Originally launched as a list of school affiliations, Classmates came out in December 1995. The site, founded by Randy Conrads, later incorporated features like member profiles and friends lists. The company was sold to United Online in 2004 and suffered from a string of controversies, including an investigation by Andrew Cuomo, who was New York Attorney General at the time. The company has been rebranded as a center for nostalgia called Memory Lane.
May 1997: Six Degrees
Six Degrees is widely considered to be the very first social networking site. Founded by Andrew Weinreich in May 1996, the site launched the following year and combined popular features such as profiles, friends lists and school affiliations in one service. While the site had millions of registered users, due to the lack of people connected to the Internet, networks were limited. It would be a few years before the Internet's infrastructure could catch up with the concept of social networks. The site was sold in December 2000 to YouthStream Media Networks.
Credit: Six Degrees
October 2001: Ryze
In the early days of social networking, business professionals turned to Ryze to make connections. The site allowed users to build profiles, add friends and send messages. Launched in October 2001 by Adrian Scott, the site was a precursor to LinkedIn. It's been speculated that Friendster's founder Jonathan Abrams was an early member of the site and was inspired to create a dating version of Ryze. The website claims to have more than 500,000 members in over 200 countries.
March 2002: Friendster
While there were social networks that existed before Friendster, none of them engaged the mainstream with the same success. Launched by Jonathan Abrams and Peter Chin in March 2002, the site was built on the premise that people were separated by six degrees. A feature that showed how you were connected to strangers made meeting people less intimidating and highly addictive. It was also considered a safe way to meet potential dates online. Unable to scale the service at the same rate as demand, the site encountered many technical hiccups. Frustrated users began migrating away from the popular social network and on to its rival MySpace. The company is still credited as giving birth to the modern social media movement. In May of 2011, the site abandoned user profiles and transitioned into a social entertainment site.
May 2003: LinkedIn
LinkedIn launched in May 2003 by Reid Hoffman, Allen Blue, Konstantin Guericke, Eric Ly and Jean-Luc Vaillant. Within the first month, the site had 4,500 members. What began as a place to post resumes online evolved into a business networking site which continued to grow, adding new features like hiring solutions for companies. In the spring of 2011, the company went public and became the biggest initial public offering for an Internet company to date since Google.
The social networking site, MySpace was founded by several employees from the Internet marketing firm eUniverse in August 2003. The core team included Brad Greenspan, Chris DeWolfe, Josh Berman and Tom Anderson. Known for bands' pages, customizable profiles and a culture of online stalking, MySpace was the no. 1 website in 2006 and was valued at $12 billion in 2007. In 2005, News Corporation bought MySpace's parent company for an unprecedented $580 million. By April of 2008, Facebook took the title of no. 1 social network on the web. Despite several re-design attempts, the company could not revive its brand dominance. News Corp. sold the site for $35 million to the advertising firm, Specific Media.
January 2004: Orkut
Google's relationship with social networking began with a failed attempt to purchase Friendster in 2003. The company continued on and launched the networking site Orkut in January of 2004. Originally, membership was by invitation, which was meant to create an environment of trusted friends, but the site may have been too exclusive. It never succeeded at overtaking Friendster or MySpace, and is generally thought of as a failure in the U.S. market. In an interview with former Google vice president of location and local services, Marisa Mayer explained the reason behind the blip, "We were actually really overwhelmed with the success pretty quickly. We weren't really prepared to scale that quickly."
February 2004: Facebook
One of the most controversial websites in history, Facebook was launched in February 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg. The Harvard sophomore was alleged to have stolen the idea for the site from Olympic rowers Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, and their partner Divya Narendra. The three filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg, which was settled out of court. The site was initially exclusive to Harvard students and eventually rolled out to the public in September 2006. Privacy concerns have been a constant issue with the company - from the Beacon program, which extracted user data from third-party website without permission, to the complicated privacy settings. Zuckerberg continued to move the company forward and is now the top social networking site and second only to Google in web rank. The story of the company's inception was portrayed in the 2010 film "The Social Network."
March 2005: Yahoo! 360 Degrees
In March 2005, Yahoo! 360 Degrees launched by invitation only. The social site provided profiles, blogs and content for members and other integrated Yahoo! products like Flickr, Yahoo! Music and Messenger. The product never took off in the U.S. and was shut down in July 2009. The online directory announced to users in 2007 that they would transition into a "new universal Yahoo! profile."
July 2005: Bebo
Bebo launched by Michael and Xochi Birch in July 2005. The social network's widget-style profile editor was easy to navigate and was a main draw for young users. By 2008, the site had 34 million registered members. The site was sold to AOL in March 2008 for $850 million. The media giant was unable to compete with Facebook and reportedly sold the company to Criterion Capital Partners for less than $10 million in June 2010.
July 2011: Google+
On June 28, 2011 Google+ was announced on the Official Google Blog. The search engine giant's latest venture in social media is probably its most complete attempt yet. The site offers features similar to Facebook, such as a news feed, photo albums and groups. Google+ moves an inch ahead of Facebook by adding a video chat room called Hangouts. Although Facebook recently announced video chat via Skype, it does not have group functionality like Google+.