What are online social networks?
An online social network is a phenomenon of the new millennium, a social digital revolution. When social networking software allows people to come together online and form groups and organisations within it, a variety of networks appear and grow expansively. They are typically are structures made of individuals or organisations which are connected by one or more types of common interlinking, such as a social relation status: friendship, kinship, membership within an organisation. Sometimes just a level of mutual commonality is enough for a person to be a member of a social network, for example belief, prestige, sexual relationship, mutual background and mutual likes and dislikes. It has become more common for social networks to accommodate financial functions to be a station for corporate activities. For example ideas exchange, corporate community or an online marketplace.
What do Social Engines contain?
A typical social network engine layout depending on the software combines the following:
A user profile – some information about a member of the community, such as name, place of work, hobbies, interests. Also depending on the software, members may indicate their membership in groups, activities, applications and the level of their activity in those. A typical profile of a member also contains a list of friends, perhaps a list of siblings and co-workers. Users are often allowed to create own galleries and tag themselves and their friends. Typically the owner of the profile can regulate the privacy settings, setting rules on who is allowed to access certain areas of the profile. In fact, privacy is one of the most important features of a social network to the members according to surveys. People don’t want anyone to intrude on their privacy and software often provides safeguards against unauthorised access and unwarranted intrusions.
Often social platforms allow users to create, join and administer groups. Some even allow serious changes to the way information is presented – by providing customisable layouts and designs to users, for example MySpace, some allow music and various movies to be accessible – bringing individuality of the profile to full capacity, since the sociality function and ability to present a profile is a characteristic that is often required it makes sense why so much is given to users in terms of creativity.
Who are online social networks for?
The two most popular online social networks today are MySpace and Facebook. Facebook in particular is referred to as the frontliner, the trendsetter of the online networks. It has so far connected over 270 million users worldwide, offering a wide range of services to the community, ranging from online games to organising events, the 2009 1st of April 'Financial Fools Day', that was attended by over 200,000 protesters in London was a collaboration of over 150 different organisations, most of communication and PR was done through facebook and other social networks. Social Networks prove to be an immensely powerful tool in organising communities and despite there being a few very well established websites recently the success of twitter showed that social networking market is still young and is still very much open for competition.
Among other recent highly rated popular social networks are those based around a single theme such as "poker", "clubbing", where the audience is targeted solely on the basis of their interests. Some sites offer virtual makeover services with an appropriate software. Dating sites is an excellent example of how a social network of profiles can become extraordinarily popular through adding communication quality enhancing software. Corporations also find a use for social networking sites. 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. Any major business can benefit from an online presence in the community. Other large communities for example educational institutions such as universities and schools opt for having their own social networks, university students would benefit from using an online market for used textbooks, schoolchildren would benefit from having more communication to teachers and other pupils for their schoolwork’s sake.
Some scientific bodies are using social networking sites to share ideas in scientific knowledge, sharing creativity online. By spreading and sharing knowledge with one another through social networks, they are able "increase both their learning and their flexibility in ways that would not be possible within a self-contained hierarchical organization." Since science is often a project of collaboration of minds - social networking allows scientific groups to expand their knowledge base by sharing ideas and experience. In a way these new means of communicating allows science to progress.
Complexity of Social Networking Software
Software used by these communities often does not require professionals to set it up, facebook for example started very basic and simple by pretty much an amateur, twitter essentially an RSS feed with some modding, so software itself despite complicated writing may be easy to set up and to use, requiring little less than patience, common sense and enthusiasm. Some platforms have large communities to update and improve them, others are finalised and may only need little tweaking, being none the less effective at what they are made for – connecting people online.
Making money with social platforms?
There are numerous ways to make money with online communities, with methods ranging from charging with content to advertising. Recently Mark Zuckerberg became the youngest billionaire by selling facebook, many other online communities will be worth more in the future. Since there is so much interest from corporations and even as a recruitment tool - these communities are potentially gold dust, possibilities of making money with them are still only being uncovered, since software such as this is still a new and unknown phenomenon.
Future of Social Networking
Organising communities may appear to be a difficult task, but social networking software makes it much easier, among the first communities to use social networking were political parties, political and social movements, charities and business-related communities. Like forums that were used by those organisations in the 80’s and 90’s, social networks allow people to discuss hot topics and to organise events, but with more functionality, so gradually forums are being overtaken by social networks, although often online communities implement forum software on their website as an additional communication medium. Moreover, software allows people to have real-time chats, even video conferences and although it may not be necessary to provide these mediums at this time, the future is certainly looking exciting for social networks.