Amidst the sudden ascent of LinkedIn, Twitter, Groupon, and of course, Facebook, it’s easy to forget that social media actually has a bit of a history going back more than 30 years. Really?

Law firm Morrison & Foerster has put together just such a timeline graphic of online communities in its latest issue of Socially Aware, the only newsletter focusing on legal and business issues surrounding social media. (see page 4).

A Short History of Social Media” goes back to February 1978 – date of the first dial-up CBBS, as in computerized bulletin board service. Other SM milestones you may have forgotten or slept through:

  • 1995: launch of personal home-page server Geocities, later purchased by Yahoo! for whopping $3.6 billion. Geocities was ultimately shut down in 2009.
  • 1997: launch of Kevin Bacon-inspired SixDegrees.com, which soon claims a breakthrough one MILLION users.
  • August 1999: introduction of first web plain vanilla blog service, Blogger, which went on to be acquired by Google.
  • March 2002: debut of warm-and-fuzzy Friendster, which peaks a few years later before fading out like the Winkelvoss twins at the end of a regatta.
  • July 2003: birth of MySpace, which sets new standard for personalized networking and branding; company acquired by News Corp. in 2005 for euphoric $580 million, only to be unloaded this past June to a digital media buyer (one of whose investors is Justin Timberlake) for $35 million.
  • December 2006: Facebook rejects bid to be acquired by Yahoo! for measly price of….$1 billion.

Now, of course, the mileposts are coming in nanoseconds – from LinkedIn’s rocket-launch IPO this past May to Twitter’s jaw-dropping marker of delivering 350 BILLION Tweets per day upon reaching just its fifth anniversary in July.

Socially Aware is to social media legal/business news what TMZ is to gossip: breezy, short bites and all over the map. A tight-knit group of nearly two dozen Morrison & Foerster tech, IP, privacy, litigation, venture capital and other lawyers closely monitors social media news sites, blogs, online publications and Twitter feeds to grab the freshest industry topics and provide a knowing spin. Socially Aware was good enough to earn a coveted Burton Award for excellence in legal writing and analysis in just its first year of publication.

“We’re reaching well beyond other lawyers – including marketing professionals, business development specialists, digital strategists, brand managers, investors, start-up owners and others” said Morrison & Foerster technology transactions partner John Delaney, one of several top editors of Socially Aware who also created the social media timeline. The newsletter has more than 15,000 regular subscribers and is drawing more than 100 new readers a month – hot numbers for a law firm bulletin without a single footnote or case citation.

More importantly, Socially Aware is generating billable work. Delaney notes that the newsletter has helped bring in new client matters on behalf of a large bank, a global manufacturer and multinational insurer, a leading media company and an international technology company, among other businesses grappling with a wide range of social media agendas. Example: the firm is advising one financial services firm in structuring an innovative contest on Facebook.

Socially Aware is in keeping with Morrison & Foerster’s high technology IQ — the firm was the first major law firm to develop an iPhone App. Morrison Foerster also publishes MoFo Tech, a quarterly magazine featuring longer news features on all aspects of tech business – from patent valuations to IPOs, venture capital and data privacy.

Other news notes from the new Socially Aware:

• An organization called Medical Justice joins the growing online reputation-management industry by recommending that doctors – precluded by patient confidentiality from responding to negative online reviews – require patients to sign away their rights to complain, but also assign doctors copyrights to any such reviews. The issue makes DMCA experts squirm, while medical ethicists say it might violate doctors’ oaths to place patients’ medical interests before their own financial needs.

• What’s the problem with using social media to raise money? If the amount is, say, $300 million to buy a beer company, with a promise of part ownership, the SEC just might respond with a cease and desist order. “Crowdfunding” – fundraising through social media sites – is currently subject to state and federal securities laws, though crowdfunding advocates are pushing for an exemption. Socially Aware addresses the potential for fraud and other abuse that might come with an SEC exemption.

Additional topics include a concise overview of the Kerry-McCain privacy bill now before Congress; limitations to safe harbor rules protecting web-site operators from liability for user-generated content; reaction to the latest revisions to Facebook’s user guidelines; and the decision by Twitter’s co-founders to step away and create a new venture that will be a global force for good.

Socially Aware will shortly become an actively updated blog. Until then, here’s the link again to a PDF of the current issue.