Today, the most popular and common topic of many discussions are social networking websites. The Internet connected us, made us even more available, and brought us closer to each other, but at the same time, the Internet estranged us from each other.
We are living in an era of expansion of online social networking, which are counting millions of members. Social networking websites are changing the basis of human relationships and communication, and it is the biggest invention since the invention of the telephone.
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Social networking covers all the needs of modern living: from making friends, finding lovers, through exchanging of recipes and searching for work, and all that without leaving your home. In addition, social networking websites allow us to quickly be informed, but also to be in touch with friends all across the globe. Social networking in combination with other aspects of Internet communications, gives us fulfilled social life.
However, social networking websites have become inevitable or necessary part of our lives, and participation in them has become common thing. Will online social networking experience be something good or bad – depends mostly on us?
“With social networks, there’s a fascination with intimacy because it simulates face-to-face communication. But there’s also this fundamental distance. That distance makes it safe for people to connect through weak ties where they can have the appearance of a connection because it’s safe.” —Michael Wesch, teacher of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University. (Quoted in Alex Wright, “Friending, Ancient or Otherwise,” New York Times, December 2, 2007.) (Mooney, 2009, p. 19)
Nowadays, one of the most interesting and widespread phenomenon is social networking websites. The reason why they are so popular is because social networking websites are very user-friendly, are based on Web 2.0 technologies, allowing users more connectivity, personalization, and interaction, and social networking websites often involve grouping individuals or organizations together based on their particular interest. Online social networking is the biggest breakthrough since the invention of the telephone, and in this research paper, we will try to prove that.
Social networking existed long before Internet came along, because humans are social beings who are socializing with each other from the beginning of their existence. Before online social networking became popular like it is today, people were socializing, creating groups based on their specific interests, hobbies similar to ones that are available today on the Internet, across social networking websites.
There are many social networking websites that are focusing on some particular interest, and there are traditional websites, which are general social networking sites, without a specific focus. Before the Internet came along there was a time when if you had opinion or interest that is different from the norm, you were considered weird. Then the Internet came and changed all of that. No matter how different you are, you can find a million others just like you with just a few clicks.
Communication via newsgroups eventually expanded into general use and has become one of the earliest forms of Internet meetings and public discussions. Sometime later IM clients were developed and popularized, chat applets within web portals and forums slightly different from the ones today. Those applications and applets then provided solid opportunities for user profiling and the communication with the world. However, due to very low speed connection, lack of storage of servers the true virtual meetings and / or presentations were almost impossible. (Hu & Wang, 2009)
The evolution of these technologies caused a rapid increase in user interest, and the number of users is growing exponentially for years. Free pictures and video clips, and writing blogs and content management have become the heralds of the new user paradigm, which are determined by those Web services that systematically have integrated all these technologies: from blogs and chat to video and photo caskets and other components mentioned above that helped in the creation of a compact system of social networks. Today’s social networks are mostly free and the only prerequisite for their use is internet connection, and sometimes-peripheral devices such as webcams and headsets. (Hu & Wang, 2009)
Social networking has its bad and good side of the story. There are many issues regarding information we share, but most social networking services provide their users with a choice of which information they want to share and who can view their profile, which prevents other users from unauthorized access to their information. Data theft or viruses are also common issues in social networking, sexual predators, cyber bullying, etc. However, advantaged that social networking is offering are many because it allows discussion on different topics, sharing information, and exchanging files and pictures, gaining knowledge, providing feedback, etc.
In addition, some people use these sites as a convenient way to meet new friends, find old friends or classmates, or even future love, to promote their blogs and services, etc. Professional people use social networking as a platform that can help them to raise their visibility in the business world, advertise, promote their business or service, or to increase their customer base because it is very efficient and cost effective. Social networking along with globalization has made the world a global village where everyone can stay connected and there are no geographical or any other boundaries.
“Social networking sites are web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.” (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
Social networking websites are mostly free on-line services that enable different forms of communication and connectivity with the whole world and the possibility of self-presentation, free posting of pictures and video clips, writing blogs, playing games and other more or less beneficial activities through these networks. Parents can find out whom their children are socializing with, what preferences they have, etc. In addition, people are able to meet new people from all over the world, learn about their cultures, customs, renew some old friendships and gain new ones.
