Social Networks

What is a Social Network and how does it relate to social media?

Not to be confused with social network analysis, a type of social scientific model

A social network service focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Most social network services are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as e-mail and instant messaging services.

Social networking has created powerful new ways to communicate and share information. Social networking websites are being used regularly by millions of people, and it now seems that social networking will be an enduring part of everyday life. The main types of social networking services are those which contain directories of some categories (such as former classmates), means to connect with friends (usually with self-description pages), and recommender systems linked to trust. Popular methods now combine many of these, with MySpace and Facebook being the most widely used in North America;[1] Bebo,[2] MySpace, Skyrock Blog, StudiVZ, Youmeo, Facebook and Hi5 in parts of Europe;[3] Orkut and Hi5 in South America and Central America;[4] and Friendster, Orkut, and Cyworld in Asia and the Pacific Islands. CouchSurfing is a new type of social network called hospitality exchange networks.[5][6]

There have been some attempts to standardize these services to avoid the need to duplicate entries of friends and interests (see the FOAF standard and the Open Source Initiative), but this has led to some concerns about privacy.

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History of social networking services

The notion that individual computers linked electronically could form the basis of computer mediated social interaction and networking was suggested early on [7]. There were many early efforts to support social networks via computer-mediated communication, including Usenet, ARPANET, LISTSERV, bulletin board services (BBS), and EIES: Murray Turoff's server-based Electronic Information Exchange Service (Turoff and Hiltz, 1978, 1993). The Information Routing Group developed a schema about how the proto-Internet might support this.[8]

Early social networking websites included (1995), focusing on ties with former school mates, and (1997), focusing on indirect ties. User profiles could be created, messages sent to users held on a “friends list” and other members could be sought out who had similar interests to yours in their profiles [9] Whilst these features had existed in some form before came about, this would be the first time these functions were available in one package. Despite these new developments (that would later catch on and become immensely popular), the website simply wasn’t profitable and eventually shut down [10]. It was even described by the website’s owner [11] as “simply ahead of its time.” Two different models of social networking that came about in 1999 were trust-based, developed by, and friendship-based, such as those developed by Jonathan Bishop and used on some regional UK sites between 1999 and 2001.[12] Innovations included not only showing who is "friends" with whom, but giving users more control over content and connectivity. By 2005, one social networking service MySpace, was reportedly getting more page views than Google, with Facebook, a competitor, rapidly growing in size.[13] In 2007, Facebook began allowing externally-developed add-on applications, and some applications enabled the graphing of a user's own social network - thus linking social networks and social networking.[14]

Social networking began to flourish as a component of business internet strategy at around March 2005 when Yahoo launched Yahoo! 360°. In July 2005 News Corporation bought MySpace, followed by ITV (UK) buying Friends Reunited in December 2005.[15][16] Various social networking sites have sprung up catering to different languages and countries. It is estimated that combined there are now over 200 social networking sites using these existing and emerging social networking models,[17] without counting the niche social networks (also referred to as vertical social networks) made possible by services such as Ning and KickApps. [18].

Research on the social impact of social networking software

An increasing number of academic commentators are becoming interested in studying Facebook and other social networking tools. Social science researchers have begun to investigate what the impact of this might be on society. Typical articles have investigated issues such as

* Identity[19]
* Privacy[20]
* E-learning [21]
* Social capital[22]
* Teenage use[23]

A special issue of the Journal for Computer-Mediated Communications was dedicated to studies of social network sites. Included in this issue is an introduction to social network sites.[24] A list of academic scholarship on these sites is also available.[25]

Business applications

This section does not cite any references or sources.
Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unverifiable material may be challenged and removed. (March 2008)

Social networks connect people at low cost; this can be beneficial for entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to expand their contact base. These networks often act as a customer relationship management tool for companies selling products and services. Companies can also use social networks for advertising in the form of banners and text ads. Since businesses operate globally, social networks can make it easier to keep in touch with contacts around the world.

One example of social networking being used for business purposes is, which aims to interconnect professionals. It claims to have more than 20 million registered users from 150 different industries.

Professional networking sites function as online meeting places for business and industry professionals. Other sites are bringing this model for niche business professional networking.

