2003: Apple's iTunes store redefines the global sale of music
What a difference a day makes. Apple introduced its iTunes online music store to the world on April 28, 2003, giving customers a new, catalogued, easy-to-use, searchable, portable, and inexpensive way to buy music from the bands they love. The iTunes software had been around since 2001, allowing users to put the music they already owned into the program so that they could play it on different devices.
It was the iTunes store concept, however, that moved the music scene ahead significantly. Though music lovers in the past had bought vinyl albums, cassettes, and 8-track tapes for years, the incredibly popular iTunes store completely redefined how a new generation would buy its music: by the song track instead of by the CD or album. The store even affected things beyond consumer purchasing patterns--it helped redistribute power among musicians, music studios, and their listeners by making music a relatively cheap commodity. One big benefit: The business model has given emerging bands a chance to sell their songs one by one directly to consumers who want to hear them.
All of this constitutes a world-changing event for the music industry and for users, who can go online wherever they are to buy and load the tunes they want onto their iPods and other players. Other services have been trying to ape what Apple built with its iTunes store, but so far no one else has attained the cachet, grace, and appeal of Apple's approach.
2003: Skype brings new allure and features to online chat
Online chat (also called instant messaging or IM) has roots that go back to the BBS (bulletin board systems) and Internet Relay Chat of the late 1970s. Those early services led eventually to what many experts call the first true online chat: the CompuServe CB Simulator program in 1980. But to millions of users who discovered online chat around 1996, the service that really brought it home was America Online and its varied, expansive, and seemingly unlimited chat rooms for AOL subscribers. (Of course, that was in the days when AOL actually had millions of subscribers.) Those chat rooms brought together people from all over the world to talk about everything, anything, and even nothing. We hadn't seen chat grow in such a huge way before.
The tables turned yet again, though, in 2003, when the online service Skype was founded. Bringing together IM, video, and Voice-over-IP service, Skype revolutionized chat just as much as AOL did in the mid-1990s. Skype allowed users to find new ways to communicate globally, in real time, using computers, text, Webcam video, voice, and even landline or cell phones in an intricate web of connections. Skype had "an average of 124 million connected users per month in the second quarter of 2010," according to the company's Website. "Skype users made 95 billion minutes of voice and video calls in the first half of 2010, approximately 40% of which was video," the company says. And that's why Skype continues to be incredibly influential today.
2004: What do you mean by 'Will you friend me on Facebook?'
The biggest player in social media began quietly in a Harvard University dorm room in February 2004, when Mark Zuckerberg and cofounders Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Eduardo Saverin launched a little thing they called Facebook. The idea was simple: Create an online place where all the students at Harvard could post "profiles" of themselves so that they could more easily get to know one another and become better friends. The service caught on so quickly that it expanded to three other Ivy League schools the next month. And it didn't stop there.
By that December, the site hit 1 million users, and the race was on. It soon expanded beyond college students and became a site where anyone could find and communicate quickly with their friends. In just a short time, it has become a place where many people habitually go multiple times a day to see what's happening. It's like the old neighborhood fence of the past, where anyone can head over to chat, catch up, and share laughs or tears with the people we love.
Facebook has had its share of drama, too, as the original foursome who built it ended up in a legal battle over money and status (as portrayed in the 2010 film The Social Network ). More than 500 million active users around the globe participate, with more than half of them logging in daily, for a total of more than 700 billion minutes a month, according to the company. Just how influential and important has Facebook become? Last December, Mark Zuckerberg was named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2010. Facebook is everywhere, from online to the movies to the mass media. It's so big that your mom, your dad, and even your grandmother are probably even on it. It's an ongoing happening.
2005: The birth of YouTube ('They have really, really, really long, um, trunks')
"All right, so here we are in front of the elephants..." And with that, the YouTube craze began as a Website where users can post and share videos of just about everything they create or watch. Although YouTube premiered on February 14, 2005, it wasn't until 8:27 p.m. on April 23, 2005, that the first video was uploaded for the world to see. Titled "Me at the Zoo," the 19-second clip is simple. It shows one of YouTube's founders at the San Diego Zoo in front of the elephant enclosure, talking about their trunks.
Today, YouTube is the place to be for sharing video online, with more than 13 million hours of video uploaded to the site by users last year, according to the company, as well as more than 700 billion playbacks in 2010 alone. The site is localized in 43 languages in 25 nations, and it receives more than 100 million views daily. What makes it so important is that it brings huge numbers of people together very quickly to see what has been happening in the world. When a video clip goes viral on YouTube, everyone hears about it. That's power and influence, and that's what makes YouTube huge.
2006: Twitter arrives, and the Times Square news ticker appears in your hands
The first Twitter message ever sent wasn't about what someone had for lunch or about floods, wars, politics, or celebrities. Instead, the first tweet ever sent, issued on March 21, 2006, simply said "just setting up my twttr." That short text message, sent by Jack Dorsey, the creator, cofounder, and chairman of Twitter, triggered an overwhelming cascade of tweets that continues today. Why is this important? People all over the world have adopted Twitter as a way to distribute information, in news-bulletin form, just like the tickers on Times Square buildings. People are using it after disasters such as the earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, as well as for telling friends and acquaintances whatever needs to be said.
Twitter is an integral part of every happening in the world nowadays because its users are connected with it. Some people still wonder what's with this Twitter thing, but if you are not at least paying attention, you are missing a very important communications tool in the 21st century. Oh, and if you are keeping track, the first tweet by a sitting president came on January 18, 2010, from Barack Obama, while the first ever tweet from space came on January 22, 2010. You may want to know those trivia answers someday.
For another perspective on major events that formed the Internet, read "The 16 Greatest Moments in Web History."