The social networks are the most popular form of the social web. They range from personal, professional to dating networks and many more.
Basic idea of social networks is the community of people who shares all kinds of information together. Social Network Researchers studied the behavior of people and influence on our psychology with the help of Social Networking Services.
Social Networking Service (SNS)
A SNS is a online service, platform with Web 2.0 Applications. Fundamental functions of Social Networking Service are:
- All users get an profile with personal Information which can be seen by other users.
- Users can be searched after their names or profile in Internet
- Users can publish and upload own text messages, photos and videos
- Sending messages
- Finding new friends and connect with them
- Playing social games
- Subscription of pages (RSS)
- Setting up of privacy and data protection 
The reason of using SNS could be same religion, career, interests like Music, Sport, lifestyle and common friends of community members. Traditionally, social networks were built face-to-face, but today's social networks are primarily online and via mobile device technology.
The Wikipedia defines social networks as :
- "A social networking service is an online service, platform, or site that focuses on building and reflecting of social networks or social relations among people, who, for example, share interests and/or activities. A social network service consists of a representation of each user (often a profile), his/her social links, and a variety of additional services"
Some of the internationally more networks are: Facebook, Google+, Orkut, MySpace, LinkedIn, and many more. Interesting, is that the popularity depends strongly on countries.
Social Networking Services(SNS's)
The first social networking sites were Classmates.com (1995) and SixDegrees.com (1997). There are many different types of SNS's in the world. For example XING and LinkedIn are for education and career and Twitter is for short Messages and Releases there is Twitter.
"Giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."
Facebook is the most successful and popular SNS worldwide. Facebook was founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with his college roommates and some other students Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. Today Facebook has over 900 million active users and more than half of them using Facebook on a mobile device. It used in 77 languages.
"Real-life sharing rethought for the web."
It is one of the biggest competitors of Facebook. Google+ was launched in 2011. Today, it has 250 million registered users and it is available in 44 languages. it offers compared to Facebook new services and features like Circles, Hangouts and Sparks. An important advantage of Google+ is, it gives you a possibility to syncronize data with google account and other google applications. For example videos in YouTube, photos in Picasa, documents in Google Docs and blogs in blogger.com.
"Easy. Professional. Networks."
XING is the SNS for professional contacts and more popular in Europe. XING was founded in 2003 by Lars Hinrichs. Today over 12 million members worldwide use the platform for business, job and career. XING is one of the few fee required SNS and users can upgrade their free account to premium account.
As I assume most of you will have one or two accounts in a social network, let us find out the following:
- which social networks do you use?
- how much time do you spend in each one?
- what do you do there, i.e. what functionality of the social network are you using?
A problem many social networks face (like MySpace and studiVZ for instance) is their short half-life, meaning that it is difficult for them to keep their customers happy. Popular social networks in Germany at the time of this writing (2012) were :
- Facebook, studiVZ, Google+, wer-kennt-wen, Jappy, Lokalisten, StayFriends
As you can see the popularity changes over time (Facebook has been excluded in this diagram):
image here studivz google+ wer-kennt-wen lokalisten jappy
If you are interested in the current numbers, you can easily create the following diagram yourself using Google’s ’doubleclick ad planner’:
images here (Unique visitors to select social networks for Germany in January of 2012, data source: doubleclick ad planner, estimates)
User groups and user motives
The new Internet-based communication changed the interpersonal communication dramatically. It moved from the private one-to-one communication to an one-to-many communication because of emailing and chats but also because of the „new media“ like social networks, blogs, forums etc. There are so many social media offers which meanwhile belong to the everyday life.
The reasons why people use the social web:
- to gather information (about companys, products, people,.. and for studies)
- to gather information for private affairs (people, recipes, activities, holidays,..)
- to exchange information
- to maintain contacts or finding new friends
- to make promotion for something
- to present something or someone
- for pasttime (games, watching videos and films,...)
- for shopping
Who are this social media users?
Social media users are almost everyone: women and men, adults and children. In Germany there are about 74,7 million people online. And the trend being online increased during the last years.
Most of the users are between 14 and 50+ years old. In the year 2011 97,3 % of the 14 to 29 years old people were online, 89,7 % of the people between 30 to 49 years and even 52,5 % of the 50+ years old people.
You can divide the social media users in some user groups:
1. The digital outsider
- mean age 62,5 years
- mainly femal
- mainly not working
They are at the age of 60 years and don't see any reason why they should use the new media., maybe because they are intimidated by the diversity.