Virtual communities for business allow individuals to be accessible. People establish their real identity in a verifiable place. These individuals then interact with each other or within groups that share common business interests and goals. They can also post their own user generated content in the form of blogs, pictures, slide shows and videos. Like a social network, the consumer essentially becomes the publisher.

A professional network is used for the business to business marketplace. These networks improve the ability for people to advance professionally, by finding, connecting and networking with others. Business professionals can share experiences with others who have a need to learn from similar experiences.

The traditional way to interact is face-to-face. Interactive technology makes it possible for people to network with their peers from anywhere, at anytime in an online environment. Professional network services attract, aggregate and assemble large business-focused audiences by creating informative and interactive meeting places.

Medical applications

Social networks are beginning to be adopted by healthcare professionals as a means to manage institutional knowledge, disseminate peer to peer knowledge and to highlight individual physicians and institutions. The advantage of using a dedicated medical social networking site is that all the members are screened against the state licensing board list of practitioners.[26]

The role of social networks is especially of interest to pharmaceutical companies who spend approximately "32 percent of their marketing dollars" attempting to influence the opinion leaders of social networks.[27]

A new trend is emerging with social networks created to help its members with various physical and mental ailments. For people suffering from life altering diseases, PatientsLikeMe offers its members the chance to connect with others dealing with similar issues and research patient data related to their condition. For alcoholics and addicts, SoberCircle gives people in recovery the ability to communicate with one another and strengthen their recovery through the encouragement of others who can relate to their situation. Daily strength is also a website that offers support groups for a wide array of topics and conditions, including the support topics offered by PatientsLikeMe and SoberCircle.

[edit] Social networks for social good

Several websites are beginning to tap into the power of the social networking model for social good. Such models may be highly successful for connecting otherwise fragmented industries and small organizations without the resources to reach a broader audience with interested and passionate users. Users benefit by interacting with a like minded community and finding a channel for their energy and giving. [28] Examples include and Network for Good. The charity badge is often used within the above context.

Typical structure of a social networking service


In general, social networking services allow users to create a profile for themselves, and can be broken down into two broad categories: internal social networking (ISN)[29] and external social networking (ESN)[30] sites, such as Orkut,MySpace, Facebook and Bebo. Both types can increase the feeling of community among people. An ISN is a closed/private community that consists of a group of people within a company, association, society, education provider and organization or even an "invite only" group created by a user in an ESN. An ESN is open/public and available to all web users to communicate and are designed to attract advertisers. ESN's can be smaller specialised communities, i.e. linked by a single common interest eg,, or they can be large generic social networking sites eg MySpace, Facebook etc. However, whether specialised or generic there is commonality across the general approach of social networking sites. Users can upload a picture of themselves, create their 'profile' and can often be "friends" with other users. In most social networking services, both users must confirm that they are friends before they are linked. For example, if Alice lists Bob as a friend, then Bob would have to approve Alice's friend request before they are listed as friends. Some social networking sites have a "favorites" feature that does not need approval from the other user. Social networks usually have privacy controls that allows the user to choose who can view their profile or contact them, etc.

Several social networks in Asian markets such as Japan, Korea and China have reached not only a high usage but also a high level of profitability. Services such as Mixi (Japan), Cyworld (Korea) and QQ (China) or the mobile-focused service Mobile Game Town by the company DeNA in Japan (which has over 10 million users) are all profitable, setting them apart from their western counterparts.

Additional features

Some social networks have additional features, such as the ability to create groups that share common interests or affiliations, upload videos, and hold discussions in forums. Geosocial networking co-opts internet mapping services to organize user participation around geographic features and their attributes.

There is also a trend for more interoperability between social networks led by technologies such as OpenID and OpenSocial.

Some social networks have made special provisions for impaired visitors. [4]LesTout offers text-to-speech accessibility, giving blind and visually impaired visitors to the site the ability to listen to hundreds of news, entertainment, and lifestyle articles.

