Socialising over the internet isn’t new (in fact, there have been online chat tools like IRC - Internet Relay Chat - sincethe dawn of the internet), but the notion of building social networks – the type that Facebook epitomises – certainly is. They help us stay in touch with friends and family around the world and find new people with common interests to share information and experiences. But there are good reasons to be wary too, like exposing details about yourself that could be used for identity theft.
Right now, the largest of the social networking sites is Facebook (www.facebook.com), which recently passed 500 million registered users, and not just the hip young generation that’s been growing up with technology either: the fastest growing group is now users over 35. It’s a huge slice of the pie for a site that began only six years ago in 2004 as just an online tool to help students at Harvard university get to know each other. In 2009 it had a turn over of over $US800 million, and that’s only set to increase. It’s not without controversy however, from workplace bans to stop employees wasting time, to privacy issues and questions over the sale of information (the site was recently lambasted for automatically sharing private information, some of which is used by partners and advertisers with Facebook).
MySpace (www.myspace.com) tapped into the market before Facebook in 2003, and for many years led it. It was considered the leading social networking site from 2006 into 2008. But a revamp of Facebook helped it surge ahead, overtaking MySpace internationally in monthly unique visitors by April 2008, and as of July 2010, MySpace was ranked 28th inInternet traffic, well behind Facebook at number two (behind Google).
Video-sharing website YouTube(www.youtube.com) sits just below Facebook on the rankings. It has ridden arising tide of multimedia on the web, from amateur home-videos and movies to inserts into commercial websites and clips from TV shows. The number of clips on YouTube runs into hundreds of millions.
But it’s Twitter that has grabbed the popular imagination in the last year or so. Its ease of use from mobile phones and some notorious celebrity tweets (Catherine Deveny on Logies night for example, see Controversies) give it constant publicity, and it’s seen in such conventional environments as ABC TV’s Q&A program. It was recently used for a political “debate” between politicians in NSW. That was variously described as hard to follow and chaotic, but it’s unlikely to be the last such use of it we’ll see. It’s been used for other serious purposes too, like finding medical expertise in a hurry or getting news out of countries with repressive regimes.
Mostly, the leading sites are purely social, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used for business. A site that has carved out a distinctive niche for itself in this arena, LinkedIn(www.linkedin.com), lets users build networks of trusted contacts to find jobs, recruits or business opportunities including the ability to notify and check references.
Then there are sites intended to help you keep up with proliferating information on the web. Known as social bookmarking sites, they help identify and share the most popular websites and links. The leaders here are Digg, Reddit and Delicious and their logos appear on news sites such as the New York Post.
And that’s not all: there are actually hundreds of social networking sites, ranging from the leaders above to more specialised and esoteric ones such as Babycenter, Flixster (for movies) and even Fillos de Galicia for Galicians everywhere. Whatever your interests,there’s probably a social networking site that’s just right for you.
Social networking both pushes boundaries and makes otherwise idle comments matters of public record. Inevitably,this rocks the boat between people, organisations and even countries. Here are just a few examples:
- Comedian Catherine Deveny lost her job as an Age columnist after her Logies night tweets about celebrities caused offense.
- In 2007, a party in County Durham, England, advertised on MySpace by a 17-year-old while her parents were away attracted 200 teenagers who caused over £20,000 of damage.
- In Melbourne, a similar incident attracted 500 people, the police dog squad and a helicopter.
- After several incidents of false profiles leading other users into danger, MySpace identified and deleted the profiles of 29,000 registered sex offenders in 2007.