Social Network: A social network or online community is a web based service that focuses on building online communities of people who share interests and / or activities by a variety of ways. It is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, ideas, financial exchange, friendship, sexual relationships, kinship, dislike, conflict or trade, etc.
Few social networks currently charge money for membership to run the site. Companies such as MySpace and Facebook sell online advertising on their site for the same purpose.
There are generally two types of social networks. These are-
i) Internal Social Networking (ISN): An ISN is a closed / private community that consists of a group of people within a company, association, society, education provider and organization or even an “invite only” group created by a user.
ii) External Social Networking (ESN): An ESN is open / public and available to all web users to communicate and is designed to attract advertisers. Eg. MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Bebo.
a) Characteristics: Social network service provides the following ways for the users to interact with others.
i) My Profile: Set up and customization facility for profile;
ii) Search: Can search for friends and others;
iii) Making Friends: One can invite others as friend. In most social networking services, both users must confirm that they are friends before they are linked. Some social networking sites have a “favorites” feature that does not need approval from the other user.
iv) E-mail: Can send or receive e-mail from others.
v) Instant messaging services (Chat): Can send chat message to online friends.
vi) Scrapbook: Can append short message in the profiles of the friends/network members.
vii) Calendars (Events): Can create calendars or events.
viii) Articles: Can upload, download and share write-up.
ix) Notes: Can create and view the notes created by others.
x) Blogs: Can post personal write up.
xi) Groups: Can create groups and join other group, post replied to, and so on.
xii) Forums: Can create forum and join forum created by other people, post replied to, and so on.
xiii) Music: Listen, download and upload music.
xiv) Photos: Download, view and upload photos.
xv) Videos: Download, view and upload personal videos.
xvi) Games: Play online games, sometimes even can download.
xvii) Social Apps or Gadgets: Facility to incorporate others online social apps and gadgets.
xviii) Notifications on Websites: Social networks generally send notifications to users when they are removed from a person’s friends list, some one comments on their profile page, send email and for such other things.
xix) Privacy Settings: Helps in finding regular control of who sees what. Ability to block an unwanted member, and so on.
b) Issues: Issues related to social network can be of the following types
i) Duplicate Entries: One has to enter and fill up the profile page of each of the social networking services individually. There is a need to standardize these services to avoid the need of duplicate entries of friends and interests.
Solution in the Line: The Open Source Initiative (http://www.opensource.org/) emerges due to this issue. The Friend of a Friend (FOAF) (http://www.foaf-project.org/) project is creating a Web of machine-readable pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do, so that people can easily share and use information about them and their activities (eg. photos, calendars, weblogs), and can transfer them between Web sites and automatically extend, merge and re-use it online. “FOAF is a small but shapely piece of the wider Semantic Web project” (http://www.foaf-project.org/about). But, all theses have led to some concerns about privacy. There is also a trend for more interoperability between social networks led by technologies such as OpenID (http://openid.net/) and OpenSocial (http://www.opensocial.org/). “OpenID is a free and easy way to use a single digital identity across the Internet”. With one OpenID one can log in to all their favorite websites by logging in to a single site. OpenSocial helps the sites to share their social data with the web. “Applications that use the OpenSocial APIs can be embedded within a social network itself, or access a site’s social data from anywhere on the web”.
ii) Identity: In a social network service, any people can create a profile in the name of others. It has caused concern regarding its potential misuse by individual patrons for bullying purposes
Solution in the Line: Some social networks are trying to use mobile phone to authenticate the user.
iii) Privacy: The social networking service sites often contain a great deal of data that is hard to obtain via traditional means, that is, a user giving out too much personal information in their profile page which lead to growing concerns or threat about the data stolen by others. Even though the data are public, republishing it in a research paper or for the sake of others might be considered invasion of privacy. Furthermore, there is an issue over the control of information being altered or removed by the user that may in fact be retained and / or passed to 3rd parties. There are also examples when a social network service harvested e-mail addresses from user’ e-mail accounts to use in a spamming operation.
Social network services are being increasingly used in legal and criminal investigations. Information posted on sites such as MySpace and Facebook has been used by police (forensic profiling), probation, and university officials to prosecute the users of the said sites. In some situations, the content posted on MySpace has been used in court. All these are creating problems for the user to be social.
Solution in the Line: In many social networks people are now able to completely control the information they provide; the photos they include, and the friends they make. People are therefore, now able to control their personal information and their desired social status. Many social networking services, such as Facebook, provide the user with a choice of who can view their profile. This prevents unauthorized user(s) from accessing their information. To edit information on a certain social networking service account, the social networking sites require to login or provide an access code. This prevents unauthorized user(s) from adding, changing, or removing personal information, pictures, and/or other data.
iv) Sexual Predators: Citizens and governments have been concerned about the misuse by children and teenagers of social network services, particularly in relation to online sexual predators.
Solution in the Line: Many social networks do not permit people below the age of 15 or 18 to enter into the social network.
The other issues include the viruses, which is a problem common to most of the internet based services.
c) Importance: Social network is daily used by billions of people. It is a spontaneous movement of people using online tools to connect, take charge of their own experience, and get what they need - information, support, ideas, products, and bargaining power--from each other. It can also be used to build personal / institutional network and as a means of e-learning and social capital.
The importance of social network can be seen in regards to-
i) Advertisement: Formation and displaying profile page information that’s publicly available can be used as advertisement. In this way one can find and be introduced to potential clients, business opportunities, service providers, and subject experts and find potential partners. According to Jody Nimetz, author of Marketing Jive, there are five major uses for businesses and social media: to create brand awareness, as an online reputation management tool, for recruiting, to learn about new technologies and competitors, and as a lead gen tool to intercept potential prospects. The companies in this way will be able to drive traffic to their own online sites while encouraging their consumers and clients to have discussions on how to improve or change products or services.
ii) Communication: Through social network one can create projects, post and distribute institutional information. Many social networks also have the facility to incorporate self-description pages (profile) including hobbies and interests rather than developing website for that.
iii) Sharing Information Data, Files: Social networks extend the possibility for sharing information and knowledge with one another. In this way one will be able to increase both their learning and their flexibility in ways that would not be possible within a self-contained hierarchical organization.
iv) Collaboration: Can build collaboration in different kind of projects. Participants can talk online.
v) Problem Solving: Can be used to gain new insights from discussions with likeminded professionals.
vi) Connects People: It is a means to connect with those people those who share similar interest (classmates, friends, families, business people and co-workers, people looking for long lost friends). Also it can be used as matrimonial site
d) Examples: Out of the following list of social network, we recommend you to have a look on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Orkut, Twitter, and YouTube. They are grabbing the world of social network with their special features.