Online social networking is a relatively new concept, but a version of it has been around since the beginning of the commercial Web. Social networks themselves are also somewhat new, having only been around in their current form since 2003 or so, but earlier models served in their stead in days past. Bulletin board systems like America Online served as the social networks of their time, providing a home base where users could contact other users, as well as user profiles.
Today, social networks serve as communications hubs and even the portals of yesteryear. Increasingly, they are also becoming search engines and indeces of commentary and user information. Many people share personal details on these networks - details that can be used by others, including law enforcement officials, media outlets, and advertisers. Security of one's personal information on social networks has become a major issue in recent months. Many search engines now include social networks in their search returns, pulling information from sites like Twitter and MySpace.
Facebook remains the leader in the field, though some critics say it is losing steam. It has outlasted all the other social networks, few of which remain strong brands in today's market. These services include the aforementioned MySpace, which made a splash briefly in the '00s but has since floundered. Online giant Google also made several forays into the realm of social networking before settling on its current model, Google+. Facebook has outlasted them all, and continues to flourish.
However, Facebook was also at the forefront of the recent security controversy. It lost points when it was slow to respond to concerns, then overshot the mark and overwhelmed users with options. Facebook's personal security features remain difficult for the average user to navigate, but are a step in the right direction. Facebook has also drawn fire recently for the large purchase of Instagram, a photo service and application for computers, tablets, and mobile phones. It paid $1 billion for the small company with only 13 employees and 33 million users.
Twitter is another strong forerunner. Sometimes described as "electric graffiti," Twitter only allows 140 character messages, making it a microblogging site. These types of sites continue to grow in popularity as updating one's status message is a major part of social networking. Companies often use these sites for advertising and promotion.
Social networking is just as important to businesses as to individuals. Businesses can use them to organize communications and foster relationships with various people related to their operations. These include customers, dealers, retailers, distributors, and others. Social networks and microblogging sites are also great for keeping people apprised of sales, specials, and other events. Social media management is a large job that is often outsourced to SEM companies.
Though they have taken different shape over the years, social networking has been around in one form or another since the commercial Web began. Social networking continues to change and reshape the online world, but Facebook remains the leader. Social networks are not just for individuals; businesses can also use social networks to great effect.
I'm Burty, a geologist and freelance web designer based in Vancouver, Canada. I like music, gadget and love to sit in front of my computer.