August 2, 2010

Brief Overview of Social Networking Tools

A social network service focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and/or 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 encouraged new ways to communicate and share information. Social networking websites are being used regularly by millions of people.

While it could be said that email and websites have most of the essential elements of social network services, the idea of proprietary encapsulated services has gained popular uptake recently.

The main types of social networking services are those which contain category divisions (such as former school-year or classmates), means to connect with friends (usually with self-description pages) and a recommendation system linked to trust. Popular methods now combine many of these, with Facebook widely used worldwide; MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn being the most widely used in North America; Nexopia (mostly in Canada); Bebo, Hi5, StudiVZ (mostly in Germany), Decayenne, Tagged, XING;, Badoo and Skyrock in parts of Europe; Orkut and Hi5 in South America and Central America; and Friendster, Mixi, Multiply, Orkut, Wretch, Xiaonei and Cyworld in Asia and the Pacific Islands.

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.

History

The notion that individual computers linked electronically could form the basis of computer mediated social interaction and networking was suggested early on . 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.

Early social networking websites started in the form of generalized online communities such as The WELL (1985), Theglobe.com (1994), Geocities (1994) and Tripod (1995). These early communities focused on bringing people together to interact with each other through chat rooms, and share personal information and ideas around any topics via personal homepage publishing tools which was a precursor to the blogging phenomenon. Some communities took a different approach by simply having people link to each other via email addresses. These sites included Classmates.com (1995), focusing on ties with former school mates, and SixDegrees.com (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. Whilst these features had existed in some form before SixDegrees.com 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. It was even described by the website’s owner as "simply ahead of its time." One such model of social networking that came about in 1999 was trust-based, such as that developed by Epinions.com. Innovations included not only showing who is "friends" with whom, but giving users more control over content and connectivity. Between 2002 and 2004, three social networking sites emerged as the most popular form of these sites in the world, causing such sites to become part of mainstream users globally. First there was Friendster (which Google tried to acquire in 2003), then, MySpace, and finally, Bebo. By 2005, MySpace, emergent as the biggest of them all, was reportedly getting more page views than Google. 2004 saw the emergence of Facebook, a competitor, also rapidly growing in size. In 2006, Facebook opened up to the non US college community, and together with 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, became the largest and fastest growing site in the world, not limited by particular geographical followings.

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. 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, without counting the niche social networks (also referred to as vertical social networks) made possible by services such as Ning. Twitter now has recently (2009) eclipsed many other social network services and although lacking in some of what were considered the essential aspects of a SNS, has allowed add-on services to connect and supply these services via its public API.

Social impacts
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, Privacy, E-learning , Social capital and Teenage use.

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.

A 2008 book published by Forrester Research, Inc. titled Groundswell builds on a 2006 Forrester Report about social computing and used the term "groundswell" to refer to "a spontaneous movement of people using online tools to connect, take charge of their own experience, and get what they need--information, support, ideas, products, and bargaining power--from each other."

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. Examples include SixDegrees.org, TakingITGlobal, Care2, Idealist.org, WiserEarth, OneWorldTV, OneClimate and Network for Good. The charity badge is often used within the above context.

Basics
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); and external social networking (ESN) sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter 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 TheSocialGolfer, ACountryLife.Com, Great Cooks Community) 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.

Some social networking sites are created for the benefits of others, such as parents social networking site "Gurgle". This website is for parents to talk about pregnancy, birth and bringing up children.

Several social networks in Asian markets such as India, China, Japan and Korea have reached not only a high usage but also a high level of profitability. Services such as QQ (China), Mixi (Japan), Cyworld (Korea) 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.

Normal' features
Almost all social network have a set of features which are considered essential to qualify as a social networking service, namely: the ability to set up and customize a personal 'profile', an ability for members to comment, fine granular control of who sees what (privacy settings), ability to block an unwanted member, have own page of personal (blog like) entries or notes and individual picture albums, ability to own, form or be member of a Group or Community within the network and increasingly the ability to include "Social Apps" or "Gadgets" which can create 'viral' like online contact and spread of information.

