More than anything else, the World Wide Web’s essential attribute is connection. It links two or more people anywhere in the world, and the early Web was defined by relationships that were novel because they were, at the time, so unlikely. We asked people who built their careers on the Internet to tell us the stories of the first friends they made online.
Now we want to hear from you: Who was the first friend you made online? Was it on Usenet, MySpace, LiveJournal, an AOL chat room or somewhere else? Did you ever meet in real life?
Fill out the form at the bottom of this article with stories of your first online friends and we might include them in this blog post.
George Takei, actor, director, activist and viral star:
My first online friends were Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, the creators of the Broadway musical “Allegiance.” Back in 2011, they sat me down over brunch in West Hollywood and suggested that we use social media to promote the show. I agreed and signed up for Twitter. They then suggested a few months later that I launch a Facebook page. And we were off to the races! Jay and Lorenzo to this day continue to provide strategic and technical guidance on my online activities.
Gaby Dunn, writer, journalist, YouTuber, actress and comedian:
I don’t know about my first, as I made a bunch around the same time on a Superman message board when I was 12, and then one of them gave me a LiveJournal code. Back then, you needed a code to make one. There, I met a lot of people through writing fan fiction. One was a girl who lived a few hours away from me and was only a couple years older. I didn’t have too many friends in real life, and this girl and I shared a lot of common interests and could talk online for hours. I spent a lot of time in my room, and my parents didn’t love it. We eventually met in real life, because she came to my town to go to a concert with me and some other online friends — thus proving to my parents that I had friends. Now we follow each other on social media.
Ted Leonsis, chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment and former AOL executive (who sent the company’s first instant message):
For more than 15 years, I have had an online friendship with Big Ken Holden, whom I met through Best Buddies, an organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ken and I met via email and quickly developed a friendship online that would not have been possible without technology. Even to this day, we email at least once a day, but sometimes more. I bet we’ve exchanged 20,000 emails. I believe that this type of online friendship will transform the next generation of philanthropists.
Tom Anderson, co-founder of Myspace and photographer:
My first friend was Brad McQuaid, the creator of the original “EverQuest.” We met on a bulletin board system sometime in the early ’80s, before the Internet was a thing. In addition to our nerd activities, we actually formed a rock band together as teenagers.
Imagine a 10-year-old girl sitting in front of a bulky Gateway monitor cruising the mean streets of . . . BlackPlanet. Now that you’ve had a good laugh, fast-forward to 2007. I completely skipped Myspace’s reign on the Internet and truly started making friends on YouTube. I began watching a girl named ApplesAndMustard. I commented on her videos and enjoyed listening to her talk about her everyday life. I don’t remember when she noticed me, but YouTube “friends in your head” always start out that way. She doesn’t post videos as frequently, and now we mostly communicate through Snapchat. It just now dawned on me that we’ve never met in person because I feel like we know a lot about each other. If you’re reading this, Dari, you’re done with your military service so swing through Texas and holla at ya girl! No excuses!
Alex Goldman, host of the podcast “Reply All”:
In 1992, when I was 13 years old, my friend Peter gave me the number to a local Michigan bulletin board called M-net, and I was totally blown away that you could talk to people on your computer. At the time, M-net had four active phone lines which were constantly in use, so I often spent an hour or more getting busy signals before I connected. And then I’d be on for maybe 10 minutes before call waiting kicked me off. It took a lot of dedication at the time to be online. Since the board was local, there were frequently meet-ups at bowling alleys or at some random hacker’s house. And since it was before parents really knew to be worried about meeting people from the Internet, they would just drop me off at these things. I met bandmates, close friends, girlfriends. We have all mostly abandoned the board, even though it continues to limp along 30 years after its founding, but I got a Facebook message from a former M-netter yesterday. We’re family.
Gene Park, social media journalist at The Washington Post:
In 1998 I took my first baby steps into the Internet, finding various outlets to talk about music I loved (and hated). I eventually stumbled into a Yahoo! Chat room about techno music. It was there that I connected with Jamie in Canada, whose chat handle indicated she was also a huge fan of the 1990s Brit electronica group Prodigy. We became fast friends, chatting and exchanging emails even as we moved around the world, like new millennium pen pals. For about 16 years, we stayed in touch, but we’d never met until I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2015. She was temporarily living here, and we finally had drinks. I cried as I recalled all the times she talked me through my crippling teenage depression. It felt like a landmark moment in my life, like seeing a long lost sister. She will always remain one of my most cherished friendships.
Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia:
This is so nerdy. The first friend I met online – I don’t recall his name – was a kid who had a lot of old WWF wrestling figures in mint condition and still in the package for sale. I met him on an AOL chat board for trading sports cards, memorabilia and collectibles. It was in 1995, and we arranged to do a business deal in a parking lot at King’s supermarket in Summit, New Jersey. I gave him $200 and ripped him off, getting $3,000 worth of rare LJN wrestling figures from the 1980’s; then I flipped them. I cleaned him out of his collectibles. We did not stay in touch.
Alex Laughlin, social media journalist at The Washington Post:
In 2006, I was addicted to MySpace. I would rush home from school and spend the evening listening to Dashboard Confessional in my basement bedroom while I tapped around this new ecosystem I’d discovered. This was the first time I’d ever felt in control of how I looked. And even if that control was limited to pixels and profile themes made from crude HTML, I was drunk on the power.
