Today, the most popular and common topic of many discussions are social networking websites. The Internet connected us, made â€‹â€‹us even more available, and brought us closer to each other, but at the same time, the Internet estranged us from each other.
We are living in an era of expansion of online social networking, which are counting millions of members. Social networking websites are changing the basis of human relationships and communication, and it is the biggest invention since the invention of the telephone.
Social networking covers all the needs of modern living: from making friends, finding lovers, through exchanging of recipes and searching for work, and all that without leaving your home. In addition, social networking websites allow us to quickly be informed, but also to be in touch with friends all across the globe. Social networking in combination with other aspects of Internet communications, gives us fulfilled social life.
However, social networking websites have become inevitable or necessary part of our lives, and participation in them has become common thing. Will online social networking experience be something good or bad – depends mostly on us?
“With social networks, there’s a fascination with intimacy because it simulates face-to-face communication. But there’s also this fundamental distance. That distance makes it safe for people to connect through weak ties where they can have the appearance of a connection because it’s safe.” —Michael Wesch, teacher of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University. (Quoted in Alex Wright, “Friending, Ancient or Otherwise,” New York Times, December 2, 2007.) (Mooney, 2009, p. 19)
Nowadays, one of the most interesting and widespread phenomenon is social networking websites. The reason why they are so popular is because social networking websites are very user-friendly, are based on Web 2.0 technologies, allowing users more connectivity, personalization, and interaction, and social networking websites often involve grouping individuals or organizations together based on their particular interest. Online social networking is the biggest breakthrough since the invention of the telephone, and in this research paper, we will try to prove that.
Social networking existed long before Internet came along, because humans are social beings who are socializing with each other from the beginning of their existence. Before online social networking became popular like it is today, people were socializing, creating groups based on their specific interests, hobbies similar to ones that are available today on the Internet, across social networking websites.
There are many social networking websites that are focusing on some particular interest, and there are traditional websites, which are general social networking sites, without a specific focus. Before the Internet came along there was a time when if you had opinion or interest that is different from the norm, you were considered weird. Then the Internet came and changed all of that. No matter how different you are, you can find a million others just like you with just a few clicks.
Communication via newsgroups eventually expanded into general use and has become one of the earliest forms of Internet meetings and public discussions. Sometime later IM clients were developed and popularized, chat applets within web portals and forums slightly different from the ones today. Those applications and applets then provided solid opportunities for user profiling and the communication with the world. However, due to very low speed connection, lack of storage of servers the true virtual meetings and / or presentations were almost impossible. (Hu & Wang, 2009)
The evolution of these technologies caused a rapid increase in user interest, and the number of users is growing exponentially for years. Free pictures and video clips, and writing blogs and content management have become the heralds of the new user paradigm, which are determined by those Web services that systematically have integrated all these technologies: from blogs and chat to video and photo caskets and other components mentioned above that helped in the creation of a compact system of social networks. Today’s social networks are mostly free and the only prerequisite for their use is internet connection, and sometimes-peripheral devices such as webcams and headsets. (Hu & Wang, 2009)
Social networking has its bad and good side of the story. There are many issues regarding information we share, but most social networking services provide their users with a choice of which information they want to share and who can view their profile, which prevents other users from unauthorized access to their information. Data theft or viruses are also common issues in social networking, sexual predators, cyber bullying, etc. However, advantaged that social networking is offering are many because it allows discussion on different topics, sharing information, and exchanging files and pictures, gaining knowledge, providing feedback, etc.
In addition, some people use these sites as a convenient way to meet new friends, find old friends or classmates, or even future love, to promote their blogs and services, etc. Professional people use social networking as a platform that can help them to raise their visibility in the business world, advertise, promote their business or service, or to increase their customer base because it is very efficient and cost effective. Social networking along with globalization has made the world a global village where everyone can stay connected and there are no geographical or any other boundaries.
What is social networking?
“Social networking sites are web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.” (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
Social networking websites are mostly free on-line services that enable different forms of communication and connectivity with the whole world and the possibility of self-presentation, free posting of pictures and video clips, writing blogs, playing games and other more or less beneficial activities through these networks. Parents can find out whom their children are socializing with, what preferences they have, etc. In addition, people are able to meet new people from all over the world, learn about their cultures, customs, renew some old friendships and gain new ones.
