far East. Both networks are build on what Mark Granovetter called weak ties. In 1973, in his book "Getting a Job" Granovetter argued that within a social network, weak ties are more powerful than strong ones. He showed that most people got jobs because of their weak ties instead of their strong ones.

In the same year the social networking site MySpace as well as the virtual world SecondLife are introduced. The former will become the most culturally influential social networking platform in the history of the Internet to date with about two hundred million users. According to freelance writer Trent Lapinski "MySpace was actually created by executives whose backgrounds are anchored in spam and mass marketing... [and] essential to the creation of MySpace is current CEO Chris DeWolfe.” As a source close to DeWolfe at Xdrive put it:
"DeWolfe learned that people will sign up for almost anything that they find useful, and they could care less about the fine print." Spam became a central "feature" of MySpace,which, in 2006, makes it abundantly clear that "the company has 'a non-exclusive, fully-paid and royalty-free, worldwide license ... to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, store, reproduce, transmit, and distribute' all content uploaded to their site.” 
In June 2003, Google starts its Adsense program, allowing many individual bloggers to monetize traffic on their site. Very few, however, will ever be able to make a living this way.

In this year the persistent growth of user-contributed content became evident and the practice of podcasting became popular among advanced suers. Podcasters' web sites can be syndicated, subscribed to, and downloaded automatically, using an aggregator or feed reader capable of reading feed formats such as RSS. Wikipedia reported 100,000 articles, and LiveJournal and Friendster each hit 1 million accounts. There was no peak of contribution of articles to the English version of Wikipedia that year but there persistent growth. Also in 2003, the Kazaa founders Swedish Niklas Zennström (b. 1966) and the Danish Janus Friis (b. 1976) released the peer-to-peer Internet telephony network Skype. It was significant that in a well-organized effort, 8-30 million people in 800 cities worldwide simultaneously showed their defiance of the war in Iraq on February 15, 2003. While this international resistance did not stop the war (the first American bombs drop on Baghdad on March 19 and the invasion started a day later), it demonstrated the ability to mobilize millions of people worldwide in real time, something that --on that scale -- had no precedence, and would have been hard to imagine without the organizational possibilities that the Internet affords.

With blogging tools widely available by now, this was also the time in which the anonymous Iraq blogger Salam Pax started to report, with a good sense of humor, not just about the months leading up to the war and after, but also about his favorite music, from Massive Attack to Bjork. His blog enraged and excited many in the West who commented on it.

Howard Dean demonstrated forcefully that the Social Web can have an impact on "real life" through his use of weblogs and the content management system "Deanspace," which was launched by "social entrepreneur" Zack Rosen and self-pronounced "Drupal hacker" Neil Drumm in 2004. It led 100,000 supporters to congregate all-over the United States. Concurrently, Albert-László Barabási published Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. Barabási thinks of cocktail parties, terrorist cells, ancient bacteria, and international conglomerates as networks. Networks in computer science, ecology, molecular biology, and quantum physics, according to Barabási have much in common and can inform us about online communities and social networks.

In 2003, three graduates of Stanford University create the “free,” ad-supported wiki was founded PeanutButterWiki (PbWiki) with their misleading market slogan "Make a free wiki as easily as a peanut butter sandwich!" Users pay by tolerating the ads on their wikis.

In the same year, significantly more services launched than in years prior. Many of the social networking sites that started at that time are still in use. Deanspace and the organization of the worldwide demonstration against the war Iraq on February 15 showed, for the first time, how the Social Web can significantly influence real life politics. At this point it is also apparent that new social tools are now widely available and their use is simple enough to encourage widespread participation. The increased number of articles on Wikipedia and accounts on LiveJournals and Friendster show that the ongoing growth of the scale of participatory behavior was perceived as less fragile.