The social networking websites are similar to real places where users can socialize with their friends, except they are on the Internet, and usually are about grouping specific individuals together based on their specific activity or interest. There are many social networking websites that are focusing on some particular interests called niche social networking sites, and there are traditional websites that are general social networking sites, without a main focus. Before the Internet came along there was a time when if you had opinion or interest that is different from the norm, you were considered weird. Then the Internet came and changed all of that. No matter how different you are, now you can find a million others just like you with just a few clicks. (Mooney, 2009)
Social networking sites have implemented many technical features and applications, but their primary and most important parts are profiles and list of friends who are using the same site. After joining some social networking site and filling out all forms and information necessary, the profile is created. The visibility of a profile depends on users’ preferences and depends of a site where user is registered. By default, profiles on Friendster are visible to anyone, regardless of whether or not the viewer has an account there. On the other hand, LinkedIn controls what a viewer can see based on if the user has a paid account. Sites like MySpace and Facebook allow users to choose whether they want their profile to be public or "Friends only" (private). One of the primary ways that social networking sites differentiate themselves from each other is structural variations in visibility and access. (Boyd & Ellison, 2007)
After joining a social networking site, users are starting to create relationships with other users on the site, and most sites require both sides to confirm friendship or relationship. These relationships names are different depending on the site, and popular terms are "Friends", "Contacts", "Fans", "Followers", etc. On most social networking sites, the list of Friends are visible to all the friends with which user is connected, although that can be changed in profile settings, and user can control who can see their list of Friends. Almost every social networking site has the option for users to leave messages (comments) on their friend’s profile, and to send private messages. This feature for sending private messages is very similar to webmail. (Boyd & Ellison, 2007)
It is also important to say that many of today’s social networking sites were not social networking sites at their beginning. Cyworld started as a Korean discussion forum tool, Skyrock was a French blogging service before adding social networking features, QQ was Chinese instant messaging service, and LunarStorm started as a community site. AsianAvenue, MiGente, and BlackPlanet were early popular ethnic community sites with limited Friends functionality before re-launching in year 2005-2006 with social networking features and structure. (Boyd & Ellison, 2007)
It is considered that the first social networking website was created in the year 1997, under the name Six Degrees. Users of this network were able to create user profiles, create friend lists, and a year later, the ability to search lists of other users was added to the website. All these options were there in the past, before creation of Six Degrees, however, Six Degrees has brought together all these capabilities in one unit. Six Degrees was designed as a virtual place where users can exchange messages and interact with other users. The service was not rebuilt with new technologies, and users begin to lose interest in this kind of communication. Six Degrees went out of business in the year 2000, due to an insufficient number of active users and insufficient incomes. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
From year 1997 to 2001 a number of social networking websites were created. Social networking websites like AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet and MiGente, where users were able to create personal and professional profiles, or profiles to search for partners. The possibilities of social networking websites greatly increased with age, and development of new technologies, such as creating a list of visitors (guestbook), or creating the personal notes and texts that were available to other users. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
The next significant progress with social networking websites was the establishment of business and scientific contacts. With time, several other professional social networking websites like Tribe.net, LinkedIn, and Friendster were developed. Nowadays, LinkedIn is the only professional social networking website, which experienced significant success, and is one of the largest professional social networking website with millions of users. In the year 2002 the social networking website named Friendster was developed, which experienced considerable success and gathered a large number of users, but due to poor computer equipment and limited computer resources, customers started to leave the network. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
Since year 2003 a large number of social networking websites were developed and available on the web. Most such social networking websites were designed to attract specific groups of people based on common interests, business opportunities, and sharing of data and media. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007)
It is important to note that not all social networking websites that were developed for specific user groups achieved equal success in the targeted market. For example, Orkut (social network launched by Google) did not achieve success in the target market of North America, but the expansion of the network has achieved considerable success in Brazil. In addition, the situation is similar with network Windows Live Spaces (Microsoft) that did not achieve success in the Unites States, but in other geographic areas has gained a significant number of users. MySpace, launched in the year 2003 achieved remarkable successes only after a year of existence, mainly among teenagers. Thus, for example, Mixi achieved success in Japan, LunarStorm in Sweden, Hyves in the Netherlands, Grono in Poland, Hi5 in the Americas and Europe, etc. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007) Figure 1. shows launch dates of major social network sites from the year 1997 to 2006.
The idea behind social networking website is very simple – user registers on the social networking website and shares interesting information from his life, uploads photos and videos, and communicates with friends who are doing the same thing. In principle there is nothing wrong with it, moreover it can be very useful if it is used properly.
The success of a social networking website depends on the number of users who are using that social networking website, and on the functionality that the website is offering. However, with increasing number of users of some social networking website, the monetary value of that social networking website is growing too, which allows the owner of the network expansion of marketing solutions available.
In the background lie various reasons why the online social networking is so popular and growing exponentially every day. Today’s fast pace of life does not leave much time for face to face socializing, so that social networking is imposed as the easiest way for communication. However, is this really the only reason? People were alienated from each other and the use of social networking websites gives them an illusion of closeness and connectedness with other people because ultimately man is still a social being. Nobody likes to be alone, and social networks give us the feeling that we belong to the community.
On the other hand, people on social networking websites can be represented in the right light, can be more fun, more popular, more communicative and more interesting. Complexes and fears that existed in the interaction with people in the real world do not exist in the virtual one. When communicating over social networking websites, no one knows if user is shy and insecure, or how many pounds he has.
Social networking websites can be very seductive because the people on their profiles appear in the best light. These people want to be your friends and communicate with each other, so the temptation is especially strong when real life things do not go as well as they could. Social networking websites should help us make life easier, not take control over it.
A small group of experts, at least at the beginning, developed most of the social networking websites. In most cases, they had one major server, and one backup server, and platforms that they have used were mostly open source, because they all have limited budgets at the beginning.
Engineers were using the LAMP open source software stack, the Linux operating system, the Apache Web server, the MySQL relational database system, and the PHP Web programming language for development of Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
MySpace has been developed using Microsoft technologies, including the Windows operating system, Active Server Pages (ASP), NET 2.0, the Internet Information Services (IIS) Web server, and the SQL Server 2005 database system. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
Linux operating system, the Ruby programming language on the Rails application server, the Mongrel Web server, and MySQL were used for development of Twitter. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
LinkedIn has been developed using Sun Microsystems’ Solaris operating system, Java, the Tomcat and Jetty open source Java application servers, the Lucene open source search software, and the Oracle and MySQL database systems. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
After these sites began exponentially growing, the engineers faced three architecture challenges: performance, scalability, and availability, so they started using system and network monitoring tools, and Web traffic and log file analysis tools. (Kim, Jeong & Lee, 2010)
There are many types of social networking sites available today on the web. People use these sites for many purposes. We can sort social networking sites into major categories, and according to Rdube (n.d.) major social networking categories are:
Informational social networking sites are often connected to businesses that are using social networking sites to connect with their customers. These informational social networking sites are providing their users with information about everyday things, and are mostly written by professionals. (Rdube (n.d.))
Professional social networking sites are helping their users to improve their careers or even industry, find jobs, etc. There are many professional social networking sites which can help their users with many useful advices for advancing in their professional life. (Rdube (n.d.))
Educational social networking sites are becoming very popular nowadays. These social networking sites can help users with their research materials, to communicate with other users or professors via blogs or forums, and many other educational interactions. (Rdube (n.d.))