The social networking websites are similar to real places where users can socialize with their friends, except they are on the Internet, and usually are about grouping specific individuals together based on their specific activity or interest. There are many social networking websites that are focusing on some particular interests called niche social networking sites, and there are traditional websites that are general social networking sites, without a main focus. Before the Internet came along there was a time when if you had opinion or interest that is different from the norm, you were considered weird. Then the Internet came and changed all of that. No matter how different you are, now you can find a million others just like you with just a few clicks. (Mooney, 2009)
Social networking sites have implemented many technical features and applications, but their primary and most important parts are profiles and list of friends who are using the same site. After joining some social networking site and filling out all forms and information necessary, the profile is created. The visibility of a profile depends on users’ preferences and depends of a site where user is registered. By default, profiles on Friendster are visible to anyone, regardless of whether or not the viewer has an account there. On the other hand, LinkedIn controls what a viewer can see based on if the user has a paid account. Sites like MySpace and Facebook allow users to choose whether they want their profile to be public or “Friends only” (private). One of the primary ways that social networking sites differentiate themselves from each other is structural variations in visibility and access. (Boyd & Ellison, 2007)
After joining a social networking site, users are starting to create relationships with other users on the site, and most sites require both sides to confirm friendship or relationship. These relationships names are different depending on the site, and popular terms are “Friends”, “Contacts”, “Fans”, “Followers”, etc. On most social networking sites, the list of Friends are visible to all the friends with which user is connected, although that can be changed in profile settings, and user can control who can see their list of Friends. Almost every social networking site has the option for users to leave messages (comments) on their friend’s profile, and to send private messages. This feature for sending private messages is very similar to webmail. (Boyd & Ellison, 2007)
It is also important to say that many of today’s social networking sites were not social networking sites at their beginning. Cyworld started as a Korean discussion forum tool, Skyrock was a French blogging service before adding social networking features, QQ was Chinese instant messaging service, and LunarStorm started as a community site. AsianAvenue, MiGente, and BlackPlanet were early popular ethnic community sites with limited Friends functionality before re-launching in year 2005-2006 with social networking features and structure. (Boyd & Ellison, 2007)
Evolution of social networking websites
It is considered that the first social networking website was created in the year 1997, under the name Six Degrees. Users of this network were able to create user profiles, create friend lists, and a year later, the ability to search lists of other users was added to the website. All these options were there in the past, before creation of Six Degrees, however, Six Degrees has brought together all these capabilities in one unit. Six Degrees was designed as a virtual place where users can exchange messages and interact with other users. The service was not rebuilt with new technologies, and users begin to lose interest in this kind of communication. Six Degrees went out of business in the year 2000, due to an insufficient number of active users and insufficient incomes. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
From year 1997 to 2001 a number of social networking websites were created. Social networking websites like AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet and MiGente, where users were able to create personal and professional profiles, or profiles to search for partners. The possibilities of social networking websites greatly increased with age, and development of new technologies, such as creating a list of visitors (guestbook), or creating the personal notes and texts that were available to other users. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
The next significant progress with social networking websites was the establishment of business and scientific contacts. With time, several other professional social networking websites like Tribe.net, LinkedIn, and Friendster were developed. Nowadays, LinkedIn is the only professional social networking website, which experienced significant success, and is one of the largest professional social networking website with millions of users. In the year 2002 the social networking website named Friendster was developed, which experienced considerable success and gathered a large number of users, but due to poor computer equipment and limited computer resources, customers started to leave the network. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
Since year 2003 a large number of social networking websites were developed and available on the web. Most such social networking websites were designed to attract specific groups of people based on common interests, business opportunities, and sharing of data and media. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
It is important to note that not all social networking websites that were developed for specific user groups achieved equal success in the targeted market. For example, Orkut (social network launched by Google) did not achieve success in the target market of North America, but the expansion of the network has achieved considerable success in Brazil. In addition, the situation is similar with network Windows Live Spaces (Microsoft) that did not achieve success in the Unites States, but in other geographic areas has gained a significant number of users. MySpace, launched in the year 2003 achieved remarkable successes only after a year of existence, mainly among teenagers. Thus, for example, Mixi achieved success in Japan, LunarStorm in Sweden, Hyves in the Netherlands, Grono in Poland, Hi5 in the Americas and Europe, etc. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007) Figure 1. shows launch dates of major social network sites from the year 1997 to 2006.