Who Innovates?
Following the details of the mentioned startups in 2003 it is clear that young, talented programmers start up innovative services and are then (often quickly) bought up by the large corporations that have the resources to support large-scale sociality. Given the examples of Skype, Pbwiki, Kazaa, and Joost, it is apparent that the impulse to start up a new innovative service often seems to come from graduate students or recently graduated technologists. There are, however, a few exceptions (e.g., MySpace).

In opposition to widespread belief, Americans are not the sole creators of popular services for the Social Web. The World Wide Web itself was conceived in Switzerland. The founders of Kaaza, Skype, and Joost were Danish and Swedish. Suleksha, an Indian social networking site, was created in 1998. Many of the social networking sites that became popular in the United States were too culturally American to catch on in India or the rest of Asia. Other sites, developed in the United States, predominantly caught on in South America, for example. Sites like Orkut, are technologically situated in the United States but are almost exclusively culturally embedded in countries like India and Brazil.  

In 2004 Webster makes "weblog" word of the year and the undergraduate student Mark Zuckerberg (b. 1984) starts the social networking site Facebook at Harvard University. The site's privacy agreement in September 2007 states.
"We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile."
Care2, a social activism with 7, 74 million users in 2007, also launched in 2004, states in stark contrast to the Facebook policies:
“Care2 does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Service ... “

In 2004, at Canada's "Amazon.ca review system revealed that many well-established authors were anonymously giving themselves glowing reviews, with some revealed to be anonymously giving ‘rival’ authors terrible reviews. The glitch in the system was fixed and those reviews have since been removed or made anonymous.” In March 2006 a search of Amazon.com's books using the word "abortion" turned up pages with the question, "Did you mean adoption?,” which caused much controversy and was caused by the companies search algorithm, which they subsequently changed. 

In the same year, set up by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar (b. 1967), the Omidyar network's stated mission is to "enable individual self-empowerment on a global scale" and employ "business as a tool for social good."  The Omidyar network funds not solely "non-profit projects, but also for-profit ventures and public initiatives they believe promote individual self-empowerment." In 2004 the network supported the open source repository SourceForge.net with $400,000. But by mid-2007 it was suddenly (and without clear reason) announced that while the site is "useful and successful," it will shut down at the end of 2007.

 
Users Align in Protest
In 2004 it has been reported that the top 100 users of the referral site Digg control 56 percent of Digg's front page content and that a niche group of just twenty individuals had submitted 25percent of the front page content. Later, in May 2007, an article appeared on Digg’s homepage that contained the encryption key for the AACS digital rights management protection of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Digg, removed the submissions and banned contributors. Many users saw the removals as a capitulation to corporate interests and an assault on free speech. The Digg community staged a widespread revolt. One of the Digg users referred to it as a "Digital Boston Tea Party." The response by Digg founder Kevin Rose:

“[A]fter seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.” 
The social networking site Orkut, owned by Google, was founded in 2004. It is most popular in Brazil, India, and Greenland. In fact, in these countries is the default social networking site with a total number of users approaching 68 million.

The Geographic Situatedness of Social Networking Sites
Piczo, founded in 2004 in Canada, is the fastest-growing online brand in the UK in 2006 with girls under 18 accounting for almost half its membership of 10 million in 2007. There are many other examples of sites that are geographically focused. Founded a year later, Profileheaven, has an audience which is 96 percent UK derived with a typical age demographic being 16-22 year olds with a 60 percent lean towards females.

An example of intrusive privacy is the social networking site Tagged.
"Members consent to receive commercial e-mail messages from Tagged, and acknowledge and agree that their email and other personal information may be used by Tagged for the purpose of initiating commercial e-mail messages."
Also that year, Tiziana Terranova published Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age, in which she, among other concerns, discusses free labor and the "free experience" in the digital economy. She argues that free labor is not just crucial to the Internet but that it is a source of value in advanced capitalist societies at large.

Concurrently, the peer-to-peer file sharing client LimeWire was released and the consultant Christopher Allen posts his blog essay Life With Alacrity: Tracing the Evolution of Social Software. In 2004 Joshua Kinberg builds "a wireless internet-enabled bicycle outfitted with a custom-designed printing device. [T]he bike ... can print text messages sent from web users directly onto the streets ... in water-soluble chalk." Kinberg, was about to deploy the bike as part of the Bikes Against Bush project at the Republican Convention in New York City but was arrested on the spot.