Business model

Few social networks currently charge money for membership. In part, this may be because social networking is a relatively new service, and the value of using them has not been firmly established in customers' minds.[31] Companies such as MySpace and Facebook sell online advertising on their site. Hence, they are seeking large memberships, and charging for membership would be counter productive.[32][33] Some believe that the deeper information that the sites have on each user will allow much better targeted advertising than any other site can currently provide.[34] Sites are also seeking other ways to make money, such as by creating an online marketplace (Facebook's Marketplace)[35] or by selling professional information and social connections to businesses: such as LinkedIn.[36]

Social networks operate under an autonomous business model, in which a social network's members serve dual roles as both the suppliers and the consumers of content. This is in contrast to a traditional business model, where the suppliers and consumers are distinct agents. Revenue is typically gained in the autonomous business model via advertisements, but subscription-based revenue is possible when membership and content levels are sufficiently high.[37]

Other business models such as including digital goods (personalization, avatars, background music, skins, gifts, etc.), connection with casual games (on QQ in China or Mobile Game Town in Japan), or link to mobile first made successful in Asia. QQ's revenues in 2007 were 523 million USD and a 224 million USD profit.


On large social networking services, there have been growing concerns about users giving out too much personal information and the threat of sexual predators. Users of these services need to be aware of data theft or viruses. However, large services, such as MySpace, often work with law enforcement to try to prevent such incidents.

In addition, there is a perceived privacy threat in relation to placing too much personal information in the hands of large corporations or governmental bodies, allowing a profile to be produced on an individual's behavior on which decisions, detrimental to an individual, may be taken.

Furthermore, there is an issue over the control of data - information having been altered or removed by the user may in fact be retained and/or passed to 3rd parties. This danger was highlighted when the controversial social networking site Quechup harvested e-mail addresses from users' e-mail accounts for use in a spamming operation.[38]

In medical and scientific research, asking subjects for information about their behaviors is normally strictly scrutinized by institutional review boards, for example, to ensure that adolescents and their parents have informed consent. It is not clear whether the same rules apply to researchers who collect data from social networking sites. These sites often contain a great deal of data that is hard to obtain via traditional means. Even though the data are public, republishing it in a research paper might be considered invasion of privacy.[39]


Main article: Use of social network websites in investigations

Social network services are increasingly being used in legal and criminal investigations. Information posted on sites such as MySpace and Facebook has been used by police, probation, and university officials to prosecute users of said sites. In some situations, content posted on MySpace has been used in court.[40]

Facebook is increasingly being used by school administrations and law enforcement agencies as a source of evidence against student users. The site, the number one online destination for college students, allows users to create profile pages with personal details. These pages can be viewed by other registered users from the same school which often include resident assistants and campus police who have signed-up for the service.[41]

Potential for misuse

In July 2008, a Briton, Grant Raphael, was ordered to pay a total of GBP £22,000 (about USD $44,000) for libel and breach of privacy. Raphael had posted a fake page on Facebook purporting to be that of a former schoolfriend Matthew Firsht, with whom Raphael had fallen out in 2000. The page falsely claimed that Firsht was homosexual and that he was dishonest.

