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Social networking brings people together

September 14, 2009

Think of a topic, any topic. Or a group. Or a personal interest. Chances are, you can find a social networking site on the internet catering to it.

The sites are as numerous as they are diverse.

But without question, the two big boys of the social networking world are Myspace and Facebook, with the latter increasingly becoming the site of choice for users.

But for the uninformed, just what is social networking? And when did it start?

Let's answer the second question first. It's much simpler.

The modern incarnation of social networking can be traced back to the addition of the Friendster website to the World Wide Web in March of 2003.

The original purpose of Friendster was to allow people to browse user profiles and make friends over the internet, as well as sharing files and content.

The premise is sound. It's an easy way to catch up with old friends who have moved far away, as well as be introduced to new people you might not have met before.

While that's still the general purpose of social networking sites, their usage and utility has grown exponentially, more so than even the original developers likely could have imagined.

Fastforward to August of 2003. A few employees of eUniverse who had Friendster accounts noticed the sites possibilities for growth and decided to create their own site.

Dubbed Myspace, it's original intention was to be an online site to store and share data, but it's emphasis quickly shifted to social networking.

The sight was re-designed in 2007 and again in 2008 and for a while was the most popular social networking site around.

People were able to create profiles, upload their pictures, make friends, post blogs, join discussion and fan groups, you name it.

A key feature was the customization options were users' pages. Not only could pictures be uploaded, but Youtube videos could be added to members' pages. The background for the page is also customizable. And even though most Myspace users don't have a working knowledge of computer programming and coding, there are a number of sites available online that assists users in coding to further add to their pages.

Another key aspect is the Myspace Music section where established artists, as well as up-and-coming and less known acts could have their own pages, depicting upcoming tour dates, band information and even a few songs for fans' listening pleasures.

Two local artists, Katie Orlofske and the Joe Zelek Band, both have myspace pages.

They, like so many other bands, have utilized the internet to get their music to the masses in ways artists even 10 years ago couldn't have imagined.

Facebook, originally dubbed TheFacebook, was created by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg. It was originally limited to Harvard students.

In March of 2004, it expanded to Stanford, Columbia and Yale, and then all Ivy League schools and further to most universities.

A high school version was launched in 2005. But still, members had to be a student of some sort to gain access which limited access.

Finally, on Sept. 26 of 2006, the site caved and allowed access to anyone age 13 and older with a valid email address.

Myspace and Facebook share a lot of the same features, but where Facebook really shines is its applications.

Any site can give users the option to share pictures, make friends and but Facebook took it a step further with a whole litany of applications.

There are hundreds of addicting mini-games that can be played to soak up countless hours of time that could otherwise be spent doing something productive. There are games like Mob Wars, Mafia Wars and the most recent craze, Farm Town.

Do they have a point? Not really. Are they fun? The ratings and number of users points to a resounding yes.

Myspace has tried to jump on board and add these types of features and while they went over well, the damage had already been done.

Facebook passed Myspace in the number on unique visitors per month midway through 2008 and hasn't looked back since.

It also seems to be the site of choice for adult users. Parents and even grandparents are getting in on the craze.

One aspect of both sites which is lampooned as much as it's lauded is the status-message update.

Basically, you're able to tell the world whatever it is you are doing at that moment. A website, Twitter, is solely based around the updating of status messages.

In other words, if you want to tell everyone on your friends list that you're at the store and will be back in an hour, it's your prerogative to do so.

People do that. Others feel the need to update every mundane detail of their life on their status message. It boarders on narcissism, but it's all in good fun.

The one drawback to sites like Myspace and Facebook is that they take away the one-on-one interaction and method of truly getting to know someone in person. Most users are more than willing to offer up images and words describing themselves that would take someone in real life months to get to know through conversation.

Then again, you could look at it from a different point of view. After a few minutes or so of browsing someone's profile, you can get a pretty good view of their personality and outlook on life. If it doesn't mesh with yours, there's no need to pursue a conversation and you can decide to move on. It works both ways.



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