The Power of Naming

In 2005 Tim O'Reilly writes and posts his article "What Is Web 2.0?" creating much controversy and buzz. The term quickly became a household name. Web 2.0 replaces the one-to-many model of service provision with utilization of users through the many-to-many potential of the internet. It is not the focus of this essay to analyze the Web 2.0 ideology (a text on this topic follows).   

In the same year Kevin Kelly publishes "We Are the Web" in "Wired" magazine, in which he describes a world manufactured by users, a wordl in which many people, when divorced from the machine, will not feel like themselves, they will as if "they'd had a lobotomy."

Many more social networking tools this year including Connect.ee (Iceland, media sharing), FarmersOnly.com (dating and social search for farmers), Ning (online platform for creating social websites and social networks) co-founded by Gina Bianchi, ProfileHeaven (social networking, youth), TagWorld (media sharing site: videos, photos; blogging, social networking), Yahoo! 360° (social networking) and YouTube, GoogleVideo, Blip.tv (media sharing).

The term media sharing is not completely accurate in the case of YouTube as the site does not facilitate the sharing of actual media files. It allows the embedding of media files hosted on Youtube in blogs. Contrary to YouTube, Blip.tv does share the media file itself. Lawrence Lessig referred to YouTube as fake sharing site whereas he highlights Blip.tv as a true sharing site. Dina Kaplan, co-founder of blip.tv, is one of the many but little visible women in this field.     

An additional site that started up was the British social networking site for high school and college Bebo, co-founded by Xochi Birch, one of the few visible women in the industry. Bebo will have 34 million users in 1997. Its take on ownership of user-generated content is clear. In 2005 it says: "Bebo does not claim any ownership rights in any Materials that you submit, post, or display on or through the Bebo Services or on the Bebo.com Web site.”

Lateral Surveillance
In 2005, US law enforcement agencies started to extensively use social networking sites. In March 2005, for example, the United States Secret Service met with a University of Oklahoma freshman after he posted to the Facebook: “We could all donate a dollar and raise millions of dollars to hire an assassin to kill the president and replace him with a monkey.” On December 14th, 2005 MIT students published a research paper about Facebook privacy that used data from an automated script that allowed them to download over 70,000 Facebook profiles from MIT, NYU, the University of Oklahoma, and Harvard. The simple fact that it was not too hard to write a script and harvest so much user data was clearly mind-boggling for users of Facebook who thought that the information in their profiles was "safe."

The Facebook privacy agreement states: "We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship." In addition, the website provides no option of permanently deleting one's account (users can only "deactivate" their account). All of which leads to frequent controversies. In August 2005, the independent blogger Josh Smith found that Facebook received $13 million in funding from "Accel Partners," a firm whose manager James Breyer formerly served as the chairman of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm operated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Accel Partners, has, however, invested in many start-ups.

In 2005 several mobile social networking sites emerge and Meetro is one such application. The online world is overlaid on top of the physical world. Meetro combines SMS features, social networking and links it to location. In addition, Arianna Huffington, who describes herself as a "former right-winger who has evolved into a compassionate and progressive populist," founded the Huffington Post in 2005. Huffington (b. 1950) is an author and columnist. The site brings together a cadre of bloggers who include many of her prominent "friends." In 2006 The Huffington Post was the 5th most popular blog online, balancing hard news commentary and coverage, popular culture and celebrity opinion features. One of the topics covered in the Huffington Post that year was Google's acquisition of YouTube for $1.65 billion in stocks.