Hobbies are reasons why many people use social networking sites. There users can find much information regarding their specific interest of hobby. Via social networking sites specified by hobbies, users can interact with others that have the same hobbies and interest. This kind of social networking sites are most popular. (Rdube (n.d.))
Academic social networking sites’ main purpose is for collaboration within the scientific communities. These social networking sites are very beneficial for academic researchers. (Rdube (n.d.))
We can also divide social networking sites by type, and according to Schrader (n.d.) social networking website types are:
Forums are among the first websites that allow user’s interaction. There users can exchange information, opinions, ask and answer questions about given topics. Forums are mostly comprised of users that share similar interests, and are a great way to share or gain knowledge. (Schrader (n.d.))
Blogs are very similar to traditional journals, except blogs are online journals and many people can see them. Originally, blogs are called web-logs, and more often blogs are discussing some specific topic. Main difference between forum and blog is in number of users involved in discussions. Blogs are more personal, and often only one person is writing their blog, while forum involves more users, which discuss the given topic. Blogs can be personal and professional. Professional blogs are sponsored by an organization. (Schrader (n.d.))
Micro-Blogging is very similar to blogging, i.e. it is micro journal that tells us what is happening right now. Major news events are now breaking online via micro blogs, and the most popular micro blog is Twitter. (Schrader (n.d.))
Photo Sharing websites are more and more popular, because instead of sending photos to someone, users upload them to photo sharing website and then just share links for those pictures. The user can also tag their photos with related keywords, and there is an opportunity of commenting on photos. Some popular photo sharing sites are Flickr and Picasa. (Schrader (n.d.))
Video Sharing is almost the same as photo sharing, because users upload their videos and then share links to those videos. In addition, they can tag videos with related keywords, and leave comments. The most popular video sharing website is YouTube. (Schrader (n.d.))
Professional social networking websites allow users to connect with other professionals and maintain their professional relationships. Here users can search jobs, and other professional opportunities. LinkedIn is one of the most popular professional social networking sites. (Schrader (n.d.))
Social websites are for staying in touch. They do not group users with specific of niche interests, and are of general use. Social networking sites are about being social, so there are sites purely for allowing users to stay in touch with people whom they know. The most popular social websites are Facebook and MySpace. (Schrader (n.d.))
Bookmarking social networking website’s major purpose is the sharing of information. If users read something they like, they can bookmark it, which means that they liked what they have read. The more people bookmark some site; they will attract even more people to that bookmarked site. The most popular bookmarking websites are Digg, Delicious, and StumpleUpon . (Schrader (n.d.))
Now we see that there are many ways that we can categorize social networking sites, but we can also categorize social networking users, and according to website The Man Experience there are five types of social networking users:
Social networks have swept the world and completely changed the way we communicate with people on the internet. Research shows that Americans spend a quarter of their Internet time on social networking websites and blogs. These numbers dramatically increased since last few years and show the real impact of social networking websites on society. For example, Facebook has over 500 million members. If we compare that number with the number of over 6 billion people in the world, we can conclude that every 12th inhabitant of the world has a Facebook profile. Subtract from that at least 40% of socially and technologically underdeveloped counties, and we got alarming figure. (Nielsen, 2010)
Nielsen, a company that monitors Internet activity has revealed that Americans have, due to social networking websites, ignored the e-mail, which is logical because the platform like Facebook integrate various services that can be used to share content with family and friends. Thanks to the Facebook, there is increased consumption of videos, movies, and news, because users are sharing and recommending to each other content which they themselves might never have find and see. (Nielsen, 2010)
Social networking websites are no longer reserved only for young people. America has twice as many users of social networking websites which are around fifty, than of those who are younger than eighteen. As social networking websites become more popular, their new members are on average older, of different races and from different social classes.
Nielsen claims that online games are used more than e-mail and that online games have become the second most popular activity on the Internet. Users spend ten percent of their Internet time on games and overall half of Americans play them. Another favorite activity of Americans on the Internet is watching videos and films. On average, users are watching videos and films about three hours and fifteen minutes per month. (Nielsen, 2010)
Perhaps the most interesting thing in this whole story is the fact that many people use the Internet from mobile phones. Mobile usage still dominates, and the second are the news portals. Nielsen predicts that by the end of year 2011 the majority of phones sold will be smartphones. Figure 2. Shows the number of users of social networking sites in the world. (Nielsen, 2010)
Socialnomics have released some statistical data about social networking websites, which shows that social networking is very serious widespread activity on the web.
Here are some statistical information that Socialnomics revealed (Socialnomics, 2010):
eBiz MBA is a website that provides their users with statistical data and ranks websites in many ways, and according to them here are top 15 most popular social networking websites:
Age distribution across social networking sites in the Unites States can be categorized in many ways. We can categorize users only by average age or we can compare their age with popular social networking sites. We mentioned before that trends are changing and that social networking websites are not anymore used only by younger people, and how older population is involved in social networking much more every day.
Pingdom, a website monitoring service, did a research on the age distribution. The sample was 19 popular social networking sites such as: Bebo, Classmates.com, Delicious, Digg, Facebook, FriendFeed, Friendster, Hi5, Last.fm, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, MySpace, Ning, Reddit, Slashdot, StumbleUpon, Twitter, Tagged, and Xanga.
If we take into consideration only the age of social networking users we can find average age distribution across social networking sites and average is:
15% of social networking users are younger than 17 years. Only 9% of users are in the range from 18 to 24 years old, 18% of all users of those nineteen social networking sites are older than 25, but younger than 34 years. Group in which users are older than 35, but younger than 44 years encounter for 25% of all social networking users, and this group dominate. 19% goes for group that is older than 45 but younger than 54, 10% of users are in a group where users are older than 55 and younger than 64 years. Age group where users are older than 65 years encounter for only 3% of total social networking users. Figure 3. shows average age distribution across social networking sites in the United States.
