The Secret History Of Social Networking

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In the first instalment of a three-part series, Rory Cellan-Jones traces the roots of social networking from the counterculture of the 1970s through early bulletin board systems such as California's The WELL and the first networks on the World Wide Web, finding out how a geeky hobby became a mass phenomenon.

Forty years ago, hippies and hackers came together to produce the first attempts at online community.

Rory visits the scene of the perhaps the first computer social network open to the general public.

Community Memory was a series of terminals in Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay area which opened for business in 1973.

It never picked up more than a handful of users, but as personal computers became more common in the 1980s, a host of online bulletin board systems sprang up around the world - although The WELL was perhaps the most influential.

An offshoot of the Whole Earth Catalog, The WELL's discussion forums interested journalists as well as computer nerds and showed how computer networks might impact offline life.

And Rory follows the trend through to the arrival of the World Wide Web, the thing that turned a mass audience on to the internet and online social networking.

Millions signed up for early sites like SixDegrees and Friendster.

But the lack of digital cameras and ubiquitous internet access in its late-90s heyday limited the usefulness of SixDegrees as a networking tool.

And Friendster's sheer popularity in the early 2000s caused tech problems that the company struggled to overcome.

It wouldn't be too long, however, before social networking hit the mainstream.

Part 1 of 3.

Interviewees include:

Lee Felsenstein, co-founder, Community Memory

Larry Brilliant, co-founder, The WELL

Stewart Brand, co-founder The WELL

Howard Rheingold, early WELL user, author of The Virtual Community

John Perry Barlow, early WELL user, co-founder Electronic Frontier Foundation

Marc Weber, founding curator, Computer History Museum

Andrew Weinrich, founder, SixDegrees.com

Jonathan Abrams, co-founder, Friendster.

Rory Cellan-Jones traces the roots of social networking in the 70s and 80s.

Rory visits the scene of perhaps the first computer social network open to the general public.

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The social networking game isn't over yet - Rory Cellan-Jones looks at the sites of the future and asks where the phenomenon is heading.

The power of social networks has taken off in recent years.

Now, there are more than half a billion Facebook users, but does that mean that one site will dominate social networking in the future? Rory visits the headquarters of microblogging site Twitter, where a new way of sharing information is being developed.

With the explosive growth of Facebook has come vigorous debate about privacy, sharing information online, and about what online social networking is doing to our relationships.

Today, some young entrepreneurs think they've spotted gaps in the market where Facebook is vulnerable.

New sites are springing up all the time.

The future of social networking could lie in localised sites geared towards specific interests, in limiting your online circle to your closest friends, or in sites that allow users to keep control of their personal information.

Finally, Rory returns to the social networking pioneers of the 70s and 80s.

How do the hippies and hackers who created the first social network think their revolution has turned out? Part 3 of 3.

Interviewees include:

Biz Stone, co-founder, Twitter

Dennis Crowley, co-founder, Foursquare

Reid Hoffman, co-founder, LinkedIn

Dave Morin, co-founder, Path

Brian Hughes Halferty, co-founder, Kiltr

Johan Stael von Holstein, co-founder, MyCube

Daniel Grippi, co-founder Diaspora*

Baroness Susan Greenfield, professor of pharmacology, Lincoln College Oxford

Natalia Morari, Moldovan journalist and activist

Larry Brilliant, co-founder, The WELL

John Perry Barlow, early WELL user, co-founder Electronic Frontier Foundation

Lee Felsenstein, co-founder, Community Memory.

Rory Cellan-Jones asks where social networking will go in the future.