In 2006 Jay Rosen posted "PressThink: The People Formerly Known as the Audience" to his blog explaining the changed nature of the user who is now also a producer. He writes:
"Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak— to the world, as it were."
Excluding Rural Youth and Minorities 
The Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 (DOPA) is a bill, which was brought before the United States House of Representatives on May 9, 2006. The bill, if enacted, will require schools and libraries that receive E-rate funding to prohibit access to social networking websites. DOPA would thereby limit access to a wide range of educational material on these websites (especially for minority and rural youth).

Yochai Benkler published The Wealth of Networks, in which he introduced the term "commons-based peer production," referring to a wide range of collaborative efforts emerging on the net that produce value. On March 27 students in Los Angeles organized large-scale protests against immigration laws through MySpace and SMS, which really demonstrated the power of social networking in "real life."

User Riots
In September 2006 Facebook launched a "news feed" feature causing protest and responses by close 740,000 users who joined the Students Against Facebook News Feed Group. On June 15th, 2006 Myspace states in their Terms and Conditions that the company has "a non-exclusive, fully-paid and royalty-free, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense through unlimited levels of sublicensees) to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, publicly display, store, reproduce, transmit, and distribute" all content uploaded to their site. Also in 2006, spamming software for social networking sites such as FriendBot become available.

Niche Networking, the Attention Economy, and the Producer Avantgarde
The list of social software that launches in 2006 and 2007 is endless. It is apparent that in these two years any desire that one can possible have in relation to social networking has it is own dedicated site- from cars, hockey and soccer to travel, faith, games, education, cooking and baking, mental health and fashion, weddings, motherhood, and family, to self-help of all kinds, reading, and pets. Corporations realize that their profits are not generated from content but from mere attention and ad banner clicks. The time that users spend on sites became the central value, directing translating into value. It is important to note, however, that despite the rise in presence on the Social Web, the actual participation in terms of posting blog posts, uploading videos, music, or podcasts is growing but still small. (In 2005 2% of users were active contributors but in 2007 it is 12%). 0.16% of people watching videos on YouTube also upload to the site.  
 
The plethora of social platforms that launched in 2006 included AIM Pages (social networking, blogware), BibleLounge.com ("the Christian alternative to MySpace"), Broadcaster (media sharing, video), Campusbug (social networking, online education, e-commerce), Christianvibes.com (Christian social networking site), DWC Faces (social networking for professional women, feminist), Famoodle.com (social networking, media sharing, family-focused), Gusto.com (referral site about travel), Joga.com (social networking for soccer players), Lazona.com (Latino social networking site), MOBANGO (mobile social networking), MOG (referral and social networking around music), NHLConnect (social networking site of the National Hockey League), PetBoogaloo.com (social networking for pet aficionados), RealMentalHealth.com (social networking site about mental health and wellness), Shareweddings.com (social networking focused on weddings), Sisterwoman.com (feminist social networking site celebrating friendships among women), Stylefeeder (social networking and referral grouped around fashion), TakingITGlobal (activist, youth social networking), Thefamilylog.com (social networking and referral for the entire family) and Twitter (micro-blogging, mobile social networking).
 
In 2007: Daily Strength (self help, social networking), Douban (social networking about books), Kaneva (Game platform), Nimbuzz (mobile social networking, IM), Pownce (IM, media sharing), Thoof (media sharing, referral, social news), Bakespace (social networking around baking), Bringsome (social networking and real life meetings), Cellfish (mobile media sharing), Frappr (social maps), Shozu (mobile social networking and media sharing).

By 2007 one billion people are online, Wikipedia reports 2 million articles in its English version alone, MySpace counts 200 million accounts, and Technorati indexed more than 80 million blogs. Many of the emerging social tools focus on social mobile space.

In 2007, Amazon.com has over 900,000 members worldwide in its affiliate programs. Thsi is emarkable as critics of Amazon.com will have to admit that this program does create a livelihood for many individuals on the net. This fact is, of course, complicated by the fact that Amazon put many small bookstores out of business and now allows them to make profits on their platform, paying their "dues" to Amazon. In July 2007 Facebook reports about 30 million users, growing by about 4 million each month. Social networking sites like Friendster (that lost many members), and then MySpace and Facebook grew, largely dominating the United States, that is not the case today. Facebook has stronger membership outside the US than MySpace. And also in 2007 Bebo, Friendster, Orkut, and hi5 have strong international presence.

