Caught in the Web

Surfing the Social Net

by Laura Emery, Field Editor

Online social networking primarily attracts the younger generations, but isn’t just for teens anymore. With the increased popularity of social networking sites like Facebook,, Flickr,, Twitter, and LinkedIn, the Internet is becoming a social playground for young and old alike.


MySpace is a very popular social networking Web site with an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, games, music, and videos for teenagers and adults internationally. On MySpace, users load the site with photos, music, and information about their likes and dislikes. MySpace’s U.S. growth rate is 0.8 percent per month. In June 2006, MySpace was the most popular social networking site in the United States. According to ComScore, MySpace was overtaken, internationally, by its main competitor, Facebook, in April 2008, based on monthly unique visitors. Nearly 230,000 new MySpace accounts are created each day.


Facebook is a popular, free-access social networking Web site that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. Users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school, and region to connect and interact with other people. People can also add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. The Web site’s name derives from the “face books” depicting members of a campus community that some colleges give to incoming students, faculty, and staff as a way to get to know other people on campus.

Facebook became the largest worldwide social network in mid-2008, but is still playing catch up to MySpace in the U.S. Mark Zuckerburg founded Facebook while he was a 21-year-old student at Harvard University. Web-site membership was initially limited to Harvard students, but was expanded to other colleges in the Ivy League and Stanford University. It later expanded further to include any university student, then high school students, and, finally, to anyone age 13 and over. The Web site currently has more than 150 million active users worldwide. There are 54.5 million monthly unique visitors and the site has high appeal with college students and young professionals.


Twitter is a free social networking and blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length. Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends (delivery to everyone being the default). Users can receive updates via the Twitter Web site, SMS, RSS, or e-mail, or through applications that include Facebook. Twitter had, by one account, over three million accounts and, by another, well over five million visitors in September 2008, a fivefold increase in a month. is a social network service created in 1995 by Randy Conrads, who founded Classmates Online, Inc. The social media Web site helps members find, connect and keep in touch with friends and acquaintances from throughout their lives — including kindergarten, primary school, high school, college, work and the United States military. has more than 40 million active members in the United States and Canada. Nielsen Online ranks Classmates as number three in unique monthly visitors (U.S. home, work) among social networking sites.


Flickr is an image- and video-hosting Web site, Web services suite, and online community platform. In addition to being a popular Web site for users to share personal photographs, the service is widely used by bloggers as a photo repository. Its popularity has been fueled by its organizational tools, which allow photos to be tagged and browsed by different means. As of November 2008, it claims to host more than three billion images. Flickr asks photo submitters to organize images using tags, which allow searchers to find images related to particular topics, such as place names or subject matter. Flickr provides both private and public image storage. A user uploading an image can set privacy controls that determine who can view the image. A photo can be flagged as either public or private.


LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking Web site founded in December 2002 and launched in May 2003 and used mainly for professional networking. As of October 2008, it had more than 30 million registered users, spanning 150 industries.

The purpose of the site is to allow registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people they know and trust in business. The people on the list are called “connections.” Users can invite anyone (whether a site user or not) to become a connection.

This list of connections can then be used in a number of ways. A contact network is built up consisting of direct connections, the connections of each of the connections (termed second-degree connections), and also the connections of second-degree connections (termed third-degree connections). This can be used to gain an introduction to someone you wish to know through a mutual, trusted contact. It can then be used to find jobs, people and business opportunities recommended by someone in one’s contact network. Employers can list jobs and search for potential candidates. Job seekers can review the profile of hiring managers and discover which of their existing contacts can introduce them.

The “gated-access approach” (where contact with any professional requires either a pre-existing relationship or the intervention of a contact) is intended to build trust among the service’s users. LinkedIn’s searchable “Groups” feature allows users to establish new business relationships by joining alumni, industry, or professional and other relevant groups.


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