Social media has come a long way within the past two decades, with the likes of Instagram and Twitter dominating the current social media sphere. But this hasn’t always been the case, and, just before the turn of the millennium, Sixdegrees.com was the name of a highly popular social network. Sixdegrees was one of the first social networking sites, and would serve as inspiration for many more in subsequent years. But what went wrong for the website, and what is its history? In this article, we take a look.
Sixdegrees.com was launched in 1997. The site was named after the well-renowned Six Degrees of Separation concept. This concept suggests everyone on Planet Earth are six or less steps away from every other person in the world, based on their connections. It is a fascinating concept, and questions over its validity has led to fervent debate. The debate has reached the point where a great website exists, showing how Kevin Bacon can (almost) always be linked to other actors in Hollywood – click here to see it!
The website was founded by Andrew Weinreich. Weinreich secured the first ever social networking patent. The patent entitled Weinreich to hold the rights for a ‘method and apparatus for constructing a networking database and system’. This is of course a key facet of any social network, with almost all social networks adopting this concept. The site enjoyed rapid growth initially, and in early 1999, reached over 3,000,000 registered members.
Sixdegrees.com was purchased in December 1999 for $125M by YouthStream Media Networks. However, their success didn’t last, with the site shutting down in 2000. The site had worked like several other social networks – with users able to list friends, family members and acquaintances. Users could send messages and post items on their profile for other connections to see. With Sixdegrees.com being considered as the world’s first social network, they served as an inspiration for many more sites.
So what went wrong? Simply put, the internet wasn’t ready for social media in the late 1990’s. Social networks require a large number of users to make them work – otherwise there would be no ‘network’. With the internet still in its relative infancy, the website only had a limited potential customer base. Moreover, users didn’t have access to multimedia as much as we do in the contemporary age. Photos, videos and games are all widely seen on social media sites these days, but access to cameras wasn’t widespread in the earlier years. Unfortunately, the internet cost too much at the time for the site to work to its full potential.
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Sixdegrees.com certainly didn’t fail, instead it just simply joined the internet at the wrong time. It is clear from the success of other social networks that they had the right package, but other circumstances let them down. The patent was eventually sold to a group which included the future co-founder of LinkedIn – who used the patent to help launch the social network, eventually enjoying mass success. There does appear to still be some form of operation judging by the domain’s current state, though it is unlikely to ever hit the heights of other social networks. However, its legacy will go on forever.