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Social Networking Services

Introduction

The Internet is used for a variety of purpose, chief amongst them: information, resources, and entertainment. In the 1980's, the services on the Internet were basic and functional, created to serve universities, research laboratories and government agencies. Present day, 2014, the vast majority of Internet users access the Internet as a form of entertainment. One of the most popular entertainment services on the Internet are social networks. Social networks allows users to interconnect and share information.

Social networks on the Internet are typically referred to as a 'social networking service' or a 'social networking website'. While most social networking services are web based, there are also a variety of social networking services that are not: instant messaging clients; e-mail; and telecommunications application software. Social networking services are typically based around a user profile; users of the service connect to one another by exchanging profile details and creating a list of 'contacts' slash 'friends'.

The majority of w norldwide social networking services are based in the United States of America; however, there are plenty of social networking services that 'serve' a specific geographical region. The following is a list of popular, or, formerly popular, social networking services: Badoo, Bebo, Buzznet, Facebook, Faceparty, Flickr, Friendster, Friends Reunited, Google+, Habbo, hi5, Hyves, LinkedIn, Instagram, Myspace, Orkut, Pinterest, Renren, Vine, Tinder, Tumblr, Twitter, Uplike, Vkontakte, Xanga, and XING.

History of Social Networks on the Internet

The Internet has it's origins in the ARPANET computer network: one of the first wide area computer networks. The software systems which underpin the Internet evolved from the protocols developed for ARPANET. ARPANET was created so that universities and research labs could share information and resources. Of course, to share information, they needed to be able to communicate across the network. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson sent the first email, and it was sent on the ARPANET computer network.

ARPANET was funded by the U.S. federal government. ARPANET inspired the creation of more federally funded computer networks. The Internet was formed in the 1980's when these federal networks interconnected to become a 'network of networks'. The Internet was funded by the U.S. federal government to connect: universities, research labs, the military, and government agencies like NASA. The Internet was not created as a 'vehicle' for social interaction and entertainment, and access to the Internet was seen a privilege that only a small proportion of the world's population could access. Therefore, communication on the Internet was basic and functional; for example: bulletin board services (BBS) in the 1980's.

However, by the late 1980's, commercial networks were created - using the same software system (TCP/IP) as the federal networks - and access was sold to the general public. By 1992, it was decided by the U.S. federal government that it would stop funding the backbone networks of the Internet (federal networks like NSFNET) and that the Internet would be comprised of commercial backbone networks which would sell access to the general public and business.

It was during that era, when the Internet transitioned from federal to commercial control, that it became clear to developers that Internet services would need to be created that exceeded being simple functional: they would need to entertain. One of the first of these services was Internet Relay Chat (IRC): created in 1988, IRC is a protocol that provides instant text communication, and would inspire the creation of further instant messaging services like Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Messenger.

While some instant messengers - Skype and Yahoo! - evolved to become 'voice and video over IP services', social networking on the Internet would become dominated by the World Wide Web.

World Wide Web and Social Networking Websites

The World Wide Web was launched in 1991, and by 1995, websites like Yahoo! and Lycos had been established with the aim of becoming a 'hub' for online activities. Yahoo!, Hotmail and Lycos were some of the first websites to offer social services. The first social services provided by Yahoo! and Lycos were: email (webmail); bulletin board systems (forums); and instant messaging services (chat rooms). These services provided a rudimental social environment where users could interact online.

The majority of communication - on these early social systems - was conducted through anonymous 'nicks' or nicknames. It was not "common place" for people to interact online with their real world name, picture (thumbnail) and persona. Therefore, these early social networks were fragile and their social impact debatable. However, by the late 1990's, new social networking services were being developed: dating websites, and websites which reunited school friends (friendsreunited.co.uk). These social networks were more stable: as the majority of their users signed up with their real world details, and users became accustomed to not needing to 'hide' behind a 'nick' and online persona.

By 2003, it was becoming apparent that more and more Internet users were using the Internet for social interaction. In 2003, the following websites had been launched: Friendster, LinkedIn and MySpace. These websites pioneered the features found within modern social networking websites. Facebook was launched in 2004, Twitter was launched in 2006, and Google+ in 2011. These websites have become the dominant social networking services: over one billion Facebook accounts have been registered. Using these websites has become a daily habit for millions of people, and the social impact of these websites is immense.

Social Networking Websites: Features, Pros and Cons

Features

a) Enable users to create a public profile that can be accessed by all their contacts.

b) Provides a list of contacts that acquaintances can network with.

c) A history of content and interaction.

d) Creation of groups for like-minded individuals to share resources.

e) Email, instant messaging and video messaging features.

Pros

1) Convenience of sharing life events from one locations.

2) Sharing information with a minimum of social contact and effort.

3) Can interact with people who have similar interests and likes.

4) The cost of interaction is far less than with traditional communication technologies.

5) Maintain relationships with passing acquaintances and estranged friends.

6) Ease of organising real world events

7) Can promote businesses, social causes and educate.

Cons

Social networking websites have been criticised for the following:

1) Privacy and the long term effects of having a life published in digital data.

2) What the social network companies and governments may do with users data.

3) Stealing and spoofing of a real world identity

4) People stalking others and cyber bullying.

5) Impact of sharing information publicly in relation to employers.

6) Risk to children and teenagers of adult predators networking.

7) Impact of relying too heavily on social networking websites for socialising.

8) Over load of social interaction from too many contacts.

9) Impact of deleting contacts.


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