Image via WikipediaHow 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.
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 4 million users 10 years ago who downloaded the requisite software; Twitter has an estimated 6 million users today by comparison.
What other lessons are there for social marketers to learn from former child-stars such as SETI@home?
Postscript: 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 2 of the public release, according to wikipedia's Seti@home article).