How the Social Web Came to Be
Department of Media Study
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0
A history of computer-mediated
Part 1: 1945-2001
Part 2: 2002- today
Is the history of the Social Web, solely a history of mergers
and acquisitions, sales, and new markets?
Whose history do we write?
Whom does it serve?
This history is filtered through the lens of the following questions:
•To whom do we owe most innovation on the Social Web?
•Where was the Social Web created?
•What motivated early programmers/users of the Internet?
•How did the initial move from research to commerce take place
•What were significant milestones in the scaling up of social life on
•What were some preconditions for this development?
•Which content did people focus on? What were they interested in?
•What were milestones in the design on the WWW?
quot;knowledge on callquot;
hyperlinked pages and the “memex”
Consider a future device for individual use,
which is a sort of mechanized private file and
library. It needs a name, and to coin one at
random, quot;memexquot; will do. A memex is a device
in which an individual stores all his books,
records, and communications, and which is
mechanized so that it may be consulted with
exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged
intimate supplement to his memory.
- Vannevar Bush; As We May Think;
Atlantic Monthly; July 1945
In 1949 in his novel Heliopolis, the
German Ernst Junger dreams up
the communication medium
quot;Phonophor,quot; which connects
everybody to everybody else,
enabling a permanent , technically
facilitated forum that also replaces
the passport, watch, newspaper,
library, and encyclopedia.
community -- are the most
frequently cited motivations for
almost all artistic attempts to
encourage participation in art
since the 1960s.quot; according to art
historian Claire Bishop.
Packet Switching, Paul Baran 1962 at RAND, US Airforce
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. Each packet would begin at some specified
source node, and end at some other specified destination
TCP, or quot;Transmission Control Protocol,quot; converts messages into streams of
packets at the source, then reassembles them back into messages at the
IP, or quot;Internet Protocol,quot; handles the addressing, seeing to it that packets are
routed across multiple nodes and even across multiple networks with multiple
Ted Nelson coins the term quot;Hypertextquot; in quot;A File Structure for
the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminatequot;. 20th
National Conference, New York, Association for Computing
First email 1965
Already in 1965, Fernando Corbato and his colleagues
at MIT developed a program to allow individual users
to swap messages on one single computer.
quot;In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a
machine than face to face...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. (53)quot;
Louis Pouzin designed and directed the development of
the Cyclades network in France, which then stopped in
In 1968, ARPA sent out a Request for
Quotation to build a network of
four Interface Message Processors.
BBN made it.
Dave Walden, Bernie Cosell, Severo Ornstein, Will Crowther, Bob Kahn
1969: Advanced Research Projects Agency
commissions ARPANET to conduct research
First ARPANET nodes connected UCLA,
Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and
University of Utah
Norm Abramson wanted to surf - so he moved to Hawaii in
1969. He wanted to network with the other islands and so he
built the ALOHAnet in 1970.
From the University of Hawaii, Abramson connected
computers over a network of radio transmitters using a
protocol telling the computers how to share the airwaves.
With TCP/IP, the quot;global networkquot; was
becoming a reality. Universities and
government offices were using the
network for communicating with
colleagues and exchanging data.
1974: Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn publish quot;A Protocol for Packet
Network Interconnectionquot;, which specified in detail the
design of a Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).
Whose Standards? Proprietary or Open Standards?
Also the fax machine is only useful if many other people have it.
Later: If the Internet would have just connected supercomputers,
it would have not been as significant.
“The Internet's quot;anarchyquot; may seem strange or even
unnatural, but it makes a certain deep and basic sense. It's
rather like the quot;anarchyquot; 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
(though the government provides certain subsidies to help
you learn to read and write a bit).”
Sterling, Bruce. quot;Short History of the Internet by Bruce Sterling.quot; College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the.
1 Feb 1993. 4 Sep 2007 <http://w3.aces.uiuc.edu/AIM/scale/nethistory.html>.
The TCP/IP protocol allowed different networks to connect together into
one big network - the Inter-net.
As the use of TCP/IP became more common, it was difficult to stop people
from barging in and linking up somewhere-or-other. The software TCP/IP was
public-domain and the basic technology was decentralized and rather anarchic
by its very nature.
Throughout the 1970s Instant Messaging began to appear
1971: Ray Tomlinson of BBN creates email program to
send messages across a distributed network.
1972: Tomlinson expands program to ARPANET users,
using the quot;@quot; sign as part of the address.
1971. Project Gutenberg is the first and
largest single collection of free electronic
books, or eBooks.
Project Gutenberg is the
quot;oldest digital library built on volunteer
efforts to digitize, archive, and distribute
January of 1978, Chicago was hit by
CBBS (first BBS)
Ward Christensen the Great Blizzard of 1978
Many people did not have the Internet. They dialed in to CBSS directly via modem.
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 and inspired the creation of many other bulletin board systems.
1979 Kevin MacKenzie e-mailed his
fellow subscribers at MsgGroup, an
early Internet bulletin board, with a
suggestion to put some emotion
back into the dry text medium of e-
mail. (The eyes came later.)
