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Social Networking Sites

Web-based social networking services offer a way for individuals or groups to create a profile of themselves, then share that profile with other members of the social networking community.

When people talk about a computer network they generally are referring to a group of computer systems linked together. Within the network each computer system or device is called a node. The idea behind a social network is similar, only the nodes are generally individuals, groups or organizations.

Computer networks also encompasses mapping, which is making logical connections between two entities. In social networking, mapping refers to the relationships between individuals and how they are connected (e.g., through friends, family, work and so on).

What Are Social Networking Sites

Social networking services, also called social networking sites (SNS), are designed to build upon interactions to create communities of people online, and provide the required software to do this. Web-based social networking spaces offer a way for individuals or groups to create profiles and share images, videos, thoughts, and other types of posts with other members of the social networking space. The specific site also provides a variety of ways for users to communicate with others within that network, such as instant messaging and chat rooms, e-mail or site mail (used only use through the service), notes and blogs, file sharing, forums or other types of discussion groups, videos, and so on.

Many social networking sites today do offer some form of privacy by allowing its users to choose a public, private or limited viewing profile. On some sites two users must both agree to be "friends" before they can see their respective profile information. Other sites may not offer this, but will provide options that let you control how much information is viewable to other members of the service.

People use social networking sites for many reasons. Some may want an easy way to keep in touch with family and friends, some may use it for business or job searches. Even still others may use it for dating or just to find like-minded individuals online.

The Origins of Social Networking Sites

One of the first social networking Web sites, launched in 1997, was SixDegrees.com. This site started the trend of enabling users to create personal profiles and make lists of their friends. Two years after the fall of SixDegrees, LiveJournal offered authors options to add a list of friends to their profile page. Other early social networking sites include Friendster and online dating service Ryze. MySpace launched in 2003. However, the site didn't start drawing the attention of the masses until well into 2004, due largely in part to MySpace changes that allowed teenagers to join the social network.

This excerpt from the JCMC Special Issue on Social Network Sites provides a historical overview of social networking sites.

Security Concerns

Like all Internet technologies, social networking sites also come with their fair share of security concerns, mostly privacy issues. Each social networking service offers its own privacy policy, and it is important to carefully read the policy before creating a membership and adding a profile. The selection below are excerpts from different privacy policies concern areas of interest and provide users with information on how the social networking site will use your information.

"Facebook may use information in your profile without identifying you as an individual to third parties."

"We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services, Facebook Platform developers and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile."

Facebook's Privacy Policy

"Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, MySpace will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary: (1) to conform to legal requirements or to respond to a subpoena, search warrant or other legal process received by MySpace.com, whether or not a response is required by applicable law..."

"MySpace reserves the right to transfer personal information to a successor in interest that acquires rights to that information as a result of the sale of MySpace or substantially all of its assets to that successor in interest."

MySpace Privacy Policy

"Friendster does not have access to or control of the cookies that may be placed on the computer of any Member or other user of the Friendster website by the third-party ad servers or ad networks."

Friendster Privacy Policy

Social Networks Online Today

Social networking sites are growing by the day. comScore Media Metrix pegs traffic to MySpace.com at 114 million global visitors in June 2007. Facebook.com saw 52.2 million visitors and Bebo.com attracted 18.2 million visitors. Not only are established social networking groups growing, but new social networking services are launched with more frequency also. To this end our list of services is by no means a complete list, but it certainly can help you find a good networking site in which to create a profile and start socializing.

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

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