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Was SETI@home the first social network?

How did a lot of people get their start in social networking back before Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed and blogs existed? They got their geek on and signed up for SETI@Home. The distributed search for extra-terrestrials was a watershed event in social marketing.

Spielberg admitted this scene triggered specul...

Image via Wikipedia

In retrospect, the most interesting part of being involved in SETI@home was in being part of  a collective (and competitive) computing effort. I was a member of the “Friends of BALR” team which had a score that was impressive enough. Participating in this effort was a good preparation for engaging in other efforts, such as becoming a Wikipedia editor/contributor, or becoming part of a team of bloggers.
SETI@home had interesting social networking aspects. You could track your friend’s activity and ranking, à la Facebook News Feed. The competitive aspects caused participants to recruit others–so it had a viral, word-of-mouth marketing growth
engine too.

Consider also that SETI@Home had an estimated four million users 10 years ago who downloaded the requisite software; Twitter has an estimated six million users today by comparison.

I was #477 in the final tally of SETI@Home searchers in the Class of 5/18/1999. I made the top 2% (for that day’s class, which was day two of the public release, according to wikipedia’s Seti@home article). (See, I told you it was competitive.)
What other lessons are there for social marketers to learn from former child-stars such as SETI@home?

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