When and How Did it Start?
Early social networking websites started in the form of generalized online communities such as Geocities and Tripod (1995). These early communities focused on users interacting with each other through chat rooms, and sharing information and ideas around any topics via personal homepage publishing tools which was a precursor to the modern day blog.
One of the first social networking Web sites that started what would become the most common format of the Social Network launched in 1997, that was SixDegrees.com. On this site user profiles could be created, messages sent to users held on a "friends list" and other members could be thought out who had similar interests to yours in their profiles.
Why Did It Start?
Social Networks were created by those who wanted to form an online community that shared interests and / or activities and were looking for a way to share that interest with others at large. Most social network services are web-based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact, such as email and IM services. In general, social networking allows the individual to create a profile for themselves in the form of a personal page, and can be broken down into two categories: internal and external social networking sites. An Internal Networking Site is one that is closed-circuit including only those of a particular workplace, educational institution or organization, allowing users to connect and share information for a very specific purpose. An External Networking Site is one that is open to the public at large and allows users to post and connect with a large audience on a variety of subjects.
Who Started It?
Although Six Degrees would come to be known as the first main stream social networking site, it was considerably ahead of its time. It was early in the new millennium when the major players of the Social Networking scene began to surface. 2004 saw the launch of Friendster, followed quickly by MySpace and Bebo. By early 2005 MySpace had already established itself as the powerhouse of the Social Networking field and was reportedly receiving more hits per day than Google. 2006 saw the then almost unknown site Facebook open itself to the population at large. Up to that time Facebook had been a limited network only available to US College Students. With its already core base of loyal users and the ability for user-generated add-on content it quickly became the fastest growing site in the world. According to comScore Media Metrix, the top three social networking sites MySpace, Facebook and Bebo had logged a total of 184.4 million visitors in June 2007 alone. Also in 2007 the online world saw the emergence of Twitter, the site that allowed users to "tweet" short updates about themselves giving all of their "followers" a real-time look at their world and quickly became a favorite for mobile on-line users. With this power trio of sites, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, social networking went from a passing trend to a mainstream staple.
What is the Media Saying?
According to an article written by CNN reporter Lisa Respers France "In an era when even the president of the United States has a Facebook page and spectators texted and tweeted about Inauguration Day, the power of online and digital social networking is clear." For the majority of media outlets, the phenomenon of social networking is touted as allowing the whole world to become part of the same conversation.
The upside for the users of the various social networking sites is fairly straight-forward. It allows them to connect, locate, rediscover and otherwise enjoy friends and topics regardless of geographical location. It seems that online there is a place for everyone. Businesses especially can gain a boon from the social networking revolution. They are able to reach out to a much larger audience through the emergence of custom social networking websites and this allows them to stay on top or current trends and events and allows them to better understand their customers and tailor their approaches accordingly.
While it is a positive way to connect with the online world, social networking also has its down side. The availability of information makes identity theft a risk, as well as unscrupulous users that leverage the sites to spread malware and viruses. For those choosing to avoid those pitfalls by avoiding the sites altogether, also run the risk of falling behind events in their social circle and appearing unfriendly or stand-offish. For corporations the greatest damage that a social network can do is to it's reputation. One bad experience by a customer or client can spread like wildfire through the networks leaving the business scrambling to do damage control which carries with it both social and monetary penalies.
Where is it Going?
Michael Rogers, columnist for MSNBC, wrote "The Internet world is relentlessly enthusiast in its embrace of the latest and greatest, and this year's new flavor has been social networking. ups, social networking seems poised to take over the Internet. Indeed, some digerati have suggested that Facebook, by allowing developers to write mini-applications called widgets, might become the new Internet. "