Social Networking: The Past

Comment

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part guest post by venture capitalist Mark Suster of GRP Partners on “Social Networking: The Past, Present, And Future.” Be sure to also read Part II and Part III.

This series is an adaptaion of a recent talk he gave at the Caltech / MIT Enterprise Forum on “the future of social networking.” You can watch the video here , or you can scroll quickly through the Powerpoint slides embedded at the bottom of the post or here on DocStoc. Follow him on Twitter @msuster.

Social Networking 25 Years Ago: CompuServ, Prodigy & The Well

Listening to young people talk about social networking as a new phenomenon is a bit like hearing people talk about a remake of a famous song from my youth as though it was the original version.  If you think “Don’t Stop Believing” was first recorded on the show Glee I’m talking to you.  And so it goes with social networking.

Yes, I was doing it when I was a teenager and yes, it was online, too.  We were on services called CompuServe and Prodigy.  Other people were in the online community called “The Well” (founded in 1985).  We connected for the same reasons you do today.  We were looking for what I call the “6 C’s of Social Networking” – Communications, connectedness, common experiences, content, commerce & cool experiences (fun!).  There were chat rooms, discussion groups, dating, classified ads—you name it.

In in the early 90’s I was in my early 20’s and I programmed on mainframe computers using COBOL, CICS and DB2.  We had email, instant messaging, group calendars, discussion boards, etc. It isn’t new stuff.  It just works better now and there are more people doin’ it.

The Bridge Between Online Services & The Internet: AOL

And then came AOL.  It preceded the WWW.  It was an online community like CompuServe and eventually started offering people dial-up access to the Internet for a monthly fee.  It became the onramp for newbies.  The funny thing about AOL is that while you dialed up to the Internet, the goal of AOL was to keep you locked into their proprietary content and thus earned the classification of “walled garden” because they kept you inside AOL.  They had a proprietary browser, their own search engine, their own content, chat rooms, email system, etc.

As I like to say, my Mom would call me proudly and say, “Honey, I’m on the Internet!”  And I’d say sardonically, “no, Mom, you’re not on the Internet.  You’re on AOL!”  I don’t think she really understood the difference.  AOL was controlled by one company and the Internet was distributed.  AOL controlled the services, taxed companies to access users and decided what was good or bad.  AOL was closed, the Internet was open.

But AOL brought online services, email, chat and discussion boards to the masses and thus educated a generation that paved the way for others.  They blanketed the country in CDs stuffed inside of food packages and service as coasters on airplanes.  At it’s peak AOL had about 20 million US subscribers.  That might not sound like a lot in a Facebook world but remember that these people were paying an average of about $20 / month to AOL for access alone (i.e. $5 billion in annual subscription revenues leaving out advertising or eCommerce).

Brands didn’t advertise their web pages they advertised “AOL Keywords.”  You couldn’t pick up a magazine in the 96-99 timeframe without seeing AOL Keywords advertised everywhere.  If you were a newly minted, venture-backed consumer Internet company you had to have a deal with AOL to reach your customers.  They controlled distribution to the masses.

When Time Warner & AOL merged it was widely feared that this would be a monopoly that would control the Internet.  Ha.

As I write these words I’m aware that I could practically change the words AOL and Facebook for much of this section and with a few factual tweaks it might not be noticeable to the reader who I was talking about.  More on that later.

Social Networking in Web 1.0: GeoCities, Tripod & Yahoo! Groups

By the mid-nineties we had the World Wide Web, which gave us a standard way to publish web pages using HTML.  Smart people understood that people still wanted to accomplish on the world wide web all of things that we did in the pre-Internet world.  Companies like GeoCities & Tripod built tools that let you publish web pages that could be discoverable by others.

Yahoo! rose to prominence by offering a free, ad-supported alternative to all of the crap your mom got on AOL for $20 / month.  After a few acquisitions they offered many of the services you think about as foundations to social networks today.  They had mail, IM, groups, answers, etc.  Groups in particular became the standard for clubs across the company to communicate to their churches, mothers’ clubs & schools.  Yahoo! then bought GeoCities for $3.6 billion.  They looked unstoppable.  Ha.

Yes, social networks of 2010 have much better usability, have better developed 3rd-party platforms and many more people are connected.  But let’s be honest – they’re mostly the same old shit, reinvented, with more people online and trained.

In my next post tomorrow, I will explore where social networking is today and how we got here.

 

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo