Social Networking Sites have integrated into the daily lives of millions of people around the world, with some now at the point where they believe they could not live without them. There have however been debates around how one might define a Social Networking Site, essentially what the criteria is for a network to fall into this category.
This is a debate that I think has no end solution. The reason for this being that each Social Network Site has been or was designed for a particular purpose, some with multi purposes so it would be rather impossible to put them into one definable box. Ultimately it seems that the end user is the one that will determine “social networkability” of each platform and thereby establish whether or not it falls within the Social Networking definition.
It must however be noted that Social Network Sites are most definitely not defined by the ability to or purpose of connecting with old and new friends or complete strangers. Some sites are merely developed for the sharing of information or particular interests without the need to develop a personal relationship or even know any personal information about the person on the other end of the information, such as Flickr. The same goes for business-to-business networks where the purpose is to develop business relationships and source new clients as apposed to sharing your personal life with someone, such as LinkedIn.
As it stands many Social Network Sites use various technologies that support various methods of interactions and practices. These networks can differ vastly but also have a general underlying commonality. Social Network Sites have been developed to help connect people based on shared interests, activities, culture and national identities, languages, worldviews and in some circumstances just mere needs. It is obvious that Social Networks attract a very diverse audience with one or more attracting the same person. The level of networking can also differ across platforms: simple sharing, video interactivity, blogging, live chat and many more that I won’t go into as most of you have experienced one or more forms of interacting.
To give an idea of the ever-changing nature of Social Networks, what they were originally developed for and how they have progressed over time below is a “history” of them. These changes have occurred for a multitude of reasons, one possibly due to the fact that the world population is not longer separated by distance at all but rather connected by the invisible threads of technology.
Launched in 1994, Geocities offered a way for people to build websites and share stories about themselves and post photos. Yahoo bought it in 1999 for about $3bn but closed the network down 10 years later. Geocities was one the early networks that let people form online communities.
This website was created to connect former schoolmates with one another and was launched in 1995. In 2007 it had about 50 million users and now gives you access to the biggest collection of yearbooks online.
Started by Andrew Weinreich in 1997, SixDegrees was the first online business that attempted to create real relationships between people using their real names. It was the first Social Network to enable profile creation and lists of friends. Though it attracted millions of users, the site failed to keep up and shut down in 2000.
Based in Russia is a Social Network where Internet users can keep a blog, journal or diary – a wide variety of political reviewers also use the service for political commentary, mainly in Russia. The site doesn’t require people to use their real names.
Launched by Jonathan Abrams in 2002, Friendster was many people’s first introduction to the modern day Social Network. By October of 2003 it had nearly 2 million users with investors such as Peter Thiel, who later became one of the first people to invest in Facebook. The site faded as MySpace and then Facebook rose. Today, Friendster is more of an online gaming platform.
Founded in 2003 by Mark Pincus, now the CEO of online game company Zynga Incoprated, and two other entrepreneurs, Tribe was created to let people form online communities, known as “tribes”, around shared interests.
MySpace was launched in 2003, with a focus on music artists being able to promote themselves. News Corporation bought it for $580m in 2005 when it was still very popular. It reached its best in 2008 with about 76 million US visitors, but people were already moving to Facebook. News Corporation sold the site to online ad network operator Specific Media last year for $35m.
Reid Hoffman, one of Facebook’s early investors, launched the professional social network in 2003. While MySpace and Facebook were meant as a place to connect with friends and family, LinkedIn is strictly business. As of March 31, LinkedIn had 161 million users. Its profit more than doubled in the first three months of the year, aided by revenue from the fees that it charges companies and recruiters to get comprehensive access to its site.
Facebook was initially launched in February 2004 with granting access to only Harvard University students. Over the years it slowly spread across various other communities before going completely public. In 2008 Facebook officially took over MySpace with the number of active users. As of April 2012, Facebook has over 900 million active users, more than half of them using mobile devices.
Created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005, users can upload, view and share videos. It uses Adobe Flash Video and HTML5 technology to display a wide range of user-generated video content, including movie clips, TV clips and music videos. In November 2006, YouTube was bought by Google for US$1.65 billion, and now functions as a subsidiary of Google. It is now the second largest search engine next to Google. Currently approximately 60 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute.
Launched in 2006, Twitter lets its users express themselves in short messages of 140 characters or less. Celebrities, politicians, companies and individuals use Twitter to keep in touch with fans, friends and consumers. It has more than 100 million users.
This platform was created and designed to go head-to-head with Facebook when it launched in 2011. Although it has over 170 million users, including some Facebook members, Google Plus has so far failed to attract a significant number of people away from Facebook. Google uses the service to plug social elements into search and its other products. As a business, joining Google Plus also aids in higher search engine ranking as it forms part of the giant search network.
In the years prior to 1994, between all the years mentioned above and going into 2012 many Social Networks were and have been created. Some were fly by nights; others are still around but just never took off, while some only lasted a few short years. There are too many to go into detail about and list each one that has appeared online. It is important to acknowledge that although the above mentioned may have been the most popular and remembered they are in no way indicative of the enormity of the spectrum of Social Networks that have ever existed.
The question is what kind of changes are we going to see in the next 18 years with regards to the development of Social Networks and what their purpose might be? If anything it is likely the changing nature of technology and methods of doing business around the world that will determine the path going forward.