An Incomplete

History of
Online Communities

Updated: May. 14, 2024

Explore the fascinating evolution of online communities through a curated timeline of key milestones from the 1960s to the present day. Delve into the origins of computer-assisted instruction systems like PLATO, the pioneering days of ARPANET, and the emergence of social networking giants such as Facebook and TikTok. Discover how these platforms have revolutionized communication, enabling users to connect, share, and engage in virtual communities across the globe.

Entries

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1960
1960

Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO)

The first generalized computer-assisted instruction system. Starting in 1960, it ran on the University of Illinois’s ILLIAC I computer. By the late 1970s, it supported several thousand graphics terminals distributed worldwide, running on nearly a dozen different networked mainframe computers. Many modern concepts in multi-user computing were first developed on PLATO, including forums, message boards, online testing, email, chat rooms, picture languages, instant messaging, remote screen sharing, and multiplayer video games.

1969
1969

Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET)

The first wide-area packet-switched network with distributed control and one of the first computer networks to implement the TCP/IP protocol suite. Both technologies became the technical foundation of the Internet.

1973
1973

Community Memory

the first public computerized bulletin board system. Established in 1973 in Berkeley, California, it used an SDS 940 timesharing system in San Francisco connected via a 110 baud link to a teleprinter at a record store in Berkeley to let users enter and retrieve messages. Individuals could place messages in the computer and then look through the memory for a specific notice.

1973
1973

Talkomatic

One of the first online chat systems, was created by Doug Brown and David R. Woolley at the Palo Alto Research Center to allow multiple users to communicate in real-time over ARPANET, the precursor to the modern internet. It allowed users to type messages that were visible to all participants.

1978
1978

Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists' Exchange (CACHE)

When Chicago was snowed under during the Great Blizzard of 1978, the two began preliminary work on the Computerized Bulletin Board System, or CBBS.[7] The system came into existence largely through a fortuitous combination of Christensen having a spare S-100 bus computer and an early Hayes internal modem, and Suess’s insistence that the machine be placed at his house in Chicago where it would be a local phone call for more users. Christensen patterned the system after the cork board his local computer club used to post information like “need a ride”. CBBS officially went online on 16 February 1978.

1978
1978

OSA

An early bulletin board system run on a PDP-11 minicomputer, allowing members to leave messages for others and download files.

1979
1979

Multi-User Dungeon (MUDs)

Such as Adventure, featured a large number of players working with and against each other in text-based virtual worlds.

1979
1979

Usenet

Created at Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and BELL Labs. It expands the newsgroup concept into a worldwide collaboration and becomes one of the first large-scale online communities.

1997
1997

The Source

A commercial online service that featured topical message boards along with news, weather and gaming. Subscribers paid a fee to connect.

1980
1980

CompuServe

Launched, becoming one of the first major commercial online service providers that offered forums, messaging and other services to customers through proprietary protocols.

1982
1982

Emoticon

On 19 September 1982, when Scott Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University wrote:

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:
:-)
Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark  things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use
:-(

1984
1984

Fidonet

Tom Jennings developed FidoNet to move messages from his MS-DOS-based Fido 1 BBS to his friend John Madill’s. Jennings was able to modify his Fido BBS to extract messages from a local message base and queue them for sending to the remote BB.

1985
1985

Quantum Link - America Online (AOL)

launched as one of the first mass-market online services. It popularized online forums and chatrooms.

1985
1985

The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link {WELL}

Launched, known for its early influential virtual community and online conversations.

1988
1988

Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

A text-based chat system for instant messaging. IRC is designed for group communication in discussion forums. Created by Jarkko Oikarinen in August 1988 to replace a program called MUT (MultiUser Talk) on a BBS called OuluBox at the University of Oulu in Finland, where he was working at the Department of Information Processing Science. Jarkko intended to extend the BBS software he administered, to allow news in the Usenet style, real time discussions and similar BBS features.

1991
1991

Linux Kernel

Created by Linus Torvalds known for beig distributed via an online forums, kicking off one of the largest open source online developer communities.

1993
1993

Eternal September

“Eternal September” refers to a period starting around 1993 when new users flooded Usenet, overwhelming existing online culture and norms. This influx of users, particularly due to ISPs like AOL offering access, led to a constant feeling of September for experienced users. The term symbolizes a perpetual state of new users entering online communities.

1993
1993

CMC MessageBase

One of the first web-based bulletin board systems, launches at University of Toronto. It brought online discussions to the newly emerging World Wide Web.

1994
1994

eBay

Launches, helping to establish online communities centered around commerce, auction bidding and ratings/feedback.

1995
1995

Craigslist

Launched, becoming an early networked community for buying/selling locally.

1995
1995

Classmates.com

Launched as one of the earliest social networking sites focused on connecting people from primary, secondary and higher education networks into online communities.

1996
1996

Experts Exchange

A website for people in information technology (IT) related jobs to ask each other for tech help, receive instant help via chat, hire freelancers, and browse tech jobs. Controversy has surrounded their policy of providing answers only via paid subscription.

1996
1996

AsianAvenue

An international online community focused specifically on Asian-American issues and identity. It highlighted the emerging potential of the internet for empowering marginalized groups.