In addition, the average age of social networking users is calculated on 19 sites that we mentioned before. The estimated average age of social networking users is 39 years.
Average age of users on Bebo is 28.4 years. MySpace’s users are 31.8 years old on average, Xanga’s 32.3. Users on Friendster are 33.4 years old on average, on Hi5 33.5, and Tagged’s users are 34.4 years old. On LiveJournal users are 35.2 years old on average, on Last.fm 35.8, and on Reddit 37.4. On Ning users are 37.8 years old, on Facebook 38.4, and on FriendFeed also 38.4 on average. Digg’s and StumbleUpon’s users are 38.5 years old, Twitter’s 39.1, Slashdot’s 40.4, and Delicious’s users are 41.3 years old on average. The highest age average across social networking sites is found on LinkedIn and Classmates.com, in 44.3 and 44.9 years old respectfully.
In the previous paragraph, we showed age distribution of users across social networking websites. There is another way that can show us estimated average age on social networking websites. Figure 4. shows average age of users across social networking sites.
As mentioned before, age distribution can be compared within those 19 social networking websites so we can see in percentage age distribution across social networking sites. Figure 5. shows the age distribution across social networking sites.
From this picture, we can conclude that almost a half of Bebo’s users are younger than 17 years, and that age group dominates on Bebo. Other age groups on Bebo are not that big and dominant as the youngest one. The smallest is the one with users older than 65 years.
Age distribution on MySpace is similar to Bebo’s, with more than 30% of users being younger than 17 years. Second biggest age group on MySpace is one with users between 45 and 54 years old. Third one is in the range from 35 to 44 years. The smallest age group is the one with users older than 65 years.
On Xanga age is distributed more equally, but the youngest age group is still the most dominant one. Other age groups are almost the same in percentage, except the one with users older than 65 years, which is very small in percentage.
Friendster is similar to Xanga, but with the difference in age group with users younger than 17, which is larger than on Xanga, and age group from 18 to 24 is somewhat smaller than on Xanga. Also we can see that age group of users between 45 and 54 years have a significant percentage in Friendster’s age distribution. The smallest is the one with users older than 65 years.
We can conclude that the most dominant age group on Hi5 is the one in the range from 25 to 34 years. A very small percentage of users on Hi5 is older than 55, and in the range from 18 to 24 years old. The age group with users older than 65 years is the smallest.
On Tagged two most dominant age groups are of those who are younger than 17, and in age group from 45 to 54 years. The smallest is the one with users older than 65 years. Other age groups are almost equally distributed.
On LiveJournal we can see that dominant age group is the one in the range from 35 to 44 years. Second biggest on LiveJournal is the age group from 25 to 34, and other groups are almost equally distributed. Again, the age group with users older than 65 years is the smallest.
On Last.fm we can see that there isn’t any dominant age group, but age groups of younger than 17, from 35 to 44, and from 45 to 54 are the biggest ones and almost the same in percentage. 65+ age group is the smallest again.
Reddit is much different than previous ones. Here we see that age group with users younger than 17 is the smallest in percentage, and the dominant one is in the range from 35 to 44 years. Second dominant age group on Reddit is from 25 to 34 years old.
Ning’s dominant age group is from 35 to 44 years, and the second is from 45 to 54. Again, the age group with users older than 65 is the smallest.
Leading age group on Facebook is from 45 to 54 years. The second ones are in age groups where users are younger than 17 and in the range from 35 to 44. The percentage here is almost the same. The smallest again is in the age group 65+.
The dominant age group at Friend Feed is the one with users in range from 35 to 44 years. Other age groups are almost equally distributed, and age groups with users older than 65 and younger than 17 years are the smallest ones.
Digg also has dominant age group in the range from 35 to 44, and the smallest age group with users older than 65 years. Other age groups on Digg are somewhat similar to the ones on LiveJournal.
StumbleUpon is very similar to Digg regarding age distribution. The dominant age group is in the range from 35 to 44, and the smallest one is with users older than 65 years.
Also on Twitter, leading age group is the one from 35 to 44, and the second leading age group is from 45 to 54. Third one is from 25 to 34, and again the smaller one is with users older than 65 years.
Slashdot is very similar to Reddit when it comes to age distribution. Smallest age groups are with users older than 65 and younger than 17 years. The dominant age group here is from 35 to 44 years.
Delicious’s dominant age group is in the range from 35 to 44, second one is from 25 to 34. The smallest ones are again with users older than 65 and younger than 17 years.
Leading age group on LinkedIn is one with users from 25 to 34 years. Second one is from 45 to 54. The smallest age group on LinkedIn is with users younger than 17 years.
The last one, Classmate.com, has dominant age group with users in range from 45 to 54, and the smallest age group here is with users in range from 18 to 24. Although age group with users older than 65 is also small on Classmate.com with, when we compare it to other social networking sites, the percentage is the biggest here.
With all these comparisons we can conclude that age group with users from 0 to17 years is dominant on 4 out of 19 sites or 21%. Age groups with users from 18 to 24, from 55 to 64, and older than 65 years are not dominant on any of 19 sites, and age group with users from 25 to 34 years is dominant on 1website out of 19 sites or 5%. The age group with users from 35 to 44 years is dominant on 11 out of 19 sites or 58%, and age group with users from 45 to 54 years is dominant on 3 out of 19 sites or 16%.
Royal Pingdom also did a research on the ratio between male and female users at 19 social networking sites which are: Slashdot, Reddit, Digg, Facebook, LinkedIn, Last.fm, Friendster, LiveJournal, Hi5, Imeem, Ning, MySpace, Twitter, Delicious, StumbleUpon, FriendFeed, Xanga, Classmates.com, and Bebo. Figure 6. shows ratio between males and females across social networking sites.
