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Many people think that social networking emerged in the past few years, but, in fact, the first social networking site launched in 1997. Six Degrees allowed users to create a profile and become friends with other users. It lasted until 2001. MySpace launched in 2003 and became the most popular social-networking site on the Internet until that honor was passed to Facebook. In 2004, Facebook was started as a private social network to help students at Harvard stay in touch and network. Facebook became so popular that, in 2006, it became available to all users. The company went public in 2012.
Specialized collaborative social-media projects have been around ever since the creation of the Internet, but they did not become mainstream until the last 15 years or so. People sought to create free repositories of information, especially online encyclopedias, that could be continuously updated. The most popular encyclopedia of this type is Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001. Wikia, a fast-growing pop culture and lifestyle information site, was founded in 2006.
Blogging as we know it today began sometime around 1994. Jorn Barger, an industry pioneer with his weblog Robot Wisdom, was the first person to use the term blog in 1997. At the time, all digital conversation took place among communities using systems and online services such as Usenet, GEnix, and Bulletin Board. Conversations were held with user comments and messages threaded together on a virtual corkboard. Other users were able to read messages separated by topic or content and add newer threads to the conversation. Blogs became extremely popular in the late 1990s due to the use of blogging tools such as browser-based software and Web-hosting services. Wordpress.com, one of the most popular hosting services, had 402,556 bloggers as of June 2012. Microblogs have also become popular in recent years. A microblog allows users to send text that is limited to 140 characters or less. Users can also send photos and video. Twitter, the most popular microblog site, was founded in 2006. Tumblr, a combination microblogging platform and social-networking Web site, was launched in 2007.
Great technological innovations have occurred in the last decade and have made it easier for Internet users to post photographs and video. These innovations created strong interest in sites at which users could share and also comment on the photographs and videos posted by others. Content communities such as Flickr (launched in 2004) and YouTube (2005) became immensely popular destinations for social-media enthusiasts.
Virtual game worlds trace their roots to the earliest multi-user games such as Mazewar (1974) and MUD1 (1978) that were played on ARPANET, an early version of the Internet. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games first became popular in the mid-1990s. These games offered first-person, 3D graphics and allowed large numbers of users to compete against one another online at the same time. In 2004, World of Warcraft was launched by Blizzard Entertainment. It is the most popular virtual game today.
The first virtual social worlds on the Internet were found in online communities and chat rooms. They were text-based with limited graphics, but they allowed users to communicate in real time. The first online virtual world as we know it today was Habitat, which was developed in 1986 by LucasFilmGames. Users were able to create digital representations of themselves called avatars and were able to interact with others in real time. Habitat lasted only until 1988. In 2003, Second Life launched. It offered a vivid, 3D experience that attracted millions of users. Second Life’s popularity peaked in the mid-to-late 2000s, although it still ranks among the most popular virtual social worlds.