Jesse was two years older than me and he was half Korean, like me. He had a long, straight mop of hair that hung over his face in the mirror selfies he posted on his profile. One night, Jesse responded to a post of mine, and we began talking; soon we were messaging each other for several hours every night. He told me one day that he would meet me on my way to my jazz band class because he wanted to give me a pick for my bass guitar. I now recognize this is an extremely lame reason to meet up. The day came, and he handed me the pick. Paralyzed by anxiety, I didn’t even make eye contact. I was so embarrassed later on that I did the most reasonable thing I could think of: I never spoke to him again.
And now, here are your stories of online friendship. You can still submit your own stories in the form down the page.
Susan Barnhill, 72:
One of the first friends I met online was Bill Coan. It was 1998, and after owning a computer for six years (and using one longer than that), I’d finally put my toe in the water and gotten a dial-up Internet connection. Somehow I discovered NNTP newsgroups, in particular those hosted by Microsoft. I subscribed to a dozen or so devoted to various aspects of Microsoft Word. There were a number of regular posters, but I soon recognized the most prolific of those as being designated as “Microsoft MVPs.” One was Bill.
The first message from him I have archived is dated 8/25/98, but by December we were corresponding frequently. In November, I had been invited to become an MVP myself. Bill and I were among a number of Word MVPs who were invited to attend the MVP Summit in Redmond in September 1999, so we met in person there. (We both said, “You look just as I imagined you!”) We’ve seen each other many times since at other annual summits.
Ingrid Halvorsen, 68:
I met Richard Tucholka, the creator of roleplaying games and founder of TriTac Games, in 1991 on AOL over our mutual love of science fiction. At that time, AOL had a membership merely in the tens of thousands, long before it grew to tens of millions. Richard invited me to GenCon and the world of gamers.
I built the first TriTac website, complete with the capacity to make purchases online using PayPal. Our online friendship continued into the real world, and we still keep in touch 25 years later. Out of nostalgia, we both still have our original AOL screennames, even having long since moved on to Gmail and the greater Interwebs.
Alex Tischler, 25:
In the early days of social media, I met a number of people on the simplistic personal web pages of Yahoo’s Geocities and Xanga. But MySpace was the game changer for me. I was 13 or so when I first signed up. My family recently had moved us away from all my friends in California’s Bay Area, but apparently the Internet could keep me connected! I would spend my Tuesdays and Thursdays going to the library to use their free WiFi and talk to my friends, listen to indie music, fill out quizzes on Quizilla and roleplay silly anime characters with strangers. A year after making my account one of those strangers, a girl named Jessica sent me a friend request. We lived two states away, and for the first two weeks of our online friendship she thought I was a girl. We moved to MSN Messenger, and as two awkward pubescent kids naturally do we formed little crushes on each other.
We did everything from playing online UNO to drawing each other pictures in MS Paint. She became my first girlfriend. I was 17 the first time I took the train to visit her and spend two weeks with her family. After that, we made trips back and forth. Adolescence, high school, distance, and life in general certainly took their toll, but we’ve managed to work through and beautifully evolve our relationship over every obstacle. She’s remained one of my closest confidants, a wonderful friend, someone who grounds me and a beautiful nurturing person. Today, Jessica and I live less than 10 minutes away from each other.
Ruth Imershein, 65:
I participated in a Compuserve forum called Global Crisis beginning in 1993 or 1994. I had traveled to Russia several times in 1993, and there were lots of people wanting information about Russia and, in particular, how to travel to Russia. I regularly posted news from Russia on this forum. One of the early active members was a woman, MaryBeth Finnerty, who lived in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC while I lived in Northern Virginia. We met in DC quite a few times to visit museums and share meals. We kept in touch regularly until her death.
Christopher McKenzie, 41:
I met Imogen in 1997 on a Singapore-based chat room server called Alamak. Chat rooms like Alamak were truly Wild West-like back then, with all sorts of strange people floating about. But Imogen and I found each other as islands of snarkiness and intelligence amid the chaos. I was a young journalist living in Oklahoma; she was a British college student. After Alamak stopped being fun, we chatted through e-mail and then through our (long defunct) blogs, and then finally on Facebook. We’ve both married and still live an ocean apart, but we find time to chat and catch up at least every two or three months. And despite the distance and the fact that we’ve only met once in person (in 1999, before people automatically thought to take group selfies), I consider her one of my closest friends. At different difficult times in our lives, we have each served as the other’s outside sounding board. An e-friendship is not the most exciting friendship in the world, perhaps, but it is one I hold particularly dear and one that serves as a regular reminder of the strange and wonderful connections one can make on the Internet.
Bill Gordon, 63:
Chat rooms were big in the early 80’s, and it was not uncommon even then to have people from around the world speaking about anything. One of the first people I met was a user on CompuServer by the name of ChrisDos who I believe was one of the first people to marry someone met online. I believe they lived in Chicago, though lost touch with them. My first real friend was Richard Shore. He went by the handle Mr. DNA, and I went by Mr. RNA, and we became very friendly. We had the idea on compuserve for one of the first online magazines, called NetWits, and it pioneered the use of “nested” comments. Before then, all content was structured by date, whereas this structured them by content — and is essentially the same system used by the Washington Post’s comment system.
Debra Schneider, 56:
I met my mentee over a decade ago, and we were connected exclusively online. She was a college student who had been in foster care and was assigned a mentor for support. Only 3% of children in care ever make it to college. The program that matched us dissolved, but we stayed in touch. I started my Facebook account to be accessible to her. When she graduated, I flew across country to attend. She is now married, expecting her second child and about to earn a Masters degree. We are still in touch by phone, email, and social media.