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Social Network Websites - An Introduction

ring of friends depiction, sourced from http://www.masternewmedia.org/images/social_network_id469214_size440.jpg

Before the 21st century, the term "social network" was a term that only applied to the real (i.e., non-digital) world. Put in technical terms, a social network is comprised of nodes and connections. A node represents a person, and a connection might signify a friendship or acquaintance. In hindsight, it was inevitable that social network services would become so predominant on the internet. After all, the internet itself is a global network of personal (and business) computers! It is almost a natural assumption these days that a young person will have created their Facebook and/or MySpace profile.

My own first exposure to social network sites was several years ago with Friends Reunited, a site that allows people to reconnect with former school friends. However, its early incarnation was not as it is today. That, and many simiar sites, have since conformed to what we would expect a social network site to be, with articulated, navigable lists of friends and free-of-charge messaging facilities, amongst other services. In essence, that and many other sites has upgraded to "Web 2.0" - the next generation of internet services.

Two years ago, I created my MySpace profile. I heard about it from my work colleagues, and my assumption was that it was an attempt to give anyone without any web publishing skills a chance to publish their page on the internet, in a sense having a small piece of the web to themselves. I was right, to a certain extent, but the main point of MySpace (and other social websites) is not so much to publish, but to participate in a virtual community and give users the facility to easily connect with people from their real-life social networks (or people they knew in the past). I have since joined the Facebook bandwagon and connected with former classmates whom I have not spoken to for years. After all, I would never think to email those people (or indeed know their email addresses), but with Facebook's search facility, I have my entire social past at my fingertips.

On Just Friends?, we explore many aspects of social network websites, from information about several featured sites, through ethical issues, to how users can protect themselves online.

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