Additional features
Some social networks have additional features, such as the ability to create groups that share common interests or affiliations, upload or stream live 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.

Lately, mobile social networking has become popular. In most mobile communities, mobile phone users can now create their own profiles, make friends, participate in chat rooms, create chat rooms, hold private conversations, share photos and videos, and share blogs by using their mobile phone. Mobile phone users are basically open to every option that someone sitting on the computer has. Some companies provide wireless services which allow their customers to build their own mobile community and brand it, but one of the most popular wireless services for social networking in North America is Facebook Mobile. Other companies provide new innovative features which extend the social networking experience into the real world.

Emerging Trends in Social Networks
As the increase in popularity of social networking is on a constant rise, new uses for the technology are constantly being observed.

One popular use for this new technology is social networking between businesses. Companies have found that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are great ways to build their brand image. According to Jody Nimetz, author of Marketing Jive, there are five major uses for businesses and social media: to create brand awareness, as an online reputation management tool, for recruiting, to learn about new technologies and competitors, and as a lead gen tool to intercept potential prospects. These companies are able to drive traffic to their own online sites while encouraging their consumers and clients to have discussions on how to improve or change products or services.

One other use that is being discussed is the use of Social Networks in the Science communities. Julia Porter Liebeskind (University of Soutern California), Amalya Lumerman Oliver(Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel), Lynne Zucker (University of California) and Marilynn Brewer(Ohio State University) recently published a study on how New Biotechnology Firms(NBF's) are using social networking sites to share exchanges in scientific knowledge. They state in their study that by sharing information and knowledge with one another, they are able "increase both their learning and their flexibility in ways that would not be possible within a self-contained hierarchical organization." Social networking is allowing scientific groups to expand their knowledge base and share ideas, and without these new means of communicating their theories might become "isolated and irrelevant."

A final rise in Social Network use is being driven by college students using the services to network with professionals for internship and job opportunities. Many studies have been done on the effectiveness of networking online in a college setting, and one notable one is by Phipps Arabie and Yoram Wind published in "Advances in Social Network Analysis"

The most popular social networking sites are facebook, myspace, twitter, and youtube but a number of new sites and social groups are born each day. Ning.com allows you to create your own social networking site to fit your own niche group.

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. Companies such as MySpace and Facebook sell online advertising on their site. Hence, they are seeking large memberships, and charging for membership would be counterproductive. 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.

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.

Issues
Privacy
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 that was 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.

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.

Notifications on websites
There has been a trend for social networking sites to send out only 'positive' notifications to users. For example sites such as Bebo, Facebook, and Myspace will not send notifications to users when they are removed from a person's friends list. Similarly Bebo will send out a notification if a user is moved to the top of another user's friends list but no notification is sent if they are moved down the list.

This allows users to purge undesirables from their list extremely easily and often without confrontation since a user will rarely notice if one person disappears from their friends list. It also enforces the general positive atmosphere of the website without drawing attention to unpleasant happenings such as friends falling out, rejection and failed relationships.

Access to information
Many social networking services, such as Facebook, provide the user with a choice of who can view their profile. This prevents unauthorized user(s) from accessing their information.

To edit information on a certain social networking service account, the social networking sites require you to login or provide an access code. This prevents unauthorized user(s) from adding, changing, or removing personal information, pictures, and/or other data.

Potential for misuse
The relative freedom afforded by social networking services has caused concern regarding the potential of its misuse by individual patrons. In October 2006, a fake Myspace profile created in the name of Josh Evans by Lori Janine Drew led to the suicide of Megan Meier. The event incited global concern regarding the use of social networking services for bullying purposes.

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.

At the same, genuine use of social networking services has been treated with suspicion on the ground of the services' misuse. In September 2008, the profile of Australian Facebook user Elmo Keep was banned by the site's administrators on the grounds that it violated the site's terms of use. Keep is one of several users of Facebook who were banned from the site on the presumption that their names aren't real, as they bear resemblance the names of characters like Sesame Street's Elmo.

