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A Society of 58 Million February 21, 2006 – 8:55 p.m. – Permalink

This is a reprint of an article at Slyforum by Sam Wolken, posted on February 17, 2006. Sam is a fantastic and provocative writer who has far more knowledge than I do regarding social networking on the Web.

As many of you know, social networking is currently riding a tsunami. Sites like Xanga and MySpace have many millions of users and they are viewed world–wide as the new form of teenage conversation. What is social networking? Why is it so popular? Is it here to stay?

First off, social networking is promoting yourself in a social way. This is done using a network. Inventive name, eh? This is done mainly through sites like MySpace and Xanga. With these sites you can put a “personal ad” out, marketing yourself. You fill in information about yourself and let others read it, then, decide to ask to be friends. Thus taking out the need for face–to–face contact. So, why are so many people doing it?

Simply enough, it is fun and easy. Typing in information about yourself, and then watching the friend invitations is on the minds of around 56 million MySpacers. Putting up pictures of yourself is very common and gives other users an easy way to judge you in the span of a few seconds. There are even large groups for you to join if you want to connect to people with similar hobbies as you. So, are there any bad effects of this shockingly consuming new trend?

There are many, furthermost the eminent threat of sexual predators. There have been many recent reports of real–life stalking and attempted rapes on account of networking. The main part being you are required to give a location and that is displayed. Many people have made the argument: “If not networking, then sex, gangs and drugs.” While I do not believe that is true, it is a valid point. There is also the threat of verbal abuse through networking. In my local, Air Academy High School there have been three recent suspensions as a result of “bullying through MySpace.” If there are clear and present threats, then why not delete the websites housing social networking? Well, as more intelligent users are careful not to expose personal information, there really isn’t a case against the websites, but more towards the users.

Are social networking websites going to be around for much longer? Only time can tell, but I will give you my thoughts. As long as they are so easy to set up, so simple to use and so effective as devices for communication, I do not foresee a decline in use. A significant increase? Temporarily, yes, but there are already 58 million users. It is estimated that 80% of Americans have a computer with an Internet connection. If there are 264 million people in the United States and roughly 10% are teenage, that is only 26.4 million. If 80% are internet users that brings the number down to 21.12 million internet using teens in the country. If half the MySpace population is teenage, that still leaves more than one MySpace account per person. Shocking figures, eh?

If you want more information on this topic and its relation to the Web 2.0 project, watch my future posts, but for the moment, read these: