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.
Most Popular Social NetworkThe most popular social network communities are now household names that have well over a hundred million members each. The two major competitors are experiencing different challenges in today's internet environment, but both continue the race to be number one. Up until a couple of years ago, one of the major sites was limited to college students. To become a user, the individual had to provide his real name. The limited environment helped students feel a sense of community with other college students. Now that the site has opened its membership, users still continue to sign up by using their real names instead of an anonymous username. According to industry experts, this network's growth is continuing, especially in international markets. To reach the global community, the network's management has created versions of the site in other languages. This outreach has contributed to the network being recognized as one of the most popular social network communities in the world.
The other top competitor has been around a couple of years longer which gives it a head start advantage as far as numbers are concerned. Apparently, members of one of the first networking sites switched to this other competitor when mismanagement caused problems at that first site. Of course, another reason for the switch may have been the allure of something new. Regardless of the reasons, this competitor gained a large following that catapulted it to the top. Industry experts note that this network is the most popular social network in the United States, but that its growth is leveling. Perhaps management hasn't learned from the mistakes of earlier competitors. Some experts contribute the leveling of growth to an overdependence on advertising revenue. This has led to what some industry professionals to consider excessive spam ads appearing on members' web pages. When an individual gets tired of seeing too many ads, the social experience can become less than stellar. This has led to some people leaving the site behind for other pastures. The management has responded to industry criticisms with a major redesign of the website. Time will tell whether this has a positive effect on the membership numbers.
For many business professionals, the most popular social network isn't either of the two top competitors, but a third site. Though the site has many of the same features as the top social communities, it's primarily marketed to company executives, experts, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. By being a member of this professional site, individuals can build professional connections that may result in receiving professional expertise to business-related questions. Users often find that this site allows them to control their online presence and is, therefore, an important career management tool. Other sites may be popular within certain industries. For example, Christian authors, comedians, and musicians can join one of the most popular social network communities designed especially for them. This allows these creative individuals to promote their talents and establish friendships with each another. Christian organizations and businesses can also join the network. Smaller groups can be formed within the larger community depending on one's genre, audience, or style. Friendships, business relationships, creative talent, Christian faith any and all of these bind people together to establish trusting connections. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome these words: "Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" (Romans 15:2). Encouragement can be a big part of establishing long-lasting relationships through a networking community.
Whether for social or business networking, or a combination of the two, most community websites have similar features. An individual sets up an account by using her real name or a made-up username and creating a password. The site will almost always require a working email address so that the user can receive notifications and updates. The individual can create a profile that provides such information as occupation, hobbies, interests, etc. Privacy features allow a member to determine what information can be seen only by those in their network and what information can be seen by anyone. Often, a member must confirm friend requests before other users are added into the member's personal network. The most popular social network communities have sparked the creativity of others who have designed templates and created widgets that can be added to members' web pages. Users can take advantage of these templates and widgets to create personalized web pages.
The most popular social network sites offer free memberships, though the popular business networking community site also offers a paid membership that provides additional benefits to members. The freedom comes with a price, however. The cost of maintaining the networking site is offset with ad revenues. As discussed above, however, consumers will only tolerate so much when it comes to ad clutter. Additionally, advertisers understand that too many ads lose effectiveness. A future trend may be to combine the free community sites with online shopping opportunities in a revenue-sharing business model. In addition to discussions within the industry about generating revenue, the most popular social network sites are also maintaining competitiveness by offering additional benefits to members. For example, the sites can partner with major news organizations to integrate their users' updates with the news broadcasts live streaming of national news events. The future for networking communities, despite some glitches and tussling for the number one spot, is bright. More and more people are sure to join one or more of these communities as the opportunities for online personal and professional connections become more important to long-distance family members and friends and to business professionals.