Social Network Site

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Reserved for editing by Leslie Dawes (Jan. 2011)

This page was originally authored by Devinder Deol & Robert Clements (2008).



boyd & Ellison, 2007

Social Network Site (SNS), Social Network Service, and Social Networking technology are generic names for a range of internet based platforms for communicating online. Users of these technologies are able to log on through a portal in order to connect and interact with others. Many SNSs permit the creation of a profile that includes biographical information, personal preferences, images, and group affiliations (such as high school friends or business acquaintances). Once a profile has been created, the user may make use of the functionality of SNS applications such as email, chat, messaging, file sharing, blogging, dating, discussion boards and so on.

The number of SNS users is unknown, but it is predicted that there are over 200 SNSs worldwide (boyd [sic] & Ellison, 2007). The main types of networking services include:

  • categorical directories (such as classmates)
Example: Facebook - estimated 500 million in July 2010. Increase is double from a year ago.
  • micro-blogging platform
Example: Twitter - 105 million registered users as of April 2010
  • platforms to connect with friends
Example: MySpace - estimated 125 million users. It has now dropped to third place among users.
  • networking resource for business people to connect with other professionals.
Example: linkedin - estimated more than 30 million members.


History of SNSs

The first recognized SNSs were (1995) that permitted ties with school mates and (1997) that focused on indirect ties (Wikipedia, 2008). Two different models of social networking that came about in 1999 were trust-based, developed by, and friendship-based, such as those developed by Jonathan Bishop (Rosen, 2007). Innovations on these websites included showing who is "friends" with whom, and giving users increased control over content and connectivity (Wikipedia, 2008).

Friendster was launched as a dating service in 2002 to help friends-of-friends (fofs) meet in the assumption fofs would make better romantic partners than would strangers, but quickly grew beyond this limited scope into a popular friendship-based website (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Due to a series of technical failures and corporate mismanagement, Friendsterlost its standing as the leading global SNS (boyd, 2007).

After 2003, social websites to facilitate content sharing became popular. These included Flickr (photo sharing), Last.FM (music listening), and YouTube (video sharing).

By 2005, one social networking service, MySpace, was reportedly getting more page views than Google (Business Week, 2007). During this year, Facebook which had begun a Harvard-only SNS in 2004, opened up its membership to include high school students, corporate professionals, and eventually everyone (boyd & Ellison, 2007). The future of SNSs remains in a state of flux because the populations of SNS members can rapidly change. It is not unusual for a SNS to experience periods of virulent growth with participation rates expanding at over 20% per month (Gross & Acquisti, 2005).

Over the last eight years there has been a rapid growth in user accounts with Facebook Facebook which has placed it in the number one spot of popular social networking sites. The average user has approximately 130 friends and spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. In the last several years Facebook has grown to include 30 billion pieces of content including web links, new stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, favourite subjects and games. Global research has found that there are more than 70 translations, about 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States and over 300,000 users help translate the site through the translations application. Some Facebook users point to its rise in popularity to the ease of use. Others attribute it to its multitude of easily-accessed features, and still others to a far simpler factor, its memorable, descriptive name.( Space has been reported to be on the decline.

One of the more popular growing sites is Twitter Twitter. This SNS keeps users informed of every day events which usually gets posted from handheld devices. Twitter was launched in 2006 and has increased in popularity. Twitter has nevertheless come under some criticism for taking the "staying in touch" thing too far( Some have questioned how much do we want to know about other people's inconsequential daily minutes.

Social Network Analysis

Social network analysis (SNA) is a set of techniques, theories, and research dating back approximately 100 years and relating to a broad range of academic fields such as sociology, psychology, mathematics, economics, and education. Emile Durkheim and Ferdinand Tonnies were early theorists of social networks in the late 1800s. The main focus of social network analysis is identifying and analyzing patterns of interaction between people. Relying heavily on formal mathematical theory and analysis of empirical data, this field of study has progressed rapidly since the 1970's and has been facilitated by the general availability of computers powerful enough to deal with the heavy statistical analysis required (International Network for Social Network Analysis, 2007).

SNA maps social networks using nodes, which are individuals (or individual actors), and ties, or relationships, between these nodes. Ties can be relationships of any sort and are often complex. Social networks are intertwined, and operate on many levels - classrooms, sports teams, families, tribes, cities, and nations are all forms of social networks that operate simultaneously and influence each of the other networks. The size and structure of social networks and their relationships with other networks influence not only the success of each network, but also the individuals within them (Wikipedia, 2008).

