This profile looks at what have variously been labelled
social network services (SNS), social software, equaintance
and ecquaintance sites ... online social spaces such as
MySpace, Facebook and Ryze that embody soft networks.
It covers -
nets and social software - the nature of online
- the evolution of SNS and the SNS industry
- the shape of online services that "leverage relationship
capital" or merely provide an electronic address
- dating and adult services
- social network services as spaces for the under-25s
and for the 'reunited' and hobby spaces
- questions about authenticity, appropriation, denigration
and other concerns
- the online social network services industry
- identity theft in social spaces
- government action, law and user self-help
- official perceptions of threats posed by social software
- selected case law about online soft networks
- who is looking at profiles and other information on
social network services
- dismissal of employees and suspension of students
on the basis of information on social networks
- pointers to salient online soft networks
- landmarks in the equaintance industry
It is complemented by multi-page notes about matchmaking
(aka cyber-dating) services and about virtual
worlds (online spaces such as EverQuest).
Guides on this site examine issues such as privacy, intellectual
property, consumer protection, defamation and life online.
Social network services gained increasing media, government
and popular attention after the dot-com crash.
They have been hyped as central to Web
2.0, the supposed second generation of the web that
is characterised by mass participation and by user-generated
content (UGC) in contrast
to a first generation that was 'top down' in the style
of traditional publishing.
As the following page indicates, 'SNS' is a broad label
for diverse online fora enabling a range of social interactions,
including identification of business customers, establishment
of contact with fellow professionals or people who share
a specific avocation (quiltmaking, B&D, action against
global warming ...), finding a soulmate or merely finding
someone who will 'talk dirty'.
Trawl the web and you are thus likely to encounter networks
such as Connect.ee (for the Estonian diaspora), Reunion.com
("where 25 million users re-connect with friends
and family"), RSVP.com.au (opportunities for dalliance
with the dot-au 'desperate
and dateless'?) or VampireFreaks.com (a community of 550,000
teen cybergoths whose members are granted what we assume
are delights such as viewing images of each other's buttocks).
Functional demarcations between SNS have blurred over
the past four years. Most now usually offer the same basic
personal profile page for the participant, including
searchable attribute fields (such as age, marital status,
education) and photographs
network of friends listings (with participants being
able to identify an individual's 'inner circle')
person search facility (identification of people on
the basis of relationships or attributes such as gender,
age, physical location, education, skill, sexual or
forums (in particular chat rooms)
(eg as endorsement on an individual's profiles or a
rating of a service, business, product or individual)
networks claim millions of members, although some claims
are problematical (many would shame Gogol by the enthusiasm
with which they count 'dead souls'), and have spawned
large numbers of competitors after reports that operators
have cashed out in billion dollar sales.
Few social interactions are entirely free of regulation
by government or by participants. Social network services
are no exception: their use has thrown up questions regarding
copyright, privacy, impersonation, censorship, defamation,
stalking, bullying and other matters explored elsewhere
in this site.
Study of SNS and of interactions by SNS members has become
something of an academic vogue during the past four years,
with a large number of conference papers and articles
by sociologists and 'cyberstudies' specialists and some
writing by lawyers and free speech advocates. Much of
that literature is inward-looking and characterised by
the territory-marking common in new disciplines.
There has been no overarching study of the SNS industry
(eg business models and investment patterns) or practice
among social network service operators.
Virtual communities were the buzzword of late 2003, replacing
blogs as a topic of investor
and academic interest. They started appearing on the radar
of mainstream media in 2004.
In essence, they are online social spaces that allow members
At their simplest they are a facility that allows participants
to update address books or link people through mutual
friends, offering an online version of 'six degrees of
separation' in which everyone is supposedly linked to
everyone else through interrelated social networks. At
their most ambitious they have been characterised as tools
for knowledge management within academic or commercial
disciplines and as venues for datamining about global
Typically, participants supply a network operator with
personal information such as age, photograph, appetites,
educational institution and contact details for best friends
or business associates.
That profile can be used to link the individual to the
profile of another participant and thence, in a cascade,
to a succession of other personal profiles. Profiles can
also be mined for individual and aggregate information,
such as the aggregate age of unmarried female participants
with fewer than five contacts or the names of all participants
who have used the network to arrange a business or romantic
meeting, have what a marketer considers to be a desirable
postcode and have indicated a willingness to receive offers
for particular products.
The networks offer email facilities. Some also offer chat
and offline events, whether for romantic dalliance (Friendster
has been promoted as "THE way to manage your love
life") or business opportunities such as 'power breakfasts'
for sales representatives and exclusive opportunities
to pitch to venture capitalists.
