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When you first turn on computer, what do you do? Read the news? Check your email? Visit your favourite website? Well nowadays, most peoples' favourite website is most likely going to be one of the hundreds of popular Social Networking web sites that there are out there. Over that last few years there has a been a huge inundation of social networking sites, starting out with early main stream sites like Friendster, MySpace, Last.FM, with recent sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Bebo, and now the newest sites like Windows Live spaces, Facebook and Twitter. A review of these websites will take place in order to examine the many affects that they have on society and culture, as well as exploring questions like:
- How has social networking sites changed the way people use the internet?
- What effect has social networking sites had on our generations and what sort of effect will have on future generations?
- Has social networking effected businesses and the way they operate?
In recent years social networking has revolutionised modern communication, therefore it is important to examine the history of how it happened and what effect this had on society. This could also let us see what the future would possibly be like if we were to make the transition into Web 3.0
A Brief Description
Social networking websites could be defined in many different ways. We could define a social network as relations among people who deem other network members to be important or relevant to them in some way (Wellman, 1996). Therefore a social networking site would be a web site that have three things in common, they all allow the user to:
- Construct a profile with information about themselves which can be either public or private.
- Compile a list of other users or "Friends" with whom they share a connection.
- View and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the network.
Other features that social networking sites have in common are:
Obviously each site will vary in the way they perform these functions, sites will also have different features some sites do not have. As time went on, features of different social networking sites began to increase, as social networking began to hit the main stream. Even though there are many different types of social networking sites, this essay will cover the most important social networking sites, that were the milestones to social networking sites that we have today. You could argue that it was of because of the popularity of these sites, that user feedback shaped them into what they are today.
Web 2.0 (a term first used in 1999 by Darcy DiNucci, but began to become popular in 2004 due to the first Web 2.0 conference [O'Reilly, 2004]) describes a whole new version of the World Wide Web, where the focus is social networking sites, web applications, user generated content and much more. One of the first of many popular social networking sites, within in the emergence of the Web 2.0 era, was Friendster, which launched in 2002. Friendster was originally designed as a competitor of the popular dating site, Match.com. It allowed friends to meet friends-of-friends, and quickly gained popularity, with over three million registered users within the first few months (Rivlin, 2006).
By this point, even in its very early stages, the effects that this social networking site was having on society, were already being seen. We can see that it was already quite popular with the users of the site, by managing to gain a lot of users in such a short time. Businesses were already seeing the potential of the social networking site in its early stages, Google even offered Friendster a $30 million buyout offer.
Another early effect on society was the fact that users started to add many Friends, regardless of whether they had any connection to them, users even began creating fake profiles that represented celebrities or iconic fictional characters, which resulted in these "fakesters" topping the most popular feature. This became very popular with users, even if they only enjoyed looking at "fakesters" profiles. To prevent this, Friendster decided to ban fake profiles and remove the most popular feature. Due to the popularity of the site, Friendster ran into technical difficulties and couldn't handle the growth of the users. These two factors combined, caused early adopters of the site to stop using Friendster, many of switched started to switch to MySpace. Friendster was later on hailed as "one of the biggest disappointments in internet history" (Chafkin, 2007, p. 1).
MySpace was the first social networking site to hit the main stream, being purchased by News Corporation for $580million which attracted massive media attention. MySpace quickly became popular with teens, music groups, as well users coming over from Friendster after its decline. Like Friendster, MySpace grew rapidly, many teenage users encouraged their friends to join. Artists and Musicians also became closely related with MySpace, where they would create profiles, and this could be used to promote their band as well as update their fans. This dynamic was beneficial for both the bands and the fans, the bands wanted to be able to contact the fans and the fans wanted attention from their favourite bands (Boyd and Ellison, 2008).
Where MySpace differed from other social networks at the time, which inevitably led to increased popularity, was the fact that they responded to user feedback and regularly added features based on user demand. This also included contacting local musicians to see how they could support them when MySpace first launched, which of course led to the welcoming of the MySpace band features (Boyd, 2006b).