USENET established. USENET was a global, decentralized,
distributed Internet discussion system that provided mail
services and file transfers. Precursor of GoogleGroups and
other discussion boards.
Cover of COMPUTER
What else did it take to make this WWW thing work?
This was the ﬁrst IBM PC introduced on Aug 12, 1981
The Well members could start discussion boards:
the most popular one was dedicated to
computer manufacturers push proprietary protocols,
The Grateful Dead.
US Government pushed for ISO but TCP/IP was free, more viral
In the 1980s the PCs entered homes and offices in the United States.
The Well members could start discussion boards:
the most popular one was dedicated to
The Grateful Dead.
1981 BITNET release “Because It’s There” | “Because It’s Time”
Ira Fuchs (CUNY) and Greydon Freeman (Yale)
Main features: email, LISTSERV
BITNET set expectations for free access and openness: it charged
by bandwidth. Once you paid for the line, how much you use it
was up to you. Others tried to establish a pay by byte system.
Stewart Brand & Larry Brilliant
one of the first community bulletin board systems
The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (The Well)
Brand used a networked PC on his houseboat in Sasalito, CA, claiming that he
did so in order to experience commune living without actually moving into one.
The Well members started many discussion boards.
The most popular one was dedicated to The Grateful Dead.
The Well as paradigm of ``virtual community''
people meet, collaborate, argue,
support each other emotionally
Late-1980s: Networking took first steps outside academia
Tom Grundner - prof. family medicine
making community health information public
founder of the Cleveland Free-Net
became National Public Telecomputing Network
influential ... community-oriented, free-nets
Francois Lyotard and Thierry Chaput’s exhibition quot;Les Immateriaux” at the Centre
Georges Pompidou in Paris. 30 artists collaboratively respond to 50 terms related the
topic of the quot;immaterial.quot; 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.
CERN -- a place where scientist do incomprehensible things
with tiny bits of matter out of pure curiosity, a lab
specializing in the most esoteric form of research imaginable
The British programmer Tim Berners-Lee,
CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire)
WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project, 1989/90
HTML (HyperText Markup Language)
URL (Uniform Resource Locator)
HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol)
... the WWW as an altruistic, non-proprietary, vendor-neutral
contribution to society!
Keeping the software free is what allowed the WWW to take off.
Internet sites in Europe
Cailliau, Robert, and James Gillies. How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web. p90
New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2000.
ARPANET retired and transferred to the NSFnet
(National Science Foundation) that had started in 1988,
connecting 250 non-US networks by 1990
Vint Cerf: “Requiem for the ARPANET”
“And so, at last, we knew its course had run,
Our faithful servant, ARPANET, was done.
It was the first, and being the first, as best,
But now we lay it down to ever rest.”
Cailliau, Robert, and James Gillies. How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web.
New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2000.
John Perry Barlow, worked with Grateful Dead, was part of The
Well, and co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation with
Stuart Brand and Mitch Kapor in 1990, focusing on digital civil
August 1991: CERN releases WWW
December 1991: 600,000 users connected to Internet
The early nineties were marked
by the increasing use of the term
quot;social softwarequot; in expert circles
Benjamin Anderson's book
quot;Imagined Communi t iesquot;(1991)
inspired In t erne t en t husias t s
who just started to believe in a
world wi t hou t borders. In his
book Anderson describes t he
na t ion s t a t e as an imagined
communi t y t ha t is mainly
constructed by print media.
Official policy for the Internet forbid anyone from using the
network for personal gain or anything that didn't have a job-
In 1991, the NSF allowed commercial use of the Internet,
however, for the first time, and in 1995, it decommissioned
the backbone, leaving the Internet a self-supporting
Launch of Gopher, the quot;infoserver that can deliver text, graphics, audio, and
multimedia to clients.quot; Search and retrieval network protocol designed for the
Internet. Its goal is to function as an improved form of Anonymous FTP, with features
similar to that of the World Wide Web. The University of Minnesota.
1992 Marc Andreessen (b. 1971, 6’4”)
undergraduate University of Illinois
protocols for the WWW from CERN
created more fun and user-friendly
graphical interface for PC and Mac.
together with other students Andreessen
created the Mosaic browser
1994 Andreessen founded Netscape
to market it as the university did not approve
of commercial spin-off
1.5 years later: 65 million users (see also: Linux)
(the most rapidly assimilated product in history)
Brewster Kahle Bruce Gilliat
“It wanted to prove that you could make an Internet company.”
After selling WAIS to AOL in May 1995 for $15 million, Kahle and
Gilliat founded the Internet Archive and then Alexa Internet.
p 136 how the web was born
For a brief period, gopher and the World Wide Web were competing
systems. In 1993, however, CERN projected that the World Wide Web
would be free to anyone (no fees). Two months later, Gopher announced
that it was no longer free to use, which pushed users away from gopher
to the World Wide Web, which experienced a 350% growth rate that
year (mainly in US).
public domain for purchase
p 279 how the web was born
early versions of
feature to allow
could be shared with a
well-defined team of
1993 most signiﬁcant milestone in the popularization of the WWW
launch of Mosaic web browser (this was possible because WWW was public domain)
You can now, finally, order pizza online.
