Social Frenzy

Social networks are becoming one of the fastest and largest growing trends the world has ever seen. They offer the ability of having one’s own personal “space” on some endlessly large entity we know as the Internet. Users all across the world are beginning to express their inner dialogue, sometimes their deepest, darkest secrets, to complete strangers. The year is 2010 and it is the first decade to begin with an Internet-driven social network that begs for expansion and connectedness. We have created a world where anyone with an Internet connection can read what you say, the second you say it. Two companies have emerged to compete for the attention of millions and become the top social networking site on the Internet: MySpace and Facebook. While MySpace created a foundation for a service that was desirable to many, by offering a large array of functions and instant communication with friends, Facebook has taken the lead with an ability to conform to user demands, by refining those functions (and creating some of their own, like Applications), while setting a new standard of communication: status updates, whereby users feel a sense of purpose by communicating openly with anyone and everyone.

2002 saw the launch of one of the first social networking websites, MySpace. Here was a free service where users could connect with many different people, learn about them intimately through the user’s profile, and then add them as a friend to begin conversation. Most logged in to talk to people they already knew, like classmates and coworkers. At this point there had never been anything quite like MySpace, in terms of pop culture appeal. Like many fads aimed at youngsters, appeal seemingly spread by word of mouth; you’d hear about it when you walked down the hallways at school; eventually, you heard about it at work; then, from the dreaded parents! MySpace’s beginnings were slow, but within months, millions embraced the idea of social networking and logged in; after 20 months the website had 14 million unique visitors (Rosenbush). However, as the website covered more ground and became a larger entity, critics began to talk of sexual predators and how their usage of the website may endanger children; this lead to doubt about whether or not a service like MySpace could legally sustain itself with personal information about kids available to strangers (“Making MySpace Safe For Kids”). The fear that children were in danger eventually faded as MySpace started to cooperate with law enforcement, removing all registered sex offenders accounts (90,000 removed since 2006); additionally, users between the ages of 13 and 15 had their accounts made private so no one but friends they added could see the information they had to share (Swartz). Privacy was the first hurdle social networking needed to pass in order to begin working on the more important aspects of the service; namely, intercommunication between users.

MySpace allowed users to communicate through its comment system, where they could leave notes on each other’s pages which could be any length and include pictures, videos, and songs. Seemingly, the intended purpose of MySpace’s comment system was to allow users get in contact with one another and provide a platform for ongoing conversation; however, an unforeseen event happened when companies and malicious computer hackers began using the system to advertise, corrupt, and take over users’ computers (Levy). Phony contests that say you could win an iPhone, after you take so many surveys, fill up your page but never deliver, as you get lost in a maze of online surveys. Meanwhile, malicious advertisers collect a small pension for each survey completed. This were possible through computer worms that would post comments, with links to surveys, under the guise of your friends. MySpace was greatly stymied because the ads slowed down the profile page and users got sick of all the clutter; from 2008 to 2009 MySpace saw a 17% drop in traffic, from 70.2 to 60 million unique visitors (Cava). Were these two situations related? Who knows? The fact remains, however, that MySpace’s comment system was easily corruptible and used to malicious ends by a small few who wanted to make some money by advertising through comments. MySpace was so successful because it allowed users to stay in contact with their friends simultaneously, at the click of a mouse; however, because of their inability to root out malicious users, and for allowing a flood of advertisements to fill the pages of many users, the website’s user base is slowly deteriorating.

Another big role in the downfall of MySpace has been played by Facebook, which entered the scene as a college-only social network in 2004; the website grew quickly among students, until eventually it opened its doors in 2006 to anyone 13 or older (Kornblum). With 400 million active users in 2009, Facebook proves to be one of the leading factors in the ever changing trends of our growing social world (“Statistics”). We have seen an explosion in the usage of social networking applications; a staggering 1 in 4 Internet users have signed up for Facebook: a website created out of the idea that we will be interested in what our friends have to tell us whenever they have something to tell (“World Internet Usage”). Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently said in an interview, “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people: That social norm is just something that has evolved over time” (Arrington).

Facebook’s communication system revolves around a feature they have created and dubbed “status updates.” Just like MySpace’s system, status updates are as long as the user likes and can contain pictures, videos, and songs. There is also the capability to leave comments on other friends’ pages: in essence, your long drawn-out conversations with close friends bulk up your mutual friends’ “stream,” which is a feature Facebook has created that collates and displays the status updates of any friend, group, or other entity you are linked to, as they post them in real time. Because of clutter, directly leaving comments on other users’ pages is not widely done.

The new standard of social networks is Facebook, and there are a few reasons for this. The first is its simple design; Facebook is easy to navigate, and easy to configure; you can never go wrong with simplicity; this has allowed many middle-aged and elderly people to use the service. The second: the company’s decision to firstly build its user base solely off of college students before allowing public use; this allowed them to refine their service before making it a household name. The third is the company’s young leadership. Mark Zuckerberg is now in his late-twenties, which gives him a direct connection with the people he is marketing to. He created the service while he was a college student and still understands the needs of that aging market.

