Social networks have become the de facto portals of the modern era, replacing such sites as Yahoo and AOL. Many users turn to them for website and product recommendations, as well as trending topics. Musicians and entertainers are utilizing social networks as promotional tools, as are businesses and enterprising individuals, while others use them to remain in contact with friends and family and meet new people. Their influence over the Web continues to grow, and some find it threatening.
Yahoo and Facebook are currently involved in a legal battle over copyright infringement. Yahoo threw down the gauntlet when it accused Facebook of violating technological copyrights. Facebook responded by countersuing the former online giant for the same. While this situation plays out in court, the number of social networks and their popularity makes more cases like this one seem inevitable.
Google and other major search engines have started including status updates from the more popular social networks in their search results. This also allows users to track trending subjects on both social networks and search engines through the search engines alone. Some argue that this is intrusive, and a few of the networks allow users to opt out of having their accounts included in search engine results.
Google has gone even further, launching its own social network, Google+. Although it was the fastest growing social network of all time, statistics indicate that Google's users spend far less time on the network than they do on competing services, such as Facebook. Google also integrated personal search recommendations into its search results. These +1 "votes" for content are shared with users' friends and connections when they opt to include them in their search returns. This option was inspired by social networking.
Facebook continues to lead the pack, with the highest number of engaged users. It is also still growing, despite recent controversies over security measures and redesign efforts. Most recently, Facebook came under fire for spending a whopping $1 billion for the image service, Instagram. Orkut and Bebo are more popular in foreign countries than in the United States.
Social networking started in earnest with MySpace, when a number of celebrities adopted the service as a promotional tool. MySpace's popularity was soon eclipsed by Facebook once it allowed users from anywhere and not just college students. These networks have replaced a number of services that have been in use for years, including IRC, forums and message boards, and chatrooms. They have also inspired "microblogging" sites such as Twitter, which has also been adopted by a number of celebrities.
Finally, a number of related services and cottage industries have sprung up around social networks. These services include such things as Klout, which measures a user's influence through social networks. Another is FavStar, which offers all sorts of bonus features to enhance the Twitter experience. Some of these services will be bought out by the network they support, while others will fail, and still others may become the next big thing. The future of social networking is anyone's guess.
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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.