Facebook, with almost 3 billion users, has managed to become the world’s largest social platform. Almost half of the entire planet is now registered on Facebook.
This has certainly translated into huge revenue figures for the company, which rebranded into Meta back in October 2021.
In 2021 alone, Meta generated close to $117 billion in revenue, which largely came from the advertising displayed on Facebook and Instagram (which it bought for a record-setting $1 billion back in 2012).
And even though Facebook is far and beyond the most popular social network today, it certainly wasn’t the first one.
When Zuckerberg launched it as a platform to connect with his fellow Harvard classmates back in 2004, he was competing against sites that had already amassed tens of millions of users.
But who were those companies that got launched before Facebook? And why did they fail to take off as Facebook did?
In the coming sections, we will highlight 12 social media companies that were started before or during the same time as Facebook (sorted by the year they were founded). Moreover, we will provide the reason why most of those social networks ultimately failed.
Buckle up for a ride down memory lane!
Headquarters: Seattle, Washington, United States Founder(s): Randy Conrads Year Founded: 1995 Year Closed: still active
Classmates.com, as the name suggests, allows you to reconnect with former school friends. Over the decades, it was sold off to different companies. Meanwhile, those owners also created offshoot sites like StayFriends.de for Germany.
By 2008, Classmates had 50 million members and close to 4 million paying subscribers that took advantage of its premium features. Since the early 2010s, it is mainly focused on digitizing old high-school yearbooks and resurfacing old school photos of celebrities.
Its history hasn’t been without bumps either. In May 2015, Classmates had to pay an $11 million fine for “deceptive billing and marketing practices.” Four years prior, it settled with some of its users for $2.5 million after creating fake profiles that would try to convince them to pay for its premium subscription.
Classmates ultimately failed to become a leading social network because it never really focused on creating features that would resemble a social media platform (such as the ability to follow other users).
Headquarters: New York City, New York, United States Founder(s): Dan Pelson, Jane Mount Year Founded: 1996 Year Closed: 2008
Bolt was a social network aimed at teenagers. It introduced many of the features that propelled the likes of Friendster and Myspace to worldwide fame, including chat rooms, photo albums, browser games, e-cards, and so much more.
The site became also one of the first video-based platforms after acquiring the video-sharing site Yashi back in 2005. Unfortunately, a week after striking a revenue-sharing deal with YouTube (December 2006), Universal Music filed a lawsuit against Bolt for infringing on copyrighted material.
Universal’s lawsuit became the major reason why Bolt failed. Consequently, the firm had to file for bankruptcy protection in August 2007. The site was resurrected for a few months in 2008 but shut down for good in October of the same year.
Headquarters: New York City, New York, United States Founder(s): Andrew Weinreich Year Founded: 1996 Year Closed: 2000
SixDegrees.com is widely considered to be the world’s first-ever true social networking site. It was based on the six degrees of separation concept, which means that you are six or fewer social contacts away before encountering a mutual connection.
The site popularized a variety of crucial features. These entailed dedicated user profiles, lists of friends, and bulletin boards. In its heyday, MacroView, the company behind SixDegrees, had over 100 employees and close to 4 million registered members.
SixDegrees was ultimately acquired by YouthStream Media Networks in late 1999 for $125 million at the height of the dot-com bubble.
A little more than a year later, the site was shut down as a result of the market downturn (and thus decreasing ad rates) as well as inactivity within the network.
4. Friends Reunited
Headquarters: London, England, United Kingdom Founder(s): Julie Pankhurst, Steve Pankhurst Year Founded: 2000 Year Closed: 2016
Friends Reunited was a social media network that focused on helping users to get in touch with old friends and family members. While the majority of its users came from the United Kingdom, it also managed to create umbrella sites in Australia, Spain, and South Africa.
Interestingly, Friends Reunited relied on a membership model to monetize its user base. Ad revenue had severely dried up due to the bursting of the dot-com bubble. Its success even sparked the emergence of copycat sites such as Convicts Reunited, which focused on reuniting former prison inmates.
In December 2005, Britain’s largest commercial TV broadcaster ITV purchased Friends Reunited for £175 million. However, just four years later, Friends Reunited was sold off to internet holding company Brightsolid for a mere £25 million. Founder Steve Pankhurst also tried to revive the site later on but by that point, it was simply too late.
Friends Reunited ultimately failed because its growth was undermined by the membership fees it was charging and due to missing crucial features (such as a follow button).
- Check out the founding story and detailed reason for why Friends Reunited failed here.
Headquarters: Helsinki, Finland Founder(s): Sampo Karjalainen, Aapo Kyrölä Year Founded: 2000 Year Closed: still active
Habbo, formerly known as Habbo Hotel, is a pixel-art style virtual community. Users can create their own avatars, build rooms, design and play games, or simply connect and chat with friends.
The founders built multiple local versions of the product for users based in countries such as the United States, Turkey, and Russia. While Habbo eventually lost its appeal as its predominantly young user base moved on to other platforms, it experienced a resurgence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Said rebirth even prompted the founders to issue an NFT collection back in September 2021. However, months prior, its internal economy collapsed after Sulake, the developer of Habbo, announced that it would be sunsetting the game’s trading system.
Habbo failed because of its overdue reliance on Adobe Flash and failure to launch a mobile app, its inability to replace the predominantly young user base with new people, and cyberbullying and scams caused by a lack of moderation.
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, California, United States Founder(s): Jonathan Abrams Year Founded: 2002 Year Closed: 2015
Friendster, at least for a short time, was the world’s most popular social network. As the story goes, Abrams had the idea for starting the site after his girlfriend broke up with him. He allegedly created Friendster to be able to meet other women.
It pioneered features such as the option to post photos and share one’s interests with friends. During its heyday, Google reportedly tried to acquire Friendster for $30 million.
