The internet was once just an enormous data library, but it’s migrated to a vast “conversation” in the past 3 years. Transmitting information from one person to another has never been easier. Everyone can participate. If my teenage son is any indicator, young people now communicate more through social networking websites than through email. Instead of keeping diaries, they keep blogs; instead of photo albums, they have Zooomr, or Flickr or Xanga. Rather than use a “land-locked” PC in a home office to IM they use proximity based IM services from Meetro or RadiusIM via a cell phone.
While older adults go online to find information, the younger crowd go online to LIVE. The boundaries between private and public and between offline and online are blurred, and there is a widening generation gap between kids growing up with social technology and adults who find it a bit foreign and unsettling. Maybe this is the definition of the “MySpace demographic”?
This has all happened very quick. The first social networking websites were launched about three years ago, aimed at providing online forums where friends could connect. Approx a year later online social networking was a fully fledged phenomenon. Today it has become the face of the internet. Social networking websites have evolved from something to visit in your spare time to an integral part of daily life that many cannot imagine living without.
Not convinced? Take a look at the numbers:
The statistics are staggering and suggest that online social networking cannot be dismissed as a passing trend. Socialization, rather than information, has emerged as a primary use of the internet.
Still not convinced?
If you work in the life sciences, you can chat to others in the field about everything from algal blooms to zebrafish. There’s a global community of photographers, and one for travelers and explorers. If you care about human rights and protecting the environment, you’ll find like-minded people or at Youthnoise. At Mog.com you’ll find a community of music lovers. If you are looking for a job or thinking of changing the one you have, try Linkedin or Jobster. There’s a huge online book club, described as the “MySpace for bookworms”, and another of a different kind at Bookcrossing. You could find long-lost relatives, or other mothers to talk to, or dates. You’re never too old for this: Eons is exclusively for over-50s. There is even a site if you would like to social network but aren’t sure which website to try, Socialseeker might help. It matches people with the kind of network they are looking for and gives advice to parents worried about their children’s use of these sites.
The blogosphere (another kind of online social network) is one of the best examples of how interactive and social the internet has become. On most blogs you will find what’s called a blogroll – a list of links to other related blogs. Through these links blogs form clusters, or communities, based on shared topics and readership. Conversations develop within and between blogs as readers post comments on what others have written. A new technology called trackback has made the inter-blog network more visible by alerting bloggers every time another blogger creates a link to their site. A blog’s importance in the overall network is gauged not in terms of traffic to the site but in the number of inbound and outbound links. For instance, the political blog The Huffington Post is ranked number four by Technorati, with 63,918 links from 13,151 other blogs.
The difference between “online” and “off-line” will fade as the internet portals go mobile. Social networking is not just a consumer trend about friends and recreation – it’s also affecting professional life.
Something for everyone it seems.
**Stats: Comscore numbers are U.S. numbers only