Online Networking – A growing Phenomenon

by Michael Smith

Online social and also professional networks and special interest nets are growing at a phenomenal rate and new ones are springing up everywhere.

It more or less – I mean properly – all took off with Facebook before it even became open to the public, so to speak. Once it was made open to the public the rocketed and every other one followed.

Fair enough, online networks of one kind or the other were available for some time – probably even before Facebook became open – such as Yahoo Groups, for instance, and bulletin boards and forums but the new networks made it much more personal and more efficient, probably.

Facebook was soon followed by other social and business networking tools and more and more of then are getting up on an almost weekly basis.

Some are just social networks really for the younger generation but then again they can, to a degree, be utilized too as tools for marketing as, as is the case with Twitter, others are also coming to use this service nowadays.

The old networks have not had their days as yet either, such as Yahoo Groups and/or forums. It is often a case of “horses for courses”, even though to some the likes of Yahoo Groups and Bulletin Boards, and even Forums, seem to be a little something out of the time of Noah's Ark. But, as said, they have their uses still and should, I think, remain for those that wish to use them, though I am well aware that Yahoo groups are no longer as much in use as they used only a couple of years back.

Facebook and others are different and obviously more sophisticated as well.

And there are other networking platforms out there that work on a different level still, such as Twitter, as an example.

Then there are the so-called Social Bookmarking Sites such as Yahoo's “My Web 2.0”, which, alas is being terminated. Then there is Digg, Delicious, and numerous others that do the same thing, more or less. I began using those when I was using Yahoo – I still use Yahoo and am rather sore that they are canceling the “My Web 2.0” thing – as a means of storing bookmarks “in the cloud”, so to speak, while also sharing them with friends and the greater public. Now I am forced to go over to Delicious. I guess this will not be the greatest of hardships either but...

OK, but I digressed a little...

In addition to the “normal” social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and such, there are the social business networks such as LinkedIn, and a variety of others.

To be perfectly honest, it is becoming difficult to keep up with all of them and it would appear that new ones pop up on an almost weekly basis or such. And to keep track of them could end up a full-time occupation. Mind you, not that you could even remotely hope to participate in more than a small number of them. Just keeping track of them as to existence, names and such is not very easy.

Application of Social Media

There are a number of ways that social media and social networking is being used and can be used, from purely personal to purely business and all stops in between.

Social Use

Who and what really started this all may be a little difficult to ascertain nowadays – then again maybe it is just me – but online (social) networks of one kind or the other are not totally new. Tt did not just start with Facebook.

While the opening of this platform to people in general – for it was initially part of a college Intranet – cause the explosion of this phenomenon Facebook sue was not the first system of this kind.

If I am not mistaken the first such platforms were the likes of “Friends Reunited” and such may have been some of the first if not indeed the first real social networks online. However, those were not free services; all had a financial subscription in those dark days.

Today the choice, as I have said, of platforms is legion for social networking on a variety of different levels and at a variety of depths.

Now we also have the likes of Twitter with us which are and were initially and primarily used as a platform for sending SMS style messages, that is to say cell phone text messages; hence the restriction to the number of characters in a message for a post. I think they call them “tweets”.

Facebook too still has its limitations as far as updates are concerned and there too is a limitation as to the number of characters a message can have. But one does have the option of posting notes on Facebook where there does not seem to be a restriction in the number of characters.

Then again anyone wishing to do in depth discussions could use a forum of kinds, and many of the platforms, other than Facebook, do have such facilities, such as CollectiveX. It is all a matter, as I said before, of “horses for courses”.

Business Use

Facebook has been used here for a fairly long time already by those in the know, especially also in its early days, as a fundraising tool by NGOs and those wishing to aid such organizations.

Many of the larger media groups and newspapers can also now be found on Facebook, such as the New York Times, as well as major charities, NGOs, etc.

Twitter, though primarily an application that was intended to be used from mobile clients, e.g. cell phones, is being used now by businesses, government departments, politicians, causes and, in the UK even HM the Queen.

Causes of various kinds have established social networks/business networks and then there are the more or less business ones such as LinkedIn, or the ConnectX platform, which is used by groups, families, clubs, societies, communities, causes, businesses nets, such as green nets, etc., etc.

Oh my, and I have just noticed that in all of this I have forgotten “MySpace” but, then again, I do not find that an all that useful application.

The Future?

Well, I am not psychic so I have no idea where this is all going to lead and where we are headed in this but the potentials for this, in my opinion, are huge. But there are two sides to this coin, obviously, also, for the applications can be used for good as well as for bad.

How much, however, should those online social networks, and even if they are being used by good causes and charities, and businesses, be used for marketing?

Should this be not much more something about building communities and relationships;; first online and then, maybe, also afterwards in real life? When I say here “relationships” I do not mean those in the realm of sexual relationships or leading to such. Relationships are much more than that and should be much more than that. They should also be about communities and helping and such and there some of those nets have already shown some worth.

Where we are going with this is, to a great degree, up to us who are going to use such online social (and business/social) networks and whether we want to be bombarded with ads and marketing or whether we want something else.

The Internet allows us, the users, to define how things are being used and in which way and it is also we, the users, that tell the developers what we want and how we want it used. User power is definitely the rule here.

The problem that is beginning to arise though is that the powers that be are running scared of the social media, be this networks or Bloggers and are looking for ways to control the activities via legislation and forcing ISPs to keep records and all that. All with the usual mantra of wanting to “protect the children”.

If they are interested in protecting children online then why do they not provide filtering software for free to parents. From a conversation that I have had with some folks they have even refused to take up offers from software companies to receive those free from the developers for free distribution. It has nothing to do with “protecting the children” but everything to do with wanting to control the medium of the Internet.

Sorry, I did digress a little here and shall save the rest of that subject for another time.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009