Soon after men first started walking this planet, they started getting together, both for the safety that numbers brought about as well as for the benefits that working as a team provided. In this crude and unplanned form social networking began. As civilization developed, families bonded together into tribes for the same purpose and then into villages, cities and countries - each stage was a development of the social network. But within these evolving social networks there soon emerged smaller groups of fraternities and unions which were made of people with more specific common objectives.
All these groups were limited by their geographical proximity - a limitation that disappeared with the arrival of the internet. It all began in the early 1980s when Bulletin Board Services (BBS) came into existence. These were text only sites that allowed visitors to post messages for others to see - these bulletin boards were usually run by hobbyists and were dedicated to particular subjects or opinions. The bulletin boards were, by modern standards, very basic - only text could be up loaded - and very slow because communication was limited to modems and dial up connections.
Around the time of the BBS, a service called CompuServe also came into being: but it was aimed at business users who could share files and access news on it. Besides information sharing, CompuServe had one great innovation - it allowed users to send electronic messages to each other in a form that soon evolved into email. CompuServe soon grew into a public domain service in the 1980s and allowed anyone with a phone line and modem to access the thousands of discussions forums that it hosted. CompuServe was followed by America Online, or AOL as we know it today, which took the next step of offering members the facilities to create their own communities as well as member profiles that were searchable.
Soon after AOL came Yahoo with a host of more user friendly communications and networking options but it was the advent of a site called Classmates.com that introduced social networking as we know it today. Classmates.com allowed for not just communities, but for locating long lost school friends and establishing online contact with them. The idea caught on and soon there was a flood of websites like AsianAvenues.com that was dedicated to allowing people of Asian origin to network. The next obvious step, which soon followed, was open networking sites where anyone could create a community and locate both old and new friends to invite to join. The latest stage in social networking history is Twitter that allows for instant networking among groups but the future promises many more innovations to take the history of social networking forward.