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Social Networking: What is it About?

December 1, 2007

Anyone who has been around the Internet over the last few years almost cannot help but stumble upon a social networking site such as Myspace or Facebook or LinkedIn. They all have some common elements but also have different features and even different foci. So we ask, what is a social network (S/N) site? What differentiates an S/N site from other user-centric websites? Let’s take a look.

When the World Wide Web began to rise in popularity in the 90’s, virtually all websites were webmaster driven. That is to say, the content went one way, from the site creator to the reader. The web was mainly an informational portal, with rudimentry feedback mechanisms. But as the Internet increased in popularity, people became more comfortable with the idea that they can not only be a reader of content on the web but also a contributer. And so rose interactive elements of the web such as chatrooms, forums, dating sites, blogs and media uploading sites. People signed up to forums that interested them, created their own blog on Blogger.com, searched for a partner on Match.com and uploaded pictures to Photobucket.

Then someone or some people had the clever idea of consoloating these various elements into one site. And so was born sites such as Friendster and Myspace. In reality, social networking sites brought nothing new to the Internet. They just brought what existed together. Myspace is nothing more than a personal website repository with pre-made functionality, namely profile pages, blogs, forums, and media uploading. The beauty of a social network is that it gives people an easy way to have their own web space.

But there’s one feature in S/N sites that define it. That’s the networking. Now that people have their own web space, they want to tell their friends about it. And so a good S/N site is one that connects people, whether they already knew each other in real life, or they found each other on-line through discovering mutual interests or just serendipitously connecting. And that is what truly drives the social network. Connecting people’s “personal websites”. It’s such a simple idea yet so powerful.

For our social network that we are building, we are keeping these two elements in mind. What features would people like to have to be able to express themselves? Profile pages definitely. Blogs, yes. Uploading photos, yes. Uploading videos, maybe. Forums and groups, no doubt. Secondly, how can people connect with other people? Friends lists, links to their profile in every posting they make, search by interests, commenting on others’ postings, etc. So for others who may be interested in building a social networking site, be sure to focus much of the attention to these lynchpins of a social network. Personal experession and connecting, the pillars of social networking.

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