An example of a social network diagram

Applications of SNA range from understanding the spread of disease, or ideas, through communities to modeling economic markets or computer networks and monitoring the social status of classrooms. Research in social network structure suggests maximal and optimal network sizes - Dunbar's Number is a widely recognized theory that states that maximum social network size for most people is approximately 150, and that this is based on the size of the neocortex and our subsequent capacity to process the information necessary to maintain the network (Dunbar & Hill, 2002).

Granovetter's Social Network Model

In 1973 Mark S. Granovetter published "The Strength of Weak Ties", which argues that interpersonal ties between individuals that would be classified as weak (i.e. the individuals do not spend a great deal of time together, do not share emotional or intimate ties, and do not depend on each others services) are actually quite important within social networks and between social networks. This work is seminal in social network analysis, and it is the ability to develop and nurture these types of weak ties that is the strength of most Social Network Services. Granovetter explains that the strength of weak ties is that they are "more likely to link members of different small groups than are strong ones" (Granovetter, 1973, p. 1376). This function means that weak ties not only bind communities together, but also prove "indispensable to individuals' opportunities and to their integration into communities" (Granovetter, 1973, p. 1378).



]]==Impact of Social Networks==

Utube and videos embedded in E-learning platforms heightens the visual, audio, and emotional content for the e-learner. The following utube video addresses the power of social networking sites.

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Social Capital and Friending

Social Capital refers to the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of relationships, or mutual acquaintances (Boudieu and Wacquant, 1992). Recent research has found that there can be a positive relationship between SNS use and the maintenance and creation of social capital, particularly for those who have experienced diasporic life changes such as moving away from home to college (Hiller, 2004; Hargittai, 2008), and those who have difficulty developing same-sex and opposite-sex relationships in offline environments (Ellison et al., 2007).

Friending on SNSs occurs in a variety of ways. Danah boyd has observed that on Friendster: “while some people are willing to indicate anyone as Friends, and others stick to a conservative definition, most users tend to list anyone who they know and do not actively dislike” (cited in Gross & Acquisti, 2005). Two MySpace icons, Tila Tequila and Dane Cook have over a million friends each. Persons with thousands of friends on SNSs help to illustrate the power of these technologies to develop weak or “latent” ties (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Such ties are identified as weak because they result in the creation of connections that would otherwise not be made and are subject to relatively easy breakage (Boulos & Wheelert, 2007).

Contrary to early predictions, SNSs primarily support pre-existing social relationships (boyd and Ellison, 2007). While a person may have hundreds of friends in a SNS, the majority of these ties are often used to maintain or solidify existing offline relationships among those who friend one-another (such as attendance at a common school, a common hobby, employment in the same organization). Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfeld (2006) found that Facebook users engage in “searching” for people with whom they have an offline connection more than they “browse” for complete strangers to meet. Such preferences are even more pronounced for teens - 91% of whom, in a 2007 PEW study, said that they mainly use SNSs to remain in touch with offline friends (Lenhart & Madden, 2007).

SNSs have the potential to be addictive and this has prompted some employers to block access to these sites. For security reasons, the U.S. military has banned soldiers from accessing MySpace, and the Canadian military has discouraged the use of Facebook (Farrell & Reid, 2007; CBC News, 26 Feb. 2008). To prevent unwanted online loitering while at work, the Ontario provincial government made international headlines by banning employee use of Facebook(Benzie, 2007).

Over the last few years there has been a more accepting attitude with the use of mobile devices. Since the published image of President Obama refusing to give up his Blackberry, more businesses and school districts are rethinking the value of these technologies to improve communication.


Trust and privacy concerns have proven problematic for researchers. There appears to be a privacy paradox that influences SNS users. On one hand, SNSs attempt to promote the development of relationships by creating platforms for users to widely disperse intimate thoughts (Gross & Acquisti, 2005). On the other hand, such intimate thoughts, while useful in facilitating friending, can be used by third parties (advertisers, stalkers, governments) for unintended purposes (Barnes, 2006). Popular press coverage about SNSs and the topic of privacy have focused on the sexual predation of young people (boyd & Ellison, 2007). It has been widely reported that one out of seven teenagers received unwanted sexual solicitations while being online (Finkelhor et al., 2007). However, a closer look at the data reveals that only 9% of these solicitations came from persons over the age of 25 (Finkelhor et al. 2007). Further, just .08% of students surveyed by the National School Boards Association (2007) said that they had met someone in person from an online encounter without permission from a parent.