See also


1. ^ "Social Nets Engage in Global Struggle" - 66% of MySpace and Facebook users come from North America: Adweek website. Retrieved on January 15,"adweek"/>
2. ^ Bebo - most popular of its kind in UK (August 2007): TechCrunch website. Retrieved on January 15, 2008.
3. ^ Hi5 popular in Europe: article from the PBS MediaShift website. Retrieved on January 18, 2008.
4. ^ "Why Users Love Orkut" - 55% of users are Brazilian: website. Retrieved on January 15, 2008,
5. ^ [1]
6. ^ Social Networking Goes Global, by comScore;Consumer Trends in Social Networking by Gian Fulgoni, comScore;Social Networks Size & Growth by Pipl
7. ^ The Network Nation by S. Roxanne Hiltz and Murray Turoff (Addison-Wesley, 1978, 1993)
8. ^ David Andrews, The IRG Solution, Souvenir Press, 1984.
9. ^ (Boyd & Ellison, 2007, p.3).
10. ^ (Boyd & Ellison, 2007, p.3)
11. ^ (A. Weinreich, 2007, cited by Boyd & Ellison, 2007, p.3)
12. ^ Rosen, C. (2007). Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism. New Atlantis, Summer 2007. Available Online (PDF)
13. ^ MySpace Page Views figures, 2005: BusinessWeek website.
14. ^ "Social graph-iti": Facebook's social network graphing: article from The Economist's website. Retrieved on January 19, 2008.
15. ^ News Corporation buys MySpace: website.
16. ^ ITV buys Friends Reunited: website.
17. ^ Over 200 social networking sites: InfoJuice website. Retrieved on January 19, 2008
18. ^ [2]: Vertical Social Networks;[3]: Nine Ways to Build Your Own Social Network, TechCrunch, July 24 2007
19. ^ danah boyd (2006), Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Community Into Being on Social Network Sites, First Monday, 11 (12).Available Online
20. ^ Gross, R and Acquisti, A (2005). Information Revelation and Privacy in Online Social Networks (The Facebook case). Pre-proceedings version. ACM Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society (WPES), Available Online (PDF).
21. ^ For example Mike Thelwall, MySpace, Facebook, Bebo: Social Networking Students, ALT: Online Newsletter (January 2008), Available Online. Also Mazer, J. P., Murphy, R. E., and Simonds, C. J. (2007). I'll See You On "Facebook": The Effects of Computer-Mediated Teacher Self-Disclosure on Student Motivation, Affective Learning, and Classroom Climate. Communication Education 56 (1), 1-17, Available Online.
22. ^ NB Ellison, C Steinfield, C Lampe, The Benefits of Network Sites- JOURNAL OF COMPUTER MEDIATED COMMUNICATION 12 (2007), Available Online (PDF).
23. ^ danah boyd, (2007), Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites, MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning - Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volume (ed. David Buckingham). MIT Press. Available Online (PDF).
24. ^ danah boyd and Nicole Ellison (2007, October). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13 (1). Available Online
25. ^ Research on Social Network Sites Known academic scholarship concerning social network sites, maintained by danah boyd.
26. ^ Social Networking: Now Professionally Ready, website.
27. ^ Social Networks Impact the Drugs Physicians Prescribe According to Stanford Business School Research, website.
28. ^ A New Generation Reinvents Philanthropy, Wall Street Journal website.
29. ^ "Companies warned not to rush into social networking", implications of internal social networking in a business environment: website. Retrieved on January 22, 2008.
30. ^ "Facebook, MySpace, and Co.: IHEs ponder whether or not to embrace social networking websites", implications of external social networking in education: website. Retrieved on January 22, 2008.
31. ^ The Value of Social Networking Tools Second Life Insider
32. ^ Murdoch Will Earn a Payday from MySpace Forbes
33. ^ Linked In Targeted Advertising LinkedIn
34. ^ As Applications Blossom, Facebook Is Open for Business Wired
35. ^ Facebook Marketplace Guidelines Facebook
36. ^ LinkedIn's Business Accounts LinkedIn
37. ^ Flor, N. (2000). Web Business Engineering. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley; Description of the autonomous business model used in social network services: article by Nick V. Flor at the InformIT website.
38. ^ Social network launches worldwide spam campaign, Accessed 10 September 2007
39. ^ Moreno MA, Fost NC, Christakis DA (2008). "Research ethics in the MySpace era". Pediatrics 121 (1): 157–61. doi:10.1542/peds.2007-3015. PMID 18166570.
40. ^ "MySpace exposes sex predators", use of its content in the courtroom: Herald and Weekly Times (Australia) website. Retrieved on January 19, 2008.
41. ^ "Getting booked by Facebook", courtesy of campus police: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website. Retrieved on January 19, 2008.

External links

  • Danah Boyd's list of articles about social network services [5]
    • Presentation on Asian SNS [6]

Further reading

  • danah boyd and Nicole Ellison. "Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship." Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, volume 13, issue 11, October 2007.
    • Liz Else, Sherry Turkle. "Living online: I'll have to ask my friends", New Scientist, issue 2569, 20 September 2006. (interview)
    • Mark Glaser, " Your Guide to Social Networking Online," PBS MediaShift
    • Naone, Erica, "Who Owns Your Friends?: Social-networking sites are fighting over control of users' personal information.", MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008
    • "Inside Cyworld", research by +8* | Plus Eight Star
    • "Inside QQ", research by +8* | Plus Eight Star
    • Urstadt, Bryant, "Social Networking Is Not a Business: Web 2.0the dream of the user-built, user-centered, user-run Internethas delivered on just about every promise except profit. Will its most prominent example, social networking, ever make any money?", MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008


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