As MySpace was the first social networking site to make it into the main stream, it had one of the biggest impacts on society compared to other social networking websites. For many users, it would of been the first social networking website that they used, therefore it would of persuaded to a lot of people about the advantages to using social networking. MySpace would of caused a lot of people to get "addicted" to using social networks, and to incorporating computers and information technologies into their everyday lives, where previously they hadn't been before. By looking at the effect of MySpace, we can already begin to see how social networking websites began to change the way people used the internet. MySpace was only the first of the main stream social networking websites. There would be many more social networking websites to come, but not before pre existing websites tried to implement social networking features, which almost certainly had a lot of effect on society.
Another internet phenomenon around the time MySpace started becoming popular, was YouTube. YouTube started out as a video sharing website, but after seeing the success of social networking websites, implemented their own social networking features, which only increased popularity of the already popular website. YouTube because so popular that in 2006, it was bought by the biggest internet company, Google, for $1.65billion.
YouTube offers users a channel page to showcase their videos, as well as "friending" and private message features. This has an impact of society because, not only does it let people create, and share videos, but because it allows people of the same interests create networks and media circuits on their specified interest. This allows users to form social connections with one another by doing anything from simply commenting on a video, or even subscribing to the creators channel (Lange, 2008). Another example that shows YouTube had a massive effect on society was that it created internet superstars. Many of these superstars have been involved in different "pop culture" such as being featured TV shows like South Park and The Simpsons. The alternative rock group Weezer created a music video for one of their singles, "Pork and Beans", which featured many of the popular YouTube stars of the time. YouTube even held their own event called "YouTube LIVE" which showcased many of the stars and their talents. YouTube clearly had a massive impact on society.
Facebook is another social networking, it was designed at first with only University networks in mind, where the user had to have a specific university email address to be able to register. However it soon expanded to high school students, corporate networks then eventually everyone in 2006. Facebook was different to other social networks as it was a lot more flexible than other websites. Users could join groups, networks, use the status feature to let people know what they were doing. as well as use "Applications" to personalise their profile and even compare themselves to their friends.
Another social networking site that is comparatively simply to facebook, is twitter. Twitter basically takes the status function of Facebook, allowing users to "tweet" messages who can be seen by their "followers". Twitter can be updated through the website, by phone or many different computer applications. In some cases, Facebook and Twitter can both be updated through the same application.
Both of these social networking sites clearly had a big impact on society. Due to Facebook's customization it overtook MySpace in popularity, becoming the most popular social networking site, followed by MySpace and Twitter (Kazeniac, 2009). Many celebrities now have both Twitter and Facebook, allowing users to follow their "every waking move". Twitter has especially grown in popularity due to it letting people find out information quicker then would appear on the news, as well as gossip and secrets spreading through twitter. They have also effected society as many university students and teenagers spend a lot of time on these websites. Many libraries and work places have had to ban these websites to stop them wasting time on these websites. By this point, we can see that these sorts of websites had definitely changed people use the internet and computers, with people trying to access them from anywhere and everywhere, school, university, the library, the workplace or even in a Starbucks or McDonalds.
Business and LinkedIn
Social networking website have also had quite a bit impact on business, especially internet and software companies. Due to the nature of social networking, users are easily able to voice their opinion on companies with either good or bad feedback. Therefore it has become up to the company whether they want to look at social networking websites, such as Twitter, where a lot of feedback can be found. Many internet companies have therefore setup a twitter account so that they can they let their users know about updates and such, but also listen to their feedback.
They way businesses recruit employees has also been effected by social networking sites. LinkedIn is a social networking site set up with businesses in mind, allowing users to collect a list of "contacts", which can then be used to find jobs, or give recommendations to other users. In effect, profiles become enhanced resumes (Parameswaran & Whinston, 2007). We can see that social networking hasn't just effect users at home but also in the work place. Therefore we could conclude that social networking has completely changed how we use computers and how we communicate via the internet.