Social Networking Sites: An Introduction
The role of Internet in personal and professional lives of people has increased dramatically during the last decade and today people use Internet for many different purposes including education, shopping, communication, working, entertainment etc.
Social Networking Sites have emerged as a platform for displaying individual profiles, sharing information, photos, videos, experiences among Internet users as well as forming friendships and sending messages to each-other.
Having started as a display for personal achievements for members only several years ago Social Networking Sites have quickly developed and have taken new roles such as being an effective advertising tool and even a platform for political propaganda. For instance according to Esfandiari (online, 2010) political unrest in Iran following 2009 elections was partially fuelled by Facebook which resulted in government announcing Social Networking Sites as ‘hidden enemies’ of the country.
Social Networking Sites have mushroomed during the last few years and today there are many global Social Networking Sites as well as sites targeting specific countries, members of specific groups and people of specific professions.
However, not all Social Networking Sites are equally successful and the numbers of their members vary between several hundred and several hundred millions. The number of Social Networking Sites members depend on many factors including financing and member attraction and retention strategies each Social Networking Sites employ.
The definition of Social Networking Sites are given by Hutchinson (2008) as taken by Boyd and Ellison (2007) as “web sites that allow members to construct a public or semi-public profile and formally articulate their relationship to other users in a way that is visible to anyone who can access their file” (Hutchinson, 2008, p.201).
As Fellow (2010) informs initial Social Networking Sites have began appearing towards the end of 1990s with Classmates.com and SixDegrees.com where Classmates.com was assisting people with finding their former classmates, whereas the aim of SixDegrees.com was networking friends together. Since then numerous other Social Networking Sites have emerged that have a wide range of functions and provide different kind of services.
“The idea behind these sites is that people are invited to join by existing members who think that they would be valuable additions to their community. The site provides a directory that lists member’s locations, interests, and qualities” (Schneider, 2010)
According to Stutzman (2007) Social Networking Sites can be divided into the main two formats: Social Networking Sites that are organised according to the profile of users and Social Networking Sites that are organised according to the contents of the site.
Marsden (2010) divides Social Networking Sites into the following seven categories:
First, profile based Social Networking Sites that mainly focus on individual profile of their members like Facebook, Bebo and MySpace.
Second, content-based Social Networking Sites in which members have their profile but the main focus is on the content of the site and postings rather than personalities of its members. For instance, in Flickr.com discussions and contents of materials posted by its members directly relate to the topic of photography.
Third, white-label Social Networking Sites, in which members have the possibilities of building their own groups and communities. One of the most popular white-label SNS is PeopleAggregator.com that was launched in 2004.
Fourth, multi-user virtual environments are the forms of Social Networking Sites like Second Life and Cyworld that allow users to create their avatars that are their virtual versions. Then, avatars of members can interact with each-other in virtual worlds.
Fifth, mobile Social Networking Sites that are mobile versions of internet Social Networking Sites. The most popular mobile Social Networking Sites are Twitter and Facebook.
Sixth, micro-blogging Social Networking Sites. The most popular versions of micro-blogging Social Networking Sites are Twitter and Jaiku where users are provided limited characters to update their status that will be visible to their followers.
Seventh, people search engines are also popular among Social Networking Sites and provide the possibility for users to search for people according one or more criteria.
According to Pankaj (2010) the reasons of increasing popularity of Social Networking Sites include
a) the possibility of self-expression
b) the possibility of using them without advanced IT and web-design knowledge
c) the possibility of social interaction and networking with other users
d) being free or inexpensive.
“Many people who are active social-networkers network on multiple sites. For instance, 1up.com, a social network for gamers, knows its members are also active on other social-networking sites: 50% of its members are on MySpace, 18% on Facebook, and 9% on Xanga” (Tuten, 2008)
Facebook is the most popular social networking website with more than 500,000,000 users (Lindros, 2010). There are arguments that Facebook may suppress even Google in terms of popularity and profitability due to the fact that advertisements in Facebook are based on recommendations of friends, whereas Google advertisements are machine generated.
According to the research undertaken by EDUCAUSE Centre for Applied Research (2008) that involved 13,031 students from 44 US educational institutions 85.2 per cent of respondents actively used one or more social networking websites, with the usage rate of 95.1 per cent among 18-19 years olds, whereas only 37.0 percent of 30 years olds and older actively used them.
- Esfandiari, G, 2010, Iran Says Facebook and Twitter Are Country’s ‘Hidden Enemies’, Available at: http://www.rferl.org/content/Iran_Says_Facebook_And_Twitter_Are_Countrys_Hidden_Enemies/2171343.html Accessed February 25, 2011
- Fellow, AR, 2010, American Media History, Cengage Learning
- Hutchinson, T, 2008, Web Marketing for the Business, Blackwell Publishing
- Lindros, K, 2010, PC Basics with Window 7 and Office 2010, Jones and Bartlett Learning
- Marsden, 2010, Social Commerce: Monetizing Social Media,
- Pankaj, S, 2010, E-Commerce, Cengage Learning
- Schneider, G, 2090, Electronic Commerce, Cengage Learning
- Social Networking Sites, 2008, ECAR Research Study 8
- Stutzman, F, 2007, Unit Structures: Social Network Transitions, Available at: http://chimprawk.blogspot.com/2007/11/social-network-transitions.html Accessed February 25, 2011
- Tuten, TL, 2008, Advertising 2.0: Social Media Marketing in a Web 2.0 World, Sage Publications