My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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social network site history

When i started tracking social network sites, i didn’t think that i would be studying them. I did a *terrible* job at keeping a timeline and now, i realize, this is important information to have on hand. I’m currently in the process of trying to go backwards and capture critical dates and i need your help. I know a lot of you have a lot of this information and can probably help me (and thus help everyone else interested in this arena).

I have created a simple pbwiki at (password yasns) where i’m starting to make a timeline. Can you please add what you know to it? Pretty please with a cherry on top? A lot of this information is scattered all over the web and in people’s heads and it’d be great to get it documented in a centralized source. (I know that there is some info on Wikipedia but it’s not complete; as appropriate, i will transfer information back in their format.) Note: i didn’t include citations because i often don’t have them but if you have them, they’d be very very welcome.

Please let others know about this if you think they might have information to add. Thank you kindly for your time.

(PS: i have a new academic paper coming out shortly. Stay tuned.)

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12 comments to social network site history

  • I’m putting together a site, listing all the social networks on the web (over 450 so far). It will be very interesting to see all the information that comes out of this. I would love your help and support. I have some screen shots that I can share.

  • Hi danah. Will dig through my blog archives and see what I can contribute. I think a timeline/chronology is a great idea.


  • Bertil

    Are none-English speaking site OK?

  • I compiled a list of about 120 social network sites into an excel spreadsheet for a recent paper. It started with the Wikipedia list (about 40 or so at that time), and then I built from there from sites I would see mentioned in blogs or news alerts.

    Feel free to use this however you like..

    Good luck!


  • Would we be interested in creating a wiki for the latest research out there as well? I was looking at your list you have and the magnitude of comments and would offer to set something up for that purpose as well. (peer-review lists and pop-culture seperated)

  • Non-English are more than welcome and encouraged!

    I’ve been keeping that research page up to date so let me know if i’m missing anything.

  • danah, I added a few links to the early history of sixdegrees, including some fun that Chris Locke was having with the service in 1998.

  • Hans check in with Judith Meskill – she did something similar a year ago and it may be a good foundation.

  • Steve

    Well, I’m not sure how relevant this question is, because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of easily accessible info on the history of the Yahhoo social networking features, but here goes.

    Do you consider Yahoo a SNS? I would guess you don’t, because I never seem to see it mentioned in your work, but really I think it is. Here’s why.

    (And I’m not referring to Yahoo 360 which is a recent attempt to play SNS catchup – but to the features of the older Yahoo)

    (1) People post profiles with a pic, list of interests and brief narrative about themself.

    (2) The interests list is clickable allowing the surfer to find others with the specicied interest. Plus, you can do a keyword search on profile text.

    (3) In Yahoo Messenger you can add and be added, and this is a privileged status with social significance.

    (4) You can socialize in chatrooms.

    (5) You can create special interest Yahoo Groups, and previously Yahoo CLubs (a separate service) to network with like-minded people.

    (6) Most important, people used it then the way people use SNS sites today, they maintained contact with their existing friends through IM & Chat, as well as seeking new friends through surfing profiles.

    (7) Okay, so the technological support for the SNS features was minimal by today’s standards of sites explicitly designed to facilitate social networking. And it’s not what Yahoo is primarily known for today. But however, it’s a big part of what Yahoo was actually used for, prior to the rise of MySpace. And I think you should include it in your sphere of interest.

    Just a thought,

  • Steve

    Okay, I feel silly. The next post over from this one gives your definition of an SNS and Yahoo clearly doesn’t qualify. Mainly because the social networks and social intercourse created within Yahoo are not publically viewable.

    But, that said, all my points are still of interest. Regardless of definition, Yahoo does/did a great deal of what totay’s SNS sites do, in terms of social functionality for the user. So like it or not, Yahoo is part of the story.

    We needn’t call it an SNS. But is is *something* and it’s story is relevant to the SNS story.

    How should we conceptualize this?


  • Steve

    Okay, I went back and read your SNS definition post and the comments more closely, and I begin to get it. For you, the idea of making the social network viewable (and traversable) is what gives these sites the distinctive quality that is interesting.

    I guess I see that viewpoint. But the people I know that use MySpace a lot don’t seem do do a lot of friendsurfing. They just use their blog and profile comments as a way of maintaining contact with their friends who they originally met offline.

    Well, one exception is a friend who’s an aspiring musician and video producer. She seems to also network with bands, promoters, etc. But, it can also be argued that these may be people she would have met, or aspired to meet, in the offline world in any event.

    I guess the question I would ask is do you think that the fact that the social networks facilitated by these sites are viewable is a defining feature of the site for those who use them – bearing in mind that their intrests as a user may be different from yours as a researcher.


  • Steve

    I just saw a mention in one of your other posts that jogged my memory. You work for Yahoo! I knew that, butI had forgotten. That makes it exceptionally odd that they don’t seem to figure as an object of analysis in the sample of your work I’ve seen so far – not even to differentiate the classic Yahoo from a “true” SNS.

    That’s just weird.

    No offense intended.