In this picture we can see that Slashdot has 84% male users and only 16% of female users. Reddit has around 67% male and 33% female users. Digg has 60% male and 40% female users. Last.fm, Delicious, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon and FriendFeed are all the same when it comes to ratio between male and female, and here there are 48% male and 52% female users. Friendster, LiveJournal, and Hi5 have 46% male and 54% female users. Facebook has 43% male users and 57% female users. Imeem and Twitter have 41% male and 59% female users. Ning has 39% male and 61% female users. Xanga, Classmate.com, and MySpace have a ratio of 36% male and 66% female users. The last one in the list, Bebo, has 34% male and 66% female users.
This means that on 16 social networking sites out of 19 there are more female than male users or on 84% of them. Facebook and Twitter have almost the same male-female ratio. Bebo, MySpace, and Classmate.com are more female sites where females more dominate, while Slashdot, Reddit, and Digg are more male sites with more male users. Average male-female ratio for all 19 websites is 47% male and 53% female users.
“People’s experiences with social networking, however, are as different as the choices they make online.” (Mooney, 2009)
Although social networks have many flaws that affect everyone’s life as far as safety and privacy are concerned, still millions of people use social networking and social networking is part of everyday life. Many people gain profit or benefit in another way on someone else’s account with the help of the information they provide across social networking websites.
The good side of social networking is the development of mental abilities and discovering their own talents that were in them. Social networking allows us not to remain limited in time and space in order for further development. Social networking helps us to reduce unemployment, and to increase knowledge and literacy. Overall, the concept of social networking facilitates our development and represents yet another step forward in technological advancement.
Advantages of social networking are many. Users can communicate freely, discuss on different topics or about any brand available, share information, receive some kind of help when needed, and exchange videos and pictures. Users can also meet new people, search for users that share the same specific interests, find old friends or classmates with whom they lost touch, or even find future lover or spouse.
Professional people who are using social networking sites can increase their customer base, raise the visibility of their company, advertise and promote their company or service, communicate with their customers, get feedback, search for a job or employees, etc. Reasons why many people choose social networking as a medium for advertising and communicating is because it is very cost effective and not that time consuming as the traditional way of advertizing. The user can also communicate with many users at the same time, and there are no geographical or any other boundaries. (Mooney, 2009)
Students can learn and study online with the usage of social networking websites, communicate with their professor who can be anywhere in the world, which is their advantage for receiving a better education than before. Another interesting thing that is like an advantage for users is that they can spend as much time as they want on social networking sites, or practice their hobby with others just like them.
Another advantage of social networking websites is the sense of belonging. Some users who do not have the ability to easily communicate with people in everyday life during the discussions and commenting on photos over social networking websites gain a sense of belonging and to them are then easier to communicate in a society, or go out with friends, etc.
Contextual advertising network implies that the ads shown are focused more on real needs and habits of users of these networks, which means that users can actually see an ad for a product that they really need, rather than constantly be overwhelmed with those who are tedious and boring. (Zarrella, 2009)
Political parties have also recognized the enormous potential of the Internet as a medium so that a good part of last year’s U.S. presidential race was led through MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. After all, a great faith that President Barack Obama invested in the social networking potential to get to voters of younger population earned him the nickname of first “Internet president.
Yet this is a time when the Vatican opened its site on the Internet, and many of the royal families and governments have profiles on social networking sites. They all think that social networking is the easiest way and great advantage to inform the general public, and, again, get feedback, reactions and suggestions.
Simple example that shows advantages of social networking websites is related to Croatia, Europe. After last year’s disappearance of Australian backpacker Britt Lapthorne in Dubrovnik, the group was created on the Facebook, which was used for communication of her relatives and friends, but also that anyone who knew anything about her and the whole case could report it there.
Although advantages of social networking are many, we also have to mention the disadvantages that are related to this phenomenon.
Most users of social networking sites share their personal information, but whether that information is accurate, or whether the person is really the one who she presents herself to be in the virtual world? The problem with social networking websites is that there are no clear spatial, temporal or cultural boundaries. Problem here is how to prove which information is accurate and which is not. We can do that in many ways in the real world, but when it comes to the virtual world how we can know whom to trust or not. Although many people want to build their reputation through social networking websites which is closely related to their jobs, promotions or even enlightenments, and don’t have the need to present themselves to be someone they are not, still there are many users who are presenting themselves inaccurately. Because of that, and because there is no way to check the accuracy of someone’s personal information in the virtual world, the digital identity is in crisis. (Furht, 2010)
Many people say they do not want to use social networking sites because they violate privacy. Networked environment has collected a large amount of personal information about their users, including our habits, preferences, educational information, etc. Many of this information are considered very private. The Facebook, which had more than 500 million users worldwide, has the largest database of personal information in the world. The most common information that users share on the social networking websites is:
Many marketing agencies are collecting this information about users’ background, education, and preferences for their own benefit. The interesting thing arises from the fact that the active participation in such networks is necessary to provide the described type of information. (Furht, 2010)
Recently, based on public pressure, Facebook decided to allow users privacy settings. Specifically, earlier the privacy did not exist by default, and personal pages and activities were available to all users of Facebook.