The idea behind social networking website is very simple – user registers on the social networking website and shares interesting information from his life, uploads photos and videos, and communicates with friends who are doing the same thing. In principle there is nothing wrong with it, moreover it can be very useful if it is used properly.
The success of a social networking website depends on the number of users who are using that social networking website, and on the functionality that the website is offering. However, with increasing number of users of some social networking website, the monetary value of that social networking website is growing too, which allows the owner of the network expansion of marketing solutions available.
Why is the social networking so popular?
In the background lie various reasons why the online social networking is so popular and growing exponentially every day. Today’s fast pace of life does not leave much time for face to face socializing, so that social networking is imposed as the easiest way for communication. However, is this really the only reason? People were alienated from each other and the use of social networking websites gives them an illusion of closeness and connectedness with other people because ultimately man is still a social being. Nobody likes to be alone, and social networks give us the feeling that we belong to the community.
On the other hand, people on social networking websites can be represented in the right light, can be more fun, more popular, more communicative and more interesting. Complexes and fears that existed in the interaction with people in the real world do not exist in the virtual one. When communicating over social networking websites, no one knows if user is shy and insecure, or how many pounds he has.
Social networking websites can be very seductive because the people on their profiles appear in the best light. These people want to be your friends and communicate with each other, so the temptation is especially strong when real life things do not go as well as they could. Social networking websites should help us make life easier, not take control over it.
A small group of experts, at least at the beginning, developed most of the social networking websites. In most cases, they had one major server, and one backup server, and platforms that they have used were mostly open source, because they all have limited budgets at the beginning.
Engineers were using the LAMP open source software stack, the Linux operating system, the Apache Web server, the MySQL relational database system, and the PHP Web programming language for development of Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
MySpace has been developed using Microsoft technologies, including the Windows operating system, Active Server Pages (ASP), NET 2.0, the Internet Information Services (IIS) Web server, and the SQL Server 2005 database system. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
Linux operating system, the Ruby programming language on the Rails application server, the Mongrel Web server, and MySQL were used for development of Twitter. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
LinkedIn has been developed using Sun Microsystems’ Solaris operating system, Java, the Tomcat and Jetty open source Java application servers, the Lucene open source search software, and the Oracle and MySQL database systems. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
After these sites began exponentially growing, the engineers faced three architecture challenges: performance, scalability, and availability, so they started using system and network monitoring tools, and Web traffic and log file analysis tools. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
Types of social networking sites
There are many types of social networking sites available today on the web. People use these sites for many purposes. We can sort social networking sites into major categories, and according to Rdube (n.d.) major social networking categories are:
Informational social networking sites are often connected to businesses that are using social networking sites to connect with their customers. These informational social networking sites are providing their users with information about everyday things, and are mostly written by professionals. (Rdube (n.d.))
Professional social networking sites are helping their users to improve their careers or even industry, find jobs, etc. There are many professional social networking sites which can help their users with many useful advices for advancing in their professional life. (Rdube (n.d.))
Educational social networking sites are becoming very popular nowadays. These social networking sites can help users with their research materials, to communicate with other users or professors via blogs or forums, and many other educational interactions. (Rdube (n.d.))
Hobbies are reasons why many people use social networking sites. There users can find much information regarding their specific interest of hobby. Via social networking sites specified by hobbies, users can interact with others that have the same hobbies and interest. This kind of social networking sites are most popular. (Rdube (n.d.))
Academic social networking sites’ main purpose is for collaboration within the scientific communities. These social networking sites are very beneficial for academic researchers. (Rdube (n.d.))
We can also divide social networking sites by type, and according to Schrader (n.d.) social networking website types are:
- Photo Sharing
- Video Sharing
- Other formats
Forums are among the first websites that allow user’s interaction. There users can exchange information, opinions, ask and answer questions about given topics. Forums are mostly comprised of users that share similar interests, and are a great way to share or gain knowledge. (Schrader (n.d.))
Blogs are very similar to traditional journals, except blogs are online journals and many people can see them. Originally, blogs are called web-logs, and more often blogs are discussing some specific topic. Main difference between forum and blog is in number of users involved in discussions. Blogs are more personal, and often only one person is writing their blog, while forum involves more users, which discuss the given topic. Blogs can be personal and professional. Professional blogs are sponsored by an organization. (Schrader (n.d.))
