Monday, October 24, 2005


Good article by Reyhan Harmanci from The San Francisco Chronicle:

Before the Internet, social life was both simpler and more complicated. To keep up with friends, you actually had to see them. To organize a party, you had to pick up the phone. To get a date, you had to have chemistry. Now, thanks to the miracle of online social networking sites, you can manage your friends without taking your hands off the keyboard.

Social networking has become one of the most popular applications on the Internet in the wake of the dot-com bust. There is now a social network site for practically every subgroup, no matter how weird, niche or pragmatic. is an invitation-only site restricted to jetsetters. caters to dog owners. serves professionals who want to foster new business ties. helps people plan events.

Unsurprisingly, young people are the force behind the most popular sites., which was acquired in September by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $580 million, boasts 33 million users who, among other things, use the site to upload and share music.

Palo Alto-based, which was founded in February 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, has grown to 8.3 million users and is the 11th most visited site on the Internet, according to Web trafficking firm comScore Media Metrix.

Chris Hughes, a Facebook spokesman and Harvard senior, said the company is close to claiming representation at every college in the country, with 80 percent membership among each collegiate population. In September, Facebook launched a service for high school students; a month later, 22,000 teenagers have registered accounts.
Since the first generation of online networking, a whole galaxy of start-ups have emerged, all trying to tie social networks to certain services or communities.

The ever-changing composition of Facebook and other popular networking sites exemplifies what O'Reilly calls the "secret sauce" of the Internet: harnessing collective intelligence. "EBay and Amazon don't just sell things; Amazon lets readers write annotations and reviews, and eBay gives informed search results. It's all about user-generated content," he said.

O'Reilly believes online social networking is in its infancy. "There's a huge opportunity for players like Microsoft or Yahoo or Google to layer social networking applications on top of existing features, like utilizing existing buddy lists or saving e-mail addresses and connecting them to profiles," he said.

"I really believe the next generation of e-mail, for example, will take on social networking features."

But whether or how these sites will change the nature of social life is harder to predict. Unlike dating sites, which facilitate real-world interactions, Facebook, MySpace and Friendster are not necessarily intended to bring people from the online world to the offline one. Instead, they enable users to find strangers with similar interests, to experiment with identity, to maintain and solidify friendships, to network for jobs and housing.
(full article)

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