Databases that have social services could be considered as a form of merchandise, while sales of user’s personal information is nothing less than a trade. Marketing industry in this way has many times benefited by collecting huge amount of potential customers, with buying not only contact information, but also a preference for a particular brand, style and more. This leads us to spam which can be very annoying and tedious. (Zarrella, 2009)
Now there is a solution even for that. The plug-in called Disconnect will allow you to become invisible. At least as far as social networking websites and other major services on the Internet are concerned, Disconnect plug-in will block all of their requirements for access to your personal information. Disconnect was developed by Brian Kennisha, former worker at Google, and it is designed against all those who are collecting information about you in some way, whether you know it or not. (Zarrella, 2009)
Besides protecting you from tracking the surfing, Disconnect helps you during the search within Google so that the results will be unrelated to your previous searches and habits that Google monitors. Most impressive is the counter of blocked requests – the browser will notify you at any time about the total number of blocked requests for your information, and if you need of some service or website to monitor you, that can easily be adjusted. (Zarrella, 2009)
But also there is data theft by other individuals who can harm users in many ways just by collecting a little information about them, which they share on the social networking sites. Those individuals can present themselves to be some other person from whom they have stolen private information, and by that they can negatively affect someone’s personal and professional life. With little information collected, it is possible for hackers to access someone’s credit card information and steal money from them. (Mooney, 2009)
Corporate espionage or industrial espionage is the process of collecting private information from our business competitors, used for economic reasons in order to gain a business advantage over competitors. One of the ways today’s espionage works involves collecting information through social networking websites. (Furht, 2010)
When the users themselves first accepted the Web 2.0 phenomenon, many believed that it represents an expenditure of useful time. Organizations were concerned about the time employees spend on social networking websites while they are at work in the company because they were spending company’s network bandwidth or they can cause harm to the company by revealing company’s secret information. (Bernal, 2010)
In the year, 2009 such view has changed and companies widely accepted use of social networking. Social networking sites became medium for companies to communicate with their customers and share information. We can say that today’s business world can hardly ignore usage of social networking, but usage of social networking still carries a certain risk regarding revealing of classified information. (Bernal, 2010)
Social engineering is a collection of different modes of attacks, which are used by hackers to bypass network security mechanisms and to get access to sensitive company information – not using the technology, but the employees. Hackers rely on this mode of attack if the company’s network is very well protected, or if they have not found a way to enter the network using standard methods of attack. Then they try to collect as much information as possible about the company and employees, focusing on the vulnerability of individual employees. (Furht, 2010)
Social engineering attacks via social networking are growing more and more every day, and often risks of company’s IT infrastructure are underestimated. Usually, information is collected unnoticeably and gradually, piece by piece. For social engineering social networking can be a very important tool in an organized attack on the company, because attackers can see connections between employees, probably a lot of information about the company and its shareholders. Also if an employee shares information about his position in the company, it can be a serious security problem. (Furht, 2010)
For many companies, the idea of controlling their employees regarding visiting social networking websites while they are at work was considered very simple and straightforward. They simply put a ban on the use to this kind of sites and consider that is enough, but it is not. It takes a lot more subtle control, such as monitor certain types of information that is coming out from the company, but the education of employees is also very important.
Many doctors are saying that social networking can cause addiction, and for those who developed this kind of addiction life without internet is very hard. These people cannot spend a day without visiting social networking sites. Often, this is because they have problems in real life, so they are trying to replace it with virtual one, thereby neglecting the real world in which they live. (Wilson, Fornasier & White, 2010)
Scientists believe that new technologies like e-mail, SMS, and social networking websites are not good for the brain because they are distracting from important things, and can result in difficulties in long-term memory and mental performance. (Wilson, Fornasier & White, 2010)
In addition, social networking can harm user’s real life and interpersonal communication. Everyday more and more people are replacing real conversations and socializations with virtual ones, which is not healthy and can lead to alienation, and anti-social behavior. Researches in the United Kingdom have shown that social networking is the third among addictions, behind coffee and chocolate. (Wilson, Fornasier & White, 2010)
This issue has attracted the attention of many researches, but also parents, teachers, psychologists. Every day an increasing number of children are becoming users of social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter or MySpace or other social networking websites specially designed for children. (Mooney, 2009)
Facebook and MySpace require users to have at least 13 years. Many researches showed that many children are using social networking websites, although they are not 13 years old. However, there is no practical way to verify age. Negative effect of social networking can be seen in the development of child relationships and their psychological development. Children can easily become targets of online predators or cyber bullying through social networking websites. (Mooney, 2009)
With the increased popularity of social networking sites and exponential growth of users on those sites, many things have changed. First and most important is the way in which people communicate among themselves. Second is how people conduct their business and advertise.
“Before, the notion of “keeping in touch” was hard work. It required one if not both parties to actively pursue contact on an at least somewhat regular basis. Communication required time and planning. Social networking sites, on the other hand, are designed for easy, lightweight, ad hoc communication.” (Shih, 2009, p.45)
People are communicating in many ways via social networking websites. They communicate on forums, blogs, chats, by posting comments and messages on someone’s profile, sending private messages, etc. The reason why social networking is so popular is because it is very simple and user-friendly. Social networking provides interaction with a structure, giving it a whole new dimension with “one-to many” communication style. This means that when user shares some content on a forum, blog, or profile it can be seen by many other users. (Shih, 2009)
Users can easily find any information they want. They can discuss different topics with others who have similar interests, read news, gain knowledge about almost anything, receive help, etc. Direct communication with companies is available with social networking. Users can give and get feedback about any brand, good or service. In addition, communication with governments is simplified with the evolution of the phenomenon called social networking.
You can find a completely new way in which people communicate using abbreviations. Nowadays, that is very popular across users of social networking websites. Some abbreviations are representing whole sentences in just a few letters. (Kelsey, 2010) Here are some examples listed on the webpage WebAcronyms.com:
AAMOF As A Matter Of Fact
BRB Be Right Back
G2G Got to go
GAL Get A Life
HHVF Ha-ha, Very Funny
HIWTH Hate It When That Happens
HMIHY How May I Help You?
HOAS Hold On A Second
HTH Hope That Helps
LOL Laughing Out Loud
YW You’re Welcome
TY Thank You
LTNS Long Time No See
The list goes on, but this can give an insight how communication amongst people became practical, and how you can tell many things with abbreviations used across forums, blogs, or any other social networking website. However, these abbreviations are used only in informal communication. In formal communication, nothing is changed when it comes to grammar, spelling, nor it will be. (Kelsey, 2010)
“Early research already shows that bringing networks online makes people more capable and efficient at accumulating, managing, and exercising social capital. Consciously or unconsciously, people are using sites like Facebook and LinkedIn as tools for maximizing their social capital from relationships.” (Shih, 2009, p. 44)
Social networking is all about communication. This can be referred to communication among private users, or communication between users and companies. Companies can benefit from those communications in many ways. They can keep their customers or gain new ones. Companies are also able to promote their business and raise visibility via social networking websites, and at the same time, they can decrease cost for doing that.
