Nothing has changed the Web more than the rise of social networking sites. Before social networking, the World Wide Web was full of interesting information, but there was little opportunity to contribute or participate. Today, social networking sites are fulfilling the potential of the Web: connecting people across the globe. But why do they matter so much? "With social networks, we're able to visualize the connections between individuals, says Fred Stutzman, Ph.D. student and teaching fellow, School of Information and Library Science at UNC Chapel Hill. "Even if the value or magnitude of the connection is the same for everyone (and that doesn't mirror real life), knowing the connections between individuals helps us better understand them, who they are connected to, and how they are connected to us." If Stutzman is right, understanding the way these networking sites work will help us understand ourselves and our friends. So read on to discover the 10 social networking sites that you should know about today.
MySpace screen grab
MySpace isn't the oldest online social network, but it helped define them -- and it incorporates many different Web services into a comprehensive package. Every MySpace profile comes with the ability to post blogs, news items and status updates and create rich, detailed user profiles. Members can post and share pictures, videos and music, plus can create groups and invite other members to join. But what makes MySpace stand out from the crowd is the sweet sound of free marketing. For bands and unsigned performers, MySpace is a sort of virtual audition stage to debut new tracks, share information or arrange special shows for their fans. In late 2009, the news broke that MySpace would begin to use Facebook Connect, an API developed by the site's largest rival in the social community market. Could this mean MySpace will shift more toward being a content site for musicians than a social networking site?
Orkut screen grab
Orkut is an online social network owned by Google. Originally based in California, the site now calls Brazil home. While 17 percent of its traffic is from the United States, it never really took off in the U.S. But Brazilians adopted the site as their preferred online social network -- more than 50 percent of all traffic to Orkut comes from Brazil. According to the analytics firm comScore, more than 20 million Brazilians visited Orkut in September 2008, making it the most popular Web site in Brazil. In that same month, only 893,000 Brazilians visited MySpace. Why has Orkut become so popular in Brazil? One theory is that the site's name is easy for Portuguese speakers to pronounce, though they pronounce it "or-KOO-chee." Another is that there are no ads on Orkut pages. Orkut is also popular in India, which supplies another 17 percent of the site's traffic. While it may never gain a firm standing in the United States, it's still a success story.
51.com screen grab
While many social networking sites strive to create global communities, others look to cater to very specific audiences. In the case of 51.com, the audience was a nation: China. In 2008, the site had 120 million members. In other words: More than half of the 210 million Chinese citizens with Internet access at that time had a member account on 51.com. According to comScore, China has passed the United States in overall number of users on the Internet but the percentage of Chinese citizens with Internet access is still very low. In the U.S., nearly 73 percent of the population uses the Internet. In China it's closer to 22 percent. Members of 51.com can create personalized profile pages, upload photos and write blog posts. The site has a reputation for pretty exceptional user engagement; most members visit the site multiple times each month. The site plans to launch a major game project, with an investment of more than 100 million yuan (about $14.6 million U.S.) would only enhance this engagement. Investors in 51.com include Intel Capital, Sequoia Capital China and Redpoint Ventures, the company that invested in another well-known social networking success: MySpace.com.
Friendster screen grab
Friendster was one of the first sites to introduce the concept of online social networking to the Web. Jonathan Abrams conceived of the site and launched it in 2002, just two years after the infamous dotcom crash. Abrams saw untapped potential on the World Wide Web -- you could get to know the people your friends know and expand your social network. Abrams' goal was to create a site that anyone could use. One of his inspirations for Friendster came from the way his friends networked in the real world. He wanted to create an equally organic experience using the Web. That meant designing a streamlined design and interface. Friendster gained popularity quickly. In 2003, the Internet search giant Google offered to purchase Friendster but a deal couldn't be reached. Years later, the two companies would sign a $20 million deal that would incorporate Google search services on the Friendster Web site. Alas, Friendster lost its dominant position in the U.S. social networking site market when MySpace's popularity skyrocketed, though it still has a strong user base in the U.S. and continues to be very popular in Asia.