In July, 2006, concerns about sexual predation led the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). This Act is still awaiting Senate approval and threatens to suspend federal funding for any public library or school that permits the use of social networking software. The legislation is intended to target MySpace, but it would also block numerous other sites, including blogging tools, mailing lists, podcast sites, and educational sites like NeoPets (Jenkins, 2006). While concerns about predation have legitimacy, it appears that DOPA is unlikely to effectively protect children because there are a number of ways to circumvent the blocking technology and DOPA does little to address the need for cyber-safe education and online support structures for youth (Jenkins, 2006). In a 2007 presentation before the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, danah boyd called upon legislators to provide funding for digital street outreach programs so that legislators can become partners, instead of foes, with youth in the quest to help make the internet and SNSs more safe (Finkelhor et al., 2007).

In a study of Carnegie Mellon University Facebook profiles, Gross and Acquisti (2005) noted strong privacy concerns with students profiles. For example, an intruder who gains access to a university Facebook group could ascertain the physical whereabouts of a student by reading class schedules posted on profiles; the intruder could use social engineering software to reconstruct a student’s Social Security Number by using information such as hometown and date of birth that is typically posted on many SNSs. It is often very easy to gain access to a SNS network. In 2005, a programmer developed an automated script that contacted 250,000 Facebook users asking to be added as a friend. A surprising 30% of users agreed and thus made their online profiles available to the intruder (Jump, 2005).

Data mining is another privacy concern. Peer-to-peer networks are well-suited to distributed data mining (DDM), which deals with the problem of data analysis in environments with widespread users and nodes by using algorithms to produce information about user preferences that can be sold to commercial or governmental interests (Datta et al., 2006).


It has been said that on the internet, “nobody knows who you are,” however, membership in many online communities mirrors the social networks people have in their everyday lives (Hargittai, 2008). Most users of MySpace have a median friend count of 27 which indicates that many of these users are not exploring much beyond their offline acquaintances (Thelwall, 2008). One’s choice of SNS network can also be influenced by the offline companions one keeps. Hargittai (2008) has noted that students who have one parent with a graduate degree are more represented on Facebook, Xanga, and Friendster, while students whose parents have less than a high school education are disproportionate users of MySpace. Despite these trends, some important distinctions between online and offline environments have emerged. A study of 40,000 MySpace profiles found that a majority of users preferred women over men as on-line friends – a finding that defies traditional patterns of off-line friending (Thelwall, 2008).

The process of building identity, interpreting others, and adjusting to new environments has been described by what Erving Goffman (1956) referred to as impression management. People regularly seek to define social situations from the environment around them. Over time, we learn how to make meaning by noticing the reaction of others in relation to how we project ourselves (boyd, 2007). Online social environments can help people develop interpersonal skills because they encourage individuals to re-evaluate the signals they send to others through their profile, interactions, and preferences (boyd, 2007).

There is a significant group of SNS users who use fake profiles or fake information. This is particularly prevalent among teens, half of whom report having used fake information in their profiles to gain access to networks they otherwise were too young to join, or to avoid online harassment and predation (Annette, 2006). Fakesters have generated considerable controversy in the social networking world with critics saying that they erode the credibility of SNSs (boyd & Heer, 2007).

There are many tips for parents with children who use the internet. One particular site that provides a safety and security center is Microsoft. [1]


In 2006, teen usage of SNSs was estimated to be an average of one hour and 22 minutes per day (Barnes, 2006). Many popular press reports have focused on the problems of teenagers revealing too much information online and children being subjected to sexual predation (Bahrampour et al., 2006; Downes, 2006; Lenhart, 2005). In July, 2006, it was reported that MySpace had uncovered and deleted the profiles on 29,000 registered sex offenders on its site (School Library Journal, 2007).

In evidence presented to a U.S. Congressional Committee, Dr. Finkelhor addressed some of the myths and realities of online predation (2007):

  • the majority of victims are teenagers – very few victims have been reported under the age of 13
  • only 3 percent of cases involved an abduction
  • 80% of offenders were explicit about their sexual intentions with the youths that they were communicating with
  • offenders tended to lure teens after weeks of online conversations and played on teens desires for romance, sexual adventure, and sexual information
  • 73% of the victims studied met the offender on multiple occasions for repeated sexual encounters

Parental support is a crucial factor in helping to avoid the problem of online predation. The following websites are recommended to help parents educate their children about online dangers.

