To truly understand what something is, it is important to know where it came from. Social Networking and social networking sites (SNSs) in particular, are no different. Being in the technological age, so many things change with a blink of an eye and social networking will do the same and probably became somewhat different than they are today. One thing remains as the base of social networking sites, which allows individuals to build profiles within a system, communicate with other users of the same system, and view the profiles of other users. Generally, these profiles are created by asking the user a series of questions such as age, location, interests, and “about me” in order to individualize the profile. The users are often prompted to include a profile picture as well. These profiles have started as just a basic way to show the world what one is interested in, but now many businesses and groups have ventured into the social networking world in order to bring in more customers and to bring awareness to specific organizations and events.
Many believe that the phenomenon of SNSs began in the late 1990’s, when in fact a small glimmer of social networking started in the 1980’s. Bulletin boards were one of the earliest forms of social networking even though they didn’t have the speed and capabilities we are spoiled with today. These bulletin boards allowed users to play games and communicate with other users via internal messaging systems. CompuServe was one of these bulletin boards, which built forums related to specific subjects that allowed users to communicate with others around the world about things they enjoyed. It gave them a place to discuss various topics that were important at that time. CompuServe also allowed their members to share various news and events along with basic communication. It is even considered to have the first set of chat rooms. CompuServe had a section called “CB Talk” which was based on old CB radios, where each channel was about a different subject thus creating avenues for individuals to talk about specific subjects. At this point in time social networking was in effect, allowing users to connect with others about various topics that were of interest to them.
As time went on, so did the meaning of social networking. In the 1997, the first recognizable SNS, as we know them today, was launched. SixDegrees.com allowed its users to create profiles, list their friends and by 1998, allowed them to surf the Friends list. What made this site the pioneer of the SNSs we have today is that it combined all of the aspects of communicating with other users into one site. This idea led to other sites to combine the aspects of online communication into one network. From 1997 to 2001 there began to be a rise in specific social networks that catered to specific groups of people. There were sites that were made to create profiles for dating or for professional relationships that allowed its users to find people. Friendster became widely popular in 2002, where it wanted to compete against Match.com in the dating industry. They had the philosophy of creating a network where you would meet friends- of- friends rather than complete strangers. The ultimate problem with Friendster is that it allowed anyone to create a profile. They included a “most popular” application, where people who had the most friends would get that recognition, so many people would create what they called “fakester” profiles in order to obtain that status. SNSs had began to evolve into a more interactive and purposeful way that allowed users to join for a reason, whether it be for professional purposes or just to connect with someone that shares your interests.
By 2003, MySpace was created, which formed a different niche in the social network world. MySpace differentiated itself from ordinary SNSs by allowing users to personalize their profiles with music and pictures. It also became a forum for musicians and artists to connect with their fans, increasing awareness of the music industry. This became such a popular avenue for young teens to follow their favorite bands that MySpace ultimately changed their policy to allow minors to join. In 2004, Facebook had also created another niche in the market, which was for Ivy League universities. It was created by a Harvard student and was to be used only by Harvard students. However, it expanded to anyone who had a university email address within the Ivy League community. By 2005, it was eventually expanded to everyone who had an email address. Although it seems like it digressed, it began to allow outside developers to create applications for its users to personalize their own profiles. They even allowed further interaction among friends where they could play games with each other and give out virtual gifts. Businesses use Facebook as a key tool in advertising and marketing to create awareness of their business and increase sales.
Even now, newer ways to communicate have come about. Twitter has allowed its users to put up constant mini- blogs that allows anyone who is following someone to know what they are doing at that very moment. It has also been beneficial for retailers and individuals to advertise their business or events. Some feel as though this has become a little too much in trying to stay in touch with others, but in reality, it has changed the way social networking is and has given people another option to interact with others. Places like Twitter and general blogs have given people and businesses the ability to connect with the masses to advertise whatever they want. Mobility has also been a key factor in joining these networks. Many people today have all of these social networks streamed to their mobile device, where they remain connect even when they are not at the computer.
There are other social networking sites that are not open to the entire world and are limited to a certain group of people. For instance, Sermo.com is a social networking site for licensed physicians. This is a site that connects more than 25,000 doctors to communicate with each other and get advice and diagnosis from other doctors. Sermo.com has even began to create a profit as they charge people outside the medical industry, mainly businesses, to use their research to see how doctors feel about various advancements or new drugs that are about to enter the industry. Hedge funds and other similar businesses pay Sermo.com roughly $100,000 to $150,000 a year to have access to this information. Business professionals have begun to use LinkedIn in order to gain information on job details and contacts. LinkedIn is also used as a way to recruit new employees for businesses. With over 13 million active users, LinkedIn has also been an avenue for users to get advice for business purposes such as various investment tips and good attorneys in a particular area. Doostang.com is another site targeted to graduates of the top universities in the country. It is an invite- only site that has about 250,000 users. It is a way for companies to find some of the top students in the country and for its users to help others find jobs. INmobile.com is a social network for the wireless industry. However, it is not for those who are interested in the wireless industry, it is designed for the top level executives at various cell phone makers, wireless operators and media companies. The approximate 730 members of INmobile allow these executives to participate in conference calls and various discussions that pertain to their industry. These types of social networking sites have really created a world that is targeted to a specific group of people and weed out those who really have no business being a part of their network.
Although it seems that this incredible technology is for the benefit of society, it comes with its fare share of critics. Soon after Facebook was created, they began what is called a news feed. This allowed people to see anything that have changed on their friends profiles, whether they ended their relationship or posted another picture. This new feature raised concerns because it gave access to casual acquaintances to read about every change of the user indiscriminately. Many parents and adults find the access people have to view others profiles is alarming. They are afraid of sexual predators that get on MySpace and seek out the profiles of young children. Many users do not take advantage of the security measures and continue to have their profile accessible to just about anyone. Some critics have gone as far as trying to prevent children and teens from being able to access social networking sites in schools and libraries. This debate has grown over the years in that come feel this would take away from the culture of today’s youth and even prevent those in poorer areas from accessing the internet at all. Others have raised concern about data theft and viruses, which have increased recently. Even businesses are a little wary of diving in to the social networking arena. Many businesses find that it could be potentially harmful rather than beneficial to promote their business because it could ultimately give some ideas to their competitors. Even executives may talk a little too much via social networking sites and embarrass their company. People who are entering the work place may come across problems if they post various pictures or comments on their profile that may harm the reputation of their company or their potential employer. It can become a dangerous place for businesses and professionals in all areas.
What ever the case may be, there are so many opportunities for people to communicate and interact with others on various levels. Social networking sites have given individuals the opportunity to join a community that pertains to them. Whether they are interested in furthering their professional career or finding the love of their life, they can have that fulfilled by the many options that are out there today. This is a rapidly growing industry with an estimated 600 million users by the year 2012 compared to the 14 million users in 2007. It is evident that the meaning of social networking is and will always be constantly changing and adapting to the technology of the world. It started as a way to interact with others over a simple network and has transformed into creating a profile that is individualized on a particular network that has meaning to the user. It is safe to say that in the future, these social networking sites will allow users to become more personalized and have their network be catered more toward themselves. One thing that will always remain the same in regards to social networking is that these social networking sites are structured and organized as personal or egocentric networks, and the individual user remains at the center of their own network.
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