Some include calendar features, ranging from horoscopes
to alerts that nominated friends or potential business
contacts will be in the vicinity on a particular date
(with scope to arrange a meeting by email, chat, phone
or IM) and scope for
including examples of work or other documents.
Reputation ratings - promoted as an explicit representation
of 'equaintance' or other value - are generally a prominent
feature, with profiles being identified through stars
or other insignia that denote factors such as the individual's
(eg number of address books in which he/she appears,
for some marketers an implicit measure of worth),
rating after dates
of successful business referrals
in maintaining relationships
of messages sent (one Australian forum has a 'karma'
ratings have spawned discrete rating
sites, which offer evaluations (often anonymous and
of questionable verifiability).
Some networks, such as the ambitious UK upmystreet.com,
have attempted to embody offline communities by using
geocoding tools and leveraging internet based neighbourhood
information systems' (IBNIS).
matter where you are in the UK, you can simply enter
your postcode and ask a question of your neighbours,
or help out someone else with a local enquiry. While
there are other portals that offer similar local information,
they’re usually restricted by certain boundaries.
... Whether you're looking for a restaurant recommendation
in your local area, or if you've just moved to a new
neighbourhood and want some information about local
schools or services, there’s bound to be someone
out there with an answer for you.
clicks or third degree?
Social networking has been pitched
as the internet version of the 'six degrees of separation'
supposedly connecting most people, first proposed by psychologist
Stanley Milgram and Ithiel
de Sola Pool.
Milgram - profiled in The Man Who Shocked the World:
The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram (New York:
Basic Books 2004) by Thomas Blass - for example suggested
that any two people who did not know each other would
find a link through no more than six people. That is a
notion questioned by Judith Kleinfeld
in a 2000 social network study
but recurrently resurrected in projects such as the
US Small World study
of the number of email links between people.
Milgram's rather dour view of responses to authority is
somewhat removed from the new age vision at Tickle or
the boosterism at Ryze and other business-oriented social
networks, highlighted below.
Tickle claims to be "the first company to combine
consumer insight with state-of-the-art digital technology
to generate personality reports uniquely positioned to
offer outstanding results" so that people can "learn
more about themselves and better connect with others in
a mutually beneficial environment based on trust and respect".
Tickle's promo boasts that it
is able to apply science to help members build and manage
relationships. Tickle's "Think Tank" of certified
PhDs ensures that the sites' services are useful and
the content is relevant. Thus, members have access to
practical scientific data that helps them to discover
themselves, and better connect with others - a combination
that makes the platform truly powerful.
With close linkage between all the products, Tickle's
members can take full advantage of deep, rich and meaningful
data and interact with it in a way that they have never
been able to do. The end result is a tight integration
of self-discovery, matchmaking, and networking services
designed to deliver compelling insight and help people
develop and manage new and old relationships from one
independent analysis of the extent of interconnectedness
between participants on social networks is unavailable,
although there are indications that - as with web sites
- the number of clicks of separation is greater than six
and that there are clusters around distinct nodes.
The prototype social network appears to have been Sixdegrees.com,
founded in 1997 and acquired by YouthStream in 1998 (with
stock at that time worth US$125 million) during the dot-com
boom. It subsequently crashed,
supposedly because lack of photos inhibited success as
a dating space.
An outbreak of new networks occurred after 1999, arguably
leveraging software developed for online dating services
and buzz that such networks were the next 'new new thing'.
In 2003 Business 2.0 named
social software as "the technology of the year",
fuelling an outbreak of lookalike networks
bling bling to ring ring
A selection of networks as of early 2004 illustrates both
fashions in promotion and the spread of offerings, from
address book and customer relation management systems
through to tools for swap meets and venues that will help
you determine whether your inner child is a dog, cat or
queen of the Nile.
An indication of major types are as follows, with a more
detailed discussion later in this profile.
Friendster for example is an "an online community
that connects people through networks of friends for dating
or making new friends". Emode/Tickle,
noted above, offers "PhD certified tests" [apparently
including The Ancient Tarot and Zodiac Match Test] to
accompany its social network.
eschews the magic crystals in favour of "live chat
together with social networks and enabling people to share
media with one another in real time", centred on
Situational and retail networks
Some networks have de-emphasised dating in favour of situational
needs - eg invite all basket-weavers in Balmain or alert
all XML enthusiasts in Bangalore - or appear to be chasing
MeetUp - "organizing local interest groups"
- for example is "a free service that organizes local
gatherings about anything, anywhere. 1,179,000 people
have already signed up for Meetups about 4,152 topics.
Meetups happen at local cafes (and other places) in 612
cities across 51 countries".