Facebook’s status updates have paved a new way for communicating information. Users have become accustomed to giving short blurbs of their current activities. Most updates seem to range between one and three sentences long. Many people text updates from their phone, which lends itself to short messages, while others write out long verses of life from their home computer. Status updates seem to give users a sense of purpose. Users feel transformed and uplifted by the notion that they have expressed themselves, just by submitting their innermost thoughts to a digital interface. Being heard in this world of six billion plus is not an easy thing to do; however, Facebook has managed to capture the essence of being heard. Facebook is not just a service for the everyman, though. Companies, foundations, event planners, promoters and musicians have all found a home in this new social trend. With the ability to reach thousands with each status update, advertisement is cheap. These corporate entities have begun using their status updates as ways to spread information on new marketing campaigns or products. A safeguard in this system of advertisement is that you only see advertisements from groups you have added to your profile. In this way Facebook avoids the need for malicious marketers to abuse the system as fans of any product will likely become a “fan” of the companies’ “group” at some point in time, and the company is then enabled to market online.

The next major features of Facebook are groups. Groups are user made and can be based on nearly anything. They are a lot like clothing; there is virtually an endless amount, and the ones you wear on your profile say something about you, but not truly. People can judge you based on what you wear, or the groups you belong to, but what they judge may or may not be true. There are groups for musicians, doctors, the terminally ill, and there are groups out there just trying to get x number of people to join, and no other reason. Some groups, like “The instant heart attack you get when you slip on ice, but don’t fall over,” seem to only exist for the purpose of sharing that “moment” you hear about; not just one moment, but many, which tell of the lighter side of life. The group can have status updates, talk to others, and have a life (pictures, music, video, commentary, friends) associated with it, just as the user can. This allows anyone interested to become a member of the group as they wish. Groups are not an essential part of Facebook, but something that makes the service more of a rounded community. In fact, the way Facebook has implemented groups seem to echo a great keynote of the Internet and it’s democratic nature.

The last function, which has been greatly embraced, is applications. Facebook allows users, who know how to write computer code, to create their own games, online stores, contests, quizzes, and more. Users may not see how much time they spend playing games like Farmville, where players spend time acquiring resources and money in a race to have the largest most plentiful farm. A gaming experience that comes complete with full color graphics, all in a web browser. This is a very fascinating aspect of this social network, as it combines other popular activities people use the internet for: playing games and shopping. Applications, created by Facebook and its users, are not only a large chunk of the online entertainment market, but also revolutionary tools which are turning social networks into something more. User-created applications are becoming the medium that people access computers and information through. However, this appears to be just the beginning for these programmers and their abilities. In years to come we may see their applications become a part of our everyday life as we will need them to communicate with others via the Internet, perhaps order a pizza online, or check the latest stock numbers.

The big question is “What’s next?” Some would say services like Twitter, a service that lets users post 140-charcter-maximum status updates and nothing more. This is a big trend among cell phone users as it allows them to communicate what they are doing on the go. MySpace laid the foundation for social networking, but Facebok set in motion the idea that a website could provide entertaining applications ad nauseam, along with all the other traditional services, and because of that they have edged out the competition, for now. This idea was complemented with building their user base amongst a strong college crowd, one that grew up in the computer age and was able to adopt and take interest in a service which was very new and not well known. Then it added in massive appeal through groups and applications. What comes next is unknown; however one thing is certain and that is that social networks like MySpace and Facebook have started something that has forever changed the way we communicate.

Works Cited:

Arrington. Mike. “Mark Zuckerberg Interview.” TechCrunch 8 Jan. 2010. 19 Jan 2010. Web. <http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/3848950&gt;

Cava, Marco R. della. “‘Friends’ No More?” USA Today: Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 10 Feb. 2010. 1 Mar. 2010. Web.

Kornblum, Janet. “Facebook Will Soon Be Available To Everyone.” USA Today: Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 12 Sep. 2006. 1 Mar. 2010. Web.

Levy, Steven. “Are MySpace Users Now Spacing Out?” Newsweek 149.22 (2007): 26. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 29 May 2007. 1 Mar. 2010. Web.

“Making MySpace Safe for Kids.” BusinessWeek Online (2006): 10. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 6 Mar. 2006. 1 Mar. 2010. Web.

Rosenbush, Steve. “Why MySpace Is The Hot Place.” BusinessWeek Online (2005): N.PAG. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 31 May 2005. 1 Mar. 2010. Web.

“Statistics.” Facebook. 1 Jan. 2010. 19 Jan. 2010. Web. <http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics&gt;

Swartz, Jon. “MySpace Forges Ahead Despite Really Tough Times.” USA Today: Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. 4 Feb. 2009. 1 Mar. 2010. Web.

“World Internet Usage.” Miniwatts Marketing. 12 Feb. 2010. 3 Mar. 2010. Web. <http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm&gt;

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