Control and Captive Communities
In fact, hi5 is the leading social networking site in Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Kuwait, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Thailand, and Tunisia. Orkut dominates India and Brazil and Fotolog is the default social networking site in Argentina and Chile. These sites are so dominant because their exit costs are high and people don't want to migrate. They need to be where their friends are. Their content is stored on these sites and cannot be easily exported.
 
Looking through the threads of the evolution of the Social Web, it becomes apparent that the Web has been social from its very beginning. Its evolution has been gradual but today we do witness a new scale of participation, a participatory turn.
"User riots" like those of Digg and Facebook showed that the ease of information flows allows users/producers to coalesce and gain greater negotiating power.

The future of networked sociality is clearly linked to the anticipated two billions cellphone users of the near future. They will make the one hundred million bloggers look marginal. In mobile social space and on the Internet, it’ll be critical to evaluate and re-evaluate the interests and values (and the driving forces behind those agendas) that guide technological developments.

 == 

citation:

Scholz, Trebor. "A History of the Social Web (draft)."
Collectivate.net. 26 Sep 2007. 1 Oct 2007 <http://www.collectivate.net/journalisms/2007/9/26/a-history-of-the-social-web.html>. 

 

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Reader Comments (8)

Trebor-- this is one of the best-researched, most clearly-communicated articles I"ve read on the topic. It's a helpful gloss of all the important steps and players along the trajectory of the social web. Keep going! Loving it.
September 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Robison
Looks good. Interesting narrative, and some non-obvious connections being made. Some things you might consider:

1.
Networked sociality didn't start with the telegraph either :). "Networks" are a way of looking at things (paying attention to the links rather than the nodes) and so have always existed. Perhaps you mean "social networking technologies." The distinction gets to the whole confusion of a "social networking system" vs. "social networks" that is probably worth drawing conceptually.

2.
You fast forward to the memex, bypassing what continues to be the most important social networking technology ever: the telephone. Especially the automatically switched telephone, which ends up being addressed in Baran's famous switching article. See, esp., Carolyn Marvin's book.

3.
Can't leave out the Community Memory project :).

4.
I assume you are already aware of this:
http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/08/02/history_of_soci.html


September 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Halavais
Hi Alex, Thanks for your comments (I look forward to discussions on the Facebook group). My focus is explicitly on person-to-person communication via the Internet. The telegraph is one example, one among many that could be traced, taken from the age-long pre-history of *networked sociality.* This is not a history of networks or of communication in general. I really narrowed the focus to not loose my sanity (:
Thanks for the reference to the Community Memory Project, I was not aware of it.


September 29, 2007 | Registered Commenter[Trebor]
Very interesting and well written. A handy tool for everybody interested in Sociable Web.
October 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterVasilis Kostakis
Great work, Trebor, thanks for sharing. Most thorough history of the sociable web I know (I didn't know about the memex and Phonophor ideas for example). This will become standard in my Internet-related courses.

I was a bit irritated concerning the Cage/participatory culture paragraph. Maybe Brecht's radio theory would be a better example in the context of participatory media development?
October 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin Jörissen
Thanks Benjamin.Brecht's radio essay is well worth adding. We are currently working on an interactive historical time line for the Web and we will add it there.

I am aware that the Cage example is on the one hand an all too known and often cited work but remember that on the other hand it really is a key example of participatory art practices and as I point out, the participation in this piece is somewhat involuntary.I re-wrote that part several times. Perhaps it is still hard to make that link.
October 5, 2007 | Registered Commenter[Trebor]
Laika was not in Sputnik, she was in Sputnik 2.
October 6, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterluca.dello@gmail.com
Thanks, Luca, I was wrong and changed it.
October 6, 2007 | Registered Commenter[Trebor]

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