Risk for child safety
Citizens and governments have been concerned by a misuse by child and teenagers of social network services, particularly in relation to online sexual predators. A certain number of actions have been engaged by governments to better understand the problem and find some solutions.A 2008 panel concluded that technological fixes such as age verification and scans are relatively ineffective means of apprehending online predators.

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 (forensic profiling), probation, and university officials to prosecute users of said sites. In some situations, content posted on MySpace has been used in court.

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. One UK police force has sifted pictures from Facebook and arrested some people who had been photographed in a public place holding a weapon such as a knife (having a weapon in a public place is illegal).

Government applications
Social networking is more recently being used by various government agencies. Social networking tools serve as a quick and easy way for the government to get the opinion of the public and the keep the public updated on their activity. The Centers for Disease Control demonstrated the importance of vaccinations on the popular children's site Whyville and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a virtual island on Second Life where people can explore underground caves or explore the effects of global warming. Similarly, NASA has taken advantage of a few social networking tools, including Twitter and Flickr. They are using these tools to aid the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, whose goal it is to ensure that the nation is on a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space.

Business applications
The use of social network services in an enterprise context presents the potential of having a major impact on the world of business and work.

Social networks connect people at low cost; this can be beneficial for entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to expand their contact bases. 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 LinkedIn.com, which aims to interconnect professionals. LinkedIn has over 40 million users in over 200 countries.

Another is the use of physical spaces available to members of a social network such as Hub Culture, an invitation only social network for entrepreneurs, and other business influentials, with Pavilions in major cities such as London, UK. Having a physical presence allows members to network in the real world, as well as the virtual, adding extra business value.

Application of social networking sites have extended toward business and brands are creating their own, high functioning sites, a sector known as brand networking. It is the idea a brand can build its consumer relationship by connecting their consumers to the brand image on a platform that provides them relative content, elements of participation, and a ranking or score system.

Dating applications
Many social networks provide an online environment for people to communicate and exchange personal information for dating purposes. Intentions can vary from looking for a one time date, short-term relationships, and long-term relationships.

Most of these social networks, just like online dating services, require users to give out certain pieces of information. This usually includes a user's age, gender, location, interests, and perhaps a picture. Releasing very personal information is usually discouraged for safety reasons This allows other users to search or be searched by some sort of criteria, but at the same time people can maintain a degree of anonymity similar to most online dating services. Online dating sites are similar to social networks in the sense that users create profiles to meet and communicate with others, but their activities on such sites are for the sole purpose of finding a person of interest to date. Social networks do not necessarily have to be for dating; many users simply use it for keeping in touch with friends.

However, an important difference between social networks and online dating services is the fact that online dating sites usually require a fee, where social networks are free. This difference is one of the reasons the online dating industry is seeing a massive decrease in revenue due to many users opting to use social networking services instead. Many popular online dating services such as Match.com, Yahoo Personals, and eHarmony.com are seeing a decrease in users, where social networks like MySpace and Facebook are experiencing an increase in users.

The number of internet users in the U.S. that visit online dating sites has fallen from a peak of 21% in 2003 to 10% in 2006. Whether its the cost of the services, the variety of users with different intentions, or any other reason, it is undeniable that social networking sites are quickly becoming the new way to find dates online.

Educational applications
The National School Boards Association reports that almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork. Yet the vast majority of school districts have stringent rules against nearly all forms of social networking during the school day — even though students and parents report few problem behaviors online.

Social networks focused on supporting relationships between teachers and between teachers and their students are now used for learning, educator professional development, and content sharing. Ning for teachers, Learn Central, and other sites are being built to foster relationships that include educational blogs, eportfolios, formal and ad hoc communities, as well as communication such as chats, discussion threads, and synchronous forums. These sites also have content sharing and rating features.

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.

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.

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. SparkPeople offers community and social networking tools for peer support during weight loss.

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Tomboy

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