An Overview of Social Networking Websites
Social networking websites are virtual communities that encourage and foster interaction among members of a group by allowing them to post personal information, communicate with other users and connect their personal profiles to others' profiles. In most instances, membership in a web community is achieved by registering as a user of that website. Frequently visiting and interacting with others who use that website makes one's network stronger. While many social networking websites are open to anyone, some are open only to people in a certain age group, or who belong to a specific real world community or occupation. Examples of popular social networking websites include MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, YouTube, Last.fm, and LinkedIn.
Members of social networking websites communicate by posting weblogs (blogs), messages, video and music streams or files, and chatting. Often members of social networking sites join smaller communities within their network. For example, users of Facebook belong to groups associated with specific schools they have attended or common areas of interest, while LinkedIn members belong to groups associated with their places of employment. Members of Last.fm share music preferences with other users.
Social networking websites allow members to promote themselves and their interests by posting personal profiles that contain enough information for others to determine if they are interested in associating with that person. Critics of social networking claim that it contributes to predatory or stalking behavior and can be used to invade privacy. Since many people are free with the information they post about themselves, these websites are frequently used to investigate a person's character and social habits. Popular sites like Facebook and MySpace have been used by potential employers and law enforcement agencies to gather information about individuals.
Basic Terms and Definitions Related to Social Networking Websites
Profiles: Users of social networking websites create profiles that contain personal information and preferences, such as their date of birth, hometown and interests. For example, Facebook, one of the more popular networks, allows users to offer information about their religious preference, educational background, or favorite books, films and songs. Users may also publish alternative methods of contacting them, such as physical address and email. Not all user profiles are public; depending on the creator's preference or the guidelines of a particular website, some profiles may be viewable only by people authorized to do so.
Virtual Community: A virtual community is a community that interacts primarily through electronic means, often with the aid of a central network or hub, such as a website or online game world.
Web 2.0: Web 2.0 is a term for the general movement away from fixed, unchanging content toward websites that encourage, and grow in functionality as a result of, user participation. Social networking is a primary feature of Web 2.0. Like many concepts associated with the Internet circa 2008, Web 2.0 undergoes continuous redefinition as new features are added to websites and Internet applications.