Web has a 341,634 % expansion rate in 94
In 2007, one billion people are online.
Woodstock of the Web
first web conference at CERN in 1994
CERN does not
makes funding difficult
and standards harder to
Berners-Lee moves to
MIT where he heads the
1995 1/5 of all Internet traffic is caused by WWW, taking over ftp’s leading
p 258 How the web was born
1993 De Digitale Stad (quot;The Digital Cityquot;) launched (De Balie & XS4ALL)
publicly accessible (free-net) system
goal: bringing politics and citizens together in an online community
“a social experiment in Internet freedom“ (Geert Lovink)
the attempt of staying independent in an increasingly commercial environment
Justin Hall (b. 1974 in Chicago) is an American
freelance journalist who is best known as a
Dec 26, 1996 The Thing BBS Feb 08, 2004
The Thing, NYC
Wolfgang Staehle http://tinyurl.com/2y5yt8
Feb 08, 1999
Founded 1995, First successfully
archived: Jan 25, 1999
Online Dating, 15 million users,
Mar 01, 2000
Wiki Wiki bus at the Honolulu
Ward Cunningham started developing WikiWikiWeb in 1994,
and installed it on the Internet in 1995 allowing for the
users could write
reviews and consumer
guides, an early form
of web-based self-
“Amazon was founded in 1994, spurred by what Jeff Bezos
refers to as his quot;regret minimization framework,quot; i.e. his
effort to fend off late-in-life regret for not staking a claim in
the Internet gold rush.”
In 2007, worldwide, Amazon has quot;over 900,000 membersquot; in
its affiliate programs (http://tinyurl.com/q7zfe)
first archived, Nov 29, 1999
searchable user classifieds, open
Our policies ... taking it personally and very seriously. We take every kind of abuse very
seriously, and in every case Craig will contact the abusive party and ask them to cease.
dated: 29 December 1999
Craigslist site: first archived, Nov 29, 1999
searchable user classifieds, open
first archived Apr 08, 2000
1996 Sweden, Denmark, UK teens, tweens open Lunarstorm
1,200,000 users. 2007: closed
Manuel Castells (1942) http://tinyurl.com/39gtmv
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)
Castells argued that in contemporary society dominant functions and processes are increasingly
organized around networks.
Rob Malda , aka. CmdrTaco
photo:quot;Scott Beale / Laughing Squidquot;
Blogging: the art and science of pointing at each other
blogging: the art and science of pointing at each other
Massiﬁcation of voice
In 1995, the Asian American community site AsianAvenue.com
kicked off (without social networking features).
First waybackmachine entry for AsianAve.com 1998.
“Through the intermediary of virtual worlds, we can not only
exchange information but think together, share our memories
and our plans to produce a cooperative brain.quot;
-- Pierre Lévy, from Collective Intelligence
In Collective Intelligence, Lévy investigates the affordances of networked sociality http://tinyurl.com/yvb4al
Eric S. Raymond presented his essay The Cathedral and the Bazaar
(CatB) at the Linux Kongress in Berlin.
1997. 2nd largest auction site
Feb 06, 2007
Jan 25, 1999
Indian social networking site Sulekha was set into motion.
Apr 17, 1999 Sept, 2007
1998. DMOZ, founded as GnuHoo involves geographically
dis t ribu t ed individuals t o evalua t e websi t es, crea t ing a user-
powered search engine. http://tinyurl.com/24aws2
Nicolas Bourriaud engages with the possibility of quot;relational artquot;
based on the practices of artists who became visible
during the 1990s.
Peter Hoschka introduces the term
Social Web, Peter Merholz coined
the term “blog,” and Rusty Foster (below)
a collaborative weblog where users vote
for what goes to the front page
Shawn quot;Napsterquot; Fanning (b. 1980)
the 18-year-old college student whose school nickname was quot;Napster,quot; along
with his friend Sean Parker first released the original Napster on June 1, 1999.
Napster was the first popular peer-to-peer file sharing platform.
Oct 11, 1999
African-Americans, 16,000,000 users (2007)
Commercially the Internet started to catch on in 1995 with an
estimated 18 million users. This untapped international market
made speculators ecstatic about the “new economy.”
To whom do we owe most innovation on the
Social Web? (Where are the women?)
While the Social Web is available worldwide, sites like Piczo, Orkut,
Fotolog, or Faceparty attract a majority of members in particular
geographic regions and of a specific age group.
People want to be where many other people are.
Expectations were shaped by early free and openly accessible software.
The rich get richer
Young innovators (often still in college or barely graduated and mostly white and male)
create commercial software and then join up with large capital to facilitate large-scale
The WWW started up mainly on European ideas, but was exploited best in the US.
Interoperability through openID and (prod/users want
content export features free-range data)
as competitive edge
Prod/users want control over their content
Research out of pure curiosity led to Internet
- end part1 -
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