If you are a regular on a social network, chances are that you feel disoriented without your daily fix. And if you are a victim of prohibition in office or load-shedding at home, the yearning can cause anything between angst and neurosis.
A teenager quoted in MIT Tech Talk sums up the trend succinctly: “If you are not on MySpace, you don’t exist.” The network clocked 45.2 billion page views in August 07, miles ahead of 17.4 billion page views of the entire world’s blogs put together during the same period. Rival Orkut has over 45 million communities on it and a relatively smaller Facebook boasts of 2.2 billion friends tagged in 1.7 billion user photos. A sizeable section of users on top global networks are Indians despite dozens of India specific sites like BigAdda, Yaari or DesiMartini.
<b1>After the Internet, free e-mails, messengers, user groups and chat rooms, social networks come as the next logical step. A typical user first logs in to create a personal profile and then simply hangs out there or joins others using scrapbooks, best buddies or likeness matches. On networks like Ning you create your own sub-sites like the wheeledones (for wheelchair users) or Gaxbeta (for ardent gamers). Raw food lovers’ sub site ‘Give it to me Raw’ has sub-sub-sites like Raw Humour, Raw Beauty or Yoga in the Raw. The matrix spans around a web of inter-connected nodes based on shared ties or values.
Social networking on the web is what it has always been, an elemental human trait. Societies have always revolved around networks of religions, castes, communities or kinships. The Internet has only added a virtual dimension to alliances like merchant guilds or trade unions. What has changed decisively is the ease with which ‘digital publics’ zip across barriers of time and space. For example, Alcoholic Anonymous or Bono’s anti-poverty network, One.Org, can easily overlap with, say, book lovers’ group Shelfari or the soccer community’s Joga.com.
Of late, social networks have made news for negative reasons. A Mumbai teenager got trapped through a fake Orkut profile and murdered by his own friends. A US teenager was shot dead by an uninvited guest at a teenage party publicized on MySpace. Another Indian student landed up in jail for vulgarising a girl’s photo online. But passions were really inflamed when the “We hate India” community posted objectionable stuff on a popular network. (Later, users of “We hate those who hate India” issued suitable rebuffs.) No wonder parents, governments and the media sometimes get anxious. The US is working on a proposed legislation, Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which requires all federally aided schools and libraries to deploy Internet filters.
Social networks make great business sense. On-line ad spend has already surpassed broadband penetration in the US. The fact that in 2007 US Internet companies outperformed the broader stock market perhaps explains why global brick and mortar companies are out to lap up, or synergise with, them. Obviously, social networks are here to stay.