Reflections on the early days of social networking as LinkedIn reaches 100 million users


Last week LinkedIn reached a significant milestone: 100 million users. On the occasion LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman sent out an email to the first 100,000 users thanking them for being early adopters.

The email included the recipient’s member number, which are given in order of signing up. You can look it up yourself in your LinkedIn profile URL; it is the number after “id=”. I had no idea, but it turned out I am member 9,822, in the first 0.01% of users.

While I closely followed the social networking space at the time, I didn’t join many. LinkedIn seemed to me to be one of the most promising newcomers.

When I was writing Living Networks in 2002 there were no true social networking applications in existence. I had eagerly joined, the very first social networking application, not long after it was founded in 1997, highly excited by its potential. The basic principle was inviting friends to connect, and using that to find the quickest social path to people you wanted to meet. As it happens this model closer to LinkedIn than any of the other major social networking platforms of today.

I still remember my tremendous disappointment when I found out just after New Years Day 2002 that had fallen by the wayside.

From there, Friendster was founded in 2002, LinkedIn and MySpace in 2003, and Facebook in 2004.

In February 2004, the same month that Facebook launched, I gave a presentation on The Rise of Social Networking Technologies (incidentally the second presentation ever at the Innovation Bay network). It is very interesting to look back at my blog post from the event which reviewed the major players in the social networking space at the time. Ryze, one of the most popular social platforms of the day, is now a shadow of its former self. Spoke , a pioneer of enterprise social networking, was already well established.

For many people social networking is a recent phenomenon. However before the launch of Facebook there were already a wealth of players and participants in the space. Some have flourished. Others are defunct or rapidly heading south.

I’m planning to do a review of the full history of social networking when I get a chance, as the blow-by-blow of how it has developed holds many lessons and insights.

Today, we finally have the tools of connection at our disposal. We are living firmly in the age of social networks, the foundations of which were born just a few scant years ago.