An online social networking community has become the cultural phenomenon of the 21st century. Tens of thousands of people rush home at night to see if they have had any interest in their profile, while many more are anxious to strike up conversation online with people they have never met before. In the glow of the flickering monitor, singles mull over communications from other singles from all over the country, while on other online networking community websites concerned people of the world discuss their ideas for ending global warming. Throughout the country singles bars that did a booming business are fading into history, losing out to the midnight clicking of the computer keyboard and soap operas are losing their momentum as stay at moms talk to one another on websites that hone in on specific needs of mothers. Between two of the largest neighborhood networks on the World Wide Web, over 100 million people visit the sites annually.
Strictly speaking, an online social networking community is a website where people who have a common interest come together to talk and get to know one another. Called social networking websites, the sites' genesis was embodied in the desire for Gen Yr's to be able to keep in contact with all the generation's college buddies after graduation. Facebook and MySpace, the first of these sites are now the giants of the industry, storing millions of profiles online, for not just Gen Yr's but people of all ages. Now sixty year olds who love to restore '55 Chevys as well as six year olds who want to show off Hannah Montana collections have profiles on social networking community websites. There is a desire deep inside of us to be known by others, but God is the One who knows us intimately. "O Lord thou hast searched me and known me, thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off." (Psalm 139: 1,2)
Apart from a few of the giants, most networking sites have a more focused approach to their existence than just providing a place for people to hang out. The most obvious focused online social community sites are the dating and matchmaking sites that are bringing tens of thousands of singles together, many into permanent relationships. Dozens of websites are dedicated to helping single people find one another, with some sites run by psychologists and relationships experts, and some by, well, some webmaster with at least a high school education. There are some matchmaking sites that are so exclusive that they have representatives all over the country visiting galas, charity events and other high profile social gatherings looking for matches for their clients. Many dating sites use in depth temperament and character inventories to match clients while free matchmaking sites let searchers kick the tires themselves. Dating sites and matchmaking online social networking community websites can be discriminatory in nature, especially in regards to religion, education and income. Some sites may discriminate from the very beginning while others allow discrimination by the profile standards entered through the searcher.
But the power of Internet communities stretches far beyond the obvious dating and matchmaking sites that are so popular and successful. MySpace and Facebook profiles have enabled people to link up from all around the world providing new relationships and associations not possible a decade ago. There is the teacher in Texas that found a Peace Corp activist in Africa through one of the large social networking sites. This new friendship allowed the teacher's class to raise money for a new water well in a small country village that was facing drought conditions. The college professor from Austria found new teaching resources through a friendship made with a professor in the United States. These are just a few of a plethora of anecdotal stories where online social networking community websites are providing new ways for people to find one another and take advantage of those new relationships in powerful ways.
But there are of course other stimuli to draw people together on the World Wide Web. Business has now found the power of social networking to be a key to doing commerce in the 21st century. One particular site, Linked In, has over twenty three million professionals in its membership, and helps those who depend on finding new sources of commercial prospects to do so. In addition, there are many other specialty online social networking community websites, designed for much focused groups of people to meet, interact and support specific causes and interests. Making all of this possible are the myriad of online social networking community networks that have sprung up in recent years.
Consider that people who love movies can post a profile on several networking sites that are all about the product put out by Hollywood, Bollywood and Indie production companies. There are networks that are places where people who love sports can go and talk and compare fan devotion and loyalties. Additionally there are online social networking community websites that allow people to post profiles that highlight their love of books of all kinds. Profiles of gamers abound on the sites where video gaming is the most important topic of all and sites where musicians, actors, dancers and other artists are gathered can show off the talents of individuals that may have been overlooked in the decades before the advent of these neighborhood gathering places. New relationships and new opportunities are born each day on the Internet, thanks to these very specialized and innovative ways of communicating.