Hackers and hippies… rock on!

Hackers and hippies: The origins of social networking

Rory Cellan-Jones By Rory Cellan-JonesTechnology correspondent, BBC News

The first Community Memory terminal, at Leopold's Records, Berkeley, CA, 1973. Photo taken by and for the Community Memory Project, first published in the Resource One Newsletter, April 1974, and originally posted to the web in 1996 by Mark Szpakowski
The first Community Memory terminal at Leopold’s Records in 1973

People that have been to see last year’s blockbuster The Social Network, could be forgiven for thinking that the rise of sites like Facebook started just a few years ago.

But to find the true origins of social networking you have to go further back than 2004.

In a side street in Berkeley California, the epicentre of the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s, I found what could well be the birthplace of the phenomenon.

Standing outside what was once a shop called Leopold’s Records, former computer scientist Lee Felsenstein told me how, in 1973, he and some colleagues had placed a computer terminal in the store next to a musicians’ bulletin board – of the analogue variety.

They had invited passers-by, mainly students from the University of California, Berkeley, to come and type a message in to the computer.

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Listen to the programme

The Secret History of Social Networking is a three-part series for BBC Radio 4, starting on Wednesday 26 January at 1100 GMT

Back then, it was the first time just about anybody who was not studying a scientific subject had been allowed near a machine.

“We thought that there would be considerable resistance to computers invading what was, as we thought of it, the domain of the counterculture,” Mr Felsenstein explained.

“We were wrong. People would walk up the stairs and we had a few seconds in which to tell them, ‘would you like to use our electronic bulletin board, we’re using a computer.’

 

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