Canada’s national tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Internet use is nearly universal for Canadian teens as 94% of teens report having Internet access at home (Steeves, 2005). However, SNS use is not as ubiquitous as is commonly believed. Forty-five percent of teens in a 2006 study reported that they did not have a profile on SNSs (Lenhart & Madden, 2007). There appears to be two types of youths who do not participate in SNSs:

  • disenfranchised youths who live in homes without internet access or have had their access banned by parents or schools. In these situations, school restrictions are helping to perpetuate the digital divide (boyd, 2007)
  • conscientious objectors – politically minded teens who object to SNSs on moral grounds; teens who support their parents fears of online safety concerns; teens who think SNSs are either only for the cool kids, or too uncool for them to bother with (boyd, 2007)

As is the case with sexual predation, cyber-bullying research has shown that there is a tendency to blame the technology (SNSs) rather than acknowledging that there is a deeper societal problem that needs to be addressed (Finkelhor et al., 2007).


E-learning is a term that refers to learning and teaching through technology. E-learning enables students to acquire skills and knowledge through content delivered over the internet to personal computers. E-learning can be self initiated or instructor supported and usually includes various multi media components to deliver content. The "E" according to E-learning pioneer Bernard Luskin needs to meet 21st century applications by equating it to words that mean educational, emotional, enthusiastic, energetic, exciting, extended, and excellent rather than just electronic. [

It has been suggested that only 10-15% of learning is formal, and that 85% of our learning takes place outside of formal settings (Cross, 2006). By creating authentic and immersive environments for collaboration, reflection, publication, and peer review, SNSs hold great educational potential because they leverage formal and informal learning opportunities.

E-learning is ideal for distance learning and can be used together with face-to-face teaching, which is commonly known as Blended learning.


Concerns about safety and privacy have led to the development of Social Network software for Education. ELGG is an open source online social network that provides each user with varying degrees of control over his/her content. Unlike conventional SNSs, each profile item, blog post, or uploaded file can be assigned its own access restrictions from fully public, to only readable by a particular group or individual.

Online social networks are something that educators cannot ignore. They have become part of the culture of young people and are integral in helping to prepare students for their lives beyond the walls of school (Lamb, 2007). Graham Atwell (2006) has a very pronounced warning to educators who shut SNSs out from their classrooms: “the danger is the education system will become irrelevant to many peoples learning needs. It will be seen as an imposition. Young people will turn to social spaces for communication and developing ideas.” prides itself as the first social network for young people ages 8 - 14. Imbee permits parents to approve/disapprove friend requests. The restricted chat feature on this site contains a limited vocabulary that makes it nearly impossible for members to reveal information about their whereabouts. Imbee's teacher pages enable instructors to establish class blogs, enhance student online interaction, and facilitate parental communication.

Main article: Facebook as an Educational Tool

Educational Limitations

Online social networks attract a variety of members making them susceptible to offensive activities such as hate campaigns, the use of fake credentials, the use of libellous language, and the widespread distribution of copyrighted content (Boulos & Wheelert, 2007). The use of commercial SNS platforms such as Facebook by professors to connect with students has proven problematic. Friending students in such informal settings has fueled concerns about invasion of student privacy and led to unusual requests to professors for favours (Lipka, 2007).

Professional / Personal Applications

Personal Use

As SNSs continue to increase in popularity, so do the numbers and varieties of services. Most services remain free to individuals, and competition between service providers is intense as their revenue models rely on large numbers of users to act as consumers of advertising. One trend in SNSs is towards niche networks, and even the ability for a user to create their own niche network as with as Facebook Groups.

Privacy laws in most countries require SNSs to publish Privacy Policies which include specification of the purpose of the data collection (COISPP, 2008). Users should be aware of these policies and their content, as they differ from service to service, and can change abruptly (MSNBC, 2007).

Lists of available Social Networking Services:
The Social Software Weblog
Mashable Social Networking News

Business Use

Business use of SNSs has lagged behind personal use, but is being pushed due to the massive popularity of the personal services.

Businesses, particularly small and medium sized businesses (SMB), are realizing SNSs are a productive means of managing internal knowledge and identifying and connecting with content experts. They are also proving to be good tools for developing relationships and eliciting feedback from customers (eWeek, 2008).

Business SNS functionality revolves around 5 major areas: profiles, communities, activities, bookmarks or tagging, and blogs.

Large corporations are also active as SNS users and vendors. For example, IBM's internal SNS program feature searchable profiles of over 340,000 staff members (BusinessWeek, 2008).

Technology is transforming the workplace more than ever before. Companies are using innovative software, hardware and other tools to revolutionize work spaces, cut costs, and make us better, faster and smarter at earning a living (BusinessWeek, 2011). BusinessWeek.