Tribe is a space to "Get connected - invite your
friends & family and watch your personal network grow.
Create and join 'Tribes' around your interests. Get recommendations
from your friends (and their friends). Find local events.
Buy or sell anything in the free classified listings".
Orkut asks "Who do you know? Join orkut to expand
the circumference of your social circle". It is promoted
online community that connects people through a network
of trusted friends. We are committed to providing an
online meeting place where people can socialize, make
new acquaintances and find others who share their interests.
contact management services
Some networks appear to be tightly focussed.
for example is a business address book service - "Every
year, 37 million people and 2.4 million U.S.-based businesses
move ... Plaxo keeps you in-touch and up-to-date!"
Customer relationship management
CRM enthusiasts can turn to more ambitious offering such
positioned as a network that
people make connections and grow their networks. You
can network to grow your business, build your career
and life, find a job and make sales. Or just keep in
touch with friends ... Why is it called Ryze? Because
it's about people helping each other 'rise up' through
Spoke is apparently aimed at salespeople, who are
invited to "Harness the power of your enterprise
relationship network to increase deal close rates, improve
deal velocity and grow top-line revenue". ZeroDegrees
similarly helps members to
deals faster, find a job, make a sale. Meet new people
through people you know. Fast, easy and safe
to tap the true power of the professional network you
already have? Your trusted friends and colleagues can
help put you in touch with many more people than you
expect; and those people can refer you to thousands
of contacts. That means you can find jobs, locate employees,
and close deals faster and more reliably than ever before.
"delivers unprecedent reach into companies and access
to decision-makers by allowing sales teams to discreetly
leverage the relationship capital of the enterprise throughout
the sales cycle".
more brashly announces "If you are a driven person
with high aspiration for massive success, We can help
you! ... Harness the power of influence and expand your
business referral network today!" Referent offers
set of business networking tools to help entrepreneurial-minded
individuals effectively acquire new business and customers,
maintain their current business contacts/customers,
create online business presence, and establish new business
relationships through referrals.
- billed as "the Insiders Network" - offers
members of a self-appointed elite an opportunity to
Post opinions and comments on the AO network
- Build and maintain your professional, personal profile
and peer network in the AO Zaibatsu
Maintain your own personal mini-blog site with a personalized
- Browse and Pivot to find new business partners, industry
experts and friends
to receive the free copies of AO "e-letters"
such as The AO Rap, VC Pitch, AO100 profile & Rafe's
The nostalgia/reunion sector
Another type is the 'lost friends' category, apparently
centred on thirty and forty-somethings.
An example is SchoolFriends:
fun web site that allows you to get back in touch with
your old friends in Australia and New Zealand! We list
over 20,000 Australian and New Zealand schools, universities,
colleges and TAFEs! We now have sporting clubs, community
groups, defence forces and over 200,000 workplaces listed!
There are now over 1 million members!
A final is the 'recruitment' network, overlapping with
online jobsearch sites.
Socialbuzz (marketed as "Your Door to Destiny")
for example boasts that
exclusive network is a marketplace for everyone who
wants to be discovered. Creating your personal account
and social photo profile allows YOU to become accessable
to the society of Hollywood decision makers in Film,
Television and media corporations.
Keeping your profile up-to-date increases your chances
to connect with the decision makers and with others
who are also seeking to gain exposure for Reality TV
shows, Game shows, Sitcoms, Feature Films, and behind-the-scenes
more cynical might question the degree of exclusivity
but presumably using the network is less painful than
standing outside the Brown Derby in the hope that Louis
B Mayer's roving eye would alight on you.
Comprehensive figures for social networking are not available
and the self-interested nature of claims by particular
network operators means that they should be treated with
As with online dating services, there are questions about
the percentage of inactive profiles, the number of people
with multiple profiles and the extent of participation
by dogs, cats and garden gnomes.
Major networks such as Friendster claim over three million
participants. Plaxo announced in December 2003 that it
had "surpassed 1,000,000 registered users of Plaxo
Contacts in only 7 months of operation" and was "now
growing at more than 50 percent per month".
The number of inactive participants, the rate at which
participants drop out and the rate of visitation (how
frequently people visit a network) is unknown.
Comments about abandonment vary, ranging from unhappiness
with server lag problems to criticism of "heavy-handed
moral policies" or enforcement of rules against 'faking',
discussed below. Social networking as a phenomenon is
arguably still too new - and too commercially fragile
- for an assessment of its success. Are most members getting
what they wanted (or merely expected)? Have perceived
benefits outweighed potential problems, such as erosion
of privacy? We do not know.
(soft nets and social software)