No.1 Social Networking Site: The Web

On: September 26, 2009
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About Niels de Hoog
I received my bachelor's degree in Communication Studies from the VU University Amsterdam and I am currently a New Media MA student. My interests stretch from new media to film, arts, music, and pretty much everything else.

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http://www.nielsjonathan.nl    

When discussing social networking sites and social networking as a phenomenon, why do we only mention websites like Facebook, MySpace, Hyves, etc? The web itself is a social networking tool down to its core. When the internet was created, its purpose was clear: facilitating easy collaboration and sharing of information between computer users. This purpose is clearly social. The internet was created to connect people. Social networking sites do the same thing, the only difference being that they organize this exchange of information in a central place, making it easier to find what you are looking for.

To further explore the concept of the internet as a social networking site, let’s break down the concept of social networking into three parts:

Your Profile Page

Your blog could be thought of as your personal profile page. It contains information about who you are and what you are interested in. It might even have your picture on it. However, your information about yourself doesn’t have to be limited to your blog. It could be seen as a collection of information from all websites that contain anything about you, or anything posted by you. Your Facebook, MySpace, Hyves, etc. profile pages would also be a part of this.

Your Messages

Apart from your profile page, messaging is also an important part of social networking sites. It is how you stay in touch with your (virtual) friends. Going back to the the internet as a whole, email is the most obvious way of sending messages to your friends. But again, this could include other forms of communication, such as blog posts/comments, Twitter posts, etc.

Your Friends

The thing that really defines social networking sites is probably the ability to connect your profile to someone else’s by listing them as your friend. Managing, updating and expanding your list of friends is a major part of life on social networking sites. Is this really unique to social networking sites though? Don’t we constantly proclaim our connections every time we use a hyperlink. Every time we link to another web page from one of our own web pages we essentially define a relationship to that particular web page. Projects like XFN (Xhtml Friends Network) and FOAF (The Friend Of A Friend Project) even try to expand on this, by making it possible to define the relationship that goes with the link in more detail. For example: a link to your friend’s blog could contain rel=’friend’ to define that you are friends with the person or people behind that web page. In practice, it would look something like this: <a href=’myfriend.blogexample.com’ rel=’friend met’>. The use of these techniques further enhances the concept of the internet as a social network.

Google, which has always valued the implicit information associated with hyperlinks, also looks at the web as a huge social network. It has started a project called Social Graph API, which indexes websites based on the XFN and FOAF markup.

An example use of this API can be found on their website. This application shows you who you are connected to based on the websites that you claim to own. For example, you would enter the URLs for say your facebook profile, your linkedin profile and your blog, and then it comes up with a list of which web pages you are connected to and how.

I tried the application by adding my own blog and website url and then gave me link to my girlfriend’s blog together with the information that link belonged to my, and I’m quoting here, “sweetheart”. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people knowing that she is my girlfriend, not at all, but the concept scared me a little. However scary though, it is real. We are all connected on the web, and the information connecting us is out there for anyone to see. This makes the web not only the largest social network, but also the least private one.

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