The real goal of social media marketing in today's terms is to attract consumers. The advertisers want to show you what they want you to see, not what you want to see. Advertisers take every opportunity to advertise in any way possible. Facebook has become of one the largest social networks due to the business marketing componet.

Technology of Social Network Services

As the popularity of SNSs grows, so do the technological options for individuals and organizations. New SNS technologies become available almost daily, and we will not endeavour to provide a complete list, but instead an overview of the approaches used and current information resources.

Social Networks revolve around nodes and ties. Supporting these networks with digital systems is really about promoting ties between different parties, and when seen in this light almost all online systems can be viewed as Social Network Services. Instant Messaging, Email, dating sites, chat rooms, discussion forums, usenet groups, and email lists are all examples of SNSs. Recently, systems that specifically focus on creating ties between the nodes (users) have become increasingly popular. Most of these social network sites are commercial entities which provide their services without charge to the user, and either generate revenue from advertising to this user group, or hope to do so in the future.

There are three basic software models available for SNSs:

Software as a service (SaaS): in this model the software vendor not only writes the software, but provides the infrastructure necessary to host it. From the consumer's perspective, the software, hardware, and network necessary to support it are a whole, they simply connect to the service. This is currently the most common model for SNSs. Examples of this type of SNS include:MySpace, Facebook, Windows Live Spaces, Yahoo! Mash, Orkut, Ning, and Second Life. A rising new social network site is Twitter.

On-premise Software: this is the classic software model in which a software vendor provides the system to the consumer, who is responsible for running and supporting it. This is the most common model for SNSs implemented by business. This model tends to be the most flexible and the most expensive. Some of the main examples include Lotus Connections and Microsoft Sharepoint Server.

Open Source Software: this software model revolves around free access to the source code of the software program. Open source programs vary in the exact licensing used, but the licensing generally involves access to the source code of the program, and the rights for the consumer to alter and redistribute this source code. Open source software is often, but not always, free in price. Main examples include ELGG, People Aggregator, Mugshot, Joomla, Drupal, and Plone.

Future Trends

A number of trends seem to be emerging in the Social Network Services space:

SNSs may become more specialized, with network groups forming on the basis of content as opposed to friendship (Donath, 2008). Examples of this are evident with sites such as SourceForge, LinkedIn, Mugshot, and Ning

SNSs are likely to integrate multiple commercially developed or open source platforms into expanded or Super Social Networks (Breslin et al., 2007). For example, is a recent open source project designed to combine the features of Elgg, Drupal, Moodle, and Mediawiki. A similar trend is the development of Application Programming Interfaces (API) which allow SNS vendors to share information with each other - this will allow people to create links across SNSs. Google's OpenSocial API is an example of this, and Mugshot already allows its users to collect information from multiple sources by supporting existing APIs.

Increased government regulation of SNSs may result in a perpetuation of the digital divide for disadvantaged communities and a slowdown in the development of global online communities if social network providers are forced to confirm the identities of all participants (boyd, 2006)

Contrary to previous beliefs and practices social networking is starting to be recognize in Education for developing skills and interactivity between students. Students are learning tools that help them make movies, have discussion groups, blog, create student profiles and many other diverse activities in various platforms. Goals for the 21st Century Learner supports educational technology best practices for teachers. Social networking is becoming an important part in educational technology today.

The Future and Educational Technology

Future technology education programs will be more advanced compared to what we have today. Technology education in the future will rely heavily on input learning and virtual reality experiential reenactment.[] Some predictions take on 3D virtual reality simulation.

According to Technology Education of the Future website, they predict that "Future technology education will rely on wireless input into one's brain. Downloads of a plethora of textual information will be quickly transported via computer into the heads of students. Distance learning will be common. As well photographic memories for humans will be developed by future medical science."

"But this "book learning" of the technology education will be no substitute for experiential learning. This is why virtual reality will play such an important role in the future of technology education."

Interesting as it is, it still is not Star Trek, a TV show first developed in the 1960's to entertain the public with futuristic technology. According to future technology biz, "Paradigm shifts and disruptive technology will be the norm in the future. Neural networks of computers will mean that both humans and non-humans will be learning at a rapid pace never seen before in the history of mankind."

In the short term, hand held devices offer the next wave of technology interactiveness. Portable devices that can access and provide what laptop computers do, will significantly link the communication in the world at an even faster rate of delivery than ever before.

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See Also

International Network for Social Network Analysis

International Sociometry Training Network

Top Social Networking tools

White Label Social Networking Systems

Open Source Social Networking Systems registered with

Open Source Social Networking Systems



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