By Matt Lake. July 15, Computerworld In the hyperactive online venues of today, it's easy to forget that online communities got started back when ABBA was cranking out hits. True, these early efforts didn't much resemble Facebook or Ning, but they were communities nonetheless.
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Here's how online communities have evolved. E-mail discussion lists E-mail's roots go back to the mid-'60s when people at System Development Corporation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were leaving messages for each other on time-shared mainframes, and features were added steadily over the following decade.
It's hard to pinpoint when the first electronic mailing lists for sending messages to large groups of subscribers appeared -- MSGGROUP, launched inmay have been the first -- but there's no doubt that managing such lists became much easier with the release of LISTSERV, the first e-mail list management software, in With some mailing lists, a small group of administrators sends announcement messages to subscribers the popular online classifieds site Craigslist got its start this way in Discussion lists, on the other hand, allow an ongoing conversation among all subscribers -- every reply to the list is sent to all chat rooms history subscribers.
Like Usenet discussion groups, e-mail discussion lists have been formed for every topic under the sun.
They may not have the cool cachet of Web 2. More recently, less game-oriented virtual worlds such as Second Life launched in have made a small splash, but they haven't developed the widespread following of more user-friendly social networks like Facebook.
Unlike commercial online services aimed at a national audience, many BBSs were local affairs run by hobbyists, often limited to just one user at a time. But they provided downloadable chat rooms history and applications as well as a forum to post messages for other members, and some of the larger BBSs grew to rival the commercial online services in size and scope, either separately or in BBS networks such as FidoNet.
In those days, BBSs and commercial online services were the only online communities available outside of academic, government, or corporate networks, and they enjoyed massive popularity until the Web revolution stole their thunder and turned many of them into ISPs. Commercial online services Strictly speaking, the first commercial online services for consumers began in the '70s with CompuServe Information Service and The Source.
But their golden age spanned the mids to mids, with leapfrogging competition propelling CompuServe, Prodigy, America Online and others into outdoing each other.
As Web mania hit inthese services began to transform into "onramps to the Information Superhighway" instead of destinations in their own right. Usenet Inspired by BBSs, a group of academics dreamed up a distributed database that would look and act like a BBS's threaded discussion group -- but not be tied to a single BBS server. Conceived in and launched inUsenet created a hierarchy of newsgroups covering all kinds of interests, which could be tapped and read through aggregating newsreaders such as Deja News.
The system thrived until the mid-'90s, when floods of newbies from AOL and other commercial online services, the first widespread spam, and competition from the Web drove many users away. Newsgroups still exist and can be followed through Deja News' direct descendent, Google Groups.
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Web-based communities "Community" was the watchword of early commercial Web sites. It's hard to establish where this began, but one early example was Salon.
Social networks Web-based communities were all about exploring ideas and sharing interests, and as such they differ subtly from social networks, which came along soon after. Social networks are all about me and my friends and what we're doing -- and who their other friends are, and whether they'd like to be my friend too.
Some early Web-based social networks, such as 's SixDegrees. Build-your-own social networks What's the next step beyond cookie-cutter social network sites? Give the people what they want by letting them make their own network.
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There are several hosted BYO network services pioneer Ning is probably the most well known and dozens more that integrate social networking into existing Web sites. Build-your-own networks are far more personal and salon-like than the huge social barns that are Facebook and MySpace -- like renting a meeting room in a hotel near Grand Central Station rather than trying to hold your conversations in the station itself.
Return to main story: CompuServe, Prodigy et al. Matt Lake has been enthusiastically using and writing about technology since "portable computing" meant a pound Compaq luggable and the most popular search engine was grep. Here are the latest Insider stories.
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