The classic marketing is based largely on advertising through the mass media, TV, radio, print and outdoor advertising. Advertising is one way and it is extremely difficult to measure results, which can also be imprecise. In online marketing, a major part is the interaction between advertisers and clients. Measurability of results is much more precise which allows daily tracking of results and if necessary, it is very easy to make changes and corrections in the marketing campaign. The vast majority of potential customers are informed through the Internet as any company that decides to put online advertising in an exceptional competitive advantage. There is a big difference in the budgeting of online marketing campaigns, which can be to ten times cheaper than conventional marketing. (Zarrella, 2009)
In the last few years, social networking has changed the way that companies conduct business; create new products, and how they treat their customers. This is because social networking increased the power of communities, rather than institutions. News spread quickly over social networking websites, and everything about everyone in known, so companies have to meet even higher standards for the quality of their products and services in order to retain customer loyalty. Customers who use social networks are less loyal to one brand because of much information available about them from non-institutional sources. The Internet is the only medium in which the community has confidence. Online, consumers are buying airline tickets, tours, publications of news; share health tips, or create their own products using technology within clustered social networks. (Zarrella, 2009)
Internet is used as a channel to gain information about products. Most users are informed about the product on the internet before they decide to purchase it. This means that those brands that have a good reputation have a much greater chance of success. However, it is not enough just to be present on the Internet. Achieving success requires a lot of work, as in every other area. This includes market research of potential customers and competitors, and adaptation to their wants and needs.
Companies that have recognized the importance of social networks have begun to create new products that use the synergy of functionality and creativity, thus providing a sense of experiencing the product through a new dimension. Because of that, Apple and Volkswagen were discussing a joint production of cars called iCar, Prada started working with mobile phone manufacturer, and laptops are designed in a Ferrari. These examples show that the products, which were previously one-dimensional, are not successful that much anymore because consumers are looking for something more in products that they buy; something that will extract the product from the masses.(Ahram, Karwowski & Amaba, 2011)
Differences between the various industries will slowly disappear through a partnership, in order to create stronger links between producers and consumers. Apple is one of the companies that are using social networking in the best way, combining hardware, software and internet, or iPod and iTunes online store, earning millions of dollars in a very short period of time. Phillips Electronics and a manufacturer of ready-made foods Sara Lee joined, creating the Senseo coffee machine which was sold in millions of copies, thanks to social networking. A further decline in price will help the development of social networking in highly populated markets. (Ahram, Karwowski & Amaba, 2011)
In addition, the way in which people advertize is changed. Social networking websites started the revolution in advertising. For the first time ever, companies are coming directly to customers in their virtual homes thanks to social networking and open up a completely new channel of communication with them. The ultimate goal of social networking marketing is to attract a potential customer to their websites, but also to encourage communication with users through comments, statuses and other tools available on social networking websites. (Zarrella, 2009)
Social networking websites have become a mirror of a person’s entire life. Users share personal information such as name, surname, home address, phone number, videos and pictures from private life, pay bills, buy goods, and many other things that involve some private information.
Security issues are the most important things to consider when using social networking sites. It is very important which information users are sharing, and which information they should not share ever because theft of personal information can be very dangerous and complicated. Before joining any social networking website, it is very important to be aware of existing threats, to be familiar with common forms of malware programs and types of attacks, and to become familiar with security tools. One should know that by using social networking websites, each user disclaims a part of its policy. (Furht, 2009)
British company for security and control, Sophos, has announced the results of the research on abuse of social networking websites. According to the survey, in which participated 709 users, 63% of the system administrators is concerned about the fact that too many employees are sharing their personal information through social networking profiles, and thus their security or security of a company’s infrastructure and confidential information is in danger. (Sophos (n.d.))
Studies have also shown that a quarter of survey participants were victims of a spam (each message that is considered undesirable), phishing (the illegal production and exploitation of people’s confidential or sensitive information) or malicious software attacks on social networking websites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace. (Sophos (n.d.))
According to studies, about 40% of social networking users are willing to share personal information with strangers. This information can help hackers guess user passwords, which are then used for monitoring and identity theft. Thus, all users are suggested to share very little information on social networking websites. (Sophos (n.d.))
One more reason why we need to be careful about what we share over social networking websites is something we shared while we were young, and something that was funny back then, can harm us in the future. Maybe that is some photo or video of us that at first appears harmless, but can do us harm later on in our professional and private lives.
Social networking is a part of our lives, and that is something that we cannot escape from, but we can protect ourselves, and minimize risks related to social networking. Here are some tips which can help minimize risks related to social networking.
