There is a presentation I do on social media with an introduction that tries to put current social media trends into context, arguing that a lot of the things happening now are not new.
The main developments around social media have come from the democratisation of the means of production and distribution. People have always been able to create content, but new technology has made it easier (digital cameras, mobile phones etc) and new social platforms like Flickr, Facebook, Blogger and YouTube have made it possible to scale the distribution of user generated content, giving the possibility to reach a far wider audience than before - thus people like the NumaNuma guy can become Worldwide celebrities from their bedrooms! (The development of search engines has also been important in this, allowing users to discover new things or re-find things that they have found previously and messaging solutions like IM, email and Twitter allow content to be easily forwarded to friends.)
However, this is not all new. Six Degrees was arguably the first social network (founded in 1997), but the principles of UGC go back a lot further. 'Letters to the Editor' is a well established form of UGC, whilst America's Funniest Home Videos / You've Been Framed are long established parts of the programming schedules. Tony Hart though was arguably the first to bring UGC to a mass audience on TV.
Tony Hart presented a series of manic childrens art shows (Take Hart, Hartbeat etc) on the BBC from the 1960's through to the late 1990's and he aimed to make art accessible and fun for children. One of the consistent pillars across all of his programmes was 'The Gallery' where viewers could send their ('user generated') pictures and paintings into the show, with the best entries showcased on TV in The Gallery.
Take Hart's Gallery - a full 10 minute video clip can be seen here
I, like many others, grew up watching Tony Hart's shows and images of the Gallery have long featured in my 'history of' / 'what is' User Generated Content presentations - this ability to create something yourself and then have a platform (The Gallery) to showcase it to a large audience essentially being the key principle behind social media today.
(In his later years Tony Hart still found people were sending him their pictures and in 2005 he launched an online gallery through his website here!)
It was therefore sad to hear that Tony Hart has passed away. I will leave it to other sites to write full obituaries, but in my eyes Tony Hart is a 'founding father' of UGC and I wanted to recognise his role in this by saying goodbye here.
Tony Hart, RIP.