The Role of Computer Networks in Social Networking

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Social networks existed long before computer networking came onto the scene. Nowadays, though, most everyone associates social networking with the Internet.

What Makes a Network Social?

When people think of social networking they often are considering the biggest public Web sites and apps - Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and so on. Different kinds of sizes and social networks exist, however. Corporate intranets, for example, function much like public social networks albeit for a smaller private community.

These networks share several attributes in common:

  • Membership. Social nets all generally require users to register names and accounts. While many public networks offer free registration, some charge fees at least for their premium services. Private networks (such as university alumni groups) restrict registration to people who meet certain eligibility criteria.

  • Content contribution. These networks enable members to easily share comments, photos and/or movies with others.

  • Frequent return visits. A healthy social net centers around a base of members who check in regularly for new updates and also to contribute theirs

  • Human relationship building. The common goal of most social networks is enabling the interactions that build stronger connections among communities of people.

The Usefulness of Social Networks

Besides being a fun place to relax and meet with people, social networking brings some extremely useful benefits to individuals and communities:

  • Group information sharing over long distances. Although friends and family members can keep in contact via text messages or phone calls, social nets offer a much richer environment for staying connected. Many scenarios such as sharing photo albums or wishing someone a happy birthday work better on these networks because an entire group can participate together. Overall, group discussions become more convenient as not everyone needs to be online at the exact same moment to post comments.

  • Broadcast announcements. Local shops and venues can advertise upcoming events on social networks. Cities can more easily spread word of emergencies. Businesses can market their products to customers (and also obtain some direct feedback).

  • Fostering diversity of thought. Some critics of social networks point out that online communities tend to attract people with similar interests and backgrounds. Indeed, when people with different opinions do get together online, many discussions seem to degenerate into personal attacks and so-called "flame wars." It can be argued, though,  that online debates are healthy in the long run. Even though individuals may begin with more extreme views, over time their thinking gets influenced by the comments of others at least to some extent.

Computer Network Technology for Social Networking

Large-scale social networking relies on powerful servers and storage systems to support the large content databases and high volume of traffic that these sites generate.

Social networking tends to generate a large volume of network traffic due to the high level of interactivity it fosters. Sharing of photos and videos in particular consumes significant network bandwidth.

Because accessibility and convenience are so important to online communities, social networks must effectively support all kinds of fixed and mobile devices.

Keeping Social Networks Secure

The nature of social networking causes people to become more open and sharing with relative strangers online. Not only does this environment tend to expose personal information, it also attracts criminals and hackers looking to steal a person's money and other valuable data. Younger children and senior citizens are particularly susceptible to revealing more than they should.

A good rule of thumb when logging into any social network is to assume everything done can be seen by the world. Parents should especially keep close watch on their children's online usage habits. See also:

Why Some Social Networks Fail

Two famous social networks that no longer exist in their original form are Orkut and MySpace.  Their demise illustrates the typical challenges that any social network, public or private, faces when looking to establish itself:

  • Ability to grow a dedicated community of members. Even if millions of people visit a social site, the network will fail to be useful unless enough of those people become members and regular contributors.

  • Ability to make money for its creators. Any social network requires some investment of time and money to build. The larger public nets in particular involve server farms in datacenters, advertising systems, and people to manage it all. If the companies or individuals building that network do not see sufficient return on their investment, they will eventually shift their focus elsewhere, causing the network to eventually break down and become uninteresting to the community.

  • Staying fresh. It's human nature to want to be part of something new and growing. The "coolness" factor of a social network naturally fades over time unless it constantly changes and adapts to modern social trends.

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