2. The occasional users
- mean age 46,8 years
- mainly femal
- slight ratio of working people
This people use the social web very rarely. They know about the basic components and use the social web only for gather information. These people are citical and not in social networks because this social networks are to universal. At best they are in forums or on blogs to read something. They are the passive ones!
3. The occupational users
- mean age 47,8 years
- mainly femal
- a high ratio of working persons
They use social web and networks mainly at work and do everyday stuff like gather information and writing email. They focus on trends, producs and companys, frequently in forums and exchange information with friends, unknown persons and companys. Social networks facilitating the contact between each other, they think, and it is good for the promotion of companys.
4. The trend users
- mean age 37,5 years
- mainly men
- working persons
On the other side there are people who use social web very intense. They have a good technical equipment at home and use social web for pasttime and to have contact to their friends. Most of them are members of social networks, but they don't care about the promotion of products and companys.They want to come in contact with other people, find new friends and maintain their contact to old friends. Some also have a mobile internet.
5. The digital professionals
- mean age 37,2 years
- mainly men
- a high ratio of working persons
This people have a high digital competence. They have the best IT-infrastructure at work, use mobile internet and social web for mainly everything, gather and exchange information in forums and blogs, be up to date because of using social networks like facebook, twitter, xing,etc.
6. The digital avant-garde
- mean age 34,0 years
- mainly men
- a very high ratio of workking persons
Only a small part of the people are such digital avant-garde. Computer and internet define their daily schedule what makes them to very active people in the social web.They are the mentors in forums, maybe wirte blogs and exchange information about technical problems with other online users. Towards technical progress, companys, products and trademarks they are very open-minded, but they don't use social networks so often.
Risk & Abuse of Social Networks
Internet social networks are nowadays great places to meet and for people sharing similar interests. But Facebook and similar Social Network sites can also pose serious security threats to the users, and ways for others to abuse these lacks of security.
For a little practice-relevant demonstration read this short story about a student, who is very active in social networks and got into much trouble.
Social Networks can cause a lot of damage to their users, but in most cases the users are themselves to blame for wrong behaviour.
- Harm for Job & Applications : If profiles are public to every one, personal managers also have access to the posts, photos and interests of the employee or applier. If there are compromising contents to find, this might have consequences to the employees job or appliers consideration.
- Crime : Social Networks are places for people with criminal intent, they clan collect data of a targeted person and can narrow down when and where this person is located at a specific time. This leads to an easier way for burglar to commit adultery.
- Violation of copyright: If a user uploads a picture, which is protected by copyright, he can get charged for this violation of copyright. Even if a user uploads a picture to a friends wall, the friend might has to deal with the emerging consequences.
- Online - Mobbing: Exclusion form groups, insulting or offending posts on walls, informations are used to expose targeted person (Cyber-Stalking).
- Lack of data privacy protection: some Social Networks collect every data they can get from the user. The networks sell this information to companies which want to personalize the adds for the user to generate buying power. Some not only collect data of the registered user, they are also collection data of non-registered users. An example is the facebook app, which allows the users to sync their phonebook with their facebook contacts.
- Social Engineering/Phishing : Through phishing third persons get login data to acounts to impersonate the specific person. Most of the time the intent is to ask for financial support of the person’s friends.
Social and Behavioral Sciences
The term ’Social Network’ is a theoretical concept as used in the social and behavioral sciences . It is about the study of relationships, connections, and interactions of individuals or organizations. It models the structure of social groups, how it is influences, and how it changes over time.
There is a web site called Google Flu (http://www.google.org/flutrends/) which predicts flu epidemics based on search term people enter into their browser. However, another interesting approach is to use social networks:
- Nicholas Christakis: How social networks predict epidemics, (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/nicholas_christakis_how_social_networks_predict_epidemics.html) (17:55 min)
"Ethnography is a qualitative research method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group." 
In her talk at TED Stefana Broadbent tells us how communication technology is capable of cultivating deeper relationships, bringing love across barriers like distance and workplace rules.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Networking with friends
One advantage of Social Networks is the network of friends. It is always possible to be informed about the current activities of your contacts. In addition you can keep in contact with friends, which live far away. Or you can find friends, which you have not seen since school days.
Facebook and the other Social Networks give you the opportunity to communicate with others. The easy way to write massages and answer it, makes it possible that every day many messages and comments will send. To stay in contact with friend form other countries isn’t a problem because 798.9 million users from about the world are at least once a day on facebook : . If you agree with someone and you want to publish it, the easiest way is to switch the like-button. On facebook you can also use the live chat or the video chat for communicating.
