Just What Is A Social Network?

Social networking is the grouping of individuals into specific groups, like small rural communities or a neighbourhood subdivision, if you will.  Even though social networking is possible in person, especially in the workplace, universities, and high schools, it is most popular online. 
 
This is because unlike most high schools, colleges, or workplaces, the internet is filled with hundreds of thousands of individuals who are looking to meet other people, to gather and share first-hand information and experiences about cooking, golfing, gardening, developing friendships professional alliances, finding employment, business-to-business marketing and even groups sharing with us information about baking cookies to the Thrive Movement.  The topics and interests are as varied and rich as the story of our universe. 
 
When it comes to online social networking, websites are commonly used. These websites are known as social sites. Social networking websites function like an online community of internet users. Depending on the website in question, many of these online community members share common interests in hobbies, religion, politics and alternative lifestyles. Once you are granted access to a social networking website you can begin to socialize. This socialization may include reading the profile pages of other members and possibly even contacting them. 
 
The friends that you can make are just one of the many  benefits to social networking online. Another one of those benefits includes diversity because the internet gives individuals from all around the world access to social networking sites. This means that although you are in the United States, you could develop an online friendship with someone in Denmark or India. Not only will you make new friends, but you just might learn a thing or two about new cultures or new languages and learning is always a good thing. 
 
As mentioned, social networking often  involves grouping specific individuals or entities together. While there are a number of social networking websites that focus on particular interests, there are others that do not. The websites without a main focus are often referred to as “traditional” social networking websites and usually have open memberships. This means that anyone can become a member, no matter what their hobbies, beliefs, or views are. However, once you are inside this online community, you can begin to create your own network of friends and eliminate members that do not share common interests or goals. 
 
As I’m sure you’re aware, there are dangers associated with social networking including data theft and viruses, which are on the rise. The most prevalent danger though often involves online predators or individuals who claim to be someone that they are not. Although danger does exist with networking online, it also exists in the real world, too. Just like you’re advised when meeting strangers at clubs and bars, school, or work — you are also advised to proceed with caution online. 
 
By being aware of your cyber-surroundings and who you are chatting to, you should be able to safely enjoy social networking online. It will take many phone conversations to get to know someone, but you really won’t be able to make a clear judgment until you can meet each other in person.  Just use common sense and listen to your inner voice; it will tell you when something doesn’t feel right about the online conversations taking place. 
 
If you’ve updated your Facebook status, posted photos of last night’s party to Flickr for your friends to see or made a business contact through LinkedIn, then you’ve used a social networking site. But what exactly is a social networking site? What are the key attributes that set it apart from other Web sites? How do they allow people to form online communities and share social networking information? 
 
Some of the earliest sites that we would recognize as being similar to today’s social networking sites appeared in the mid 1990s, when the Internet started growing in appeal. These early sites focused on letting users hook up with people they had known in the past, or finding out how they were connected to other site users. 
 
Friendster appeared in 2002 and followed a similar model, but it offered additional features like photo sharing and it quickly became the first of the “big” social networking sites. Since then, however, Friendster has declined in popularity and is no longer one of the top 20 social networking sites in the United States [source: Hitwise]. After Friendster came MySpace and Facebook, along with sites like Bebo, Hi5, Orkut and Yahoo! 360. In addition, dozens of sites catering to very specific regions or tastes have sprung up. Whether you’re interested in books, video games, music or meeting people from Denmark, there’s probably a social networking site for you. 
 
The idea of an online community goes back much farther than the 1990s, however. Very early forms of the Internet were used to foster social networks. The earliest online communities were dial-up bulletin-board systems (BBSes) such as The Well and numerous other regional systems. While these early communities did not have the features users have come to expect of modern social networking sites, they shared the core idea of connecting people with common interests. 
 
Once you are well informed and comfortable with your findings, you can begin your search from hundreds of networking communities to join. This can easily be done by performing a standard internet search. Your search will likely return a number of results, including MySpace, FriendWise, #MarketHive, FriendFinder, Yahoo! 360, Facebook, Orkut, and Classmates.
 
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Alan Zibluk Market Hive Founding Member