1997
1997

SixDegrees.com

Launched as one of the first true social networking sites, allowing users to create profiles, list friends and message each other.

1997
1997

Slashdot

A social news website that provided a community for developers, technologies, and enthusiasts.

1998
1998

LiveJournal

Founded as one of the pioneering blogging platforms, which allowed sharing of diary-style updates between “friends”. Communities began forming around shared interests.

1998
1998

BlackPlanet

A pioneering site catering networking specifically to the Black community, amassing millions of users before social media mainstreaming.

1999
1999

Blogger

One of the original blogging platforms owned by Google, launches and helps popularize the format and sharing of thoughts online.

1999
1999

Fark

A community website created by Drew Curtis that allows members to comment on a daily batch of news articles and other items from various websites.

2000
2000

LunarStorm

Originally called Stajlplejs, this Swedish social networking website was described as “the world’s first social media”.

2000
2000

PHPBB

One of the earliest open-source forum platforms, helping establish online communities centered around topic-based discussion threads.

2001
2001

Wikipedia

Launched. Crowd-sourcing an online encyclopedia and knowledge base through collaborative online communities.

2002
2002

Friendster

Launched. One of the early social platforms focused on linking friends and their social graphs. Communities formed around shared networks.

2003
2003

Linkedin

Launched as a professional networking site focusing on careers, jobs and business relationships. Tribes/groups form around industries and companies.

2003
2003

MySpace

Competition to Friendster helping diversify the still-maturing social networking space with blogs, customizable pages and music sharing.

2004
2004

Facebook

Launches as a social network initially for college students, ushering in a new era of online networking and sharing between extended lists of “friends”.

2004
2004

Digg

While more advanced than Talkomatic, Digg also allowed for public, synchronous conversations in dedicated “rooms”. This helped establish the model of topic-based chat channels that persists today on platforms like Slack and Discord.

2005
2005

YouTube

Allowing sharing of videos between users and the formation of communities with shared interests in content.

2005
2005

Reddit

Allowing sharing of videos between users and the formation of communities with shared interests in content.

2007
2007

Twittr | Twitter | X

Upending communications with short public “status” messages between “followers”/lists. A new type of online community emerges.

2007
2007

Tumblr

Emerging with its distinctive approach of catering to fandoms and facilitating media sharing, helping spur specific creative communities and subcultures.

2008
2008

Stack Overflow

A question-and-answer website for computer programmers. created in 2008 by Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky. It features questions and answers on certain computer programming topics. It was created to be a more open alternative to earlier question and answer websites such as Experts-Exchange.

2009
2009

WhatsAp

Becoming a dominant global chat platform fostering private texting communities through network effects. Wired friends internationally.

2009
2009

Quora

A platform where users can ask questions and get answers from experts in the community

2009
2009

Weibo

Often referred to as “Chinese Twitter”, this is a popular microblogging website in China, allowing users to post short messages, images, and videos.

2009
2009

Google Wave

Later known as Apache Wave, is a discontinued software framework for real-time collaborative online editing. Originally developed by Google and announced on May 28, 2009, it was renamed to Apache Wave when the project was adopted by the Apache Software Foundation as an incubator project in 2010.

2010
2010

Google Buzz

A social networking, microblogging and messaging tool that was developed by Google which replaced Google Wave and integrated into their web-based email program, Gmail. Users could share links, photos, videos, status messages and comments organized in “conversations” and visible in the user’s inbox.

2010
2010

Instagram

A photo-sharing platform took off, fostering tight-knit visual communities around areas like art, food, travel and more with vibrant image-based storytelling.

2010
2010

iTunes Ping

 A software-based, music-oriented social networking and recommender system developed and operated by Apple Inc. It was announced and launched on September 1, 2010, as part of the tenth major release of iTunes. The service launched with 1 million members in 23 countries.

2011
2011

Google+

Google+ (sometimes: written as Google Plus, called G+, stylized as g+) was a social network that was owned and operated by Google until it ceased operations in 2019.

2011
2011

Pinterest

Ushering in a visual style of online community and interests through shared pinboards and following of themes.

2011
2011

Snapchat

Launched as “Pikaboo”, Snapchat popularized ephemeral photo/video sharing and facilitating network-based private online communities, particularly among youth.

2013
2013

Slack

Further advanced the model of topic-based chat channels pioneered by earlier platforms like Digg, facilitating collaborative work discussions.

2013
2013

Discourse

An open-source forum platform designed to foster discussion, prioritizing well-organized comment threads over real-time chat features.

2013
2013

Vine

A short-form video hosting service where users could share six-second-long looping video clips. The service was discontinued in 2016

2013
2013

Telegram (software)

A cloud-based, cross-platform instant messaging (IM) service. It was originally launched for iOS on 14 August 2013 and Android in October 2013. It allows users to exchange messages, share media and files, hold private and group voice or video calls, as well as public livestreams.

2016
2016

TikTok

Showed how chat features could be incorporated into a platform primarily focused on sharing short-form videos, further blurring the lines between messaging and social media.

2019
2019

Discord

Primarily used by gamers, but also has features that make it ideal for other communities, such as text and voice channels, file sharing, and server customization

Copyright © 2024 – David DeWald. CC-BY-4.0 – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/