Skyrock screen grab
Vive le Skyrock, the number one social networking site in France! Skyrock started off as a blog site called Skyblog, compliments of a French independent radio station SKYROCK Radio, 96.0 FM, in Paris. As its popularity grew, the site evolved gradually until into a fully-fledged social networking site. The site has all the bells and whistles of other social networking sites. Members can create profiles, write blog entries, converse in chat rooms and send messages to each other. They can make friends and see what other people are up to. And this all takes place in a kinetic Web environment packed with features -- there's not a square inch of Skyrock that isn't covered by pictures, profiles, animations or video. While the site is based in France, there are versions of Skyrock available in other languages including English, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese. According to comScore, the site ranks in the top 10 social networking sites in the world. As of July 2009, Skyrock had over 39 million members.
Hi5 screen grab
As the fastest-growing social networking site in the world for the first half of 2008, Hi5 is the largest site of its kind that you may have never heard of. The site grew 78 percent in the first half of 2008 alone. Based in San Francisco, Hi5 launched in 2003 and was turning a profit by 2004. By 2005, the site had 10 million members. While sites like Facebook and MySpace began to dominate the U.S. social networking scene, Hi5 began to look at other opportunities internationally. In 2006, it launched a Spanish version of the site to great success. Versions of the site in other languages soon followed. This new focus paid off. Hi5 became the most popular social networking site in Mexico and many Latin American countries. Like many other social networking sites, members create profiles, share photos, play games and post messages.
YouTube isn't what you'd traditionally call a social networking site. Its purpose is to provide a place where people can upload and view videos, most of which are user-generated. But it's one of the most popular places on the Web to interact -- and react -- via text or video comments: just one more way to keep people coming back. Anyone can view most YouTube videos, but to post one you need to create a member account. As a member, you can create user profiles and include as much or as little information about yourself as you like. Each member's page is customizable and hosts the videos that member has uploaded to YouTube. The hippest thing to do on YouTube these days may be video logging, or vlogging. It's similar to blogging -- members post videos in which they talk about a subject that interests or concerns them. Other users can comment on the video and conversations develop as a result. While YouTube has always featured a user comments option, the social networking aspect of the site really took off when the site introduced video comments in May 2006. Instead of leaving a text-based comment in response to a video, members can now record short videos in responses.
LinkedIn is a social networking site designed for professionals. It boasts a membership of more than 35 million people and claims that executives from every Fortune 500 company has member profiles on the site. The profiles focus on members' professional experience and skills. But does everyone use it to their full potential? Maybe. Maybe not. "I'm sure there are people who have an account and profile on LinkedIn, and do nothing more than accept the occasional introduction to connect, and have been prospected as a candidate,” says Jason Alba, CEO of the job search organizer site JibberJobber.com. "If it were me," he continues, "I'd be much more aggressive, however, and have a more proactive LinkedIn strategy, which would include growing my network, searching for people in my target companies, using LinkedIn Answers, participating in groups, etc." The site also supports activities beyond networking with potential employers, employees or clients. For example, LinkedIn provides a platform that allows members to collaborate on projects -- a virtual meeting room of sorts.
Twitter screen grab
Part Web site, part Web service – Twitter is an online environment where users can create profiles, fill them with information and then build a network of people they "follow" (and a band of others who follow them). Twitter sends messages between users via the Short Message Service (SMS), better known as text messaging. Members send their texts through Twitter to those they allow to follow them. The messages, called Tweets, are super short: only 140 charters or shorter (there are technically 160 characters for use, but the first 20 are there to make room for user names in messages.) The new phenomenon is called microblogging and it's incredibly popular. "Even the president of the United States has a Facebook fan page and uses Twitter to reach the American public where he has over 262,000 followers," says Brenda Powell, president and founder of the company Social Networking Girls. All sorts of famous people are on Twitter. If you sign up for an account, you can follow astronauts, scientists, athletes, musicians, actors and writers. Or you can ignore the celebrities and focus on your friends. Some Twitterers use the service to arrange parties or other events. Others just like to keep their friends up to speed on what's going on in their lives. The messages can be sent via phone, through the Twitter Web site or one of hundreds new desktop or smart phone widgets.