Micro-Blogging is very similar to blogging, i.e. it is micro journal that tells us what is happening right now. Major news events are now breaking online via micro blogs, and the most popular micro blog is Twitter. (Schrader (n.d.))
Photo Sharing websites are more and more popular, because instead of sending photos to someone, users upload them to photo sharing website and then just share links for those pictures. The user can also tag their photos with related keywords, and there is an opportunity of commenting on photos. Some popular photo sharing sites are Flickr and Picasa. (Schrader (n.d.))
Video Sharing is almost the same as photo sharing, because users upload their videos and then share links to those videos. In addition, they can tag videos with related keywords, and leave comments. The most popular video sharing website is YouTube. (Schrader (n.d.))
Professional social networking websites allow users to connect with other professionals and maintain their professional relationships. Here users can search jobs, and other professional opportunities. LinkedIn is one of the most popular professional social networking sites. (Schrader (n.d.))
Social websites are for staying in touch. They do not group users with specific of niche interests, and are of general use. Social networking sites are about being social, so there are sites purely for allowing users to stay in touch with people whom they know. The most popular social websites are Facebook and MySpace. (Schrader (n.d.))
Bookmarking social networking website’s major purpose is the sharing of information. If users read something they like, they can bookmark it, which means that they liked what they have read. The more people bookmark some site; they will attract even more people to that bookmarked site. The most popular bookmarking websites are Digg, Delicious, and StumpleUpon . (Schrader (n.d.))
Types of social networking users
Now we see that there are many ways that we can categorize social networking sites, but we can also categorize social networking users, and according to website The Man Experience there are five types of social networking users:
- The ’simply staying in touch’ person – This type of user uses their profile for staying in touch with his friends whom he knows in the real life.
- The ‘profiler’ – This type of user is easily recognized by huge number of contacts (from which many of them he never met in real life), uploaded materials such as videos and pictures, and very frequent updates. This type of user is hoping that many people would see his updates and comment on them, which is his substitution for lack of acknowledgments in real life.
- The ’socially incompetent’ guy – This type of user doesn’t have much of a real social life, so he substitutes it with virtual one. This type of users often is presenting themselves to be someone they are not. At the beginning they are successful if their interactions and communications, but usually at the end they are socially incompetent in virtual life just as much as they are in real life, so this type of users is exposed to risk of becoming even more lonely over time even with social networking sites.
- The power dater – This type of user is using social networking to date people and to enrich his life. Sometimes this type of users is trying to substitute things they don’t have in real life, but also this type of users is just using social networking for fun.
- The explorer – This type of user is exploring the Internet in search for information he needs. He might be looking for information about some restaurant in the city, or he is exploring his traveling options in some country. This type of user is often a member of many groups and he often contacts many people when he is in search for some information.
STATISTICAL DATA ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITES
How many people are using social networking sites?
Social networks have swept the world and completely changed the way we communicate with people on the internet. Research shows that Americans spend a quarter of their Internet time on social networking websites and blogs. These numbers dramatically increased since last few years and show the real impact of social networking websites on society. For example, Facebook has over 500 million members. If we compare that number with the number of over 6 billion people in the world, we can conclude that every 12th inhabitant of the world has a Facebook profile. Subtract from that at least 40% of socially and technologically underdeveloped counties, and we got alarming figure. (Nielsen, 2010)
Nielsen, a company that monitors Internet activity has revealed that Americans have, due to social networking websites, ignored the e-mail, which is logical because the platform like Facebook integrate various services that can be used to share content with family and friends. Thanks to the Facebook, there is increased consumption of videos, movies, and news, because users are sharing and recommending to each other content which they themselves might never have find and see. (Nielsen, 2010)
Social networking websites are no longer reserved only for young people. America has twice as many users of social networking websites which are around fifty, than of those who are younger than eighteen. As social networking websites become more popular, their new members are on average older, of different races and from different social classes.
