One grunt for "yes" and two grunts for "no".
My first contact with the online world came in the mid 1980's when I discovered BBS's, CompuServe and MCI Mail. Of course the only available modems at the time were dial up, 300 baud, so you had to tie up your phone line for a very slow connection. You could literally watch the letters appear on your screen one at a time. And if you didn't have a local number (or 800 number) to call, the phone call could get very expensive all by itself.
At this point "being online" consisted generally of being a member of a large database such as CompuServe, or a home based bulletin board system (BBS). The advantage of the large databases were that they consisted of more than forums, and you could actually get a bit of information from them, and perhaps buy something from one of the few pioneer vendors involved. And you also had access to the newest cool thing on the block ... email. However, bulletin boards had the advantage of being free - there were rather substantial fees for CompuServe - and were all about the forums. In fact, sitting right next to me on the table near my desk where I am writing this, is an old "AT" model computer on which I ran my own BBS. Problem was that when I first started it I could only run it at night, since it tied up my phone line. When I moved into a house, it got its own phone line.
MCI Mail was a great service for me while I was writing for a UK magazine. I could upload my article directly from my computer to MCI Mail who would send it to their office in the UK where it would get printed and then delivered to my editor in London.
Another popular place for like minded people to gather was on Usenet - a series of newsgroups arranged as forums for particular topics.
Then it happened. The internet - not quite as we know it now - started to become available to the general public. (I was lucky that I worked for a magazine publisher who was connected to the internet in the days before graphical browsers. Anyone remember Gopher?) In the 1990's company's known as Internet Service Providers (ISP's) began to crop up. For a monthly fee you could dial into their servers for access to the internet. 2400 baud modems had appeared on the scene. Eventually, BBS's started disappearing and online forums started appearing. The local dial-up BBS disappeared quickly. It took a bit longer, but services such as CompuServe (and later America Online) would no longer serve the function that was being served much better on the internet - especially once graphical browsers appeared on the scene. Email also became more and more prevalent since signing up for an ISP also gave you a number of email addresses. Now you could connect with online merchants as well as find places to gather with others of similar interests. Information started to become available until you could find almost anything you needed to. With the right software - basically BBS type software but now written to work within the browser - you could now gather and meet people from not only your immediate calling area - but from around the world. Forums proliferated and you could find one (or many) on just about any topic.
Then the next step came - social networking. With MySpace and then Facebook, the social aspect of the internet changed completely. More and more the forums lost their steam (though thousands still exist and are very popular) and people started connecting through this new social network. Very different than what had gone before - people started connecting - not only with current friends, but reconnecting with friends from the past. Twitter followed - connecting people in 140 character bursts. All of a sudden, you could even connect with your favorite celebrity or politician. Twitter was a large part of Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
And let's not forget things such as Skype which gives us the ability to talk in real time - face to face with anyone, anywhere in the world!
BBS ---> Usenet ---> private databases ---> World Wide Web ---> Social Network ---> video chatting ... and it is still evolving. At each turn, at least part of the previous technology became obsolete and the use slowed down or stopped. Many a very active forum has now gone all but inactive as its participants switch to other means of staying in touch. Who knows what will come next to make our current communications obsolete?