On social media in the past

I may sound like a hipster by saying: “I have been using social media before it even was named that way”. Well, I also could sound arrogant, but you should be used to that by now. When “blogging” didn’t exists, we nerds had our own webpages that we kept updated… or not… They were rarely dynamic and were basically “fuck, yeah, I have a website” websites.  You can’t call those “social media” yet.  In a sense, it’s ironic that you are reading this on a self-hosted dynamic website.

What we now call “social media” emerged in a certain form on a community-based news website called slashdot.org.  It’s a nerd hangout, so if you haven’t heard of it (but if you read this, you most likely have) don’t worry.  Somewhere before 2001, they introduced a concept called friend/foe.  You could mark users with a little “pill” whether you liked them or not.  I think this was a first necessary step.  The second step, may have been introduced at the same time, or may not.  I simply don’t remember.  What I do know, is that by autumn 2001, slashdot.org had a featured called “Journals”.  Basically, that’s what we call “blogs” today.  When you wrote something, the people who marked you as a friend got notified.  It was an instant soapbox!  I could talk about the world, tech and others worries and I have!  What was wonderful was that people actually read it and they could reply!  Imagine that!

For me that was the “first” social network.  You had all the key ingredients: basic publishing and a friend/foe based network.  I’m not saying slashdot.org was the first.  It may well have been, but I don’t know.  What I do know is that it was the first “social network” I was exposed to, and I used it a lot.  slashdot.org didn’t evolve much past what they made in 2001, at least not from the perspective I have as a user.

All current social networks have these basic properties:

  • Ability link users together
  • Ability to publish for each user
  • Ability for other users to interact with published items
  • Basic notifications between users to be able to keep track of interactions

Most of my contacts left slashdot.org, or they don’t post any more.  I rarely post there myself. Other social networks have taken over, with an audience that is much less technical.

These slashdot.org users often are in my “modern” social networks, but -apart from a few exceptions- I don’t know who is who due to the usage of real life names.  In a sense, I really preferred the handle-only identification.  To many of them, I am still “jawtheshark” (or “jts” in short), but by now many call me simply “Jorg”.  I bet most don’t even know how to pronounce that…

What’s my point?  I have none, but I wanted to give this background information before going head first into a rant about how people fail to handle social networks of today.

11 thoughts on “On social media in the past

  1. intermodal

    It was a weird transition for me, going from false names to a real one. I actually now use a fake even on the “real name” sites and am considering deleting those altogether.

    For me, the first “social” network I joined was OpenDiary.com. And I miss it, but the site isn’t how it once was. And when I tried a couple years ago, went down a lot. Today, I feel like we’ve lost what we once had as a society. The free exchange, the freedom afforded by the option of anonymity, has gone. Years ago, you could get into all sorts of wonderful and intellectually stimulating topics, ruminations, and reflections.

    Now people go to Facebook and post about The Walking Dead and Candy Crush, feeling restricted because odds are, it will be seen by everyone from every walk of life that you know, and it just isn’t worth the effort most of the time to make a post that all of them will equally understand.

    It’s not that you wouldn’t be open with them, it’s that you cannot write it for every possible audience and still keep it interesting enough to bother. I wouldn’t discuss things in the same way with the same assumptions with my old Bishop from California as when discussing the same topic with my cynical Serbian farmer friend or my extreme socialist atheist friend in Connecticut. My positions would of course remain the same, but the way of discussing it would be different because their understandings and the assumptions you can make are different.

    I miss the days when I could go to different sites and interact with the circles of my choice. Today, the sites all want to be everything to everyone.

    1. jawtheshark Post author

      Look forward to the upcoming rant. While it doesn’t exactly address what you are talking about, they are related and the cause is that we both have a “Internet History”, which most people don’t have.

      Yes, I also miss the times of anonymity and I curse every time when Google suggests me to drop jawtheshark for my youtube channel and for the new G+ “vanity” URLs, I got “JorgWillekens” as a suggestion. My request for “jawtheshark” has been pending.

      We’re just the grumpy old guys on the Internet, I guess.

        1. jawtheshark Post author

          Thanks. I based my “autumn 2001” on the fact that my own first journal was in November 2001.

      1. intermodal

        I had my real name suggested to me countless times. I finally managed to get it to suggest I create a “fan page” on g+ affiliated with my Youtube username. I didn’t have a lot of options, since it woudln’t let me rename the account first.. I think I had to tell them that the name was significant to my art and that it was separate from my regular person. All I have is two videos of myself playing guitar badly.

        Since posting my comment above, another thing I think we have lost is the ability to explore. I have had dozens of accounts on forums over the years where I created the account, posted once or twice, and never went back, leaving basically no footprint and no likelihood of anyone you didn’t tell yourself finding out. I didn’t always find what I was looking for, but on the occasions when I did, it was more than worth it. Very few people do so anymore now that it is all social networks.

  2. Mekka B

    I know how to pronounce your name, but only because of the tripod video (filmed sans tripod)

    1. jawtheshark Post author

      Ah, that one. There is something you have to realize with that: in some languages it is impossible to pronounce my name correctly without breaking the “flow” of the language. For example, it is next to impossible to say my name in a French sentence. The linguistic context always taints the pronunciation.

  3. stoolpigeon


    Well not for this thread – but my first post at your blog.

    Was Slashdot the first to put this kind of thing together? Where would the bbs/forum things fit in?

    I’m looking forward to your thoughts on the current situation.

    1. jawtheshark Post author

      I don’t know how BBSes and chatrooms stand in this context. The main “problem” being, that I’m not sure that BBSes and chatrooms had technological linking. Yes, there were communities, but there was no formalized “linking” going on. Basically, were you could say “$handle is my friend”, but that was a statement and not encoded in a database.

      You could argue that stuff like ICQ/AIM were precursors of social networks too. You were “linked” to your acquaintances, but you didn’t have a “platform”. It was more point-to-point instead of the current “broadcast” systems. Perhaps it is my mistake to assume that “publish” is intrinsically a “broadcast”.

      As I said in the post: I have no idea whether slashdot was the first. It probably wasn’t, but it was the first where I actually encountered the linking-

  4. Alan Ralph

    If you’re interested in the prehistory of online social interaction, I can heartily recommend “The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier” by Howard Rheingold. It was originally published in 1994, with a revised edition in 2000. I was a member of at least on of the online services mentioned in the book (Cix, a UK-based online conferencing system in London) so quite of bit of the book resonated with me. 🙂

    1. Jorg Willekens

      I’ll add it to my amazon wishlish for when the financial sepukku that is buying a house, hurts a bit less.

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