Within your profile or discussion do not mention personal information such as phone numbers, address, social security number, or any other personal information. The less data you share over social networking websites the less interesting target for identity theft, stalking or harassment you become. In addition, the date of birth, company you work in, or school you attended is not necessary that everybody knows.(Kesley, 2010)
As in real life, thoughtless actions can follow you through all your life, and the problem with social networking websites is that, once you have written or send something, there is no turning back. Even if you try later to delete or take back things you have written or send, you cannot because it is spread all over the Internet, and you do not have control over this information anymore. (Kesley, 2010)
They can be perfect friends and you can get the feeling that you understand each other perfectly, but in reality, you probably do not know them at all. On social networking websites and on the Internet in general, people are hiding mostly behind the nicknames and other people’s pictures and made-up descriptions. If you or some of your real life friends do not know that person from real life, there is a great chance that behind the image of cartoon characters or good-looking model could be anyone, good or bad person. (Kesley, 2010)
Everyone from your friends, relatives, teachers, police and even thieves can see everything that you post and share across social networking websites. Therefore, be careful with information you share which can hurt you or someone close to you later in the future, or generally in not for public. Consider the social networking websites as a stage with a full audience – although you are able to see only those who are on the stage, you never know who is watching or even recording you from the background. Although the number of spectators in the audience can be reduced by your privacy settings, it still does not guarantee you that information will not expand over the Internet. (Kesley, 2010)
Probably no one of us would accept any gift from the unknown person in the real life, so why should you do that in the virtual one? Requests for the friendship, virtual gifts and other things at first glance do not seem that important for us in the real life, but can do us harm if based on them someone earns our trust. Also, do not believe everything you see on social networking websites, false news, processed images and the like is very common on the Internet, so before believing this information, make sure you know from whom you received the information. (Kesley, 2010)
Using the free wireless network is particularly dangerous, but simple tools in the form of plug-in for the browser are enough to become a victim of identity theft. Although the most popular social networking websites began to take in an account the security of users, things over social networking websites change slowly and users are usually left alone to care for their own safety. (Kesley, 2010)
Password protects your account from unauthorized use by others. Therefore, carefully choose a password that would be quite complicated, but on the other hand easy to remember (keep them written down in a safe place in case you forget them). Also, use a different password for each service. In this way, you exclude the possibility of theft of all accounts you have on the Internet. (Kesley, 2010)
Well check your privacy settings
Within social networking websites settings, network settings, or any other setting check who has access to your data in any form. In addition, be careful to additional services and applications that you use over social networking websites because often they have a lot more rights than you think, so check the status of these additional applications and services so that your information through them would not be publicly available. (Kesley, 2010)
“During identity theft, criminals acquire key pieces of personal identifying information-such as name, address, date of birth, SSN, mother’s maiden name, employment information, credit information, and other vital facts—in order to impersonate and defraud the victim. This information enables the thief to commit numerous forms of fraud, including taking over the victim’s financial accounts; applying for loans, credit cards, and Social Security benefits; purchasing homes and cars; and establishing services with utility and phone companies.” (Biegelman, 2009, p. 2)
Identity theft can affect personal life of one whose data are stolen, but also professional part of life because those data can be misused for the purpose of creating false profiles and presenting them as real ones. With few data, hacker can steal money from them, take loans, charge credit cards or even do bigger harm such as doing criminal offenses under the name of the victim(s). Identity thieves, in most cases, resell a lot of information they have stolen and collected in their identity theft actions. Victims of identity theft usually have many problems with cleaning up the mess that thieves caused, and it takes times for that cleaning. Cleaning up includes the elimination of financial obligations and liabilities, and criminal records that thieves did under victim’s name. The police, courts, news media, credit bureaus, data aggregators, and others may keep the records. (Kim, Jeong, C. Kim & So, 2010)
Statistics show that victims know their attackers (identity thieves) in more that 25% cases, which means that every fourth victim knows their attacker. When it comes to attacker, they know their victims in 40% of cases, and other 60% of cases are random victims. (Boyer, 2008)
Statistics also show that in 70% of all cases, identity thieves do not have prior felonies, and those are their first ones. When it comes to male-female ratio, one-third of all identity thieves are females, which is by far much higher percentage than in other crimes. (Boyer, 2008)
The good news is that identity thieves attack easy targets, where they can act fast and gain as much profit as possible in short period of time. This means that users who are well educated about risks, which use firewalls, anti-virus and spyware tools and update them frequently, who use strong passwords, do not share much personal information across social networking sites are at lower risk of identity theft. Users who are careless about information they share, websites they visit, who use the same password for every website, do not use or update anti-virus and spyware tools, do not use firewalls, or are just not educated enough about risks are perfect candidates for identity theft, and are often target of attackers. (Boyer, 2008)
There are many issues regarding procedures how to delete your user account on social networking website, and what data remains after deleting the account?
The theme is, as in the real life, more complicated than it appears at first sight. Virtual social suicide (i.e., deleting the account) cannot solve problems that you probably struggling with, but probably can help you feeling better. The important thing that has to be stressed out is that once the data transmitted to the internet remain there virtually forever, stored deep in the archives of social networking websites, whether we like it or not.
Procedure for deletion of your account is almost the same for all social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. You open your privacy settings, go to the option which says deactivate or delete your account, confirm that you want that action to be done by entering your password or by clicking a few times to ensure the system that it is not a mistake, and after those few steps your account is deleted or deactivated, depending on the social networking website. However, the data (messages, photos, or videos) that you have entered so far remain in the archive, depending on the social networking site inaccessible for others, and not published, but never erased. If necessary, the owners of an account will be able to return to that social networking website whenever he wants, and all of his data will be reconstructed like he never have left from that social networking website.
A better way to delete user accounts and data would be to delete all your comments and files (photos, videos, etc.) one by one, and delete all of your relationships with other people. What will remain essentially is an empty user account, which ultimately is not so bad, and you would still have control over it. The process is time consuming, but if you want to delete your account this is probably the best way to do that. There was a software called Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, which automatically was deleting all your data for you, but social networking providers were against it, and now that software is unavailable.
Social networking has become an unavoidable part of everyday life, and is gathering millions of users in one place. The development and popularity of communication via the Internet are reasons why the social networking is constantly gaining popularity. Simplicity and ease of accessing an unfamiliar person, based on common interests has never been easier.
Social networking is the biggest breakthrough since the invention of the telephone, and the numbers of users and its constant exponential growth prove it. Social networking can be useful to us consumers in so many ways, but we have to be careful, because many opportunities bring many concerns and threats, too.
Therefore, before going online 100%, we have to educate ourselves about all those opportunities and threats, and we have to be careful about the information we share and collect. Using anti-virus tools, anti-spyware tools, and similar mechanisms of protection is crucial for secure usage of social networking websites.
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