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
It was 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg started asking his fellow Harvard University students to try out his new idea known as "the facebook." The online community allowed his peers to create personal profiles, search for profiles and invite others from the university to join. It was a smashing success almost immediately. In 2006, Facebook opened its virtual doors to anyone with a registered e-mail address. Not content to rest upon his accomplishments, Zuckerberg continued to push for new features. One of the most revolutionary was creating an application programming interface (API) for third-party developers. Suddenly, programmers could design applications that could tap into Facebook's massive population. Applications range from simple games and diversions to clever marketing campaigns. In 2009, Facebook acquired FriendFeed and began to incorporate its aggregation services into Facebook profiles. Facebook is still a private company -- in early 2010, two major investors announced that Facebook would not seek an initial public offering (IPO) in 2010. Looks like you'll have to wait a while longer to get your hands on Facebook stock. In short: Facebook has become the most visited social networking site in the world, receiving more than 10 million unique visitors than MySpace in January 2009, making it the No. 1 social networking site on our list.
After a stressful day fighting the battles of the real world, you sit down at your computer for a virtual vacation with only one destination in mind: Facebook. The familiarity of your friends' smiling faces in conjunction with the simple blue and white design begin to wash away the troubles of the day-until- your newsfeed reports a disturbing development.
Your boyfriend's unjustly attractive ex-girlfriend has just written a comment on his wall, expressing her gratitude for the time they spent together last week. You blink ferociously, your shirt clings to your skin as you begin to sweat and your virtual vacation turns into an information-induced, Internet inferno.
As if being in a relationship weren't difficult enough, human sexuality researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Guelph in Canada, Amy Muise, explained how Facebook can further contribute to relationship jealousy.
1. It's Addictive
Curse that Mark Zuckerberg for creating this online crack! No matter how you try to fight it, Facebook keeps calling you back… and that's the problem.
The more time people spent on Facebook they more jealous they were. Even after Muise's experiment controlled for factors of trust, self-esteem, and relationship commitment, "… time spent on Facebook was still a significant predictor of the experience of jealousy," Muise said.
It's a strange concept, but if you want to avoid some of the jealousy in your relationship, you'll have to give Facebook a bit of a rest.
2. It's Too Easy to Reconnect with Ex's
Even though she told you she was still really close with her ex-boyfriend before you started dating, you didn't think you'd be seeing his picture on her wall more than your own! While it may be frustrating, you're not alone. Muise found that over 80 percent of Facebook users add previous romantic or sexual partners. Before Facebook, if your girlfriend wanted to communicate with her ex you didn't have to know about it, now it's there for you and all her other friends to see.
3. It Over-Informs
In this information age not even relationships are spared. Gone are the days when lipstick on the collar was the only sign your mate was being unfaithful. Now the information practically comes to you. All you have to do is log on. The "tagged" pictures, the "liked" statuses, and the shared plans for this weekend could all potentially trigger feelings of jealousy.
"Facebook is a forum that can expose individuals to more information about their partner than they may otherwise have access to." Muise said. In addition, Facebook allows you to monitor your partner's activities without being detected. With other social networking sites, you'd need a password to see all that Facebook tells you for free.
4. It Appeals to Women, to Their Chagrin
If you think your girlfriend hasn't seen something on your Facebook profile, you're wrong. Not only has she seen it, she's already become enraged, discussed it with her girlfriends and is waiting to confront you about it. Sorry ladies, but those two X chromosomes don't work in your favor when it comes to Facebook. While Muise and her colleagues found that women are not more jealous than men, they did find that women spent more time on Facebook than men. Which means their relationship jealousy was more likely to be ignited by Facebook than a man's.
5. It May Just Be You
Before you blame all of your failed relationships on Facebook, just wait. If you thought your kindergarten girlfriend was cheating on you because she shared her chips with another boy in your class, the green-eyed monster may just reside in your DNA. At the end of the day Muise and her colleagues recognized that other factors like the dynamic of the relationship and one's own propensity towards jealous behavior could also make them Facebook jealous.