However, its relevance soon began to diminish, leading to the sacking of founder Abrams in 2004. After close to $50 million in raised funding, Friendster was sold to Malaysia-based payments provider MOL for $26.4 million in 2009.
MOL decided to rebrand Friendster into a social games portal and sold all of its patents to Facebook for $40 million. Friendster ultimately failed because of site performance issues, rising competition, executive turnover, as well as overbearing content moderation practices.
- Check out the founding story and detailed reason for why Friendster failed here.
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, California, United States Founder(s): Reid Hoffman; Eric Ly Year Founded: 2002 Year Closed: still active
LinkedIn is far and beyond the most successful platform on this list and the only one that’s remotely close to the success that Facebook has enjoyed. Founder Reid Hoffman had previously helped to build PayPal and served on the boards of internet juggernauts like eBay and Google.
The founders managed to raise close to $155 million in funding before taking LinkedIn public back in 2011 (which netted them another $352 million). A mere five years later, Microsoft announced that it would acquire LinkedIn for a whopping $26.2 billion – and consequently take it private.
Today, over 830 million people are registered on LinkedIn, making it one of the world’s biggest social networks (and certainly the largest one aimed at professionals). In 2021 alone, LinkedIn generated over $11.5 billion in revenue.
Headquarters: Beverly Hills, California, United States Founder(s): Brad Greenspan, Chris DeWolfe, Tom Anderson Year Founded: 2003 Year Closed: still active
Myspace was far and beyond the most popular social network that got started before Facebook. To this day, former users think back fondly to being greeted by founder Tom Anderson who became everyone’s first friend on the platform.
At its peak, Myspace recorded close to 100 million users every month, even surpassing the likes of Google and Yahoo. Its popularity led News Corp (now Fox Corporation) to shell out $580 million to acquire the company back in 2005.
Unfortunately, News Corp did not possess the necessary skills to advance the social network. Facebook eventually overtook Myspace in 2008. Three years later, News Corp sold Myspace for just $35 million to Specific Media, which relaunched it with the help of Justin Timberlake in 2013.
These days, Myspace is a mixture between a lifestyle news site (publishing content on music and film-related topics) as well as a social network promoting up-and-coming artists. It ultimately failed because of ongoing legal battles, too many ads being served, and a lack of social networking features.
- Check out the founding story and detailed reason for why Myspace failed here.
9. Second Life
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, United States Founder(s): Philip Rosedale Year Founded: 2003 Year Closed: still active
Second Life is an online virtual world in which players create avatars of themselves and interact with other users. It is widely considered to be the first metaverse, which Facebook ironically doubled down on when it rebranded into Meta in October 2021.
What sets Second Life apart from many other virtual networks is the issuance of a virtual currency called Linden Dollars. Players can thus purchase virtual goods and even make money selling their own creations and experiences.
During its peak, tens of millions of people were playing Second Life. Companies like Amazon or Nike even set up their own virtual spaces. Founder Philip Rosedale, after departing from the company in 2010, even returned as an advisor in early 2022.
However, the game ultimately failed to become a mass-market product because it has an extremely high learning curve while suffering from frequent platform meltdowns as well as due to consistent copyright infringements.
- Check out Second Life’s founding story and detailed reasons for why it failed here.
Headquarters: San Francisco, California, United States Founder(s): Ramu Yalamanchi, Akash Garg Year Founded: 2003 Year Closed: still active
The founders of Hi5, instead of battling it out with Facebook and Myspace in the United States, chose to focus on international markets right from the get-go. Before Hi5, Garg and Yalamanchi had launched a dating site aimed at people in Southeast Asia.
During its peak, Hi5 boasted over 70 million users across Latin America, Europe, and Asia. Meanwhile, investors injected a total of $52 million into the business. User growth eventually began to stall as Facebook expanded abroad, prompting Hi5 to rebrand into a social gaming site.
While Hi5 can still be accessed to this day, activity on the network is essentially non-existent. The site failed because its founders simply couldn’t keep up with the much better-capitalized competition.
- Check out Hi5’s founding story and detailed reasons for why it failed here.
Headquarters: Mountain View, California, United States Founder(s): Orkut Büyükkökten Year Founded: 2004 Year Closed: 2014
Orkut, named after its founder Orkut Büyükkökten, was Google’s first attempt at creating a social network. The Turkish software engineer developed the platform as an independent project while working at Google (which notoriously granted its employees one day a week to work on side projects that could advance the company).
Some of Orkut’s unique features included its somewhat controversial ‘crush list’ as well as customizable profile themes and written testimonials. Over 300 million people, mostly in countries like Brazil and India, were using Orkut.
These days, users accessing Orkut’s website will be greeted with a farewell message from its founder. The network ultimately failed due to an excessive number of fake profiles, its inability to keep up with the competition feature-wise, slow site speed, and various privacy-related issues.
Headquarters: New York City, New York, United States Founder(s): Kevin Rose Year Founded: 2004 Year Closed: still active
Digg was a social network and news aggregator platform that allowed users to submit news stories, pictures, videos, and other types of content. Due to its focus on news aggregation, it is often considered Reddit’s predecessor.
Kevin Rose, who hosted a tech-focused TV show before starting Digg, became the talk of the tech world town during the mid-2000s. He managed to raise close to $50 million for the business, which allegedly even garnered buying interest from the likes of Google and Yahoo.
At its peak, close to 100 million people were accessing Digg every month. Then-San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom even proclaimed the 4th of December “Digg.com Day” when the site turned 5 in 2009.
Digg primarily failed due to a major redesign that took place in 2010 and alienated the majority of its user base. Today, Digg continues to surface its own curated stories as well as external news sources – just not with the relevance it once had.
- Check out the founding story and detailed reason for why Digg failed here.