Nielsen claims that online games are used more than e-mail and that online games have become the second most popular activity on the Internet. Users spend ten percent of their Internet time on games and overall half of Americans play them. Another favorite activity of Americans on the Internet is watching videos and films. On average, users are watching videos and films about three hours and fifteen minutes per month. (Nielsen, 2010)
Perhaps the most interesting thing in this whole story is the fact that many people use the Internet from mobile phones. Mobile usage still dominates, and the second are the news portals. Nielsen predicts that by the end of year 2011 the majority of phones sold will be smartphones. Figure 2. Shows the number of users of social networking sites in the world. (Nielsen, 2010)
Socialnomics have released some statistical data about social networking websites, which shows that social networking is very serious widespread activity on the web.
Here are some statistical information that Socialnomics revealed (Socialnomics, 2010):
- Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web
- 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met via social media
- Years to reach 50 million Users: Radio (38 Years), TV (13 Years), Internet (4 Years), iPod (3 Years). Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months. iPhone applications hit 1 billion in 9 months.
- If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s third largest country behind China and India
- US Department of Education study revealed that on average, online students out performed those receiving face-to-face instruction
- 1 in 6 higher education students are enrolled in online curriculum
- LinkedIn has more than 100 million users worldwide
- 80% of companies using LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees
- The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 years-old females
- Ashton Kutcher and Ellen Degeneres (combined) have more Twitter followers than the population of Ireland, Norway, or Panama.
- The #2 largest search engine in the world is YouTube
- Wikipedia has over 13 million articles. Some studies show it’s more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica. 78% of these articles are non-English
- There are over 200 million Blogs
- 54% of bloggers post content or tweet daily
- Because of the speed in which social media enables communication, word of mouth now becomes world of mouth
- Facebook users translated the site from English to Spanish via a Wiki in less than 4 weeks and that cost Facebook $0
- 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content
- 34% of bloggers post opinions about products & brands
- People care more about how their social graph ranks products and services than how Google ranks them
- 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations
- Only 14% trust advertisements
- Only 18% of traditional TV campaigns generate a positive ROI
- 24 of the 25 largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in circulation because we no longer search for the news, the news finds us.
- In the near future we will no longer search for products and services they will find us via social media
- More than 1.5 million pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared on Facebook daily. (Socialnomics, 2010)
eBiz MBA is a website that provides their users with statistical data and ranks websites in many ways, and according to them here are top 15 most popular social networking websites:
- Facebook, estimated with 550,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Twitter, estimated with 95,800,000 unique monthly visitors
- MySpace, estimated with 80,500,000 unique monthly visitors
- LinkedIn, estimated with 50,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Ning, estimated with 42,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Tagged, estimated with 30,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Classmates, estimated with 29,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Hi5, estimated with 27,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Myyearbook, estimated with 12,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Meetup, estimated with 8,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Bebo, estimated with 7,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Mylife, estimated with 6,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- Friendster, estimated with 5,000,000 unique monthly visitors
- MyHeritage, estimated with 4,800,000 unique monthly visitors
- Multiply, estimated with 4,600,000 unique monthly visitors
Age distribution across social networking sites in the United States
Age distribution across social networking sites in the Unites States can be categorized in many ways. We can categorize users only by average age or we can compare their age with popular social networking sites. We mentioned before that trends are changing and that social networking websites are not anymore used only by younger people, and how older population is involved in social networking much more every day.
Pingdom, a website monitoring service, did a research on the age distribution. The sample was 19 popular social networking sites such as: Bebo, Classmates.com, Delicious, Digg, Facebook, FriendFeed, Friendster, Hi5, Last.fm, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, MySpace, Ning, Reddit, Slashdot, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Tagged, and Xanga.
If we take into consideration only the age of social networking users we can find average age distribution across social networking sites and average is:
15% of social networking users are younger than 17 years. Only 9% of users are in the range from 18 to 24 years old, 18% of all users of those nineteen social networking sites are older than 25, but younger than 34 years. Group in which users are older than 35, but younger than 44 years encounter for 25% of all social networking users, and this group dominate. 19% goes for group that is older than 45 but younger than 54, 10% of users are in a group where users are older than 55 and younger than 64 years. Age group where users are older than 65 years encounter for only 3% of total social networking users. Figure 3. shows average age distribution across social networking sites in the United States.
In addition, the average age of social networking users is calculated on 19 sites that we mentioned before. The estimated average age of social networking users is 39 years.
Average age of users on Bebo is 28.4 years. MySpace