Fun and Entertainment
Another reason for using social networks is the offered fun and entertainment. For example you can play Social Games with your friends.
The network XING gives you many positive feedback when you searching for a job. On XING you can create your own profile with working data for example which programming language you know. Employer can use a search option to find qualified employees and they can also easily get in contact with them. As opposed to facebook where an open profile can be a disadvantages for a career-orientated person. Your boss can get too much private information on you and this may have consequences for you. If you looking for a job in another country the network linkedin will be the right choice.
With the modern achievement of smartphones it’s easy to reach people every time and everywhere. You can quickly get every new of your friends on your mobile device. In contrast to the conventional short messages on a mobile phone you have to pay nothing per send message. But there is also a disadvantage due to the constant accessibility expect many users a fast response.
Another advantage of Social Networks for companies is the advertising. It’s possible to create a profile for your company or for a product that you want to promote. People who had made a good experience with this product used to click on the like-button and everybody of her or his friends see it. So it allows reaching many people you on an easy way. It’s also possible to create your own user-related advertising. You can define you target group with age, gender, hobbies, interests etc.
A major disadvantage of the Social Network usage is the lack of privacy. If it is your first time on facebook you should check your privacy settings. These settings are often confusing and opaque. It is also important to think carefully about which parts of the profile is published on the internet. Something that is published once in the internet cannot be undone.
Watch Stefana Broadbent’s talk at TED:
- Stefana Broadbent: How the Internet enables intimacy, (www.ted.com/talks/stefana_broadbent_how_the_internet_enables_intimacy.html) (9:54 min)
Ex.1: Social Networking Service
Read the Wikipedia article on Social Networking Services  and write about it in your blog.
Ex.2: Try another Network
For this class, become a member of a new social network that you have not used before. Make sure that other members of this class become your friends (what happens if they are in a different network?). If you are in Facebook try to connect to the classes account.
Ex.3: Small World Experiment
Stanley Milgram small world experiment  is about the average distance of the relationship of two arbitrary persons, and its result is often stated as the "six degrees of separation" experiment. Either read Milgram’s original paper  or read the Wikipedia article . Write about it in your blog.
If you are interested in this experiment, you may also want to read p.73ff of Amy Shuen’s book , where she also describes how this plays out in business networks like LinkedIn.
(Note, Milgram as also known for another famous experiment )
Ex.4: Web 2.0 vs Social Media
Use Google trends, to see how the popularity of the terms ’web 2.0’ vs ’social media’ has changed over the years. Can you add that graph to your blog?
Ex.5: Visualization of Your Social Network (optional)
In case you are on Facebook, the tool TouchGraph may be interesting: it visualizes your social network, (http://www.touchgraph.com/TGFacebookBrowser.html). (Note, I am not sure about the privacy issues here, if you are worried about privacy, then it is better not to use this software.)
Ex.6: Two more TED Talks (optional)
The following two TED talks, are related to real social networks between people. They are very intriguing, and watching them is highly recommended:
- Nicholas Christakis: The hidden influence of social networks, (www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_christakis_the_hidden_influence_of_social_networks.html)
- Dan Ariely gave a wonderful talk on TED about ’our buggy moral code’ (www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/dan_ariely_on_our_buggy_moral_code.html).
If you liked these videos, write about them in your blog.
Ex.7: Doubleclick Ad Planner (optional)
Google for ’doubleclick ad planner’ and enter with your normal Google account credentials. Go to the ’Research’ tab, and there select ’Search by site’. Then enter ’facebook.com’ for instance. You get quite a bit of information relating to that domain. This information might be helpful for advertising or for creating diagrams like the one above.
- Fundamental functions of Social Networking Service, Wikipedia
- Social networking service, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_networking_service
- Facebook Newsroom, Facebook
- Google+, Wikipedia.
- Xing, XING ist das soziale Netzwerk für berufliche Kontakte.
- S. Hütt, Vergleich von Erfolg und Konzeption eines sozialen Netzwerkes, Bachelorarbeit, HTW Berlin
- Ethnography, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnography
- Wikipedia, http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook
- Milgram, Stanley (1967): The Small World Problem. In: Psychology Today 1 (1/1967), 60-67
- Small world experiment, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_world_experiment
- Milgram experiment, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
- Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide, Amy Shuen